by HaRav Eliezer Melamed
Rosh HaYeshiva, Har Bracha
It is hard to believe, but recently Rabbi Itamar and his wife Miriam spoke about the possibility that one of them would be killed for the sanctification of God’s name, and agreed that they were prepared to courageously rise to this challenge. They did not speak this way because they were extremists who did not value life, but as Jews who loved life so much that they were willing to sacrifice everything to realize God’s vision for the Jewish people, to bring faith, blessing, and life to the world. All over the world, people die for all sorts of reasons. Happy is the one who merits dying for the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel
Suddenly, in the middle of the day, we were assaulted by the news; gray clouds of tears thickened the sky, and a dreadful voice spread throughout the world, and announced: Rabbi Itamar Ben-Gal from Har Bracha was murdered. Suddenly, his wife Miriam is a widow; Avital, Daniel, Roni, and Avraham are orphans.
Our rabbis teach us that every Jew who is killed because he is Jewish is referred to as kadosh (holy), and is guaranteed a place in the World to Come. When someone dies because he is Jewish, he strips himself of his status as an individual, and wraps himself in the sanctity of Israel. If this is said about every Jew, how much truer is it when it comes to a Jew who chose to value the soil of our holy Land, living on the frontline of Jewish settlement. All the more so, when he is a talmid chacham (a Torah scholar), who studied and taught, who upheld and fulfilled the Torah. All his mitzvot and good deeds become transcendent and consecrated, absorbed into the sanctity of Klal Yisrael, while he ascends to on high as a korban tamim (an unblemished sacrifice) on the altar of the nation.
Dear and beloved Rabbi Itamar, we always knew that you were devoted to Torah, to the Jewish people, and to the Land of Israel. It has now become clear to us that you too, with all your good ways and deeds, have ascended to the holy and pure level of those who sacrifice their lives to sanctify God’s name.
For two thousand years, Jews were killed for the sanctification of God’s name while praying for the day when the Jewish people would return to its Land. There they would observe the Torah, perfect the world under the sovereignty of God, and bring blessing to all the nations of the world. To achieve this, they were willing to bear all the terrible torments. For they knew that the Torah, the Land of Israel and the World to Come are acquired through trials and tribulations, and that by means of their acquisition, this world is perfected and transformed into The World to Come.
The nations of the world tried to break us; they did not believe we would return to the Land, that the desolate Land would once again produce fruit, and that the biblical prophecy would be fulfilled: “God will then bring back your remnants and have mercy on you. God your Lord will once again gather you from among all the nations where He scattered you … bring you to the land that your ancestors occupied, and you too will occupy it. God will be good to you and make you flourish even more than your ancestors”(Devarim 30: 3-5). All the holy Jews in exile who died sanctifying God’s Name believed in this, but you, Rabbi Itamar, merited living it. Through you, the words of the prophet Ezekiel are being realized: “Therefore, O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God: Thus, says the Lord God to the mountains and the hills, the watercourses and the valleys, the desolate wastes and the deserted towns, which have become a source of plunder and an object of derision to the rest of the nations all around… But you, mountains of Israel, will extend your branches and bear your fruit for my people Israel, because they will come home very soon. Look, I’m here for you, and I will turn toward you, and you will be farmed and sown. I will populate you with human beings, the whole house of Israel, all of them. The cities will be inhabited, the ruins rebuilt. When I make people and animals increase on you, they will multiply and be fruitful. I will cause you to be inhabited as you were before. I will do more good for you than in the beginning, and you will know that I am the Lord”(Ezekiel 36).
You had not even reached the age of thirty, but you already dreamed big, and had begun to realize those dreams. In the few years you served as a rabbi and spiritual guide, you succeeded in getting young men excited about the Torah’s vision, which joins heaven and earth, and illuminates both the sphere of the intellect and the world of the workplace.
With love, determination, and authority, you demanded that your young students study, and they did. In the summer camps you ran, you insisted that Torah study be incorporated along with the hikes and fun and games. The campers were astonished to see just how challenging and enjoyable Torah study with you could be. It went so well, that they and their parents requested that you follow the same program the next year. And you agreed, because you were always willing to volunteer for sacred matters – and did it all responsibly and with appropriate seriousness.
You loved your new students in the yeshiva high school in Givat Shmuel. You praised the students and their parents for their attitudes towards their studies both religious and secular, which they approached seriously and worked on diligently.
We expected you to continue to grow in Torah – to study and teach. We were sure that as a natural leader, the day would come when you would be the Rosh Yeshiva at a yeshiva high school; now, all these dreams are lost. There is no one to fill your place; no one able to grasp the vision as you did, and be as diligent in its realization.
It is rare to see someone who appreciates and respects his parents as much as you did. At the brit
milah (circumcision) of your son Avraham, your father, Rabbi Daniel, spoke with great kindness about his father-in-law, Rabbi Avraham. You whispered in my ear: “If only I could be like my father — deeply understanding people, and being righteous and good to all.” You also told me a number of times about the constant kindness your mother showed to the entire family.
Once, on our way to a wedding with Itamar’s father-in-law Rabbi Shlomi, we were discussing whether a son-in-law should call his father-in-law, “father.” Itamar said it depends on their relationship – if the relationship is good and close, then certainly a son-in-law should refer to his father-in-law as ‘father.’ His father-in-law, Rabbi Shlomi, beamed with pleasure.
Itamar came to his wedding with a beautiful and unusual tie. I complimented him on his appearance, and on the tie which his father, with his good taste, had chosen for him. About two weeks later, he left a surprise gift at my house – an identical tie. With God’s help, I will wear it at the weddings of your children, Avital, Daniel, Roni, and Avraham.
“And I said to you through your blood you shall live, and I said to you through your blood you shall live.” You were killed on your way to a brit milah. The fate of the Jewish people is to carry the banner of justice and morality in this world. Consequently, in every generation, the greatest of the wicked fight against us, and especially against the righteous among us. These wicked people are the ones who currently are responsible for spreading terror throughout the world and polluting its waters, while we bring good to the world. Similar to our holy ancestors who dug wells, we also lead in the desalination of seawater, and the recycling of waste water.
If our enemies were asked what they would prefer – that we kill 1,000 of them, or build a new neighborhood, they would prefer to sacrifice thousands of people – so long as we don’t continue settling the Land. Therefore, the best revenge is to keep building, to build another neighborhood and another neighborhood, and to turn Har Bracha into a city.
We have not returned to the Land in order to deprive decent Arabs of their property. However, since they have risen to destroy us, logic dictates that whoever wants to kill be killed, and whoever wants to expel, be expelled. How fortunate we are that we have a state and an army. With God’s help, everything that needs to be done, will be done.
Sometimes we are asked, “Why do you continue to hitchhike?” The simple answer is – we have no choice; there is no other way to live here. This is the risk that we, on the frontlines of the settlements, assume in order to fulfill the commandment to settle the Land of Israel which our Sages tell us is equivalent to all of the commandments. And when one of us attains holiness by sacrificing his life to sanctify God’s name, in his merit, we – all the settlers who travel all the roads, become holy.
Dear brothers and sisters, beloved settlers, who can tell you how great your small deeds are? How great you are as you continue your daily lives, as you continue travelling on the roads, and stand guard over our nation and our country. With your very bodies, you are realizing the vision of the prophets.
It is hard to believe, but recently Rabbi Itamar and his wife Miriam spoke about the possibility that one of them would be killed for the sanctification of God’s name, and agreed that they were prepared to courageously rise to the challenge. They did not speak this way because they were extremists who did not value life, but as Jews who loved life so much that they were willing to sacrifice everything to realize God’s vision for the Jewish people, to bring faith, blessing, and life to the world. All over the world, people die for all sorts of reasons. Happy is the one who merits dying for the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel
Not long ago, when Rabbi Itamar saw a mother crying and grieving too much for her son who had been killed, it occurred to him that perhaps one day he might also be killed, and that his mother would do the same. He told his wife Miriam that should this happen, she should tell his mother not to cry too much, but rather to be strong for the honor of the Torah, the nation, and the Land. He did not get a chance though to speak with his mother directly about this.
May it be Your will, He who hears the voice of crying – to collect our tears together with all the tears of the holy Jews who were murdered, slaughtered, and killed for the sanctification of your Holy Name; let the tears water the Land leading it to bring forth grains, wine, and oil, and console the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. Transform the tears into life-giving dew. Let them remind us of the forgotten, lead to the flowering of ideas, and add blessing and life to all the nations of the world.
Master of the Universe, grant strength to the widowed Miriam to enable her to raise the orphans to Torah and mitzvot; grant health and strength to the grandparents to enable them to offer their grandchildren support, to nurture them, and to guide them to their wedding canopies.
Master of the Universe, grant honor to Your nation, glory to those who revere You, hope to those who seek You; grant joy to Your Land of Israel, and gladness to Your holy city, Jerusalem; and You will reign, You alone, over all humanity through Mount Zion, the place of Your glorious shrine of old, and through Jerusalem, Your holy city. Gather our exiles from the four corners of the earth, and in the merit of this young rabbi, Itamar Ben Gal, murdered sanctifying Your Name, help us settle all the Land You promised to our forefathers and to us, and let us fulfill the words of the prophet: “I will rebuild your nation, O virgin of Israel. You will again be happy and dance merrily with the timbrels. Again, you will plant your vineyards upon the mountains of Samaria and eat from your own gardens there… For the Lord says: ‘Sing with joy for all that I will do for Israel, the greatest of the nations! Shout out with praise and joy: The Lord has saved his nation, the remnant of Israel… For I will bring them from the north and from earth’s farthest ends, not forgetting their blind and lame, young mothers with their little ones, those ready to give birth. It will be a great company who comes. Tears of joy shall stream down their faces, and I will lead them home with great care. They shall walk beside the quiet streams and not stumble… They shall come home and sing songs of joy upon the hills of Zion and shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord… and all their sorrows shall be gone… and all their sorrows shall be gone'” (Jeremiah 31).
I returned from the cemetery, and on the sidewalk near my home were a throng of children walking home from the new school in the community. Soon they would eat lunch, and begin their many afternoon activities – studying Torah, and participating in extracurricular activities of almost every possible type. I said to myself: Who gave birth to all these children? We are bereaved and abandoned. We’ve been left alone. How can it be that suddenly, in each of the younger classes in Har Bracha there are nearly a hundred children who continue to do their own thing, laughing as if nothing had happened? All they know is that more Torah needs to be studied and more building needs to be done, because Rabbi Itamar was killed. “And I said to you through your blood you shall live, and I said to you through your blood you shall live.”