Today is the 17th of Tammuz; a day devoted to national self-reflection. So let’s pause and reflect on the very intense month our nation has been through.
So many things have happened, and so much has changed.
It began on Friday morning, the 15th of Sivan (June 13) when we learned that three of our children had been kidnapped. Within hours, Jews across the spectrum and across the world were united in worry and prayer for these boys, whom almost none of us knew personally. Those emotions – pain, worry, faith and solidarity – followed us for the next 2-1/2 weeks until one evening we heard the dramatic and devastating news. The national worry turned immediately to national mourning, mixed with fury as we heard the audio recordings of the evil monsters laughing as they murdered our three holy, innocent children.
From the bereaved families to the Prime Minister, cabinet members and Chief Rabbis who spoke at the funerals, down to pretty much every blogger and facebook commenter I saw, the sentiments were just about universal. Like many others, I also wrote about this a few weeks ago: the evil is unfathomable and the tragedy is devastating, but something positive did come from all of this – we learned that in spite of our many differences, we really are one family and we can come together for the most noble of purposes.
No sooner were the boys buried, though, then we learned about the horrific murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, and a few days later the unthinkable was confirmed: some of our own people are capable of the exact same level of evil. This shook us to our core and unleashed a flurry of condemnations from political leaders, rabbis and ordinary people – again with almost complete wall-to-wall unanimity.
But before we had a chance to digest that, rockets started flying, sirens began to blare, tens of thousands of our men were called up for emergency reserve duty (known as “tzav 8” here in Israel), and all Israelis found themselves constantly asking where the nearest bomb shelter would be. From our brothers and sisters abroad, the prayers resumed and expressions of genuine solidarity flowed in.
For a few hours this morning it looked like there was a cease-fire; by now it is clear that the fighting continues, and a ground operation may be just around the corner. If so the prayers will certainly intensify, as we once again worry about the safety of our young men. At some point, though, this round of fighting will come to an end (hopefully with a complete victory for the IDF).
And then maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to return to our normal lives for at least a while (although by now it should be clear that nothing involving Israel and the Jews is ever “normal”). That would be a real blessing. We all have important things to do in our personal and communal lives and it would be wonderful to be able to actually focus on those again.
And at that point, the differences, disagreements and emphatic disputes will return in all of their intensity. The arguments will continue, and that’s actually a good thing. Our rabbis tell us (Avot 5:17) that “an argument for the sake of Heaven is destined to prevail”.
The problem is that it might look like the unity is quickly dissolving. But it doesn’t have to. When we return to routine, things don’t have to go back to exactly the way they were.
In fact, that’s really what this time of year is about. Our Rabbis also tell us (Yoma 9b) that the present exile was caused by “baseless hatred”. Anyone who studies the history of that time understands that this is a reference to the many factions among the nation. They were divided religiously, politically and ideologically, and they didn’t conduct those disputes as “arguments for the sake of Heaven”; instead there was civil war.