The Mideast desert heat melted away our socio-political-religious-ethnic differences. We flowed as a single human river, moving in steady unison along the winding path where the Maccabees once called home, to accompany three innocent boys to their resting place.
There were no shouts for revenge, no angry cries. Groups of young people spontaneously broke out in song.
Why is everyone so calm and peaceful?, I wondered.
Then I understood. For 18 days, three Jewish mothers had courageously stood up and declared: I believe with perfect faith, that God is just, that God is kind, and that God is one.
In doing so they lifted an entire generation. Whether it was yeshivas and synagogues saying Psalms for the boys, or Israel's Finance Minister praying for the first time in many years, millions of people strengthened their faith in God.
This serenity is possible only for one who flows with the twists and turns of Divine orchestration – in recognition of a higher purpose behind it all.
It is a peace of mind knowing that though the boys' lives were tragically cut short, their souls live on in eternity.
It is a calmness knowing that – having seen the face of evil – we are more confident than ever in the justness of our cause.
The Sinai Precondition
For 18 days, we immersed in the goal of #BringBackOurBoys, generating a national consensus that I'd not witnessed in 25 years of living in Israel.
For 18 days, we all felt the families' pain, knowing this could have been our own son or brother.
Inquisitors, Storm-troopers and suicide bombers have never distinguished between religious and secular, Ashkenazi, Sefardi, Chassidic, Reform or any other label.
All Jews are connected, equal on the deepest level.
In that defining moment at Mount Sinai 3,300 years ago, when the blueprint of Jewish destiny was revealed, we stood "as one person with one heart."
Today in the hills of Modiin, divisions again dissolved, revealing a glimpse of how it can be – of how it will be – in the future time we yearn for.
Measures of Mercy
For 18 days, while anxious for their safe return, we prayed that the boys should not suffer at the hands of beasts. Although not in the way we were hoping, God did answer our prayers. Executed within minutes of the abduction, the boys were spared unfathomable emotional agony and physical torture. And their bodies were returned home, a measure of kindness that Rachel Frenkel mentioned in her eulogy.
Yet if it was over so quickly for the boys, why did this ordeal need to extend for 18 days?
Perhaps on some level, our nation required an 18-day process, to mesh and gel, to absorb the message, and to move Jewish destiny another step forward.
It is not for nothing that the ordeal lasted 18 days. As the numerical value of Chai – "to life" – 18 is the most recognizable "Jewish number." We are a nation that celebrates life.
Though the boys' funeral was concurrent with rockets raining down from Gaza, we will not be deterred in our miraculous return to the Holy Land.
Despite the sickening hatred around us – the Palestinians who danced and handed out candy to celebrate the abductions, and the mother of Amer Abu Aysha who declared: "If he did the kidnapping, I'm proud of him" – we did not sully our own humanity.
During those 18 days, Israeli NGO Save a Child's Heart performed 5 life-saving heart surgeries on Palestinian children, and admitted 8 new Palestinian patients to its free program.
Though the three boys did not return alive, our efforts did not fail. All of the searching, praying and tweeting realigned our nation, bringing us to stand proudly in unison and proclaim to the world: Am Yisrael Chai.
The Great Principle
Moving forward, how do we sustain this unity?
It begins with caring for each other, as the Torah clearly instructs: "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Leviticus 19:18). This means striving to care for others just as much as you'd care about yourself – by nullifying your ego-centric habits.
The 14th century kabbalist Arizal identified "Love your neighbor" as the intersection where individual destiny becomes bound to that of the entire nation.
It all starts with the realization that while other Jews may be different, they are not separate.
We are a family. We are a tribe.
We stand as one person, with one heart.
Part of the same unit, connected at the core.
And we share the same ultimate goal of Tikkun Olam, bringing the world to its state of perfection.
At the funeral, Rabbi Dov Zinger, head of Mekor Chaim Yeshiva where two of the boys studied, said that while we've all heard of "Two Jews, three opinions," there is actually one more line: "Two Jews, three opinions... but one heart."
Three lives were cut terrifyingly short. Each of us is impacted, and each of us must respond, to ensure it was not in vain.
Here are two easy steps to concretize this inspiration and carry it forward:
- Study the "5 Ways to Unity"
- Commit to saying every morning: I strive to fulfill the mitzvah of "Love your neighbor as yourself."
May the unifying results serve as an eternal merit for the three pure boys who brought our nation together: Gilad Micha'el ben Ofir, Eyal ben Uri, and Yaakov Naftali ben Avi, Hy"d.
This morning at Nof Ayalon, where the Frenkel family is sitting shiva, I encountered hundreds of visitors of astonishing variety:
• Rabbi Avigdor Neventzal (pictured), longtime Chief Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem.
• A group of 60 secular American students spending the summer at Ohr Somayach.
• Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, a popular principal and parenting expert, who dropped everything and flew in from America to spend Shabbat in Talmon, and then to visit the other families.
• Rabbi Aryeh Markman, representing the Aish community of Los Angeles.
• Perhaps most remarkably, a group of Arab men from the Hebron area who came to express solidarity with the grieving family.
This was all in one hour.