King David’s plaintive and eternally mysterious question, ad matai? (until when?), which we recite daily with heads bent or in deep self-contemplation, has a particularly searing relevance when I look at the recent terror attacks unleashed upon our innocents.
The murder two weeks ago of two young children — Yaakov Yisrael Paley, 6, and Asher Menahem Paley, 8 — invokes the exact inverse of the Talmudic wisdom that he who saves a life has saved the world. With these murders, the world has been destroyed; the world of decency, of compassion, of any kind of empathy — gone.
Furthermore, the murder this week of the Yaniv brothers and Elan Ganeles was the stamping out of the light of the best we have to offer the world. Three young men, who engaged heart, body and action to bring G-d’s light into the world, each in their own way — snuffed out.
Three young men who loved Israel and the Jewish people have been taken from us. They are our martyrs. No, they did not martyr themselves, they “merely” lived lives of engagement, possibility and belief through action on behalf of the beauty and destiny of the Jewish people and its nation.
Who can stand before such terror? How do we endure it? The answer to that heartsick question lies in the lives that these three beautiful young men lived. We not only go on, but we also rise, we increase, we double down, we shout our allegiance to their worldview, to the elevation of our lives here to that of lights.
First and foremost, lights to each other. We need to remind ourselves that Israel is still very much a work in progress. It is a calling that must involve each of us, drawing on our creativity, resolve and above all our vision for a society that, with all its manifest flaws, projects humanity, decency and a great appreciation for the gift of being here in the land at all.
The murder of these three incredible souls should be a rebuke to each of us for our pettiness, our lack of awareness, our taking for granted the incredible blessing of being here in this amazing place.
We need to be strong, not just sorrowful. Our strength needs to be sincere, not just chest-pounding.
For years, I have driven past the place where Elan Ganeles was murdered. I have traveled there, back and forth between Jerusalem and the Upper Galilee, because I believed it was important that we project our sovereignty on the ground by being there.
Do I stop? Do I surrender? Do people no longer visit the Dead Sea scrolls, Ein Gedi, Masada or the Dead Sea itself for fear of traversing a road where terror was manifest? Do we let the bad guys win?
Or do we continue, do we build, do we seek out the horrific people who would kill us and obliterate them? We self-righteously condemn the “vigilantism” of our people in Samaria who attacked Huwara, without expressing understanding and identification with their fears, frustration and outrage at the violence perpetrated against them.
Why don’t we seek to provide the mitigating context of such actions, as many inevitably do when Palestinian Arabs attack Jews?
We know that we live in a very tough neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that understands power. It respects the exercise of it and seeks to take advantage of the refusal to exercise power. Yes, that exercise needs to be done humanely, wisely and appropriately, but it definitely needs to be done.
Above all, we must not let the obligations we face — the need to project sovereignty and strength — numb us or blind us to the opportunity to appreciate and celebrate the opportunity to live in this amazing place; and when appropriate, share that appreciation with others who are willing to reciprocate.
None of this is easy, especially when the imagination is beggared, the mind is spinning and the heart is bereft. But we have centuries of great exemplars, giants who persevered and simultaneously brought light into a dismal world.
I believe those exemplars, our esteemed ancestors, would look at us with some bemusement: “Why are you complaining? Why are you bereft? You are living our dream, our prayer. You are the fulfillment of our most fervent desires. Keep going, let nothing deter you.”
Let us be mindful of those long-ago giants and let us also be true to the legacy of the giants who were just taken from us.
Ours is a destiny worth fighting for, worth struggling for and ultimately worth celebrating. As we are about to celebrate Purim, let the incredible travail of our ancestors become one with the challenges we face today.
Let their courage become ours and let their awareness be our guide.
Only Hashem knows the answer to the question “how long?” But perhaps our own conduct will help determine the answer.
Douglas Altabef is Chairman of the Board of Im Tirtzu, and a Director of B’yadenu and the Israel Independence Fund.