THE DAY GOD WEPT

“Remember what Amalek did to you, on the way, when you were leaving Egypt, that he happened upon you on the way, and he struck those of you who were hindmost, all the weaklings at your rear, when you were faint and exhausted, and he did not fear God. It shall be that when Hashem, your God, gives you rest from all your enemies all around, in the Land that Hashem, your God, gives you as an inheritance to possess it, you shall wipe out the memory of Amalek from under the heaven – you shall not forget.” (Parshat Zachor, Devarim 25:17-19)

This Monday, 18th March, corresponding to the 8th of Adar II, I witnessed (on livestream) one of the most heartrending scenes I had ever beheld. Captain Daniel Perez, may Hashem avenge his blood, was laid to rest in the military cemetery on Mt Herzl in Jerusalem. It was a rainy day in the eternal capital of the Jewish people. The rain was a steady drizzle until Daniel’s father, Rabbi Doron Perez, delivered his eulogy, at which point it turned into an absolute downpour. It was almost as if God, Himself, was shedding tears. A large crowd  gathered to pay their respects to this twenty-two-year-old hero who gave his life defending the State of Israel. I noticed several dignitaries in the crowd, including the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, Rabbi David Lau and the illustrious Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon of Alon Shvut, both of whom delivered moving words. The funeral was a combination of a military ceremony, including a multiple-gun salute and a Jewish burial, with all the relevant prayers.

Throughout the funeral, I fixed my gaze squarely on Daniel’s family – his parents, siblings and grandparents.  This is a family that is well known in the South African Jewish community. Rabbi Perez grew up in Johannesburg, was the head boy of Yeshiva College and the rabbi of the Mizrachi shul in Glenhazel. Shelley Perez, nee Barnett, hails from Muizenberg. Their children, including Daniel, spent their formative years in South Africa until the family made Aliyah in 2014 when Rabbi Perez took up the role of chief executive of World Mizrachi.  Rabbi Perez would come to daven at Claremont Wynberg when the family were on holiday in Cape Town.  He also spoke at our shul on various occasions. When my family visited Johannesburg, we usually attended Mizrachi shul and Rabbi Perez would frequently ask me to deliver sermons on Shabbat. I consider him a close colleague with whom I have a warm relationship. It is precisely this familiarity with the Perez family that made the funeral so heartbreaking for me. That is not to say that the plight of other victims of this war causes me any less pain. However, when one knows the people involved, the tragedy really hits home.

Until Monday, the Perez family, represented by Rabbi Perez, have been exemplars of courage, fortitude and strength. On 7 October, both of the Perez boys, Yonatan and Daniel, were involved in the battle against the Hamas marauders. They put all of their concerns aside and took up arms to defend Israel. They had no idea of the sheer size of the terrorists’ incursion. Yonatan was injured and Daniel was missing, presumed taken captive in Gaza. In a display of incredible faith, the family decided to go through with Yonatan’s wedding as soon as he had recovered. They had no idea of the fate of Daniel, but the Jewish people must go on. For more than five months, Rabbi Perez has been speaking to numerous audiences on various platforms. He offered inspiration and encouragement, belying the pain and anguish he must have felt inside. I stand in awe at his resilience. But, on Sunday which was the seventh of Adar, the yahrzeit of Moshe Rabbeinu, the family was informed of Daniel’s passing. It was now their time to break down and pour out their emotions. They learned that Daniel had been killed on 7 October and the heartless and cruel Hamas terrorists had taken his body to Gaza, causing untold psychological harm to his family. His body is still in the hands of Hamas. Alas, all that was buried on Monday was some blood that had been found on Daniel’s clothing in his tank.

Rabbi Perez reflected on the burial of Daniel’s blood in his eulogy. He noted that, in Jewish thought, blood is a symbol of life. The Torah often states (see for example Devarim 17:11), “For the soul of the flesh is in the blood”. Moreover, the covenant with Hashem, the source of all life, was made through two “bloods” – the blood of the Pesach sacrifice and the blood of brit milah. Thus, we say at the seder and at a bris (Yehezkel 16:6), “Then I passed by you and saw you downtrodden in your blood, and I said to you: ‘In your blood shall you live! And I said to you, ‘In your blood shall you live!’” At Mount Sinai when we received the Torah, Moshe brought offerings and sprinkled their blood. He said (Shmot 24:8), “Behold the blood of the covenant that Hashem sealed with you concerning all these matters.” But for Hamas, the very embodiment of Amalek in our time, blood is about death. The more Jewish blood they spill, the better. They are a death-cult, whereas the Jewish people “choose life” (Devarim 30:19).

The similarities between the attack of Amalek and the Simchat Torah pogrom are striking. Both were surprise attacks where the victims were caught unawares. In both instances, the targets were not soldiers but civilians. In both attacks, the most vulnerable people were killed – defenceless women, children and the elderly. In addition, both Amalek and Hamas did not/do not “fear God.” Hamas terrorists might say they are engaged in a holy war but what type of holy man beheads children, rapes women and burns entire families alive? They might believe in some form of God but it is not the Compassionate and Merciful God of Israel. I hope that at least, in one way, these two attacks will differ. In the case of Amalek, we are told (Shmot 17:13), “Joshua weakened Amalek and its people with the sword’s blade.” For some reason, known only to God (see Rashi there), Joshua and his soldiers were not able to destroy Amalek. They remained a thorn in the side of Israel in the times of the kings and later, in the story of Purim. This time, I pray, the IDF will defeat Hamas-Amalek completely. They will never send another rocket nor stab another Israeli nor take another hostage to Gaza. Israel can no longer tolerate a beast living on its doorstep. Let us remember Daniel Perez, his bravery and his dedication. May Hashem bring comfort and consolation to his family and may they know no more suffering.  

Lee, Chani Merryl and Naomi join me in wishing you Shabbat Shalom!   

Rabbi Liebenberg

Link to Rabbi’s YouTube message for the parsha: https://youtu.be/tVwuU8Lldxw?si=SE9EmYiGOH9lX8EK

*PARSHAT ZACHOR

On the Shabbat before Purim, we read a passage from the Sefer Torah called Parshat Zachor (The Passage of Remembrance, Devarim 25:17-19). In this section, we are commanded to remember that the Nation of Amalek attacked the Children of Israel shortly after the Exodus from Egypt and killed those who were weak and tired from the long journey. Our sages instituted this public reading on the Shabbat before Purim, as it was then that Haman, a descendant of Amalek, was vanquished. Please be in shul by 10:00 am to ensure that you hear this important portion.

 

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