Friday, March 20, 2009

Gilad Deserves Better

There is a brief incident in Parshas Chukkas that I think is worth mentioning:
וַיִּשְׁמַע הַכְּנַעֲנִי מֶלֶךְ-עֲרָד, יֹשֵׁב הַנֶּגֶב, כִּי בָּא יִשְׂרָאֵל, דֶּרֶךְ הָאֲתָרִים; וַיִּלָּחֶם, בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּשְׁבְּ מִמֶּנּוּ, שֶׁבִי. [Numbers 21:1] And the Canaanite, the king of Arad, who dwelt in the South, heard tell that Israel came by the way of Atharim; and he fought against Israel, and took some of them captive.
Rashi comments here on the usage of שֶׁבִי, in the singular, he interprets it literally that it was ONLY ONE maidservant that was taken captive from Israel, but nevertheless the response of the nation was one of unmistakable unified resolve and conviction:
וַיִּדַּר יִשְׂרָאֵל נֶדֶר לַיהוָה, וַיֹּאמַר: אִם-נָתֹן תִּתֵּן אֶת-הָעָם הַזֶּה, בְּיָדִי--וְהַחֲרַמְתִּי, אֶת-עָרֵיהֶם. וַיִּשְׁמַע יְהוָה בְּקוֹל יִשְׂרָאֵל, וַיִּתֵּן אֶת-הַכְּנַעֲנִי, וַיַּחֲרֵם אֶתְהֶם, וְאֶת-עָרֵיהֶם; וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם-הַמָּקוֹם, חָרְמָה
[Numbers 21:2-3] And Israel vowed a vow unto HaShem, and said: 'If Thou wilt indeed deliver this people into my hand, then I will utterly destroy their cities.' And HaShem hearkened to the voice of Israel, and delivered up the Canaanites; and they utterly destroyed them and their cities; and the name of the place was called Hormah.

The other day the Jerusalem Post published a letter from Gilad Shalit's mother addressed to her son whose imprisonment is now approaching 1,000 days.
Hello my child, hello Gilad,

I sit here in a tent on a street corner in Jerusalem. Almost a thousand days have passed without you by my side. For almost a thousand nights I have neither seen the light in your room, nor in my life.

For almost a thousand mornings I haven't seen your smile, the smile of a boy waking up to a new day. The smile of a boy who loves life. Someone who is a part of me.

For almost a thousand days I have dreamed of you at night, thought about you while I tend to the gardening, something I do so I won't go insane.

Almost a thousand days… and every hour, every minute, every second are an eternity.

I sit in the tent at the gates of the prime minister's home surrounded by the people of Israel, dipping in a sea of love and support, while in my heart only one question continues to linger: Where are you?

And my voice is not heard. I do not yell. But my eyes scream and my heart roars at the country's leaders: "Please, release my son! Bring him back to me, to his mother."

Almost three years have passed. A lot of things happened Gilad, but really, nothing happened.

For almost three years, I have sat at home, hoping not to be exposed, protected my privacy, just to be myself… and you Gilad, what is the place where they're holding you like? Do you see the daylight? Are they taking care of you? What do you eat? Are you in pain? How do you count the days?

I trusted my country to fulfill the commitment between me, the mother sending her son to the draft, and the powers that be, but they have not returned you.

And here, the thousandth day is approaching and you are still there, "buried alive" in the cruel chill of Hamas.

Yesterday, the prime minister said he could not bring you back. The price is too high. They want a whole lot for you. You are worth a fortune. The price is too high, too high for the country for which you went on a mission.

Gilad, I turn in your name to the prime minister and his ministers and beg: "Enough! Please, enough!" Gilad's place is in Mitzpe Hila. This is his home and this is where he should be. With me. With us. Don't forsake him. He does not deserve it.

I waited when you exhausted all possible options, but I cannot wait any longer. Every beat of my heart calls out for you, every breath I breathe yearns for you. Please, I want my son.

Gilad, in your name, I call out to every mother in Gaza. There are mothers with aching hearts there as well, who wait for their children. Demand from your leaders to compromise and bring back whoever they can. Pressure them, so that the door to the love of parents to their children will open and perhaps, with it, the door to peace.

Gilad, I want to hug you, hold you close to me and to the bosom of your family. I want us to return, as a united family, to our comfortable anonymity that we once had. I want my son, Gilad.

Aviva Schalit
This letter moved me, and while there is little I felt I could add to its sentiment, it DID get me thinking about the failings of our current leadership to bring this unfortunate incident to a close. Of course, we ourselves are not without blame (the Talmud states [Bava Kamma 52a], “A goat leads the flock. When the shepherd is angry at the flock he blinds the goat.” Rashi explains: “Blinding the goat makes it fall into pits, and the flock falls in after it. Likewise, when G-d wants to punish Israel, He appoints disreputable leaders for them.”). Even the most cynical person admits that if the Jewish People collectively and unrelentingly declared that for this to continue another day is unacceptable, our leaders would be unable to ignore it.

How did we let this happen?