After walking up the stairs and into Orit’s home, I sat down beside one of the most patient, sensitive and wise women I know as she shuddered with fear. Her 25-year-old son Roi, a major in the IDF, stationed near the Gaza border had not been in contact since the previous morning. We stared in shock and tried to understand the reports of terrorists who had invaded the bordering towns of our country, unleashing an evil that our brains were not even capable of comprehending, killing all but one other member of his unit. Roi’s whereabouts were unknown.
As we sat together with those facts, the possibilities were unbearable.
In a moment of longing, we walked over to the refrigerator as Orit stroked each of the mounted pictures of Roi and considered how her son got to wherever he was.
Already in high school, Roi chose to attend an elite pre-military school that instilled a dedication and active commitment to Israeli society. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the IDF and over his years in the army took on increasing responsibility, appointed to three rounds as a Military Major leading commando units.
Looking at a picture of Roi in uniform, Orit explained that his superiors noted his capacity. They offered him the role of commanding advanced soldiers, but Roi preferred taking charge of the younger cadets. ‘He is really an educator.’ He loved getting to know and appreciate each of his soldiers and work with them to draw out strengths that they themselves were unaware that they possessed. Roi pushed and lifted each of his charges.
With her fingertips on a picture of Roi with his girlfriend Yuval in front of an incredible orange sun, Orit shared, ‘He loves nature’. Roi would come home for breaks from the army and rather than crawling into the comfort of his bed, grab a bag and encourage the family to join him on a trail. He would notice and praise the beauty of the different flowers that he encountered in his beloved land. He’d prefer to sleep out in the field under the glorious stars and use his navigational skills to follow the night sky and understand direction in our world below.
Staring into a picture of Roi embracing his family, taken in that same kitchen, Orit exclaimed, ‘Roiko is a fierce protector of his family’. Whether it was communicated through a telephone call late at night or in making plans to travel the world together, Roi was quick to assure and reassure each member of his family that he was present for them.
News came the following day.
Roi’s body was found. Roi was killed by terrorists defending the kibbutzim of Sufa, Holit and Nir Yitzkak; guarding a unit of intelligence officers who were left exposed in their observation post and saved through his actions. Roi’s driver Roni survived with extensive injuries including an amputated leg and a challenging journey of surgeries and rehabilitation ahead.
Two months later, we mark Hanukkah. We look our nation’s journey in the eye. We share stories of past threats and military victory. Suddenly the Maccabees seem incredibly familiar and war and peace a balance that we should never take for granted. With perspective, our sages teach that the salvation that we met could not be explained by anything short of Divine miracles. In response, they establish the mitzvah to kindle lights in our home. At this darkest time of the year, this act seems similar to the flipping on of electric light switch to guide us through the darkness. But on Hanukkah, the light that we create is different. We do not light our Hanukkah lights for function. Our sages introduced the ‘shamash’ flame (the functional extra candle) to guarantee that we observe, know and understand that there is a distinction between these lights. The Hanukkah lights are lit to communicate. They talk not just to us, but are there for others to see, for others to understand, for others to bear witness, for others to appreciate the messages that we are sending. Our Hanukkah light travels from inside of our homes to the pedestrian outside, adding new dimensions to understanding God and miracles, then and now.
When lighting our Chanukah lights I invite you to share the story of Roi z’l, the young man of humble kindness who dedicated his adult life to defend the nation of Israel. I invite you to share the stories of our warriors who ran and continue to run into battle to protect us; song-festival lovers, farmers and endless volunteers around the country who have helped build and sustain the world that we know.
Together we hold deep pain and yet through the lights of Chanukah we can magnify our voices for a peaceful tomorrow. We can amplify our call for all of the 138 people held hostage in Gaza to emerge into the light of the holiday, in sound body and spirit. We can expand our prayer for our soldiers and displaced citizens to rejoin their families at home. If we allow them to talk to us, the ancient kindling of our Chanukah flames hold the potential to offer comfort and consolation, hope and determination to communicate messages of redemption and salvation, for times then and now.