The Things I Saw in Our New Medina
Above: A Surprise Sheva Brachos in the Tzahal base in Chevron.
On Monday afternoon, arriving from the airport, I walked into the dining room of the Dan Panorama jet lagged and shellshocked. The lobby looked like a refugee camp. Displaced families from the south painfully wearing the expressions of people who never imagined they would see the things that they saw.
As I got to the coffee machine, an elderly women looked up at me from her table. In her shaking hands was a large print Birkon. “Can you please help me find the page for Birkat HaMazon?” She asked. “Once I have it, I can follow the words. But it's hard for me to find it without my glasses. I don't have them anymore.”
She and her family have evacuated their Kibbutz in the South. I didn't have the heart to ask what happened to those glasses, or the home she used to live in. But I helped her find the page. I watched her say the ancient words of birkas hamazon: נוֹדֶה לְּךָ ה' אֱלֹקינוּ עַל שֶׁהִנְחַלְתָּ לַאֲבוֹתֵינוּ אֶרֶץ חֶמְדָּה טוֹבָה וּרְחָבָה – We thank you, Hashem our God, that you have given as an inheritance to our ancestors a wonderful, good and expansive land. She said them with pain and gratitude. She meant every word.
There was a man, an evacuee from Yachini playing the guitar in the lobby late on Monday night. I took out my ukulele and we played together for a while. “How are you doing?” I asked. In typical Israel fashion, he answered confidently “Beseder gamur” – totally ok. But then, quite atypically he laughed ironically and explained: “We are Besder – we're ok. But Gamur. Totaled. We're done.”
We continued to play music together, until a teen from Sderot came downstairs with his electric guitar, and a small group formed for an impromptu kumzitz.
This was my introduction to a New Medinat Yisrael.
I have merited to visit this incredible country many times. But something has changed. It's not the same as it was before Simchas Torah 5784.
In this new country refugees from their homes thank Hashem for this wonderful land. They are emotionally, physically and psychologically traumatized. They are exhausted, drained and heartbroken. But emerging from this heartbreak is a love for Klal Yisrael which I have never seen.
We met Yiscah, the widow of Yoni Steinberg hy”d, the commander of Nachal Brigade who fell defending Kibbutz Kerem Shalom on Simchas Torah. She described her husband as modest and disciplined; a man committed to a life of Talmud Torah. She told us of their mutual decision to live their lives for the sake of Klal Yisrael. She told us how he would return from tactical operations for Shabbos, and she made sure to fit the Shabbos meals around his schedule of Chavrusos throughout the day. She is so proud of this man who died as he lived, leaving behind six children an unimaginable legacy of Ahavas Torah and Mesirus Nefesh.
Yiscah is heartbroken, but completely whole in a way I could not understand. Every word and tear quietly screamed to the world that she is a woman who knows that her life is part of a much greater story. A story that is eternal, that defies death; a song which is rising to its magnificent crescendo.
I walked out of their home feeling that there is something new flowing through the veins of our brothers and sisters in Israel. Perhaps it was always there, silently gathering strength; but in these past three weeks it is impossible to ignore.
Rav Binyamin Machluf introduced us to the army base at Tziporit; a place of tears and kedusha like no other. “Here,” he explained, “we identify the bodies of those who were murdered.”
“We have fingerprint scanners, a dental team, and DNA lab. There are things that we have seen that no person should ever see. So many tears. So much pain. But the hardest thing that I have to do, is to tell a parent that their child is in this place.”
There is a large team of soldiers on the base. Rabbis, doctors, dentists, scientists. All who have left their regular lives to re-enlist in the sacred units of those who bring comfort, closure and kedusha to Jews living through Gehenom, as those who they love rise to Gan Eden.
At this base, like all others, there is simply no distinction between right and left, religious or secular. The have worked sleeplessly for three weeks, and will continue to do so until there are no more tears to shed.
It struck me as we got back onto the bus that these soldiers have witnessed the worst of the worst. They have seen the brutality and cruelty of our enemies with their own eyes. Yet, amazingly, they carry no anger. There is no rage, no vengeance. There is singing, laughter, friendship and an iron clad resolve that they will return home only once the enemy is completely and utterly destroyed.
This feeling was ubiquitous from base to base, from every soldier we met.
In the hearts and minds of our Chayalim, there is no question about whether we will win or lose. They have full confidence that we will win. It is already a forgone conclusion; a story that must unfold. Each of them is ready to give their lives to ensure it. Their unity is infectious; there is no fear, no hesitation.
They are no afraid of losing the war. They are afraid of losing each other again.
Something has changed in this country.
The Medrash (ילקוט שמעוני על התורה ק״א) tells us that as Avraham stretched out his hand to perform the Akeida, the Neshama of Yitzchak left his body and flew to Shamayim:
ר' יהודה אומר כיון שהגיע החרב לצואר פרחה ויצאה נשמתו של יצחק. וכיון שהשמיע קולו מבין שני הכרובים אל תשלח ידך אל הנער חזרה נפשו לגופו והתירו ועמד יצחק וידע יצחק שכך עתידים המתים לחיות ופתח ואמר בא”י מחיה המתים.
When Yitzchak heard from the between the Keruvim “Do not lay a hand on that boy,” his soul returned to his body. At that moment, yitzchak knew that the revival of the dead will one day come to be, and he made the bracha “He who revives the dead.”
The Malbim (בראשית כב:ט) explains this enigmatic Medrash:
According to the laws of nature, Avraham and Sarah were childless. Both of them infertile, and well beyond child bearing years. Yet, through their immense greatness and merit, Hashem granted them a miracle child: Yitzchak.
This means that the existence of the Jewish people is antithetical to nature. We exist miraculously on the merits of of own greatness. But were it to ever happen that we would fall from these heights, the miracle of our existence would cease. We would be no longer.
The Yitzchak of miracles died on the mizbeach that day.
וכשירד מן המזבח לא ירד אז יצחק הקודם שנולד נגד המערכה, רק יצחק אחר מוקדש לה' שאין לו עסק עם המערכה
The Yitzchak who relied on miracles and merits to exist was placed on the mizbeach. And an entirely different Yitzchak descended from that mizbeach. This Yitzchak is transcendently cleaving to Hashem. This Yitzchak has no connection to the limits of the natural world at all.
Something has changed in this country. There was a terrible Akeida on Simchas Torah. But in the days and weeks since that horrific day, there is a new Yitzchak, a new Jewish people.
This nation, our nation, is not interested in the words and wills of the world. They are in love with their land, in love with each other and desperately in love with Hashem.
They are heartbroken but completely whole. They have risen from the ashes and are fighting for us in Chutz La'aretz. They know that they will win, and they want to ensure that we have a safe place to call home.
More than anything, they want us to join them; they're are waiting for us to come home.