Sunday, May 20, 2007


April 16, 1999

"The earth is YHVH's, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein." (Psalms 24:1). This past week we went to a burial of a neighbor (Tzvika). His daughter is in the same class as our daughter. He was 47 years old.

The gathering at the cemetery was large; people from our settlement and from the surrounding towns (both Arabs and Jews) were present, and of course close family.

As we walked down the side of the hill towards our destination I looked up and with the graveyard in the foreground, I saw the panoramic view of the green rolling hills of Samaria. Large stones and olive trees dotted the gently descending slopes down toward the long Sharon valley below, with its towns and cities sewn into the patchwork of green and brown fields. The misty blue of the Mediterranean Sea was like a velvet frame along the boarder of the land. For some reason the view had a special meaning at that moment, as the white-shirted burial team took the body from back of a plain gray colored service van. Tzvika's wife, who had been holding on to her 12 year old daughter's hand, put her arm around her and drew her into a close embrace. The crowd then pressed in around them, as we all shuffled slowly into this small cemetery. I saw the mayor of our settlement pause briefly, as he passed the large granite stone bearing the Hebrew letters of his 19-year-old daughter. She had been killed two years previously in a car accident. There were other epitaphs, engraved in stone, lining the small and relatively new burial ground; for instance, the two soldiers tragically killed along with 71 others, when the two helicopters kissed in mid air, and plummeted to the ground burning to death the fear-filled, screaming soldiers inside. As I stood next to my wife, behind a wall of assorted colored clothes, I could not see the actual entombment. However, having attended such sad events in the past, the sounds were very familiar; the weeping of the mourners, the whispers of those that had gathered, who perhaps hadn't seen one another since the last occasion, like a Brit, a Bar-Mitzva, or a wedding. Soon I could hear the Rabbi chanting the prayer as the cement lid made its soft drum-like sound deep in the ground, closing the body into its final resting place. Then the shovels, manned by Tzvika's teary-eyed and somber friends, hurriedly scratched the stone-laden earth back to its original place. The hollow thuds of the first few throws left the feeling that it was almost over.

I happened to look to my right, and there was a man standing unobtrusively in the back, with a beautiful wreath in his one hand, wiping his eyes with the other, trying to hold back from crying as he took a deep breath. I knew that he was an Arab from a near-by village. I couldn't help but observe him, in his sorrow. Finally, not able to hold back my own deep feelings of compassion for him, I walked over and put my arm around him. He was surprised at first, but as our eyes met I said to him in Hebrew, "he was your good friend". As he gathered his composure, he replied in a broken voice: "No, he was like my brother. We were very close, he would come to my house in Kalkilya (not a friendly town towards the Israelis), and I would come to his house here in Alphe Menashe." As we stood together silently watching the last shovels of earth being scraped into place over his "brother" and my neighbor, I was struck by a sudden reality. With this in mind I said to him: "Do you see that mound of earth? Does it belong to the Jew? Does it belong to the Arab?" As we both stared at the reality, I continued my thought "I think here lies the answer." He nodded in agreement. As the last mourner laid his shovel down and the people began to embrace the bereaved family, that little mound of earth seemed to say back to us, both Jew and Arab, "Ultimately you all belong to me."

As we walked up to Tzvika's widow to pay our condolences, she made a very interesting observation and comment. "Only now in his death did he bring together so many who had broken relationships." We were some of the last ones to leave the site. As we silently returned, walking up the hill with our backs to the scenery, my thoughts were on the futility of our conflicts over this earth and our pride of who we might think we are: Serbs, Bosnians, Palestinians, Israelis, Americans. Where are the Moahbites, Ammonites, or Romans? The earth, generation after generation, still holds the answer, "you all belong to me and I belong to YHVH".

A part of the prayer that had been chanted over the grave, goes something like this: "May his resting place be in the Garden of Eden - therefore may the Master of mercy shelter him in the shelter of His wings for eternity, and may He bind his soul in the bond of Life. Hashem is his heritage, and may he repose in peace on his resting place" (Siddur). Ironically, it was out of the earth that Elohim created man, and it was in the garden of Eden that Elohim pronounced man's ultimate destiny: "Till you return to the earth, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3:19). But this is not the end of the story, Yah'shua the Messiah of the Jews and of the Arabs and of anyone else who has the faith to believe, rose from that mound of dirt, death did not hold him, because of the greatness, power, and faithfulness of the Elohim of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Creator of this earth, and the one about whom the Psalmist declares. "The earth belongs to YHVH, and the fulness there of."


P.S. "YHVH, make me to know my end, and what is the measure of my days, that I may know how transient I am. Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my lifetime is as nothing before You; Certainly every man in his best state is but vapor. Selah (Psa. 39:4-5).

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