On the night of the 25th of Tevet, 5736 (1976), a memorial service was held for seven young men killed in Zion Square in Jerusalem by Palestinian terrorists. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l spoke beautifully at this event and we shall thus quote some select excerpts from his discourse:
Our Sages taught that the death of young men is as terrible as the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. This is especially true when these young men observed the Torah and Mitzvot properly. I have no words of consolation for the bereaved families for each of these boys was an entire world unto himself. Only the Healer of Broken Hearts can truly comfort them, as the verse states, “Like a man whose mother comforts him so shall I comfort you and you shall be comforted in Jerusalem. Similarly, the verse states, “And when I passed over you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I told you, ‘In your blood, live!’ and I told you, ‘In your blood, live!’” The redundancy in the verse regarding the words “In your blood, live” is a reference to a life of building and creation and a life of Torah and knowledge, as the verse states, “If not for your Torah as my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.”
The verse in the Book of Yirmeya states, “Thus said Hashem: ‘A voice is heard in the heights, lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel weeping for her children, she refuses to be comforted for her children because they are not.’ Thus said Hashem: ‘Refrain your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for your work shall be rewarded says Hashem and they shall return from the land of the enemy. And there is hope for your future said Hashem and your children shall return to their own borders.’” The reason why it says twice “And they shall return from the land of the enemy” and “And they shall return to their own borders” is because there will be two returns to Zion, one will be leaving the various Middle Eastern lands from where Jews were persecuted occasionally throughout the years through massacres and decrees, such as from Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and other places. Even after the establishment of the State of Israel, this despicable bloodshed continues in the form of terrorist attacks and the killing of our beloved soldiers. Even in Yemen, poor Jews were taken and forcibly converted to Islam. Thus, the prophet states, “And they shall return from the land of the enemy” when the Jewish nation merits immigrating to the Land of Israel from these hostile countries. However, this return to the Land of Israel is still incomplete until the Jewish nation returns to a lifestyle observant of Torah and Mitzvot, i.e. returning to our true roots and heritage, and only then will there be “Hope for your future and your children shall return to their own borders”. Only when the Jewish nation fulfills the will of Hashem are they called “children” (Kiddushin 36a) and regarding this does the verse states, “And your children shall return to their own borders”.
When our Sages said “The death of Jewish young men is as terrible as the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash” they meant to teach us an important lesson. The destruction of the Bet Hamikdash served as a form of salvation for the Jewish nation, for Hashem channeled his anger onto wood and stones as opposed to annihilating the Jewish nation. Nevertheless, Hashem cries and mourns over the destruction Bet Hamikdash, as Hashem says, “Woe unto me that I have destroyed my house and burned my sanctuary!” So too, with regards to the death of young Jewish men, especially those under the age of twenty regarding whom the holy Zohar states that that those who pass away before the age of twenty are passed into the hands of angels and every Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh they are brought up to the place of Hashem and Hashem blesses them. When Heavenly anger descends upon the world, Hashem gazes at these fine young men and has mercy upon the world.
This is why our Sages equate the death of young men to the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, for here too, their death is not, G-d-forbid, in vain, for these young men atone for the entire generation and because of them, Hashem has mercy upon the Jewish nation and forgives them. Nevertheless, do not think that their death is not difficult and terrible in the eyes of Hashem, as the verse states, “Precious in the eyes of Hashem is the death of his pious ones.” Hashem himself will one day comfort the entire Jewish nation through the Ultimate Redemption and the Resurrection of the Dead, Amen.
Halacha Yomit: It is permissible and proper to recite a “Hashkava” (memorial prayer) even on behalf of non-Jewish fallen soldiers of the IDF (such as from Israel’s Druze community), especially since they gave up their lives to protect the Jewish nation.