Reflections on Gilad Schalit and Sukkot

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October 19 2011

This was an email communication sent to MMY Alumnae on the occasion of Gilad Schalit's release from Hamas captivity on Chol HaMoed Sukkot 5772.

Dear Talmidot,

Today, we moved a TV into our Sukkah.

That's not a very ordinary thing in my family - in fact I don't ever remember doing it before. But of course today was not an ordinary day.   We sat around today, the entire family, glued to the TV screen along with much of the rest of Am Yisrael, for the exhilarating experiencing of watching Gilad Schalit come home. With everyone else, we followed every step of his journey, from Gaza through the Sinai to the Kerem Shalom crossing, and then to the Tel Nof air force base where he was welcomed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and other officials, and finally to his home in Mitzpe Hila. We waited with tense anticipation for any little photo of Gilad, and screamed with genuine excitement when we finally saw him.  Although we never met Gilad, we all felt - just as so many others did - as though he was part of our family.

Much has been written in recent days about the very difficult dilemma of whether the deal the government made was correct, and whether Gilad's release was worth the very heavy price we paid. I've thought much about this also, and although I am still torn I think I have formulated an opinion, but that is not what I want to discuss right now.   As our Prime Minister said in his speech this afternoon - today was a day of great joy (at Gilad's release), and also of great sorrow and trepidation (over the many terrorist criminals who were released). No matter what one thinks should have been done, those two points are things that I believe we all could agree on.

With that in mind, I would like to share just two insights that hit me today. I often find, at moments like this one, the urge to share my thoughts with my talmidot in emails like this. I find writing it to be cathartic for myself, and at least a few people usually tell me they appreciated reading it - so I hope that you do find these brief reflections to be meaningful.

My first point is one that many people have noticed, but it always bears repeating.   Umi k'amcha Yisrael, goy echad b'aretz!! Am Yisrael is just so incredibly unique. Unfortunately, it often takes a national tragedy to bring these special qualities out into the open. At least this time, it was the upbeat happy aspect of the tragic affair that brought them out.

I don't think any other nation in the world could actually feel so united, could actually do so much for just one single soldier, and have an entire nation genuinely feel that he is everyone's son.   This unity is our greatest asset, and we must recognize it and develop it.

The televised images of thousands upon thousands of total strangers waving flags and waiting for hours upon hours outside of a little yishuv in the Galil that almost nobody had even heard of until a few years ago - all to welcome home a soldier they had never met - this image is something we should never take for granted. We must nurture that sense of unity, and build upon it.

The second point I want to make has to do with Sukkot. Like everything else in life, the fact that Gilad came home on chol hamoed Sukkot, the day before Hoshana Rabba, cannot possibly be a coincidence.

This morning, as I walked into shul, I got a message on my blackberry (it was actually from Rabbi Katz - he was sending mass-text updates to the girls every twenty minutes all day long!) informing me that Gilad had been released from Hamas captivity and was presently in Egypt, the first step on his journey home. I walked into shul realizing that the process of pidyon shvuyim was taking place at those very moments, as I davened shacharit.

I tried to imagine what must be going through Gilad's mind at those moments. I realized that of course, he wouldn't be able to daven shacharit today. I remembered the halachic principle Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Lazeh, and realized that right now, I would therefore have to daven for him, and so I tried to have him in mind in my tefillot.

By the time we got to Hallel, I was viewing myself as Gilad's unofficial representative. When I said Hallel this morning, I said it as if I was Gilad Schalit, sitting at that very moment in the Sinai, in the custody of Egyptian officials, meeting the first Israeli representative who would be escorting me back to Israel within the next few minutes. Physically I was standing in Alon Shvut holding my Arba Minim, but mentally, I was Gilad Schalit down in Sinai.

And when I got to the last paragraph of Hallel (Tehillim 118), the words seemed so profoundly appropriate. I suddenly understood, in a very instinctual way, what the message of the Sukkah really is. Simultaneously, I was Gilad singing praises to Hashem for saving me, and I was also all of Am Yisrael, exuberant at Gilad's release, proud of a nation that is so united in our resolve to save him, and yet filled with shame for having been forced to surrender to terrorism and with trepidation at the thought of what this might - God forbid - bring upon us. And with those thoughts in mind, I began to recite that last chapter.  Amazingly, it was as if the chapter had been written for this very occasion.

Hodo Lashem Kit Tov ki L'olam Chasdo! Waving my lulav around, I was Gilad praising Hashem for saving me.  

Min hametzar karati Y-ah, anani bamerchav Y-ah. Indeed, I cried out to Hashem and He saved me from a very dark place.

But those terrorists who are at this very moment going free...what will happen with that? Here again, the answer jumped out at me from the page of my siddur: Hashem li, lo ira - mah yaaseh li adam? Hashem li b'ozrai, va'ani er'eh b'sonai. Tov lachasot baShem, mibto'ach b'adam...

I continued reading, and again I was Gilad Schalit: Lo amut ki echyeh! ... Yasor yisrani Y-ah v'lamavet lo netanani! ... Odecha ki anitani, vat'hi li liyshua...Me'et Hashem hayta zot, hi niflat b'eiyneinu...Zeh hayom asa Hashem, nagila v'nismicha vo!!!

But then again, suddenly, I was the entire Jewish People again. Yes, Gilad is going free. But at this very moment, busses filled with murderers are lined up to bring them to freedom also. What's going to be?

And then the next pasuk - a verse that always seemed strange to me in the middle of Hallel - there it was, and it was just so appropriate. Again I began to wave my lulav: Ana Hashem - hoshia nah!! Ana Hashem - hatzlicha nah! Please, save us. Please, bring us success in this endeavor.

And then I turned once again to welcome Gilad home: Baruch haba b'shem Hashem!

And finally, I concluded this perek of Hallel just as it had begun: E-li ata v'odeka, elo-hai arom'meka. Hodu lashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo!

Yes, it is confusing and complex. Yes it is paradoxical. At the same time Hodu lashem ki tov ki l'olam chasdo, and simultaneously Ana Hashem hoshia nah.

This is the reality of the Hallel that Am Yisrael recites. This is what it means to live in a Sukkah, protected only by the One who hovers just above our schach. And more than anything else, this is the great privilege of living in Medinat Yisrael in this incredible time of atchalta d'geula.

This is the great privilege of welcoming our chayal Gilad Schlalit back home, to the cheering welcome of his brothers and sisters, even as we must unfortunately continue to fight the war.

Ana Hashem hoshia nah.
 Hodu lashem ki tov, ki l'olam chasdo

Chag Sameach

-r haber


Venue: Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim


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