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The Sanctification of Life In Memory of ‘Our Boys’

Essay adapted from remarks at a memorial service held at Toronto’s Congregation Shaarei Shomayim on July 7, 2014

Take a moment to remember where you were when you first heard of the kidnapping of the three boys. Now try to recall what you were doing when you heard of their deaths.
Bila hamavet lanetzah. “May God destroy death forever, and may the Eternal God wipe away tears from every face.”
Nineteen days ago, we gathered in hope. Tonight we assemble in sadness to remember Eyal ben Iris v’Uri, Gilad ben Bat-Galim v’Ofir, and Naftali ben Avraham v’Rahel. We may be in the West, but our hearts and tears are in the East with the grieving Yifrah, Shaar and Frankel families. Itkhem anahnu betzaratkhem.
Years ago, in response to the murder of Jews by Nazis, Rabbi Yitzhak Nissenbaum said that the imperative of the hour was not the mitzvah of kiddush hashem, death by martyrdom, but a new obligation: kiddush hahayyim. Nissenbaum wrote: "In the past our enemies demanded our soul and the Jew sacrificed his body in sanctifying God’s name. Now the enemy demands the body of the Jew. That makes it imperative for the Jew to defend it and protect it." Jews have a right to live in security and safety.
Naftali, Eyal, and Gilad were killed by people who believed in death. Along with the imperative to live and continue Jewish life, we must extend kiddush hahayyim to teach respect and sanctification for life. We must not allow ourselves to be swallowed by a culture of death and destruction.
On this day, the anniversary of the rescue from Entebbe, we must remind ourselves and the world that this murder in Israel was not the first. We have been witness to hijacks and hostage takings, drive-by shootings and the slaughter of children in their beds. We have seen the bombings of buses, night clubs, hotels and restaurants, kindergartens, and senior centers. As well, we remember the blood-stained hands celebrating the lynching of Jews.
We have every right to anger and rage. But we must not succumb to those feelings. When Cain was frustrated and angry over the rejection of his offering, God asked him: Why are you angry…Its desire is for you, but you must master it.” Our tradition teaches us to control our natural reactions.
In September 1963, speaking at the funeral service of four teenage girls killed in the bombing of a Birmingham, Alabama, church, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded those in attendance: “These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of [a] vicious and tragic crime….They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution…that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers.”
Dr. King continued: “God still has a way of wringing good out of evil….The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force…. I say to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence…Somehow, we must believe that the most misguided among [those who hate] can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.”
Ancient architecture placed the most important element of a city in the center, protected by surrounding structures. In the center of the Torah, is the mitzvah “ The horrific murder of these three Jewish teenagers ignited our deep-seated rage. Now that suspects have been arrested in the burning to death of a Palestinian teenager, it is impossible to ignore the incitement to vengeance which has come from our own community. In turn, the murder of Muhammed Abu Khadeir has ignited anger and rioting within the Arab community.
Prime Minister Netanyahu correctly said: “In…the society of Israel, there is no place for such murderers…We condemn them, and we put them on trial, and we’ll put them in prison….. We do not seek [the] destruction [of the Palestinian people]. [All calls for destruction and death]…must end. There is too much suffering. There is too much pain.
Rachel Fraenkel, mother of Naftali, of blessed memory, spoke a deep truth out of her deep anguish: "There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality or the age."
May the memories of Eyal ben Iris v’Uri, Gilad ben Bat-Galim v’Ofir, and Naftali ben Avraham v’Rahel teach all of us the mitzvah of kiddush hahayyim. We sanctify the God of life by continuing to live as Jews and by respecting all of life.
Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl, senior rabbi at Beth Tzedec Congregation in Toronto, is a Shalom Hartman Institute Senior Rabbinic Fellow . This essay is adapted from his remarks at a memorial service held at Toronto’s Congregation Shaarei Shomayim on July 7, 2014 (9 Tammuz 5774)

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