Once again, terror and murder have struck my little, quiet, pastoral town of Alon Shevut.
Once again, we watch and cry as we bury a child who should have lived long past his parents and grandparents.
Once again, we grapple with the questions of why? Why did God choose Erez, a boy who was so devoted to Him? Why so young? Why do we, the Jewish people – God’s beloved nation, have to suffer so much? Why is there so much hate in the world? Why are some people so evil? Why haven’t we managed to break this endless wave of terrorism?
Once again, we find ourselves in that dilemma and delicate balance between: being heartbroken, but not broken; being frozen in mourning, but continuing to move forward; being shocked and horrified, but remaining calm and sane; being strong and tough, but caring and emotional – never complacent or indifferent. After all, this is the story of our people: untold suffering, persecution, and brutal slaughter on the one hand; and incredible survival, success, joy, contentment, and spiritual greatness on the other.
We are survivors, doers, thinkers and helpers.
That is who Erez was, and that is who we are as a nation.
As I stood with the masses at Erez’s funeral, I was reminded of the famous quote by Alexandre Dumas: “All for one and one for all. United we stand, divided we fall.” We were all there for Erez, but in truth, upon listening to the eulogies, it was clear that he had been there for all of us first.
There is much we can learn from Erez’s life and death. He may be gone physically, but who he was, what he stood for and how our nation reacted to his murder, can teach us much. If we can take these lessons to heart and live by them, he will live on in each of us forever.
I’d like to share with you some of the things that I saw and heard this past week, during the funeral and the shiva. Here are some of the lessons that I am taking with me as “life goes on”:
Acceptance and Faith – At the funeral, Erez’s parents, Caryn and Uri, did not utter one word questioning why, not one word of resentment or anger toward God (or anyone else for that matter). When I spoke with Caryn at the shiva, she said that Erez never questioned why, nor resented God for giving him the disease that challenged him his whole life.
Gratitude and Seeing The Cup That’s Half Full – Caryn and Uri both thanked God at the funeral for giving them 20 wonderful years with Erez! They all said how blessed they were to have him. I am always amazed, under such circumstances, that people can be grateful and thankful to God for what He gave them; even though it would be totally understandable if they focused solely on what was taken from them instead – the loss of a whole future that will never be.
A Bargain With God – Caryn told my daughter at the shiva that when Erez was born, and they discovered the genetic disorder that would affect him for the rest of his life, she made a deal with God. She said, “God, you give us the years and we, in turn, will fill those years with the best education and upbringing, so that Erez will make You proud.”
Death Is Part Of Life – One of the questions we as parents often ask ourselves in situations like these is: Why do our children, who are so young, have to deal with all of these brutal deaths, and mourning? Some of our relatives in South Africa think it is disgraceful that we live in a part of the world where children grow up surrounded by tragedies all of the time. What right, they ask, do we have to put our children through this time and again? When Erez was murdered and we received the text notifying us, one of my first thoughts was how my 13 year old – who is best friends with Erez’s little sister – would react. Why God, I asked myself, do 13 year old girls have to be dealing with this? That was the same thought I had when my son’s best friends in high school were murdered at the age of 16. But you want to know the truth, I stand by what I told those same relatives at the time. Our children are growing up knowing the value of life and of living it to the fullest. Israeli children know that death is a part of our lives, that we don’t live forever and we have to make the most of it right now. That is certainly a lesson we can learn from Erez. He pushed hard to make the most of his life, against all the odds.
Caring and Communal Responsibility – The soldiers who came to visit the Shiva House after Erez was murdered told his family that he was the one every night who cleaned, sorted and prepared everything for the next morning. Each morning they would receive a text that read: “Good morning, Thank God, everything is ready to roll.” Erez always had a sense of the greater good, of helping his comrades and community. He was always the first to come to shul for minyan. He always helped his parents and grandparents, doing whatever needed to get done in the house. It was beautiful and heartwarming to see that same sentiment in our community of Alon Shevut, during the shiva. There were so many people helping the Orbachs, and there was a constant bustle and flow of people dropping off food, cleaning etc. My daughters and their whole Ariel youth movement provided round the clock support and visits to Erez’s sister, as did all of Erez’s younger siblings’ friends מי כעמך ישראל!
Torah Is What Connects and Protects Us. Keep on learning, growing and spreading the beautiful wisdom of our religion and heritage – Erez understood that Torah ensures our survival both physically and spiritually. At his funeral, one of the soldiers began her eulogy with a quote from our Sages that Erez had just taught them that week: “Who is mighty? He who conquers his inclinations.” He was always learning and teaching Torah. Erez knew that it was not only the gun that he held that protects us all: that God above, our connection to Him, and the way we behave as people, are what make the gun effective. At the shiva house, Erez’s little sister showed me a special leather pouch he carried with him everywhere. It contained more pocket sized books than you would imagine could fit into such a small bag, but every important aspect of Torah literature was covered. In it he carried a mini Tanach, Peninei Halacha, Chumash, Mishnah, Siddur etc. Erez knew that soldiers need to know what it is that they are fighting for. In order to understand who we are, where we come from and where we are headed, it is imperative to know, learn and understand the basic foundation of our nationhood and religion – the Torah. This is what has kept us alive and thriving for thousands of years, and this is what Erez stood for and helped spread in the army.
Focus On the Goal – Much has been said about how Erez fought to serve in the IDF, even though he was exempt because of his medical condition. Erez fought to do what he thought was right. He kept on trying and persevering, no matter what, even though many tried to discourage him.
Turning the Challenges and Difficulties Into Positive Growth – Erez was known for his smile and his fine character. He was a positive person. During the shiva, Caryn told me a story about Erez when he was in the sixth grade. The class would go on hikes and invariably Erez would always fall behind and trail in the back, due to his medical condition. It upset him that he would have to make everyone wait, so he devised a plan. He would start with the guide at the very front of the pack, and little by little he would fall back, ending in the middle. Then, he would wait where the boys in the very back could see him, and he would cheer them on. He wanted to give them strength, to make them feel better, because he knew what it was like to be exhausted and in the back. He knew how to take a hard situation and make the most of it.
I’d like to add a line to Dumas’s quote:
All for One and One for all. United we stand, divided we fall.
United we, the Jewish people, truly ARE; through, because of and despite it all!
Erez, thank you for being there for us — to protect us, physically and spiritually — and we hope we can carry on your legacy to the fullest. Yehi Zichro Baruch!