At 4:04 am central time, the tears were allowed to flow freely. Like so many others, I spent the day holding them back, not wanting to tempt fate. So much could go wrong: there could be delays; another appeal; last minute demands. But now, at 4:04 am, I could not hold them back any longer. At that moment, Brigadier General Yoav Mordechai stood at the podium and announced the words that a family, a nation, and a people waited to hear for 1,941 days:
גלעד שליט חזר הביתה...ברגעים אלו, צועד גלעד שליט וניכנס לשטח מדינת ישראל
Gilad Shalit has come home...At this very moment, Gilad Shalit advances and has entered the territory of the State of Israel.
With these few, powerful words, a son was returned home alive. A family was reunited. A nation was just a little more whole. A collective national exhale and joy became palpable around the globe.
Brigadier General Mordechai’s announcement did not bring Peace to the region. It did not suddenly narrow the gap between rich and poor or establish safe borders. It did not ease tensions between the ultra-Orthodox and everyone else. It did not resurrect those who were murdered by terrorists or who fell in service to their country. But it did tell the us and the world that on this night one hero, the center of hope and prayers for five years, Gilad ben Noam v’Aviva Shalit was going to sleep in his own bed, in his own home, in his own community after 1,941 days of captivity and complete isolation.
That is enough for us.
Pundits will argue the merits of the deal that brought Gilad home. People will try to do the math in an attempt to justify or negate the deal. There will be, and have been, debates about Jewish law regarding the mitzvah of Pidyon Shvuyim, redeeming captives, and what price is too high. These kinds of conversations, debates and equations, however, will fail to win the point for they are all rational attempts to justify or condemn that which is completely irrational: the unconditional love of a parent for their child (or a nation for one of its children).
During these days of Yom Tov, the Torah commands us to be happy, to the exclusion of all other emotions. I have to believe that this is an aspirational command for it is impossible to be completely happy when over a thousand terrorists are now free. It is impossible to be completely happy knowing that friends mourn other friends, those who were murdered in bombings at Hebrew University and Sbarro Pizza and whose killers are now free. It is impossible to be completely happy despite the strength displayed by a parent like Esther Wachsman who supported the deal to bring Gilad Shalit home even though her own son, Nachshon, was kidnapped by terrorists and murdered while in the army. It is impossible to be completely happy knowing that for the deal to work so many others whose parents, siblings, relatives and friends were murdered in the most horrible, unimaginable ways, had to watch as the murderers walked free into Gaza and beyond. Finally, it is impossible to be completely happy given that, after more than 25 years, Ron Arad is still MIA with no knowledge of his whereabouts, no closure or solace for his family or for the other families whose children are missing-in-action.
Yet, even if complete joy is unattainable at this time, so many of us will be more joyous on this Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah knowing that in the town of Mitzpe Hila, Gilad Shalit will be alive and at home. We will hug our own children tighter than ever. We will dance with the Torah and will sing with greater gusto ושבו בנים לגבולם “And the Children return to their borders” for we have seen it with our own eyes.
With thoughts of blessing for the family of Gilad Shalit and with continued tears of joy flowing, with prayers for his complete recovery from trauma caused by five years of isolation and captivity, and with the hope that despite the threats and promises of Hamas and others, that no other Israeli daughter or son every be kidnapped again, I wish us all Chag Sameach and