Aryeh Ben David

My soul during wartime

It is now the 59th day of the war. 

Sandra, my wife, and I have had five kids in uniform. One son and four sons-in-law. Two in and out of Gaza. 

We’ve moved to Tel Aviv to help out with the grandkids. 

Most of us are glued to the headlines, the latest breaking news. 

It is exceedingly difficult to find the emotional bandwidth to go deeper. 

I wanted to share these ruminations with you, to offer a glimpse of what is happening within me, underneath the roiling waves, and to perhaps offer you an invitation to pause and reflect on what may also be going on within yourselves. 

My rebbe once said to me: “We’re only as deep as our deepest contradiction”. Well, then we’re very deep now. 

Broken & United.

Despairing & Hopeful.

Exhausted & Strong. 

Wanting peace & fighting a war. 

My inner life vacillates between all of these aspects every day, every hour, every minute. I’ve been in Israel for over 40 years, served in the army and reserves. Been through intifadas, extended periods of terrorism, and short wars. 

But this is different. As you all know. 

I wanted to share with you some of my inner feelings during this time. I am neither a political pundit nor an historical scholar. Please accept these words as the personal meditations of a soul living through war, grappling with uncertainty, fear, broken-heartedness, and sometimes even inspired beauty. 

* * *

November 5


We learn a lot about ourselves during war.

Soldiers learn about their fear, courage, friendship, and grief.

We learn about our rage, hope, kindness, and heartache.

And we keep learning.

The grocer says “no charge“ when we buy food for soldiers. We learn something.

Kids give their toys to evacuated families living in hotels. We learn something.

Young adults harvest fruits and vegetables for farmers who have been called up. We learn something.

We have learned so much about ourselves.

And we like what we see.

Sleepless nights yet we find patience and compassion. We learn about ourselves.

Smiling and nodding knowingly at strangers in the streets. We learn about ourselves.

Once we thought that time and money were our most precious possessions. Now we give them away without thinking twice. We are learning about ourselves.

Friends finding wisdom to help us cope with nightmares – we are learning something.

Weary grandparents stretching themselves to help mothers and grandchildren – we are learning something.

We are learning about ourselves.

And we like what we see.

A rage so powerful and frightening burns within us. Then someone takes our hand and we catch our breath. We learn something.

A paralyzing sadness so deep within. Then a stranger touches our shoulder and looks into our eyes. We learn something.

A brokenness so deep that we question everything. Then children send letters to our soldiers restoring hope. We learn something.

We have learned so much about ourselves.

And we like what we see.

Our past 3,500 years vibrate within us, teaching us that we can, somehow, get through this.

Our future calls to us, teaching us that we must, somehow, get through this.

Daily life strikes us on the face and makes us want to crawl back into bed. Yet we get up to face a new day. We are learning something.

Painful months ahead will teach us even more about ourselves.

A prayer – that we will like what we will see.

November 14

They have stolen our happiness but they have not stolen our hope.

November 15


The sun is shining brightly in Tel Aviv.

I’ve never felt such darkness.

It’s hot here in Tel Aviv.

I’ve never felt such coldness.

Day after day after day. Hope feels like sand in an hourglass, slipping away, grain after grain. What would we give for just one grain of hope?

Classes of high school kids come. Hang out. This year they are not going on a hike or a trip. They have come to be with the families.

I sit next to a father whose daughter was murdered and wife kidnapped. I cannot utter a single word. I just point to my heart. He understands and is grateful.

Our souls are empty.

Our souls are scarred.

November 21


I got it all wrong.

I thought there were huge clouds of darkness and only scattered rays of sunlight.

I thought that evil and immorality and despair were immense clouds fervently waiting to envelop me, consume me. I thought that malevolent forces were closing in on me from every side, a looming sh%tstorm waiting to happen.

I thought there were only scattered rays of goodness and hope and kindness. Random moments of the light of Am Yisrael. Nice, but how much could they actually accomplish? Nishtkefelecht.

How can rays of light disperse clouds of darkness?

I got it all wrong.

There are huge clouds of light and only scattered rays of darkness.

The rays of darkness sometimes land close to us, sometimes they touch us, sometimes we take a direct hit. But they are only rays. Moments. Slivers. They fracture us. They wound us. They knock us down but then we lean on each other to stand up again. They do not knock us out. They do not control us.

But the clouds? Ahhh. The clouds of the light of Am Yisrael. The clouds are birthing more and more light. More and more goodness and kindness and truth. The clouds are the quiet heroes, the acts of selflessness, the rainbows of hope. The smile of shop owners and the patience of mothers. The sleeplessness of grandparents and the resilience of children. Demonstrations of support; demonstrations of love. They, and only they, envelop us, saturate us.

The clouds of light will lavish luminous rain upon all of us, lush and abundant. Nurturing and nourishing. Generative and replenishing.

The clouds of light will dispel the rays of darkness.

I got it all wrong.

Thank God.

November 27


I sit in silence.

Silence is considered to be the highest form of prayer.

Living beyond discrete words; living in the light of oneness.

But that is not me. Not now.

I am not silent. I am mute.

In Hebrew, the word for mute is “ilem”, connected to “alimut”, violence.

I am not sitting in silence. I am sitting in muteness. The violence has stolen my voice.

I am not sitting in the light of oneness. I am sitting in pitch dark shatteredness.

Without even a breath to utter ‘amen’.

Around me people are singing.

Not me. Eyes closed. Mouth closed. I sit and sit and sit.

I am not in a synagogue. I am in the waiting room for the broken-hearted.

Then, something reaches out to me. Invisible fingers touch me. Wisps from those who have transitioned to the heavens since October 7.

Touching my shoulders, touching my heart, touching my mouth.

Whispering — 

“You can open your mouth. You can pray. We are praying for you.” 

I slowly move from dark to light.

I slowly move from mute to silent.

My mouth cracks open. A single word touches my lips.


November 30


Someone in America asked me: “What can I do to help Israel during this war?”

I said: “Come to Israel”.

They said: “Are you crazy?”

Someone in America asked me: “Do you think I should wear a Jewish star now?”

I said: “Wear two”.

They said: “Are you crazy?”

I guess I am crazy.

In a crazy world, being crazy is a good way to remain sane.

About the Author
Aryeh Ben David founded Ayeka: Center for Soulful Education in 2008. Ayeka educates rabbis, teachers, and professionals to bring Jewish wisdom from our minds to our hearts to our souls and into our lives. He recently published: The Secret of Love - A Glimpse into the Mystical Wisdom of Rav Kook. He lives in Efrat with his wife, Sandra.
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