By Rav Shaul Arieli
Ohel Yitzchok of Kew Gardens Hills
(From the Shabbos-morning derashah during the shivah of the three murdered yeshiva boys)
During these trying times, the entire nation is in deep mourning, distraught and shaken to its core. Three martyrs, wonderful young men, were taken from us in a sudden and horrific kidnapping by terrorists and murderers bereft of mercy. I have considered carefully the personalities of the three mothers who have experienced unimaginable dread and pain during the 18 days in which they did not know the fate of their precious children. I saw in them Chana, the mother of Shmuel Hanavi, and our mothers Sarah and Rivka.
Sefer Shmuel relates that when Chana was barren and went to Shilo three times each year to pray for children, her husband, Elkana, said to her, “Why are you crying? Why don’t you eat? Why are you so distressed? Am I not better than ten sons?” Although there is no explicit mention that Elkana prayed for Chana to have children, we can assume he also prayed fervently. But Elkana apparently despaired of having children and stopped praying for them. He thus found the only thing he could do was to try and comfort Chana by claiming that he was better than ten children. Chana, however, never gave up hope and persisted in her prayers to G‑d. We see that G‑d has imbued within a mother that unique and powerful character trait of never giving up hope—a mother never despairs.
The story is told of a yeshiva boy who, while learning in Israel, became critically ill. The rosh yeshiva decided not to tell the boy’s parents so as to spare them pain and anguish. When the boy’s condition became critical, his parents were finally informed and told to come to Eretz Yisrael. After the funeral, the boy’s mother turned to the rosh yeshiva and said, “While I understand that you didn’t tell us in order to spare us pain, you ended up depriving my son of the power of his mother’s prayers.”
Just like Chana never despaired, the mothers of these three young men never despaired throughout the entire 18-day ordeal. Without any complaints to Hashem, they united, with their great faith and emotion, all segments of society and brought them closer to G‑d. With their tremendous faith, they sanctified G‑d’s name. One of the gedolim explained that the Navi Yeshayahu (66) describes that, “G‑d will console us and Yerushalayim, just like a mother consoles her son.” Such is the power of a mother, that the navi compares G‑d’s consolations to those of a mother.
When a father passes away, it is only the mother who, despite her own feelings of loss, is able to comfort her children, because G‑d has imbued within her this special feeling and sensitivity. Yitzchak was unable to find consolation over the loss of his mother Sarah until he married Rivka and was consoled by her. We can imagine that Avraham, the father of our people, attempted to console his son Yitzchak, but Yitzchak was unable to find consolation, for there is no consolation like the consolation of a mother. When did Yitzchak finally find consolation? When he married Rivka and brought her into his tent. The Targum explains that Rivka acted like Sarah, and Yitzchak saw in her his mother’s character traits. Only then did he find consolation. Rivka was not only Yitzchak’s wife, but served as his mother as well.
The Torah in parashas Masei relates how a person who killed somebody unintentionally may be killed by a relative of the deceased until he gets to the city of refuge. Once he gets to the city of refuge, a relative of the deceased is no longer allowed to kill him. However, if the killer leaves the city of refuge, the relative would be allowed to kill him. But once the Kohen Gadol dies and the killer is released, the relative may no longer kill him and avenge his relative’s death. Why are we no longer concerned that after the Kohen Gadol dies the relative will kill him?
The Rambam, in the Moreh Nevuchim, addresses this question. The Torah understands the depths of human psychology. A person whose close relative has been killed, whether he is a son or father, cannot be reasoned with or stopped. Therefore, the killer must seek refuge in a city of refuge, for should he exit the city, the blood avenger will be waiting in ambush year after year. However, with the death of the Kohen Gadol, the drive for revenge weakens. Why is this so? The Rambam enlightens us with a penetrating insight. When the Kohen Gadol dies, the nation experiences a national mourning so powerful that it negates all personal feelings of loss. With the absence of personal mourning, the drive to seek revenge evaporates. This is a very powerful idea. The death of the Kohen Gadol is so painful that it negates all danger to the killer.
The deaths of these three precious martyrs are like the death of the Kohen Gadol. All of Bnei Yisrael experienced this national mourning to the point that we all forgot our personal problems. This was indeed a national tragedy. With the death of these young men, their mothers were transformed from mothers of specific children to the mothers of the entire nation. We all found consolation from their strength of spirit, their faith, and the faith of the fathers and their entire families.
The 40 years in the desert were very difficult ones. They were filled with complaints against Moshe and Aharon regarding food and drink. During this time Bnei Yisrael sinned with the spies and Korach, to name but a few instances. At the end of the 40 years, on the eve of their entry into Eretz Yisrael, they sinned with the daughters of Moav, which caused a great schism in the nation. It was only through Pinchas’s actions that unity was restored. And without unity, Eretz Yisrael could not be conquered. Pinchas did not act for his own sake. Rather, he felt the pain of disunity and he alone acted to rectify the situation.
Rabosai! Eretz Yisrael is currently in a state of war. From the south to the center of the country to the north, everyone is frightened from the despicable enemy who has pledged to destroy us. With G‑d’s help we will prevail. But we must maintain this unity that these three mothers have inspired, even after victory. For only with unity can we win. Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali are holy souls. May they serve as advocates for their families and all of Am Yisrael before Hashem. May we merit true peace and the final redemption speedily in our days. ϖ