August 06, 2014
During the war I only attended two military funerals. The first, lone solider Max Steinberg, and the second, Kiryat Arba resident Benaya Sarel, HY"D. He was supposed to be married on Aug. 21. Thousands were present, in the middle of the night, for the procession which began at his home in Kiryat Arba, to Ma'arat HaMachpela, to the small military plot at the ancient Jewish cemetery, here in Hebron.
I've known Benaya's father, Rabbi Shalom, for somewhere in the vicinity of thirty years. Many years ago we studied at the same Torah study center in Kiryat Arba. At that time he was already teaching some of the most difficult Torah subjects at very prestigious yeshivas in Jerusalem. In short, he is a genius. Very tall, very smart.
At some point, when the Sarels decided to make their home permanently in Kiryat Arba, Rabbi Shalom designed the house. When he finished and the home was built, he decided he could contribute more building Jewish homes than sitting day in and day out in a study hall. So now he is an engineer, designing and constructing buildings for Jews in Judea and Samaria
Benaya's mother is a teacher of literature at the Kiryat Arba women's high school. I think she taught all of my daughters.
One of my sons studied with Benaya for a year, in the same class, when they were in high school.
So, it touches home.
At the funeral many people spoke. We call it a eulogy. Military eulogies are called, 'parting words.' Just about all of what was said was touching, heart-breaking, gut-wrenching. The problem is that words about a young man, an IDF officer, just beginning his life, about to be married, an authentic hero, are not enough. But that's what's left.
Benaya was injured a few days before he was killed. When at the hospital, having shrapnel removed from his chest, he refused to allow his mother to visit him. He told her, 'I don't allow my soldiers to see their parents. So you can't come see me either.' His father added, 'you're right, 100%. That's how you should behave. Don't let your mother mix you up.'
After the shrapnel was removed, he returned to the battle field.
Rabbi Shalom told two stories about him. The first: during his division's swearing-in ceremony at the Kotel, the Western Wall, Benaya saw a great deal of army food about to be thrown away. So he took all that food and gave to homeless, hungry people standing around there. The second: Benaya had been a candidate to receive a medal for heroism during a previous operation in Gaza. However, in the end, it wasn't awarded to him. When his father called him, to offer words of encouragement, Benaya told him he was happy. 'Why?'
'When I heard, first I was angry, then I was sad, and then, happy. Why? Because now I know that all I'm doing for our people isn't for my personal gain, for my ego, rather only, and totally for the good of the people.'
This sheds a little light on the kind of person Benaya Sarel was.
Yesterday was Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is one of two annual fast days that begins in the evening and finishes 25 hours later. Primarily it commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, thousands of years ago. It is also the day, according to Jewish tradition, that ten of the twelve spies sent by Moses in the desert to check out the Land of Israel, returned and told the people that they were better off staying in the desert. 'It is a land of giants…We cannot conquer it.' The punishment included forty years of suffering in the desert and later calamities, on the same date, including the burning of the Temples.
Every year observant Jews observe three weeks of 'official mourning,' culminating with yesterday's fast. (If you are interested in reading a fascinating, albeit very sad account of the Jewish rebellion against the Romans, leading to the Temple's destruction, click here. This book was authored by Hebron resident, Dr. Gershon Bar Kochva, a known historian and lecturer. The book is worth reading.) But it is very difficult to mourn, to really sense grief, for something you've never really known. We can read, study, and attempt to experience as much as possible. But perhaps it is like trying to describe to a blind person, what is sight, or to a deaf person, sound. It doesn’t work. Until it is experienced, it is really hard to be missed. Because when you really don't know what it is, you don't know what you're missing.
So, how can we learn to mourn the destruction of the Temple? Perhaps only by paralleling that to what we can be aware of. We mourn Benaya, Max, and the other 62 men who fell fighting for Israel, crying for the loss of such courageous people, and then multiply that sensation by about a million, and the tears too, by multiples higher than we know how to count. Then, maybe, we can start to fathom the loss we endured when the Temples were destroyed.
Of course, it is preferable that we should no longer need to mourn, not for the men and not for the Temples. But that will only happen when we fully comprehend who we are, what we are, and where we are. Then, and only then, will we make and implement the decisions that will lead to an end to our weeping.
Of course, some of you will ask, what kind of decisions am I talking about? There are a few. But the first, today: Bring back Maj. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, and let him loose down in Gaza for a few days. He had some experience marching to the sea. That would be a really good start.