This year, the recently completed festivals, always a time of joy, were even more joyous than usual.
Because he’s home.
Gilad Shalit is home. Everyone’s son, everyone’s brother, is finally home.
Home to his immediate family, and home to his extended family — all of Kelal Yisrael, the entire Jewish people.
People from all over the world watched in admiration as the Jewish people breathed a collective sigh of relief and shed copious tears of joy when Gilad set foot on the soil of the Holy Land.
Even the news media took note that something special was happening.
The conspicuous and spontaneous outpouring of emotion in Israel was striking , especially considering the price paid. Over one thousand brutal murderers were set free, and yet over eighty percent of the country was in favor of the exchange. This despite the surveys that show the same eighty percent expecting that many of those freed will return to their evil ways. Yet, they felt it was worth it to bring a young man home to his family. A young man almost none of them had ever met.
In truth, it is debatable if the prisoner exchange was the right move, even from the perspective of Jewish law.
But what is not debatable is the noble character of the Jewish people that was on display.
The Jewish collective consciousness knows well the phrase mentioned repeatedly in this week’s and last week’s Torah portions: “For in the image of God man was created” (see Genesis 1:26-27, 5:1, 9:8).
As the Talmud teaches (Avot 3:14), every single human being, Jew or Gentile, is beloved because they carry God’s image.
Too bad nobody told this to the Egyptians and Palestinians. Contrast the weak, fragile, condition of the freed Gilad with the robustly healthy liberated Palestinian terrorists. Contrast the shameful behavior of the Egyptian media and the bloodthirsty comments of those freed by the Israelis with the reaction of the Jewish people.
But we will not give up. We know that the Jewish people were meant to be a “Light unto the Nations” (see Isaiah 42:6, 60:2-3), and one fundamental light that we can shine is the value we place on every life, merely by dint of each person being bearing the image of his/her Creator.
This week many throughout the world took note of this light. Yes, we still seem far away from the coming day when all the nations will recognize the light that comes forth from Israel. But that day, too, will come (see Isaiah 2:2-4, Micah 4:1-3).
But for now, we’re just happy Gilad is home. Welcome home brother, we can’t begin to tell you how much we missed you.
Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz is the Rabbi and Director of the Monmouth Torah Links community. Shortly after receiving his semicha (rabbinic ordination) from Bais Medrash Govoha, the famed Lakewood Yeshiva, Rabbi Oratz, along with his wife Toby and family, moved to Marlboro, NJ where they co-founded the MTL community in 2001. Aside for his “Devar on the Par” that he writes for MTL, his writings have also been published on Aish, Times of Israel, Seforim Blog, Hakira, and in various Rabbinic journals. Rabbi Oratz looks forward to continuing teaching Torah in a way that is timely and timeless, and sharing meaningful Jewish experiences with the amazing MTL community.