Yesterday I made an extraordinary and moving shiva visit at the home of the Netanel family, whose son Yonatan was killed last week in Gaza. Unfortunately, he and two other soldiers died when an Israeli tank mistakenly opened fire on a house captured by Israeli soldiers. His father, Rabbi Amos Netanel, was a student at our yeshiva in Kiryat Arba for several years.
When you comfort mourners, especially those who grieve over sons fallen in battle, your goal is to console and support the parents and family in their saddest hours. As I sat opposite Rabbi Amos and his dear family, I realized that just as they comforted the hundreds of friends who escorted Yoni to his final resting place, here too they were strengthening those who came to sit with them in their time of sorrow. Rabbi Amos reiterated his brave words at the funeral and said he wanted to speak in the name of his son, Captain Yoni, telling his soldiers: “Do not worry, because I haven’t left you – my spirit lives and continues to guide you and protect you from a higher and purer place.”
Rabbi Amos said it is of great merit to be the father of a son who with great determination, self-sacrifice and joy went to guard his beloved nation and land. He contacted the tank commander and the gunner who shot the fatal rocket that killed the three soldiers and told them he had no ill feelings toward them because everything that happens is prescribed from Heaven and Yoni fulfilled his mission on earth until angels took him back.
He said he was satisfied that the angels who took him were pure Jewish soldiers and that Yoni wasn’t killed at the evil hand of Hamas. He invited them to visit after the war so he could embrace them, and asked them to continue fighting, like Yoni, with courage, bravery and joy.
At this shiva visit I learned new concepts of belief and devotion. I was reintroduced to the uplifting spirit of this generation of men of Torah, soldiers and officers who grew up in yeshivot and demonstrated renewed powers of bravery, purity and happiness that are inherent in the Jewish soul. These are traits drawing from the spirit of King David’s soldiers and the Maccabees.
The Israel Air Force, which launched the war on Chanukah, was certainly inspired by the miracle of Chanukah. The courage and faith demonstrated by the Maccabees came to life again in the actions of the air force crews and the ground forces that joined the fighting a week later.
I left the Netanel home with a very deep feeling of having being touched by an angelic wand capable arousing powers of faith and unity within Jewish hearts. This faith and unity, inherent in the purity of those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for their people and their country, projects a new dimension of strength, love and complete devotion. Only these are able to soothe the great pain of losing a loved one in his early years of life.
Everyone connected with local and international media was astonished by the deep faith and commitment expressed by families of soldiers killed in action, and by injured soldiers wishing to immediately return to their units.
A reporter for the daily newspaper Maariv was so moved by this proud fighting spirit that he wrote: “It is possible that we’re meeting with the spiritual world and values of those who will be the future commanders of the IDF, and it may be possible that this will be the language and text that will be flowing at General Staff meetings within a few years.”
Yes, this war that began on Shabbat Chanukah was inspired by the courage and responsibility of the Maccabees for their people. I believe the entire nation of Israel was spiritually uplifted and experienced a real jolt to its morale and national pride when the Israeli government, humiliated for so long by Hamas rocket attacks on Israeli towns and cities, finally decided to retaliate and remove that danger from southern Israel.
When the Israel Air Force attacked and destroyed Hamas bases and rocket launchers, the entire country was relieved by the transformation of its image from a people who flee from its enemies and surrender to terror to a people who stand up and fight its attackers. After more than two weeks of heroic fighting, we have finally succeeded in renewing the Israeli army’s power of deterrence.