May 20, 2024
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A Tribute to Three Contemporary Matriarchs

Congregation Ohel Yitzchok, Kew Gardens Hills, NY

While Shiv’ah and Shloshim are over, the hearts of the entire nation of Israel are still in deep mourning for the loss of the three teens whose memory will forever last. Jews the world over are still distraught by the tragedy that struck Eyal Yifrah, Gil-Ad Shaer and Naftali Frenkel who were brutally taken from us in a horrific kidnapping by terrorists and murderers bereft of mercy.

While mourning their tragic assassination, I have simultaneously reflected on the personalities of their three mothers who have experienced unimaginable dread and pain about the fate of their precious children. Watching their demeanor during this period of angst and torment, I saw the image reflections of Hannah, the mother of the Prophet Samuel, and of our matriarchs Sarah and Rebecca.

Hannah, a barren woman, traveled to Shilo three times each year to pray for children. Observing her manner and listening to her anguished prayer, her husband, Elkana, asked her: “Why are you crying? Why don’t you eat? Why are you so distressed? Am I not better than ten sons?”

Although the biblical text does not explicitly tell us that Elkana prayed on his own for Hannah to bear children, we can assume that as a kind, pious husband he must have done so fervently. However, his recorded words indicate that Elkana despaired of having children and stopped praying for them. As a caring husband, trying to comfort his wife and assuage her despondency, his only recourse was to convince Hannah that his love and devotion were better than bearing ten children.

But Hannah declined his compassionate gesture. She never gave up hope and persisted in her prayers. Her perseverance was derived by her deeply embedded motherly instinct which was divinely imbued in her, a powerful trait of never giving up hope for motherhood–a mother never despairs!

This divinely infused motherly trait has been transmitted to Jewish mothers until this day. It manifested itself not long ago when a yeshiva student, learning in Israel, became critically ill. His Rosh Yeshiva decided not to inform the boy’s parents of his condition, wanting to spare them pain and anguish. When their son’s medical diagnosis became critical, his parents were finally urged to come to his bedside.

Following the funeral, the boy’s mother turned to the Rosh Yeshiva and said: “I understand why you didn’t tell us earlier, and I comprehend your consideration to spare us pain. But, I do not understand why you decided to deprive my son of his mother’s meaningful prayers.”

Like Hannah who did not despair, and the yeshiva student’s mother whose prayers would have transcended despair, so, too, the mothers of the three abducted yeshiva students never despaired. These heretofore unacquainted mothers united as one family, sharing great faith and emotion, and never displaying outward resentment, protestation, or blame against Hashem.

Transcending every expected “normal” reaction, the tragic disappearance of Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali generated holy sparks of Emunah in their mothers, fathers, and families, and exponentially impacted upon all segments of society. By personal example, these three mothers inspired an entire nation to join in prayer and trust in the Divine judgment.

As we watched their demeanor, these extraordinary Jewish mothers exhibited tremendous faith and spiritual strength and thereby sanctified God’s name more than any living sage, mystic, or otherwise recognized spiritual leader. With steadfast devotional poise, these three exemplary mothers personified the prophetic statement: “God will console us and Yerushalyim, just like a mother consoles her son” (Isaiah 66:13). We all witnessed and internalized it. Individually and collectively we became empowered by the consolations of these contemporary matriarchs who epitomized Jewish motherhood.

To better understand the national transformation which occurred before our eyes, let us recall the Torah narrative regarding the fate of a man who unintentionally killed another person. Under normal circumstances, the killer may be pursued by relatives of the deceased until he enters the gates of a “City of Refuge.” Once he reaches these gates, the pursuing relatives may no longer take revenge unless the killer exits. Yet, according to Torah law, if the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) dies while the killer resides in the “City of Refuge,” the family may no longer avenge their relative’s death.

How does the death of the Kohen Gadol change the circumstances? Maimonides, in Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Preplexed), addresses this question and enlightens us with a penetrating insight: The death of a revered and venerated Kohen Gadol causes the entire Jewish nation to experience a “national mourning” so powerful that it surpasses all personal feelings of loss. Thus, with the absence of personal mourning, the drive to seek individual revenge diminishes and fades away. This is a very powerful observation; imagine the magnitude of national pain resulting from the death of the Kohen Gadol and its ability to overtake even the deepest impulse of instinctive revenge.

Similarly, for all of us, today, the fatal death of our three precious kedoshim has had a comparable impact as the death of the Kohen Gadol. For Jews everywhere, the grief and mourning for Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali overshadowed our personal concerns. Moreover, the national tragedy resulting from the sacrifice of these precious young men transformed their individual mothers into mothers of Klal Yisrael. We all found consolation in their strength of spirit, their remarkable faith and the faith of their families. Watching the serenity of the three contemporary matriarchs triggered us to transcend our personal predicaments and our relatively trivial crises. All at once we became united. Observing the courage and devotion of these three modest, virtuous, and exemplary matriarchs coping with their tragedy transformed us into a nation bonded by compassion, faith, and trust in God.

For the sake of Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael (the Land and Nation of Israel), let us hold on to these virtues during these days of continued danger and hostility. Let us preserve our revitalized values of spiritual sanctity and remain united.

Most of all, let us keep the memory of Eyal, Gil-Ad, and Naftali alive in our hearts and apply the inspiration provided by their extraordinarily noble mothers to our personal and communal lives. In this merit, and, with God’s help, we will prevail and be victorious. For only with our sacred national unity can we be triumphant.

The holy souls of Eyal Yifrach (19), Gil-Ad Sha-ar (16), and Naftali Frankel (16) will certainly serve as heavenly advocates for their families and for Am Yisrael, and will usher our prayers through the heavenly gates for an ultimate peace and the final redemption speedily in our days.

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