Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Tragic Deaths of Two Jews

A tragic event occurred last Friday. Two religious Jews - soldiers on leave from the Israel Defense Forces and sons of two religious Zionist rabbis - were gunned down by Palestinian terrorists as they went hiking near Chevron.

I cannot imagine the pain of the loss suffered by their loved ones, especially their parents. The mere thought of losing a child is so terrible to me, that my mind won’t allow even a 'split second' thought of it. It is blocked out! The pain must be beyond description. Only a small fraction of the pain actually felt by their loved ones could therefore be seen at the funeral of these two young men - where voices choking with tears were heard eulogizing them.

May their blood be avenged by God.

As sad and tragic as these murders were, I can’t help thinking about something I saw in last week’s Parsha, the Torah portion of Shemos. It is illustrative of why this tragedy could have… even should have… been avoided.

When Moshe Rabbenu was directed by God to go back to Egypt to carry out his mission, God told him that those who sought to kill him (which is why he fled in the first place) were now dead.

Rabbi Meir Simcha HaCohen in his Sefer, Or Sameach tells us that even where one is in a position to save many Jews one may not venture into a place where there is even a question of danger to his own life. And in his commentary on Chumash, Meshech Chochma - R. Meir Simcha explains that this is why God added the information about the death of those who sought to kill Moshe Rabbenu. He was told that the danger had been removed. Had he not been told, Moshe would not have been required to endanger himself even with a Godly mandate to go there and save his own people.

The tragedy of the deaths of the two Jewish hikers is therefore multiplied and made even more tragic. I’m sure that this fact will not give solace to the mourners. I’m quite sure that the two victims will be seen as heroes or even martyrs by their religious Zionist families, who live in Kiryat Arba, a city near Chevron.

But they weren’t.

They had absolutely no obligation to go there even if it was to save the lives of others… which it wasn’t. They placed themselves at risk… and paid dearly for it. It cannot be ignored that had they heeded Halacha and not gone into a Makom Sakana, a dangerous place they would still be alive today.

This Halacha seems to have been lost on the Religious Zionist rabbis who praised these two hikers for having the ‘courage’ to hike in dangerous territory. Instead of conveying a message of how dangerous it was to go hiking there they are adding to their image as martyrs.

While I understand that a eulogy should never be an admonition, neither should it be an opportunity to promote an agenda. But here is what one eulogizer, Rabbi Dov Lior said:

You can't lock the young people into a ghetto. The people of Israel returned to its land to live a life of courage and heroism, not [to live] behind concrete barriers. Young people will continue to hike and to redeem the land," Lior said.

Rabbi Lior, in his eulogy, said that both Rubin and Amihai fulfilled the commandment to travel the length and breadth of Israel in their lives, and in their deaths. "They fell in the war for the right to live and move freely in our holy land," Lior said.

Why do they go? What is ultimately gained? Two of our finest – dead! What was accomplished? How has Klal Yisroel benefited from this ‘martyrdom’? Has it made our claim to all of Eretz Yisroel any stronger?

When will certain religious Zionist rabbis learn that rhetoric like Rabbi Lior’s serves only to perpetuate tragic events like this and does nothing to further the goal of keeping all of Eretz Yisroel in Jewish hands. All it is doing is adding to the rolls of the dead!