Out of Darkness Comes Light
Out of the darkness comes light. Over the past few days we have seen unparalleled strength from our fellow Israelis and from the entire Jewish people. Israel and the Jewish people responded to brutality and tragedy with bravery, strength, support, and giving.
Last week I went with a group from Tel Aviv to Saroka hospital in Beer Sheva to visit the injured and the sick. Our group was large, over fifty people, so I personally did not have a chance to interact directly with those who were wounded and their families, although we did get to visit other patients in the hospital. As we walked around the hospital what I saw was truly extraordinary. The halls were overrun with people who had come to give. Tables set up at the entrances manned by volunteers giving out food, drinks, sandwiches, lollypop trees, and full packaged meals. There were numerous groups who had come to lift the injured and their families’ spirits. What struck me most is how everyone seemed focused and strong, determined to do their task. Hospital workers, soldiers who were coordinating care, people coming to visit all seems to have an aura of purposefulness. There was no heaviness or feeling of being dejected by the events which had occurred only two days before. They did not allow the enormity and tragedy of the events to overwhelm them.
It seems like the whole country is volunteering. On Friday morning after services in the synagogue they announced that volunteers were needed to dig graves and help at the cemeteries. By the time I finished shopping so my wife could prepare Shabbat and called the coordinator he said there were more than enough people.
This reaction is across Israel and worldwide. Stories about of donations coming in for food and supplies for the soldiers, and of planes being chartered to bring protective equipment. Hi-Tech volunteers are working to block funds being transferred to Hamas. Social media campaigns and college demonstrations are being organized in support of Israel. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been raised in the Jewish community to support these efforts, the soldiers , and the families and communities that have been devastated.
The stories coming out of the tragedy of heroism and bravery are larger than life. As Jews we do not lionize heroism and bravery, we call it mesirut nefesh, personal self-sacrifice. In the Shema we are called upon to service G-d ‘with all our being’, which means being willing to give one’s life for G-d and the Jewish people. So many soldiers are doing just that, and here are a few of the stories from last Shabbat of people who helped save a family member, a neighbor, or a fellow Jew.
Inbal Lieberman is the security coordinator of Kibbutz Nir Am. On the morning of October 7 she woke up to the sound of missles, which is not so uncommon on the Gaza border. But something about the frequency of the booms sounded different. So Inbal went door to door waking everyone up instead of protecting herself by going to the bomb shelter. She distributed arms from the arsenal and positioned the volunteers from the kibbutz at strategic locations around the perimeter. As the terrorists approached they were caught off guard, and she herself killed five terrorists. The other members of the kibbutz eliminated twenty others and the invasion was thwarted. By putting her life in danger she had saved the kibbutz and dozens of lives. Hers was one of two kibbutzim that were not overrun.
There are numerous stories of soldiers jumping in their cars and driving down to the Gaza border as soon as they heard there was an incursion. The practice of the Israeli army is that the commanders go into battle at the head of the troops, and this ethos was embodied by generals and commanders last Saturday. Brigadier General Dan Goldfluss, who is not a young man, drove into the heat of battle. He gathered a Givati commander and a few other soldiers and together they went from kibbutz to kibbutz engaging in battle, sometimes with over 20 terrorists, successfully staving off attacks. He then went from area to area to give an assessment of what was happened so the headquarters could try to coordinate the battle. He recounts that some of the air support they received was given by the battalion commanders who personally went into battle.
Retired General Noam Tibon got a frantic call early Shabbat morning from his son who lives on Kibbutz Nahal Oz near the Gaza border. He and his family were locked in their safe room with Hamas terrorists outside their home. His father reassured him and said ‘I am coming for you, nothing will stop me.’ He and his wife jumped in the car and drove South from Tel Aviv. As they were getting closer they saw the destruction. When they came upon survivors of the music festival who were fleeing barefoot, the couple turned around to bring them to safety. Then as they made their way back south, they picked up another soldier who agreed to come with them. They encountered a group of special forces engaged in a battle against the terrorists and helped to eliminate them. They once again diverted their personal mission to save their family to help save those who were in immediate need. They brought wounded soldiers to safety and the general’s wife continue driving back North with the car to bring the soldiers to the hospital in Ashkelon. General Tibon then encountered another retired general, and together they made their way back south. At the entrance of the kibbutz they joined another group of special forces who were clearing the kibbutz and helping in killing five of the terrorists, freeing families from their safe rooms. Finally, ten hours after he made his promise, Galia, his three year granddaughter said “Grandpa is here.” They all burst into tears, General Tibon had kept his promise to his family.
Over the past week I have had members of our community who have been asked by their family abroad to come home, at least until things are safe again. For each person this is a very personal decision, and everyone has to figure out for themselves what is the right thing to do. Howeve,r the overwhelming majority of the olim are staying put, and thousands of Israelis, many of whom live abroad are returning to fight for their country. Why do we put ourselves in danger to stay in Israel, and why do so many choose to put themselves on the front line? Yes, it is natural to defend one’s home, to fight to protect one’s family, to stay in danger’s way to protect one’s way of life, and even to fight for one’s national homeland. But I believe for the Jewish people there is much more to this story.
As part of the Jewish people, we are heirs to a mission going back 4000 years to Abraham and Sarah to bring blessing to the world through a vision of goodness, the absolute value of human life, justice, protecting the weak, and world peace. We have brought these ideals to the world, and are hated all more for it by those who are evil. The Torah spells out that this mission is to be actualized here in the land of Israel, by building a society based on love, compassion, justice and caring. We have returned to our homeland after 2000 years to live out the final chapter of fulfilling that mission. Whether religiously observant or not, I believe most Israelis are conscious of our special mission, and therein lies our strength. And so we are willing to fight for that, for our fellow brothers and sisters, for our country Israel, and for the future of our children and the future of the world. I have hearthat morale is very high amongst the soldiers who have been waiting a week to carry out their mission. We may be broken at times, but we will not be shattered, and we will come out stronger, It is in these moments when we are tested that we come together as a people, and care for each other as an extended family. And through that unity and goodness we will fight back, and then we will heal and continue to flourish.
“Zion will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through charitable acts.” Isaiah 1:27