Giving and Forgiving

February 26, 2024

Sometimes we set out to strengthen or comfort others and we find that we, ourselves, are the ones who receive comfort and strength from the interaction.

Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, brings to light this idea through his exploration of palindromes – words that read the same forwards and backward.

One notable example of a palindrome is found in the Torah portion of Ki Tisa (Exodus 30:11-34:35). The verse states:

The Hebrew word for “shall pay” in this verse is ונתנו (venatnu). The literal meaning of this word is “and they shall give.” This palindrome beautifully illustrates the concept of reciprocity in giving: just as the word reads the same in either direction, so too, does the act of giving result in receiving.

Rabbi Mirvis points out that this message is echoed in the modern Hebrew palindrome ולכשתשכלו (velich’sheteshakeilu), which translates as “and when they shall become bereaved.” Despite its association with grief, this word conveys a powerful lesson about the nature of comfort. Often, it is those that we think need to be comforted, those who have become bereaved, who are the ones who provide encouragement and support to others. This is encapsulated in the Hebrew saying, “Banu lechazek, yaytzanu mechuzakim,” – “We came to comfort and we emerged comforted.” It’s a profound reminder that in the act of supporting others, we too gain strength and support.

This idea has been poignantly illustrated over and over again following the tragic losses as a result of Israel’s war with Hamas that began on October 7th. A heartrending example involves Iris Haim whose son, Yotam, was mistakenly killed by IDF fire. Yotam was taken hostage by Hamas on October 7th and, along with two other hostages, was mistaken for a threat and killed by IDF soldiers in Gaza. His death was a devastating error, yet the response of Yotam’s mother, Iris, was one of extraordinary compassion and understanding.

Though she herself was grieving over the death of her son, in an act of incredible grace Iris recorded a message to the soldiers of the battalion that mistakenly killed her son, expressing love and absolution. She understood the heavy burden of guilt these soldiers carried and sought to alleviate it by affirming, “I know that everything that happened is not your fault, and nobody’s fault except that of Hamas.” Iris urged the soldiers to continue their duties without hesitation and invited them to visit her family, offering love, support and reassurance.

The soldiers, deeply moved by Iris’ message, took her up on her offer to visit the family. One soldier expressed how Iris’ understanding and support helped them to ‘function again,’ revealing the transformative power of her words. Iris’ response, “Amazing, that’s what I wanted,” captures the essence of her strength and the healing that she gave the soldiers even as she was mourning the loss of her son.

This poignant story embodies the teaching of reciprocity, encapsulated in the palindromes ונתנו, “and they shall give,” and ולכשתשכלו, “and when they shall become bereaved. Often, it is those who bear the deepest pain that are the ones who give the most significant comfort and encouragement to others.

Iris Haim’s story serves as a powerful reminder that even in our darkest moments, we can heal, support and uplift others.

Israeli soldiers are risking their lives to protect us all from Islamic terrorism. But they need our help. Sign up for Israel365 Action to receive updates on how YOU can help fight Hamas and its supporters in the United States and around the world. 

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

Shira Schechter

Shira Schechter is the content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. She earned master’s degrees in both Jewish Education and Bible from Yeshiva University. She taught the Hebrew Bible at a high school in New Jersey for eight years before making Aliyah with her family in 2013. Shira joined the Israel365 staff shortly after moving to Israel and contributed significantly to the development and publication of The Israel Bible.

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