28 July 2006

Eternal Life

For the past six months, I've been watching my grandfather die.

He is an old man. Before he even went into the nursing home, he knew his time was limited. I asked him once, "Are you afraid to die?" His response was a matter-of-fact "No." Thinking back to it now, it was one of the most lighthearted answers he had given to any question I'd ever asked him.

The other day my mother went to the home, to consult with the hospice worker who had been called in to assess my grandfather's condition. (Hospice is only called in when it is determined that a person has anywhere from one day to six months at most to live.) While she was waiting to speak to the social worker, she visited with my grandfather. After a week of being in a near-comatose state, he had miraculously revived himself the day before and asked my grandmother if she thought they were fighting a losing battle. My grandfather's tough like that, and it's been this way for months, now; he'll be totally out of it for a week, and we'll think that's it, only to have him gather his remaining strength to suprise us with a day or two of sunshine before the clouds set in again. My mother caught him on day two of the sunshine, before the next set of storm clouds blew in the following day.

"I don't think I'll be around much longer," my grandfather remarked as they sat there, waiting. "I think I'm being called home."

"The amazing thing about my father is, he's not afraid," my mother reflected later. "I know he's old, and it isn't a shocking scenario, but still-- most people get scared or lose faith. He's just confident."

HaShem puts a lesson in every single one of your life experiences. Of course, it’s up to you to recognize and understand this, and look for that lesson each time you’re faced with a situation, good or bad. Lately I’ve been trying to reconcile why HaShem has chosen to take my grandfather while Israel, my nation, goes into war. Somehow it seems like it’s just too much grief to bear. On the one hand, I have an old man who has gone from mentor, to friend, to trusted confidant over the course of my life, who is one of the few people with whom I can speak openly and honestly, who is one of the few people I can respect and admire, and he is dying. He is old, and it is his time, but losing a friend is never easy. On the other hand, I have tens of thousands of young men and women, whom I have never met, with whom I have very little in common, yet who are my family; through blood, through faith, through identity I call them my own and love them as my own, and respect and admire them for fighting valiantly for our identity and rights as a people. They are teenagers, twenty-somethings, thirty-somethings risking death and dying for my faith, my identity, my rights. They are young, and it is not their time, and losing mishpocha is never easy.

What is the lesson HaShem has meant for me in all of this? What lesson can I learn, what vision can I draw and run with for this appointed time? The one thing I keep returning to is my grandfather’s confidence in the face of death.

We are the people of the Book of Life. Tens of thousands of soldiers are being called up to face nothing short of a demonic enemy—our men and women must know, must understand, must trust with unshaken confidence that resides in the core of their soul that we have LIFE. The Zahal is going in to face an enemy that has already signed their own death warrant with Sheol. The Zahal is going in to face this truth as the army of the people to whom the greatest gift has been given: the gift of eternal life.

Israel is watching as her first casualties of battle are being brought home and laid to rest. Teenagers with guns are facing the reality that they, too, may be coming home in a pine box. This is a cold, cruel reality, but there is no permanency to it. Our bodies may die, but our souls live on forever. As the prophet speaks:

“Yet we have this assurance:
Those who belong to God will live;
their bodies will rise again!
Those who sleep in the earth
will rise up and sing for joy!
For God's light of life will fall like dew
on his people in the place of the dead!”
Isaiah 26:19


We already have seen proof of this in the modern history of Israel. Our nation has been resurrected from death into life as a great army by the hand of Adonai, who first spoke of it through the prophet Ezekiel: We were brought back from the nations, slain and in despair, and given the breath of life, to arise as a vast army! Truly, our nation has witnessed this resurrection power in the past 58 years alone! We are living because of the miracles performed in the midst of our grandfathers!

As we face battle, we must face it with confidence that "death" is not in the vocabulary of our G-d. We must face our enemy knowing that HaShem, our G-d, is the G-d of eternity. We must face this battle, not with fresh faces naieve to the realities of life, but with the battle-hardened wisdom of those who have claimed victories before us. We must have the confidence of our grandfathers, and to do this, we must abide by the trust that comes from knowing HaShem as deeply and personally as did Dovid HaMelek, the greatest warrior of Israel. We must have that personal relationship with Adonai as we go forth into this battle, as individuals and as a nation. As the prophet instructs, He will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge; the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure. (Isaiah 33:6)

This is the verse I pray over you, members of the IDF, this Shabbat:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do, and He will direct your paths.”

Proverbs 3:5-6


Shabbat Shalom. May you have peace as you prepare for battle.






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