Challenge – Sometimes it’s what we need
by Charlie Rabinovich
Over the past three weeks, the Jewish people, as a whole, experienced one of its most difficult times in recent history. It started with three teenage boys kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists coming home from school to make it back for Shabbat to be with their families. Then, what had started off as a frantic and massive search by our Israel Defense Forces to find these missing boys, ended in a tragedy. Their bodies were found in a half dug pit, confirming that the boys were most likely shot almost immediately after the kidnapping. The search, which spanned over 18 days united the global Jewish community through prayer and increasing their good deeds with the hopes to bring these boys back. There is way to fathom the gravity of this heart wrenching situation and attempting to understand why would be equally as impossible We can, however, search within the Torah to gain a glimpse of comfort. The sources, in addition to a personal story, hopefully will help console us.
First, why is kidnapping so hard to deal with? Kidnapping conveys a feeling of being trapped. The unexpected experience, leaves the formerly free person in a whirlwind of emotion. To the people on the outside, it can be worse as they have no information on the condition of the person taken, nor do they know anything about their surroundings. Overall, the feeling of unknown, unrest and possibility of death and lacking the ability to take control of a situation can drive a person insane.
Unfortunately, I was a victim to a kidnapping in Odessa, Ukraine when I was there celebrating my 24th birthday on August 24th. While I was away at dinner elsewhere, I received a call from a friend who accompanied me to Odessa but was on the other side of town at the moment. At around 10pm, he called me frantically explaining to me that he witnessed two friends leave a restaurant with a stranger and have not returned in over an hour! Clearly, the long wait was causing him to get nervous. After four hours of searching, we finally received a call from them. Although sounding very ruffled, they said that they were with the police and needed to be bailed out for $20,000. We quickly jumped into a taxi towards the police station, only to met by a jeep and no station. The tattoo covered thugs demanded that we get into their car. Realizing that the situation was escalating, we ran back into the taxi and told him to slam on the gas. Thankfully, we lost them after a lengthy movie-esque car chase down the rugged brick streets of Odessa. After losing us, the gangster hoodlums were calling my phone every minute so I stopped answering. We were able to escape and found refuge in a safe place which we proceeded to call America for help.
At this point, my friend was in tears scared that we would accompany the two bodies of our friends back home. In a moment of introspection, I asked “Why me?!, What did I do to be put into this type of situation?!” I was always good and never looked for trouble. Why was I just chased down the streets of Odessa by Russian gangsters? This was the moment where I stopped believing in Hashem. I was fortunate to have everything click for me, and I said that I have no more beliefs, I now know. Do I know if this is why we were later able to rescue our friends alive and unharmed? No. But I do know that if it was not for the recognition that I am only free to the extent that I have a Master which has a grander plan for me in life, things would probably end differently. I knew that no matter how good or decent person I could have been, nothing mattered because G-d is the master of this universe and of my life. It is only with His help that we are able to accomplish anything. He knows everything and what we had gone through was part of a bigger plan. The Gemara Shabbat(106b) teaches us that “a bird who is free does not accept mastery”. How true this is. No matter how good a person may be, freedom from Hashem is not possible. It is only those who do not accept Hashem reign who consider themselves free. But they are not free, they actually are deniers of the Torah. Pirkei Avos comes to teach us that “there is no free man except one who occupies himself with the study of Torah; and anyone who occupies himself with the study of Torah becomes elevated”. That is exactly why we as a nation gathered to recite Psalms, and unified around the cause of these three boys. We realized that the only hope of freeing the missing boys was to cry out to our Master and claim our subservience to Him and His Torah, would truth be obtained.
Next is the question that if we cried out so much, showed great unity and increased the Torah on a global scale, why our prayers weren’t answered? To this I am also not able to offer an answer, but am able to turn to the Torah to offer some more comfort. In Menachos(110a) it states “For mine is every beast of the forest, the cattle of a thousand mountains…and what moves upon my fields is with me….Hashem says: I did not tell you “Slaughter offerings” so that you should say “Let me gratify him and he will gratify me.” Not for my gratification that you are slaughtering; rather it is for YOUR GRATIFICATION that you are slaughtering, as it says; you shall slaughter it to (Fulfill) your will.” The Gemara also told us in this tractate that “Whether one gives a lot or one gives a little, his offering is equally pleasing to God, provided that he directs his heart toward his Father in Heaven.”
These are some powerful words to grasp, but the mothers of the kidnapped boys had echoed it the entire 18 days of search. They persistently strengthened the public to continue to increase mitzvot and expressed tremendous gratitude appreciation for all, little or grand, of the acts of kindness. Looking at the Gemara, we can see that unfortunately, we needed this as a people. We cannot turn to Hashem and demand a reward for our good deeds. Hashem only gives us what we need, our wants are irrelevant. Sure we wanted the boys to be returned safe and alive, but Hashem has plans for everyone. We value life more than we value death compared to the Palestinian terrorists. To them, volunteers line the streets to be able to give their lives for their people. We are the exact opposite as we do not want any life lost. For that reason, Hashem is careful at selecting only a few special souls to be sacrificed. Our response was unique to the selfish times we live in. We showed unity and love for one another. We showed the world how much we love every life. The fact that we offered so many sacrifices turned out to be for our own benefit. The unfortunate fate of the boys was irrelevant to our true intentions. We needed to bind together through tragedy, but now it must not stop. We will mourn the boys but mourning passes, our Torah and good deeds should not. We cannot let only tragedies bring us together. We need to look at how quickly we all united here and then transform darkness to light for more than just 18 days.
This week’s Parsha Balak also demonstrates this notion. Balak was sent to curse the Jewish people as the Palestinian terrorists had tried to do, but instead his curses turned to blessings. The first blessing proceeds as follows “How can I curse? –God has not cursed. How can I anger? –Hashem is not angry. For from its origins, I see it rocklike, and from hills do I see it. Behold! It is a nation that will dwell in solitude and not be reckoned among the nations.”. This verse rings truer today. We cannot justify Hashem’s plan in our own terms because we lost Jewish lives. During this time, we united at unprecedented level. Now, we are required to follow through with this blessing and not be reckoned. We need to continue everything we started and continue to light up this world. At the same time, we cannot let this terrorist barbarism continue, now is the time to end it. The boys were missing for 18 whole days, where we all prayed for Chai/life. Once we found out the fate of the boys, those 18 days turned out to be days of death, but only from one specific angle. Three young boys over 18 days were able to bring Chai/life to the Jewish people. I don’t believe it was a coincidence that 18 represents life, because that is what we gained out of all this. We are now more united. We are one. We must use this as the moment of inspiration to maintain the unity to hasten the coming of Moshiach immediately and bring about our final redemption!