The day after the three teenage boys in Israel (Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali – may they rest in peace) were kidnapped (and now we know, murdered), I was the Shabbos speaker at a shul in Waterloo, ON. For my second talk, I was scheduled to speak about how I came to trust in God. I looked to the parsha (weekly Torah portion), Shelach, to see if there was a tie-in to that theme, and sure enough, there was. Parshas Shelach recounts the story of the spies who were sent on a reconnaissance mission to survey the land of Israel before the Children of Israel entered it. When the spies saw how terrifying the inhabitants were and how un-breachable the cities were, they resigned themselves to defeat. What exactly were the Jews up against? According to the spies:
…the people who inhabit the land are mighty, and the cities are extremely huge and fortified, and there we saw even the offspring of the giant…We are unable to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we…The land we passed through to explore is a land that consumes its inhabitants, and all the people we saw in it are men of stature. There we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, descended from the giants. In our eyes, we seemed like grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes. (Shelach)
It is easy in hindsight to judge the spies and accuse them of not having been faithful enough. “Why give up so easily?” we ask. “What can’t God do?” we wonder. “How could they quit when they’d come so far?” we demand. But consider the scenario from their perspective. For FORTY years, they followed Moses’s leadership (based on God’s commands) through the desert. For forty years, they pushed on, past wars and various trials and tribulations because they had one goal in mind – The Promised Land. A land overflowing with milk and honey. If they could only survive the arduous journey to get there, why then they would be set.
So now let’s go back and imagine how those spies must have felt: the big day they had been waiting for (for decades) had finally arrived, but instead of beholding the idyllic place they had been dreaming of, they saw terrifying sights – obstacles which appeared to be insurmountable.
“This is not what we were expecting, Hashem! We put in so much effort to get here. This is not how the story was supposed to end!”
That’s surely what the spies must have thought. And I believe it is similar to how we feel in the wake of the news of the murders of our boys. After eighteen days of unifying, praying, hoping, and taking on new mitzvos, we too were expecting to reach a “land overflowing with milk and honey” – a place where Eyal, Giland, and Naftali were still alive. But that’s not what we saw. We saw, instead, something terrifying – death.
“We can’t overcome death,” our logic tells us. “That’s simply not how the world works” we remind ourselves. “We came so far as a nation, but we have no choice but to accept defeat,” we conclude.
Everyone has been saying it – from the most secular to the most fervently religious – something unprecedented happened in those eighteen days that we prayed and changed and unified to bring back our boys. Little did we know, but those boys were not able to be brought back the way that we imagined they’d be. We were praying (without knowing) for departed souls to be brought back. Logic tells us that it’s over. That we have come up against a wall that cannot be breached.
But what can’t God do?!
We are well aware of Hashem’s promise to us – that there will be a time, in yamos hamoshiach (the Days of the Messiah) where the dead will come back with tichyas memeisim (Rebirth of the Dead). Many of us believe in it, but we question whether we will ever see it for ourselves. Why? Because we see ourselves as “grasshoppers” in our own eyes. If every generation before us failed to bring yamos hamoshiach how could WE possibly do it? We are too small.
But why have we given up in the face of defeat, and tragedy, and heart-break, when perhaps we were just getting started? Let us see ourselves as men (and women) of stature. Let us expand our task and our ambitions. Let us let go of our fears. Let us redouble our efforts, our prayers, our unity. Let us, individually and as a community, keep trying to bring back our boys–and all of our other loved ones from across the generations.
Let us trust in Hashem this time – so that the impossible can become reality.