If you could live in any generation in history, which one would it be?

Think about it. I’ll return to that question.

As many of you know I just got back from a very short trip to Israel. I spent my entire flight thinking about what to share with all of you this Shabbos morning. Well, to be more accurate, I popped two Tylenol PM’s, slept for a few hours, played try-not-to-have-the-woman-sitting-next-to-you-fall-asleep-on-your-shoulder for a good hour, and then for the remaining hour or so, I tried to think of what to share with you.

And it’s hard. It’s hard because there was so much – so many incredible people, so many intense and varied emotions, and so much that just cannot be described with words. Which is another way of saying, if you haven’t been to Israel, please go.

Unfortunately, the experiences were too varied, and I was unable to bring them together into one theme. So instead, what I’d like to do this morning is introduce you to a few people that you should know.

The first person I’d like you to meet is Moran Freibach. Moran lives in a tiny community right near the Gaza border called Kibbutz Nachal Oz. Currently, he is the only member of that community who is living there.

On October 7th, in an attack that was identical to that of Be’eri and Kfar Aza, about a hundred Hamas terrorists streamed through Kibbutz Nachal Oz. They knew exactly where the weapons were stored and blocked access to them. They then systematically went from home to home killing whoever they could find. Amazingly, the casualties in this community were “only” 20 people and the houses are all intact. The reason this community looks so different than those other border cities is because a few weeks prior, 11 Israeli soldiers, a small elite unit, for whatever reason had nowhere to stay. They had friends in Kibbutz Nachal Oz who agreed to took them in. Those Israeli soldiers who were there “by coincidence” were able to save the lives of the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants.

We met Moran in Kibbutz Nachal Oz. We had to stand a few feet away from a shelter as missiles are still raining down in the area. Every few moments we would jump from the powerful booms from Israeli tanks. It is dangerous to live in Kibbutz Nachal Oz, and the government does not allow civilians to be there. So why is Moran there?

Moran is there to rebuild. Their farms and the irrigation system they set up was destroyed by Hamas. And Moran is there leading a team of workers to ensure that Hamas does not get the last word. He spends the night with his family, driving hours every day to be with them, but every day he is in the Kibbutz working tirelessly to rebuild. We were all very taken by his passion and bravery but I was not prepared for what came next.

He was describing how difficult October 7th was for his children when someone interrupted him to ask, “Isn’t always difficult living so close to the border?” Rockets from Gaza are a regular occurrence in Kibbutz Nachal Oz. Isn’t that difficult for the children?

His answer gave me the chills:

“You’re right. Living here is probably not good for my kids.

But this is a fight between good and evil. We are here to protect the people of Israel from terrorists.  

And I think what we are trying to do is bigger than our kids.”

I am still not sure how I feel about those sentiments. But I am jealous of them. We read today how the Kohein Gadol was not allowed to come into contact with any deceased family members. The Baal Hatanya explains that for him, on his high spiritual level, he is way above this physical earth, way above the notion of family, of DNA. For such a person who lives so removed from the physical plane, he is equally connected to everyone, and so there is no such thing as family. Again, we can debate if Moran’s sentiment was right or wrong, but imagine being so dedicated to a cause, imagine living on a plane where your ideals are so above the notion of family, that those words can come out of your mouth.

Let me introduce you to someone else. His name is Dror. When I met Dror, he had a cigarette hanging out of his mouth, a huge smile, and he was stirring some food in a makeshift kitchen. We were on the side of the road, a three-minute drive from Gaza, at a place called the Shura Junction.

The Shura junction was a busy place on October 7th. Anyone who was injured was brought there and was then picked up by helicopter and brought to the nearest hospital. Koby, Dror’s older brother went outside with some water and coffee to provide for the injured and the emergency personnel. A few days later, soldiers started streaming through the Shura Junction to go fight Hamas. Dror and his brothers were still there. Only now they had cakes and cookies and an awning so people could sit under its shade. Within a few days they built a little structure on the side of the road with a kitchen and started making hot meals. They collected items that the soldiers needed, socks, tactical gear, personal hygiene products, and made a store for soldiers – everything is free. When we arrived, there was a bench area, a kitchen, a store, a gazebo, all built by the brothers. Every day about 100 soldiers stop by for a meal or to pick up some items like batteries or whatever else they need.

It was remarkable, but I had one question.

“Dror,” I asked him. “What about your job?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Hashem will provide.”

I usually do not like that answer, but in this case, I loved it. These brothers saw a problem, they saw their brothers and sisters in need, and they dropped everything, so they could look out for them. And yes, it doesn’t make sense, it’s irrational, and that’s especially hard for people like you and me who like to have everything sketched out; when we are retiring, how much sleep we need etc. etc. But I’d venture to say that the most meaningful things we will do in life will be the ones that will not add up, the ones that some may describe as irrational. What I learned from Dror is that they are not irrational; they transcend the rational.

Another person I’d like you to meet is Noa Lewis. I am not going to justice to this woman. You have to see her, you have to hear her sweet voice, her angelic smile. She oversees the purification, the tahara that is done with the dead before they are buried, for soldiers and the victims of terror. In the space that she uses for this work, there is a bag attached to the wall filled with ashes from Auschwitz. Next to it is a bag filled with earth from the land of Israel. She looks at those bags to lift her spirits, to remind her that we can and we must rebuild. She needs to have her spirits lifted because she has seen the most horrendous atrocities. She and her team had to deal with everything that came from the Nova site, from the kibbutzim, and over the past few months, all the soldiers that were killed in action. She describes the love and the care and the respect that she has for each person who she cares for as she prepares them for the next world. People were asking her for blessings after she was done; you could tell you were standing in the presence of a pure angel who somehow maintained her purity even though she regularly comes face to face with devil.

She explained to us how she was at first a little upset. She wanted to be more helpful in the war against Hamas. “But then,” she said with her soft smile, “I realized I am also fighting Hamas. Hamas tried to dehumanize us; they did not just kill the innocent, they did so much worse. The care and the love that I give to each of these people, I ensure that their dignity is restored.”

The last person I want to introduce you to is someone anonymous. It is a woman who called a rabbi in Israel, and asked him the following question a few months ago:

“My husband and I have tried to have children for years. We tried every treatment and nothing worked. However, I just found out that I am pregnant. My husband is fighting in Gaza. I will likely hear from him in the next day or two and I am dying to share this incredible news with him. I am bursting at the seams. I so badly want to share it with the love of my life. Should I tell him?”

The rabbi did not understand. “What’s the question?”

She explained: “I know my husband. I am afraid that if he hears this news it is going to distract him from fighting.”

I heard many moving stories this past week, but this one brought a flood of tears. Imagine having that level of selflessness! Imagine having that level of deliberation! Imagine having that level of self-control for a cause greater than yourself!

I began by asking you which generation would you have wanted to be born in. Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon, one of the great rabbinic leaders of our time, asked our group this question this past week, and you know what he said?

He said, I would want to be born in this generation because there is no generation like it. He reminded us of the Jewish People who left Egypt, how they were stranded between the sea and the Egyptians. And G-d told them to jump into the water. How many jumped in?

One person. Nachshon ben Aminadav.

But today, said Rav Rimon, if we would find ourselves in the same situation, you know how many of us would jump in? Hundreds of thousands! Millions!

And that’s because we live in a generation with people like Moran who is ready to sacrifice it all for the sake of this epic battle between good and evil. We live in a generation with people like Dror who is in the prime of his life and is not thinking rationally because he sees people who could use his help. We live in a generation with people like Noah Lewis who breathes life into death, who brings light into the darkest of places. And we live in a generation with that anonymous mother and thousands upon thousands of mothers and wives and brothers and sisters and soldiers and civilians who are doing so much for me, for you, for the land of Israel, for the Jewish People.

I began by saying there is no common theme throughout our trip. I stand corrected. There is one theme that was there in every single interaction; the ones you heard about and the many you didn’t. And that is pride. Meeting such people, seeing such people, I have never been so proud to be a Jew. To wear my kippah. To pray in public. To be a part of this holy nation. To be alive today in this incredible generation.

There are a lot of emotions in the air. Anxiety about growing antisemitism, uneasiness about the disharmony rearing its ugly head once more in Israel, the battles in Rafah, the uncertainty about the North. I beg of you, as you read through the news, as you navigate your emotions, look out for all the many heroes in our midst. Awaken an appropriate sense of pride in them and in yourself. Hold your head up high because you are part of the greatest generation.