In the face of death, we remember the redemptive power of love

By Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, July 3, 2014
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Dignity: the parents of Naftali Frenkel

Dignity: the parents of Naftali Frenkel

"This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live" (Deuteronomy 30:19).

Throughout millennia, this divine call to choose life over death has been at the core of our Jewish identity. Indeed, this biblical requirement immediately precedes the Torah's promise of the land of Israel to the people of Israel, for the sanctification of life is a prerequisite for, and hallmark of, our dwelling in the land.

We love life, cherish life and sanctify life. The value of life underpins the ethos of our faith to this day. Yet once again, we find ourselves grappling with tragic disregard for human life.

This week, the world discovered that Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, the three missing Israeli teenagers, had been murdered soon after being kidnapped. These premeditated executions were an active choice to cruelly extinguish innocent life. The boys were murdered in cold blood.

So how did those who were hurting most choose to act? In the depths of their anguish, they spoke with love, hope and heart-rending dignity. Before tens of thousands of people in Rabin Square, the three mothers bared their souls to the world.

Rachel, mother of Naftali, proclaimed it "an assembly of love and of unity". Bat Galim, mother of Gilad, addressed her son: "People have come together to pray for your return and when you come back you will find that our family has expanded greatly - you have brothers and sisters all over Israel and the world". "We want you back already," said Iris, mother of Eyal, "we are waiting to embrace you with warmth."

And in cities the world over, for 18 days a people held its breath, responding with moving vigils and with prayer. It mattered not whether one is religious or secular, Jew or gentile; all can empathise with the suffering of a mother and father, of brothers and sisters and teachers and friends.

In the face of brutality, we make the choice to embrace life. We deplore the loss of innocent lives and reaffirm our positive humanity.

The mothers of Naftali, Gilad and Eyal proclaimed hope, where hope seemed slim, and articulated love, while their hearts were breaking. Where others might have screamed, or sought revenge, they maintained their dignity.

As we wander, grieving, in yet another dark moment, amid our pain we must struggle to remember the redemptive power of love and hope.

And though it is a struggle, it is one worth choosing. In the face of terror, we walk together, united. In our fear, we choose to open our hands and hearts to new friends we meet along the way. In our sorrow, we continue to strive, yearn and pray for peace. And in the face of death, we will continue to choose and sanctify life.

Last updated: 4:45pm, July 3 2014