Following the tragic murders of Eyal Yifrach, Gil-Ad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel, Orthodox Union Executive Vice President, Emeritus Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb offered gentle words of comfort and asked, “Were Our Tears Shed in Vain? A Torah Response to an Unspeakable Tragedy,” at a memorial service at Congregation Tifereth Israel in Passaic, NJ.
Evoking the words of our most prominent biblical and Talmudic sages in this heartening lecture, Rabbi Weinreb emphasized that the gates of tears are never closed, and that our tears and prayers, even given the appalling and tragic outcome, were not in vain. Asking where God was during this tragedy and why He did not grant us what we prayed for is not at all heretical, Rabbi Weinreb declared – some of the greatest figures in our history expressed those very questions.
He provided theological explanations, such as the fact that Moses prayed 515 times (the gematria – numerical value – of Va’etchanan) to be granted entry into the Land of Israel and was denied every single time. Those very prayers, however, made it so the Children of Israel would have 515 Shemita cycles (sabbatical periods of seven years) – thousands of years to be a united, Jewish nation; Moses’ prayers were not for naught.
Rabbi Weinreb said that even in dark times, there are positives. For 18 days, we came together as a people — Jews of different backgrounds and strengths — to cry and pray and fervently hope for our boys. During an age of prevalent narcissism and materialism, when it can be difficult to achieve even a scent of spirituality, we set aside our fears of seeing frightening news and footage and actively and directly empathized with the boys and their families.
As mothers, he declared, we were able to put ourselves in the shoes of their mothers. We learned how to come together as a nation. There is no greater mitzvah than Ahavat Yisrael – the love of Israel. And finally, we opened the very depths of our souls and so prayed, each one of us, in our own unique way.
People – those who rarely pray in general, and even those who regularly do so – learned how to genuinely pray, some even substituting for our standard prayers with their own raw, individual emotions. We prayed in our own words and none other than the Chofetz Chaim assures us that is highest form of prayer.
Rabbi Weinreb delivered a special message to teens. He encouraged them to use their exuberance, enthusiasm and creativity to do what the three boys sadly could not; that just as one evil deed can cause such incredible harm, one good deed can cause immense light to enter the world. He concluded with passages from Psalm 44 and ended with the very last phrase, an entreaty to God: “Arise for our help, and redeem us for Thy mercy’s sake.”
To watch the full webcast go to http://www.ou.org/life/israel/webcast-tuesday-71-8pm/.
 Va’etchanan is the name of the Torah portion from the Book of Deuteronomy (3:23-7:11) beginning with the words “And I (Moses) implored.” The portion will be read this year on August 9, Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat following the fast of Tisha B’Av, which has been named from the portion in the Prophets, “Nachamu nachamu Ami,” (Isaiah 40:1) – “Comfort you, comfort you, My Nation.”
Yocheved Goldberg is Copy Editor for OU Press and the Executive Assistant to Rabbi Weinreb.