This is how we bring in the Shabbat — Ariel Eliyahu, z”l
So far, 247 families have been notified that a family member who served in the IDF was killed fighting the Hamas enemy in a war called Iron Swords. And to date, we know that Hamas terrorists brutally murdered over 900 civilians and took about 97 hostages. The numbers will increase as more are identified. We cry out at the horrors wrought upon them.
This is a loss that is too big to grasp, too much to fathom. Remember, in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 37a) it is written that whoever destroys a single soul destroys the whole world. These 1300 destroyed worlds take our breath away. I want to bring to you the world of one of them — 19-year-old Corporal Ariel Eliyahu z”l.
I was introduced to Ariel when a note he wrote about one Shabbat last summer was shared after his death in a WhatsApp group. The letter touched on a feeling of wonder with which I identify. Wanting to know more about this young man, I translated his note into English and spoke with Achiya Eliyahu, his father.
In his note, Ariel wrote:
“I was on guard duty from 10:00 until 14:00 on Shabbat. And when I read the Haftorah (Haftorat Nechama) I began to cry a bit and I remembered how much I love the prophesies of Nechama and Geula [Consolation and Redemption – the seven Haftorot that speak of comforting the Jews in exile as Am Yisrael will return to the Land of Israel], so I took my Bible with me to guard duty. I opened at Isaiah at about Chapter 40 and simply began to flip through the pages, reading aloud to myself with the cantillation, deeply moved and crying from emotion. Then I opened a book of Shabbat songs that was at the guard post, inscribed with a dedication to IDF soldiers that spoke about the value of serving in the Israel Defence Forces and, because of the Shabbat atmosphere or something, I simply cried in excitement and that was a truly interesting experience.
But it was mainly the incredibly special experience to come back to reality and understand how redemptive it is that I, standing in a uniform with a weapon and everything, on Shabbat, at a huge IDF base (one of many), standing for four hours in the middle of a Shabbat morning, sweating, simply protecting the State of Israel and the Land of Israel.
And then I looked around me and suddenly I saw the redemption in every stone, in every tree, in the synthetic grass, and all the graffiti at the guard post. That this is such a wonderful redemption cannot be grasped. The prophets who prophesied it did not know how beautiful what they were prophesying would look and feel in reality.”
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Ariel lost his life this past Shabbat, the first day of the war. He was at a military post on the border near Kibbutz Be’eri, in one of two tanks. A member of the second tank team told Ariel’s father what happened: They saw the terrorist infiltrators cross the border into Israel and immediately took up the fight. Ariel was the shooter in his tank, reputedly having superior aim. They felled about ten terrorists before being hit — they suffered a serious enough blow that the tank commander was ejected from the tank and Ariel and the missile loader were seriously injured, parts of the tank set on fire. The driver was able to continue for some time, running over terrorists with the tank and engaging in another fight on his own. During this time, Ariel and the loader were gone and the commander’s body has not been found to this day.
Seeing the numbers they were up against, they could have backed up and escaped with their lives, but, like so many other heroes we are hearing about as the stories emerge, they stayed and fought, often to their last breath.
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In the middle of the summer, Ariel wanted to share a vision he had of his own Shiva. According to his girlfriend Maayan, the only one he could convince to listen to the Shiva story, he imagined his parents’ surprise when they would see all the social interactions in which he was involved and all the good that he did for so many people. Not only were his parents astonished to learn of all the WhatsApp groups he was in and all the people he had touched; they were also surprised to know he even had a girlfriend.
For five months, he kept Maayan a secret from his family and his father’s response to learning of her and meeting her was the joy of knowing that before his death, Ariel knew love. Achiya laughed as he talked about his son’s mischievousness: “We would ask when he was planning on getting married,” he said, “and in secret he would go meet with Maayan for hours without telling anyone. Maayan is exactly the wife we would have wanted for Ariel.”
Maayan told Ariel’s parents of the multitude of Whatsapp groups Ariel participated in, dealing with such a diversity of topics as photography, religious belief, Israeli songs, and more. He would answer people’s questions and offer help.
Pianos are placed in various public places in Israel, such as train stations. Ariel decided to create a WhatsApp group called “Pianos” after seeing people playing and singing at one of these public pianos in Jerusalem. Group members would meet after Shabbat and sing Israeli songs. Ariel would videotape them and his voice could be heard singing along.
He was in a group in which people would write about the little things that happen during the day that make them happy. This group became an important part of Ariel’s day, and after he was drafted into the IDF, he still tried to keep up the habit of writing in the group.
“I told him that I was happy to see that he is so happy,” Achiya says. But Ariel laughed and said: “You think everything is so good? It is really challenging in the army. Most of it is pretty hard. But I tell about these good things because that gives me strength.”
Ariel left this world one month shy of his 20th birthday. With all the pain of his loss, one thing that makes Achiya smile is knowing how full his son’s life was – both with what he knew about his son before his death and with the discovery of the astonishing private world filled with so many people that he and his wife discovered after his death.
I can see, in my mind’s eye, this 19-year-old soldier with long light brown sidelocks singing aloud as he stands guard on Shabbat, the day he wrote about in the note that brought him to my notice. I can see the impishness in his smile in photographs his father sent to me. I can see evidence of how he would throw himself fully into everything he would do in the simple image of his sidelocks coloured pink at the ends because his unit was painting implements with pink paint that day.
I can see this boy turning into a man and can do nothing other than smile through the tears.