Miriam Leah Epstein Preil
musical neshama

My Brother’s Keeper: Remembering Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, Eyal Yifrah, zk’l

credit: wikipedia

June immediately brings to mind many historical events which all deserve world attention, unique recognition, and reflection. Without second thought, it could be argued the most monumental of all was the landing on Normandy, D-Day. The world changed with the assassination of RFK, and the unforgettable image of Tiananmen Square is gripping. Of course, we’ll always remember the Six Day War.

What about “Our Boys”? Three young Jewish lads, students of Life. Their lives and their story are forever engraved in our hearts.  But, how will the world commemorate it? Surely it, too, holds its own place in history. What needs to change to ensure terror ends once and for all?  I believe the answer is found within the very foundation of our way of life.

So, in Memory and Honor of Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, who were kidnapped on June 12, 2014 and brutally murdered zk’l, I would like to share my thoughts from that time. I admit I was writing a letter on Israel and the Yomim Tovim, in memory of my brother a’h, when I wrote this. Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal zk’l, sincerely became part of my family, too, as the news unfolded. What is stunning and saddening to me is that after all these years, as you’ll see based on current events in Israel and the world, it seems as if I could’ve written much of this today.

(July 14-17, 2014   17-20 Av, 5774)

Going on the Right Path: Choose Life! 

I began writing on Shiva Asar b’Tamuz and I froze. I will start there and pray God will guide my thoughts and fingers to bring forth the rest. The writing pinch feels more like a clutch. While the Three Weeks begin each year on Shiva Asar b’Tamuz, we all know that this year it felt like they tragically began much sooner with the disappearance of our boys. The revelation of their kidnapping, the suspense of not knowing anything, then the horrifying knowledge of their gruesome brutal killings has affected all of us.

We are trembling. Missiles are shooting everywhere, sirens are sounding continuously. We can’t run fast enough for shelter. We could ask why, how could this happen?  There are endless questions really. Israel is not the same. Are any of us? Many people have offered varying ideas that due to these circumstances we have become more united, maybe as never before.  Should we be comforted by that?

When I began writing a couple days ago I wasn’t sure where my thoughts would take me.   War has been at the forefront of my mind.  We face our enemies directly on the ground as the bombardments on our People and our soil are meant to annihilate us.

So what has to change to make all this stop?  I don’t mean ceasefire either.

If ever there was a time to cry and pray this certainly is it, right? Why must there be conflict, inhumanity, and grief that puts us on the precipice of doom to bring us together?  That is one of my questions. Do we really need rockets overhead to get our attention to pray to the Ribbono Shel Olam?

And that’s when I didn’t know what else to say.  Blank.

The calamities are unbearably heavy. It is terribly hard to make sense of it. The Shofar’s blasts should pierce Shamayim, not rockets’ blasts. Most recently the news has horrified us with even more ghastly depictions of how far man has gone to debase life.

Klal Yisroel world wide has grown closer, precipitated by threats of imminent destruction, while those hellbent on our destruction have come closer to undoing civil society entirely.  They’re coming after all peoples of the world, not just us. They sometimes have different flags, but the message they declare is unequivocal. They claim they kill in the name of god, that it is their calling and until all men are like them they won’t stop.  This year we have been witness to countless numbers of mass kidnappings, it goes beyond taking our boys. There are civil wars around the globe, military invasions, genocides, governments and tribes killing not just enemies but their own populations, seemingly endless tragedies of epic proportions.  What is happening?  Are we on the brink of another world war, chas v’chalilah?

Great numbers of our fellow human beings have no place to live, no clothes to wear, no running water, no electricity, no medical care, just gut wrenching poverty and little hope if any. Famines seem endless in the same parts of the world year after year. How can that be?  We are living in the “modern world”, surpassing all generations before us, with the most sophisticated technological advances known to mankind in practically all fields of human endeavor.  Staggering amounts of money have been collected and allocated to solving these issues over many years – at least during my lifetime- by numerous agencies. You’d think that by now the world would be free of deprivation and instead basking in the glory of knowing that all people have a place to call home with more than a possibility of hope. So I ask again, what is happening?

Still stuck, at a complete loss for unscrambling the cacophony of dread and sorrow. How is it possible to clear an opening through this? Could say it’s not happening here, I have my own matters to deal with, it doesn’t affect me, it’s somebody else’s problem…  Some may come right out and ask, “Is there a God? If so, where is He? How could He let any of this be?”

September 21-22,  27 “Zach”  Elul

Danny’s Yahrzeit is here a’h, and all I want to do is shout. But I’ve been completely numb.   Swollen with tears and a huge void that seemingly will never be filled, the grief goes far beyond losing my brother z’l.  I see my family broken, my People in jeopardy. Jews aren’t safe regardless of where we live. Our Holy Land is being desecrated while we continue fighting for survival. Sadly, I see my own country in trouble to the point where many Jews don’t feel safe here either.  So, what good is shouting? What will be different this year?

TEKIAH!  Wake Up Time!  Oh, how we do need to hear the Shofar blasts! Rosh HaShana is almost here. How can we say there is no G-d or blame G-d for what is transpiring?

It seems to me that much of the world’s misfortune is a direct result of man’s abuse of his free choice. Our Creator blessed us with the capacity to bring goodness into the world by emulating His ways. Without free choice we would be as slaves to a master, relying on Him for everything. But HaKadosh Baruch Hu did not make us robots. He gave us the ability to make conscientious decisions every day. What we do with our Bechira is up to us. That is a huge responsibility, every choice has consequences. Our actions affect not only our lives but those around us, even extending to the global community.

Children are being used as human shields while their parents shoot rockets at their enemies – really neighbors! Schools and hospitals are built as storehouses for stockpiles of weapons.  Candy is distributed in the streets to everyone celebrating the deaths of innocent souls.  Materials meant to build communities are deliberately utilized solely for the ruination of others, literally rooting out paths leading to widespread destruction. So called leaders around the world amass great amounts of power and wealth, misappropriating their countries’ resources, while their people do not have the basic necessities of life and barely survive day by day.

The Ribbono Shel Olam’s Oneness and Mastery over the world have been questioned, mocked, ignored, and denied. Abandoned. Life has lost meaning. What chance does goodness have to survive amidst the relentless and ruthless assaults of deception and terror?  Oh, what has man done with his free choice?

And therein we find the roots of what needs to change.

September 23,  28 “Koach” Elul

Man has strayed so far off the path. I believe man must acknowledge and accept that there IS a God in Heaven Who is Master of the world. So many can’t deal with that because they think the world is revolving by itself, it just goes. They don’t or won’t recognize that Adon Olam not only created the world but continues to sustain us daily, and that He does so because He cares* about His Creations. They just won’t admit or perhaps don’t give thought to possibility that if He were to remove Himself the world would cease!

However, if HaShem revealed his full glory to us, as at Har Sinai, would we who are on a much lower spiritual level than that generation be able to withstand it? Even our forebearers begged Moshe to intercede. HaShem’s Kavod was too much for them. Thus in His infinite wisdom, whether or not we comprehend, He remains hidden from us. It’s hard to accept this, but that doesn’t mean He has forgotten us.   

In Parshas Nitzavim, HaShem guides us, “…uVcharta bChaim  – …Choose Life”!

Rosh HaShana is our time to beseech The Holy One for Life. Throughout our Yom Tov davening, special pesukim are added: “Zachrenu l’Chaim, Melech Chafetz baChaim”  “vChatvenu bSefer haChaim, l’Ma’ancha Elokim Chaim. – Remember Us for Life, King Who desires Life, and Inscribe us in the Book of Life, for Your sake oh Living G-d.” We go further by declaring: “Mi Chamocha Av HaRachaman, Zocheir Yetzurav l’Chaim b’Rachamim  –Who is like You, Merciful Father, Who recalls His creatures mercifully for Life”.   There are still more references to Life…

“Etz Chaim He – The Torah is a Tree of Life”– to those who hold onto it!  The One Above gave us His gift to help us choose a meaningful way to lead our lives. Bechira is our chance to bring goodness, read G-d –liness, and compassion into the world. Bechira Chofshis is powerful. It was given to all mankind not just to the Jewish people! Tragically too many have interpreted it to mean they are free to do as they will, excusing themselves from responsibilities. That’s why the world’s calamities are so devastating.

We as Torah Jews carry a monumental task of being a light unto the nations. We must be true leaders and bring about change for the betterment and elevation of society (Tikkun Olam).  How do we accomplish such a feat?

We sanctify LIFE! We cherish every precious moment and pray the world will come to recognize the meaning and purpose of life through our deeds. Yes, we, too, want to have our children be our shields, but not from rockets. We must show our children the Derech HaShem by living it, and inculcating them with our Torah values. We pray they will follow our lead to appreciate, love, and value life. B’Ezras HaShem, they will stay strong in their own convictions in this manner. Then, their strength will shield us and our future from influences counter to Torah’s teachings and meaning. Our schools and Yeshivos must always emphasize the intrinsic value of every human life and encourage our students to stockpile their Middos Tovos. Our hospitals are designed to improve everyone’s well being and save lives, not hide weapons of war. We will give our children and families candy to celebrate Shabbos, Yom Tov, and life’s Simchas. When we are fortunate to have the necessary resources to build our communities, we must make the most of our blessings to help as many people as possible to provide them with the care and services they need. Chessed is a mainstay in our lives, a pillar of Torah’s teachings- completely opposite of the idea of random acts of kindness.  Moreover, just as Moshe Rabeinu was able to account for every coin collected and spent for the Mishkan, to show Bnei Yisroel that he acted for them, not for personal gain, so too we pray that by our own leadership doing the same, we can be a beacon to others to justly rule their peoples. This is what we are to do to make the world a better place. When tragedies do occur, we act to protect life. Pikuach Nefesh is paramount, even requiring us to break Shabbos in certain instances if it means we may save a life.

And that is the difference between how we use our Bechira and the abomination of the peoples of the world who have lost their way. Worse than that, they brazenly use religion and god as a front for justifying killing and death.  Chas v’chalilah we lose sight of this. The moment someone else’s life is less worthy in our eyes than our own, then we have become them.

We also can not afford taking the attitude that if “we go along, fit in… everything will be okay.”  It hasn’t worked before and it’s never going to. Rockets will continuously rain down on us.  Sometimes they (rockets) come in the subtleties of assimilation and giving in for the sake of appeasement.  That will not bring peace. That will extinguish us.

Our Heavenly Father nurtures us with Torah and protects us with His love and compassion* as a father protects his children. So too, we must instill this truth in our children and carry on so that every choice we make is l’Shem Shamayim, for a higher purpose. Better we be distinguished for doing the unimaginable, forewarning our enemies we’re about to strike direct targets and that we’re doing everything we can to make sure their people are safe.   We thereby are proclaiming to the world we really don’t want to hurt any innocent people, rather we’ve been forced to defend ourselves. What greater sanctification of life is there than that –not losing sight of protecting life while we’re at war?!

September 27,  Motzai  Shabbos Shuva  4 Tishrei, 5775

The nations of the world must see this. They can’t ignore it, no matter how much they try.  It is up to them to use their Bechira to realize life is valuable and not a throw-away item. As long as their babes are suckled with utter contempt for all life, and that is all they know their whole lives, then bringing goodness to them  will remain nearly impossible.  However, this is where our bitachon and emunah are greatly tested. We can’t throw our hands up in surrender. We have to continue to do our part and remain loyal and steadfast under the most pressing of circumstances. For while the Ribbono Shel Olam may stay hidden, He is the Master and ultimately will steer the nations back on course.

…which leads me right to the meaning of Yom Tov and the Aseres Y’mei Teshuva.  “Back on course” directly announces: Teshuva!  It’s time for us “to return” in case we have gotten sidetracked and missed opportunities to do Mitzvos.

What will be different this year?  Please G-d we will. We have the necessary Bechira Chofshis to do a true Chesbon Hanefesh and see where we have room to improve our Middos and then act upon our reckonings so they may be l’Tova. When we devote ourselves to Teshuva, HaShem will help us with the rest.

We are in the middle of the most awesome period of our lives between Rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur.  As individuals we have the ability to ask one another for forgiveness, and to forgive others. We pray for forgiveness from HaShem Himself.  As one People of many individuals committed to Teshuva, Am Yisroel cries out to HaShem that our Teshuva be accepted.  The Merciful One listens when we sincerely call upon Him.  Together, by genuinely cherishing life itself every day of our lives, and by never waivering in our trust in HaShem to care for us, Tikkun Olam is not only possible but within our grasp.

Our entire Torah religion is built on the principle of Life no question, in stark contrast to our enemies’ twisted view of glorifying death. On Yom Kippur at Neilah, as during many parts of the davening, we pray for Shalom and surely true and lasting Peace is what our entire world needs! We continue: “bSefer Chaim Bracha vShalom uParnasa Tova nZacher vNaChatem lfanecha…  In the Book of Life, Blessing and Peace, and Good Livelihood, may we be remembered and sealed before You …”   May it be so!

Our prayers don’t end there though.  We say “Avinu Malkenu – Our Father Our King…”, then the “Shema” out loud, we acknowledge Hashem’s Glorious Kingdom, and conclude with “Hashem Hu HaElokim” – said seven times out loud in unison!   Yes there IS a G-d!  He is our King, He is ONE!, He Is the ONLY G-d!

We openly cry to Shamayim that we are ready to go beyond accepting He is the Ruler of the Universe.  In a sense, we declare we will handle our Bechira Chofshis with tender loving care because He has bestowed us with the gift of Life.  Moreover, we will do our utmost to enlighten the other nations of the world to accept that the truest way of abolishing evil and the horrid devastation which plague us now is by using our free choice for Good and appreciating Life.

We are our Brothers’ Keeper after all!  In memory of  Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaer, and Eyal Yifrah, zk’l. May we go in the right direction in Life. Celebrate their LIVES, see the possibilities for Good and Peace at Oz veGaon!


Miriam Leah

About the Author
Miriam Leah Epstein Preil grew up in the midwest, but her heart has always been in Israel! She began playing piano by ear when she was six years old, and by age seven was already studying piano seriously. Her musicality and passion for music were remarkable from an early age. She and the piano are inseparable! Music fills her life and home. Miriam Leah has composed pieces for piano, piano and voice, and many Niggunim. Her poetry is unique, each poem stands on its own yet becomes greater within her collection of poems. All universal. She utilizes her writing to engage people in thought, stir discussion, share insights, support causes, bring forth truths, educate, and inspire souls. She has taught Judaics and Jewish music extensively in Jewish Day schools for many years. Miriam Leah combines her love of music and creative writing with her devotion to Am Yisroel and Eretz Yisroel, through her writing of Divrei Torah and advocating for Jewish values and Israel.
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