A Sentiment of Helplessness

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, confirmed yesterday that three Israeli boys, Eyal Yifrach, 19, Gil-ad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Frenkel, 16, were kidnapped on Thursday night last week by a terrorist organization, and that “we [the Israeli government and the IDF] are in the midst of a widespread operation to locate and bring back the three young yeshiva students safely.”

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Having grown up in Israel and studied at the Mekor Chaim high-school, where two of the three boys are students, I could have been one of them. I know scores of youngsters like them, students at Mekor Chaim, in full blossom, devoting themselves to Torah study and good and kind deeds.

My teacher and mentor, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, is the dean of the Mekor Chaim high-school. In a statement, he thanked the Israel Defense Forces for doing all it can to rescue these youngsters. Yet at the same time, he described the anguish and weakness that family, friends and teachers are all experiencing: “We do not despair because we doubt our Heavenly Father. Rather we feel helpless because, “God is in Heaven and you are upon earth (Ecclesiastes, 5:1).”

Indeed; this sentiment of anguish and helplessness cannot be ignored. The values embodied by these three innocent youngsters, are suddenly at risk of being overpowered by forces of obscurity and evil. And we are left to wonder: what can we do in the face of such ruthless brutality? How should we respond?

A Fascinating Juxtaposition

Amidst the paralyzing fear, a fascinating juxtaposition appears: Here stands a group of young students who are immersed – and passionately dedicated to – life. There, a world apart, stands their callous and calculating abductors, determined to spew evil, havoc and destruction.

Although Moses commanded us to “choose life, so that you and your children may live,” (Deuteronomy, 30:19), the kidnappers choose carnage and annihilation. The sanctity of life that we cherish so deeply disturbs those who hate it so fervently.

The Israel Defense Forces will do what it can and we pray for their success and the safety of the soldiers. But our response must be more personal; it must speak to the values that fill our souls. Where there is evil and darkness, we must create goodness and light. We must respond to acts of war and terror with actions that create peace and joy for all.

Quiet Heroism And Knowing What To Fight For

This is a quiet heroism – there are no flamboyant shows, no dramatic gestures that capture attention. It is not enough to focus on that which we are fighting against; we must also know that which we are fighting for. I am not so naïve as to believe that good deeds alone will release our boys. But we can shape the world –the world in which we live – by our actions.

In 1948, just three years following the Holocaust, Chaim Weissman, the first president of the State of Israel, broadcasted a famous call to Jews worldwide: “After Hitler murdered a third of the Jewish nation, it is the foremost duty of every Jew to be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Please, I beg every Jew in the world, be a ‘third more’ Jewish. Triple your prayers, triple your good deeds, and make up for the third of our nation that was so brutally decimated.” Similarly, after witnessing such evil that too wishes to decimate us, our best response is to increase our deeds of holiness and goodness, from prayer to charity, from Torah study to lending a helping hand.

As Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz concluded: “May it be God’s will that in the merit of our prayers and good deeds, we shall soon see our boys returned to us, God willing, safe and sound.”

Amen.