By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
Besides praying, what do you think we should be doing for the three kidnapped boys in Israel?
— Brandon and Leah
Dear Brandon & Leah,
First, allow me to focus on the outlook we should have with our prayers. The Talmud teaches us that when Jews are in pain anywhere, the entire Jewish people need to rally to their pain, as it is not considered just their pain, but we share in it as their extended family. In a spiritual way all Jews are considered as one, so it’s not just their problem but all of our problem.
In this way we need to find ways to identify with the pain of these families. When Moses was praying for the Jews at the time they were at war with the Amalakite nation he was observing from a hilltop, standing with his hands raised in prayer. When he became tired and could stand no longer, he asked to be brought a large rock to sit on so he could continue to pray.
The Talmud raises the obvious question; Moses was the king of the Jews, couldn’t he sit on a chair?! The answer is that Moses felt that when the Jews below are in a dangerous situation and in the throes of war it is inappropriate that he should sit in comfort. Rather he should sit in a way which would help him identify and appreciate the feelings of the soldiers at that time.
When the revered Rabbi and Rebbetzin Ahron Kotler were miraculously redeemed from the Nazi death clutch they made it to America during the war. Rabbi Kotler barely slept the next years until the end of the war, making Herculean efforts to raise funds to save Jews in Europe, even driving on the Sabbath to raise money.
They were poor before the war as well, and the one “luxury” Rebbetzin Kotler enjoyed was to drink her tea with a sugar cube between her teeth. During the war years she refused to do so…”how can I drink tea with sugar when Jews are being murdered in the camps?!”
Rabbi Nachum Zev Ziv, a great business leader and scholar of Torah and Mussar in the early 20th century, heard that his neighbor had been kidnapped by the anti-Semitic authorities, and his family feared for his life. When R’ Ziv’s daughters wanted to serve cake and play music, he reacted strongly, “how can we enjoy luxuries when our neighbors are sitting in trepidation?!”
Similar stories of great Jewish leaders abound. They all teach us the same important lesson: when a Jew somewhere in the world is in pain it is all of our pain, especially when the reason for that pain is simply because that person is a Jew!
This outlook will greatly affect the way we pray for these boys. We need to use this situation as a time for introspection; how much do we really feel part of and connected to every Jew? How would we pray if the ones affected would have, God forbid, been our own children or siblings?
The great Jewish leader of the past century, Rabbi Moshe Scherer, once commented on the custom to cover our eyes when reciting the Shema. The simple reason is that we should have more concentration.
R’ Scherer added his own explanation: when one cries out “Shema Yisrael” with his eyes open, all he or she can see are the Jews in the room, in that shul. But when one exclaims “Shema Yisrael” with his eyes covered, he can see all the Jews throughout the world!
The same Rabbi Scherer was once asked how he can sleep at night, with so many Jews beseeching him with their problems and troubles. He answered, “…at night I sleep like a baby; I wake up every two hours to cry!”
We need to cry out with sincere prayers like it were our own family members in danger; for it truly is. We need to also add some mitzvot we might have not performed otherwise in the merit of these boys. The greatest mitzvah of all is add more times of Torah study in their merit, which rises above all.
May the Almighty hear our prayers and deliver these boys speedily, in good health and spirits, to their families and communities and may the togetherness we feel at this moment across the Jewish spectrum remain long after this ordeal is over.
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.