After hearing the terrible news that came out of Israel last Monday, I spent the evening watching the news; tears in my eyes. I was trying to understand, along with the rest of our nation, why someone would commit such a terrible crime and wondering how the Israeli government should respond.
My deep-rooted pain and anger persisted on Tuesday as I watched Gilad, Eyal and Naftali being carried, by parents and siblings, to their graves. From discussions with friends and family I found myself lost. How does a government respond to such an act? How do a people mourn something like this? How do families recover from such terrible pain?
The only appropriate response I could find that was somewhat appropriate was Aharon’s in the book of Vayikra. We are told (Vayikra 10:2) that a flame ‘came from God and devoured them’ [Aharon’s sons]. In the very next verse we are told that in response to this shocking act of God – ‘Aharon held his peace’. The various commentators express different opinions as to how to interpret Aharon’s behaviour. However, the answer that the Rambam and the Chizkuni provide is, for me, the only satisfactory answer at a time like this: Aharon was silent from his mourning. He did not cry and he did not mourn. He was silent from everything that he wanted to mourn. Aharon was numb. At a time like this there are no words, there are no actions, there is no way to express how we feel as a nation in the midst of mourning.
After the silence my thoughts reflected on my initial feelings of anger. How do we as a nation respond? I was reminded of a quote from the popular fictional TV series ‘The West Wing’. When discussing how America should respond to an attack on one of the military’s planes. President Bartlett angrily asks ‘what is the virtue of a proportionate response? The attackers know that is what we are going to do and have factored that into the cost of the attack, therefore I repeat, what is the virtue of a proportionate response?’ Initially, it is difficult to disagree with this approach. Why should we settle for the blood of our brothers being shed whilst the perpetrators and their supporters feel little retribution? Why should our nation suffer an 18 day long wait to find out what has happened to our brethren, while the kidnapper’s sympathisers hand out sweets and celebrate?
However, then I am reminded of another side of the events of those 18 days. I think about how across the entire world the whole Jewish nation stood together, in unison, ‘as one person with one heart’ to pray for the boys’ safety. Rallies were held worldwide to show support for the boys and their families, communities around the world lobbied their governments to respond appropriately, religious leaders of all denominations united in their request to their communities to perform religious acts in the merit of the three boys. Additionally, the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority, who had not officially spoken in over a year, suddenly found the courage to pick up the phone and speak to one another. Each government condemning two heinous acts committed by a number of extremists on both sides. One against Gilad, Eyal and Naftali, three innocent young boys travelling home from school and one against Mohammed Abu Khdeir, another innocent young boy taken from the midst of his family.
I am reassured that perhaps there is a different approach. Perhaps there is another type of ‘disproportionate response’. Perhaps the nation that has been divided for so long will now unite for better things and two governments that could not sit around a table together will find a way to discuss options for peace. May this current round of violence end speedily and be the last one we ever experience. May we take the lesson of unity witnessed at a time of great pain and with the help of God bring with an everlasting peace to our holy land.