Yotam Haim was one of the three hostages mistakenly and tragically killed by IDF soldiers last week. His mother, Iris, sent a voice message yesterday to the soldiers who shot her son. She said: “I want to tell you that I love you very much. I know that what happened was not your fault. There is no one to blame but Hamas. Israel needs you to stay alive, to stay healthy. Don’t hesitate for one moment. If you think you see a terrorist, don’t think twice. You need to protect yourselves. Because that’s the only way you can protect us. Come visit us. We want to embrace you. We want to tell you, as hard as this is to say, that you did the right thing. Not one of us judges you. None of us are angry at you.”
The grace that this mother gives these soldiers will probably save their lives. Her compassion and thoughtfulness was so uniquely moving, but it also felt familiar. I realized why. Iris was embodying the character trait of Rachel Immeinu, Rachel our foremother (Mama Rochel in Yiddish), who showed her sister Leah tremendous grace in the face of loss. Yaakov and Rachel were deeply in love, but there was a fear that Rachel’s wicked father Lavan would swap Rachel with her sister Leah under the wedding canopy since Lavan wouldn’t marry off the younger sister until the older one was married (the brides wore opaque veils). To prevent this trickery from occurring, Yaakov and Rachel came up with a special signs, so Yaakov would know it was Rachel. When Lavan went ahead and swapped the sisters, Rachel’s worst fear, instead of letting Leah be humiliated on her wedding day, she showed her sister the hidden signs.
How did God reward Rachel’s incredible compassion? In Bereishis Rabba it says:
“When Rachel saw the events of the Destruction (of the Temple) and the Israelites sent into exile from their land, she jumped before God and said, ‘Master of the Universe, it is known before You that Your servant Jacob’s love for me knew no bounds, and he worked for my father for seven years for me. When those seven years were completed and the time came for my marriage to my husband, my father advised exchanging me with my sister. This was exceedingly difficult for me, when I learned of this counsel. I informed Jacob, and I gave him a sign so that he could distinguish between me and my sister, so that my father would not be able to exchange me. After that I consoled myself, I suffered [to overcome] my desire and had compassion for my sister that she not suffer disgrace, and I gave her all the signs that I had given to my husband, so that he would think that she was Rachel….I acted kindly with her, I was not jealous of her, and I did not cause her to be shamed and disgraced. What am I, flesh and blood, dust and ashes, that I was not jealous of my rival wife, and that I did not allow her to be shamed and disgraced, but You, merciful living and eternal King, why were You jealous of idolatry that is of no import, and exiled my children who were slain by the sword, and allowed their enemies to do with them as they pleased?'”
The shorter version of this exchange is summed up in Jeremiah 31:14-16:
“A voice is heard in the Heavens, lamentation, and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not. Thus says the Lord: Refrain your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded, says the LORD; and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future, says the Lord; and your children shall return to their own border.”
In the merit of Rachel Immeinu, her children did come back to their own borders. But once again their borders were breached and once again Rachel’s children were slain by the sword, their enemies did with them as they pleased. Today, we have a new giant to create merit for the Jewish people, with her endless compassion: Mama Iris. May the heavens be shook once again, and may this great act of kindness bring us to our final redemption.