Officiating at funerals is the toughest part of my job and none is harder than the funeral of a child. Nothing devastates me more than witnessing the sobs of a parent facing their new reality of life without their precious offspring.
Every time I read news stories about parents who’ve lost their child fighting Hamas in Gaza, my heart breaks. When I see that the number of fallen soldiers has exceeded 168, I feel deeply that each soldier lost is much, much more than a statistic. They are a child, a husband, a father – a proud Jew fighting to defend their homeland. Each loss is an unfathomable tragedy. True, a statistic, but a real human with a heart and a soul.
I have observed that a profoundly resilient mindset has upheld the Jewish people for hundreds of generations, transforming our tears and heartbreak into triumph and rejoicing. The famous Vehi SheAmda passage from the Haggadah summarizes it — it says “In every generation, the nations of the world try to destroy us, but the Holy one saves us.”
This idea — that the source of our salvation is Divine — is one which not only transcends time, but also differences in religious observance as well.
Iris Haim, a secular kibbutznik from Kfar Aza, recently made headlines for her strength and selfless compassion. Her son Yotam — kidnapped on Oct 7 and taken to Gaza — was mistaken for a terrorist on the battlefield and tragically killed by his would-be IDF rescuers. Iris shared “There was pain, there was sadness. There was huge sadness about the fact that Yotam isn’t here, and we were in shock, total shock, but we weren’t angry.”
Iris had every right to harbor anger and resentment. It would have been a logical and understandable response to the news that the soldiers tasked with rescuing her son had inadvertently brought about his untimely death.
However, there is something really deep underlying Iris’ strength and resolve. Something powerful which has persisted throughout Jewish history.
The past few Torah portions have chronicled the story of Joseph. As a seventeen-year-old, he was kidnapped by his own brothers, thrown into a pit full of poisonous creatures, and when he survived that, he was then sold into slavery for the price of a few pairs of shoes.
Joseph had every right to bear a grudge, but he persevered and refused to crumble in the face of adversity. As a slave, he was betrayed by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison for 12 long years. But he never gave up hope, he never complained.
Years later, Joseph rose in the ranks to the role of viceroy of all Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. As the story goes, Joseph led the empire through years of intense famine, and his brothers traveled to Egypt to procure food from the famed Egyptian storehouses. When Joseph’s brothers appeared before him, he recognized them immediately.
But Joseph didn’t lash out at them. He didn’t imprison them or punish them for selling him into slavery all those years ago.
Instead, when he revealed himself to his brothers who didn’t recognize him, he said “Now do not be sad, and let it not trouble you that you sold me here, for it was to preserve life that G-d sent me before you.” (Bereishit 45:5)
Joseph’s ability to forgive his brothers stemmed from his grasp of a profound truth. He understood that all the events that unfolded in his life, no matter how unjustified and unfair they seemed, were all a part of G-d’s overarching plan. Joseph recognized that his role as viceroy of Egypt was to help save lives amid the famine, and expressed gratitude to his brothers for being part of the Divine plan that eventually led to him occupying this position of influence.
It’s a level of emunah (faith) and bitachon (trust) that sounds like something only found in the stories of Biblical heroes or Tzaddikim. A level of faith that we can only aspire towards. But Iris Haim and many other Israelis possess that level of faith.
Sarah Vaspi, a grandmother from the North of Israel, lost her husband, her son, and her grandson in three wars — the Yom Kippur war, the Lebanon War and Operation Swords of Iron. Despite her deep and tragic loss, her response to her situation shows that she possesses a deep level of bitachon.
Upon hearing the news that a third generation was taken from her, she called out to her fellows in Israel, saying: “I want to keep this unity we have here. We are giving strength to fight for our soldiers. This request is for them, so they don’t lose their motivation.”
Similarly, Oren and Shira Gahali — whose son Yarin was killed in a tragic friendly fire incident — said they have no anger towards the soldiers who killed their son; that all they want to do is hug them.
These are not the words of Biblical figures. These are ordinary folks, regular people you meet on the street. But their actions, their strength, and their dedication are of Biblically heroic proportions.
Let us all learn from Joseph, Iris, Sarah and the Gahalis. When confronted with tragedy and pain, many experience deep despair and anguish. But let us all recognize that through emunah, bitachon, and connection to our ancestors, we can find strength and persevere.
We can find serenity in faith and we can persevere because we know G-d is hugging us tightly. Although we may not realize it and may never truly understand it, we know that everything is a part of the Divine plan.