Humility in the Face of Tragedy - The Week's End (December 9, 2022)
Dec 9th 2022

On June 12, 2014, Israel was witness to the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Fraenkel. After the discovery and burial of the bodies of the three boys a few weeks later, Israeli singer and composer Yonatan Razel paid a shiva call to the family of Naftali Fraenkel. At a subsequent concert Yonatan gave, he shared the following experience from the shiva. Naftali’s mother Rachel saw him in the corner, and she approached him and said: “Yonatan, I don’t know if you know, but all that we can say right now is: ‘Katonti mikol haḥasidim u-mikol ha-emet asher asita et avdekha’ - I am unworthy of all the kindness and truth that You have so steadfastly shown your servant – (Genesis 32:11-12)”. Yonatan Razel was so inspired by this encounter that he wrote and dedicated a song to the Fraenkel family – Katonti. You can watch and listen to the song here -

These words that Rachel Fraenkel quoted and on which Razel bases his song are from this week’s parasha Vayishlaḥ, where Jacob prays for God’s protection before his meeting with his brother Esau after over twenty years. In Jacob’s prayer, we witness his humility and gratitude proving that misfortune had developed the nobler impulses of his heart. Years before, as a young man leaving Canaan, Jacob had prayed. Some commentators say he essentially bargained with God, offering to set up a shrine and set aside a tithe in return for God’s protection in bringing him home safely. Now, in place of bargaining, there is the sobering realization that Jacob has nothing to offer God. God has already blessed him with more than he had any right to claim – love, family, and material wealth.

In considering the horrifying kidnapping and murder of the three boys, Rachel Fraenkel’s interpretation of Jacob’s words is not one that you would expect given the loss of her son. Her thoughtful, gracious, and dignified response and gratitude even in the wake of such a tragedy compels us to appreciate the love, family, and material wealth in our lives that we might take for granted. Shabbat Shalom.