Last week I attended the funeral of the soldier Zechariah Baumel. Sergeant Zechariah (Zachary) Baumel was one of three Israeli soldiers captured by Syrian armed forces during a battle at Sultan Yaakov in 1982, six days into the First Lebanon War.
The amount of people who came to show their last respects was unbelievable. From all walks of life, men, women, young adults – there was simply no room to stand on Mount Herzl, as big as it is. It was so amazing to see teens who weren’t even born when Zechariah fell captive come and shed a tear when listening to the eulogies about this special soldier.
What struck my attention more than the obvious emotions, of course, was how super the Jewish soul really is. We were all standing there crying, listening to the various stories of this soldier – who he was before he fell and how heroic he was when he fell. How young he was, what a beautiful family he left behind, how miraculous it was that we finally got him back – and it felt as if we were talking about someone who was just killed yesterday and the whole story was still fresh in everyone’s minds. How amazing Am Yisrael is, coming to pay their last respects to a soldier who was missing and in the hands of our enemies for 37 years.
And how special are the mitzvot we have as Jews! The Torah laws teach us how to behave in every situation, even one like this which seems so far removed from reality. This soldier’s body was returned – but after so many years, what’s left to bury? And yet thousands of thousands of Jews came and recited all the prayers one must make at a funeral, and we all asked forgiveness from this heroic soldier who fell so long ago. How amazing is that?
No matter what was left physically, Zechariah’s soul was soaring high above the crowd even after 37 years. I could feel the presence of this special soul, finally returning home to be buried like a Jew, to lay amongst his fellow brothers and sisters. It was electrifying.
People usually attend these types of ceremonies the same day a person passes away, and sometimes a day or so after if the family wants everyone to be present. But how many of us attend funerals so many years later? I felt so proud to be Jewish, so proud to have paid my respects to this super soul which had waited so long to come home. When we say “rest in peace,” we don’t even realize how significant these words really are. Standing on Mount Herzl at Zechariah’s funeral, I could truly feel the peace that he was in.
Living a Jewish life sometimes might seem strict or overwhelming when looking at all the laws we are meant to keep. Standing at that funeral gave me so much strength to keep the laws we are commanded as a Jewish nation. This is what a Jew is all about. More than we must keep the commandments, the commandments keep us.
G-d created all mankind. But He chose the Jewish nation as his one and only and gave us the special Torah which keeps us closer to Him than any other people in the world. We all have a body, but the Jew has a special, super soul that can never be defeated. Sometimes we forget who we really are and think that we are just like any other nation and can act as we wish. However, G-d in his infinite wisdom has a way of never letting a Jewish soul get lost forever. Hashem always sees and seeks out every Jew and makes sure to bring him home.
May we merit the ability to come closer to our Creator through the love and strength we receive when performing the special mitzvot that Hashem commanded us, and may we reach the holy holiday of Passover with lots of happiness and peace.