A Thought for Shabbos
Aherele was only 22 years old in 2005, and as a seasoned Captain of his IDF Unit, the soldiers were confident in his leadership when he led them on a night call-up into Nablus, to back up three anti-terrorist missions.
After a successful execution of their duties, their packed Army Truck was speeding out of the town when suddenly a Molotov cocktail came flying at them, exploding just on the hinge of the front door where Captain Aherele was seated, igniting his ammunition laden belt.
A split-second of concern for his fellow soldiers over himself had him leaping over the crouched driver out the driver’s window, from the speeding truck (at 80 km an hour), as his by now exploding belt ripped off into his burning body on the side of the road.
As I heard him recall his story one night this week, I was speechless. Not as much from the story of his injury, but from the journey of his recovery.
I met Ahreleh and a group of his friends at the home of a friend in Joburg this week where they shared their stories, each more heroic – and harrowing, than the next. But as I had a chance to meet each one of them individually I noticed a contrast; on the one hand their personalities and stories were so different and unique, and yet, there was a certain common aura, a peace, or pure light if I may, that seemed to radiate from all of them together.
Not once did I pick up anger or revenge for the terrorists against whom they are defending their nation. Nowhere did I hear a hint of superiority or boastful pride in the bravery of their deeds.
Perhaps it is the journey of healing of those that are now engaged in - “Achim Lechayim” “Brother for Life” through “Hope for Heroism” - that has allowed them to use their PTSD, life threatening injuries, battered bodies, and shattered minds and hearts, as a way of healing each other in ways that no therapy or medication ever could.
This remarkable organization brings together these Giborei Yisroel – Heroes of Israel, where they can look into each other’s eyes to see, hear and feel the stories that no text book or film could ever convey.
The smiles and laughter that they can now enjoy (though the nightmares and crying are never far away) are possible because each one of them has another friend who saw his own story of hurt and pain as a way to bring comfort and joy to a friend in need.
And perhaps today is a day that we can all learn from them as well
Today on the Jewish calendar is Rosh Chodesh Adar, the first day of the Month of Adar which is famously associated with the statement in the Talmud that “when Adar begins we should increase in Joy.”
What isn’t that famous is that this statement of the Talmud is only a qualification on a much earlier statement of our Sages in the Mishna that “when Av begins we should decrease in Joy” (as the season of the destruction of the Beis Hamkidash and many other Jewish tragedies).
In discussion the Mishna the Talmud says that “Just as when Av begins we should decrease in Joy, when Adar begins we should increase in Joy.”
So now suddenly a lot of the hot air that fuels our joyous singing of the Hebrew words of the Talmud, “Misheh Misheh Mishenichnas Adar…” doesn’t seem that hot after all.
Is our Joy in Adar only “like” our mourning in Av?
Well, the Talmud seems to think so – and so do Ahreleh and his friends.
There isn’t one of us who doesn’t love a good time. We all like to kick back and enjoy a drink with friends (Purim is coming) and live the good life.
But so often the way we do that is by ignoring, or even trying to forget the hardships, losses and challenges that our real life story brings.
Ahrele and his friends taught me what the Tamud is showing us.
The true joy of Adar isn’t reached by enjoying the good weather and saying L’chaim.
Real happiness begins in Av, in our moments of pain, hurt, loss and mourning. And the journey of our humanity that is so real and tangible then culminates in the growth and strength we find in Adar, in true happiness and real joy, created by and through our embrace of the challenge.
The Talmud taught that to us. Ahrele shows it to us.
Maybe today it’s time for us to do the same.
Wishing you a Joyous Adar, with everything that life brings you,
Rabbi Asher Deren