by Gila Manolson
As the mother of an IDF soldier, I pride myself on being calm. I didn't lose sleep over my olive green-clad first-born son. Chananya, who has been stationed in places like Gaza, Ramallah and Kalkilya. While I may worry a bit, I figure the chances of anything happening to him are small.
This past summer. Hezbollah terrorists kidnapped two soldiers. Israel retaliated by bombing Lebanon and Hezbollah rained missiles on northern Israel. We were at war. Chananya was on the Golan Heights. I immediately called him.
"Don't worry, Imma, " he assured me. " We're here guarding the Syrian border. It's so safe we're patrolling in open jeeps. It's totally boring."
"Good!" I exclaimed. "You should be bored stiff the whole war!" He laughed. I didn't. I said I loved him, he said he loved me, and we hung up. Thank G-d, I thought as the tension left me, I'll still be able to sleep.
The war progressed. I listened to the radio, and called Chananya frequently to make sure he was still on the Golan. His cellular phone was off a lot -- more than usual -- but whenever I managed to get him, he told me with a yawn that he was still there and nothing was happening. His unit was still hanging out. It was still boring.
"Great," I said. "Stay bored. Very bored!"
Despite Israel's bombing, Hezbollah's missiles kept falling. The news reported that we had begun a ground invasion, and my stomach tightened, knowing that meant casualties. Young men, my son's age, would be killed. But my son, safely positioned on the Golan Heights, wouldn't be among them.
Chananya came home only once during the war, and I barely saw him. He arrived in the evening and fell into bed. The next morning he changed into his good uniform, mumbled that he was going down to Ashkelon for a ceremony, and left. He came back late, fell into bed again, and the next morning returned to his unit. I was disappointed to see so little of him, but I figured that he was needed on the Golan, boring or not.
The war ended with a ceasefire, and over 50 soldiers dead. My heart broke for the bereaved families whose worst nightmare had come true.
A little later, my friend Batya and I treated ourselves to a day at the beach. The ocean is one of my favorite places. Floating far out with the sea all around me and the blue sky above, I feel overwhelmed by G-d's love.
Sitting on the beach, I sighed. "Batya, lifes so good. I have a home in Jerusalem, a wonderful husband, seven precious children, rewarding work, trips to the ocean...I don't deserve all I've been given. What's more, I'm not growing as much as if I had to contend with difficulty or pain. And that's scary. Im afraid that sooner or later, something's going to happen and I'm waiting for the axe to fall."
Batya looked thoughtful. She was choosing her words carefully. "What would it take to feel that the axe had fallen?"
I shuddered. "I don't want to think about it. Getting a terrible disease, something happening to my husband, or one of the kids."
"And how would that inspire you to grow?"
"I guess I'd work on myself harder. Pray better. Give my family more love. I don't know."
Several weeks later, I noticed something in the mail from the army. Inside was a letter addressed to all the parents of my son's unit. I read it -- and froze.
The letter thanked us for supporting our brave sons who had fought so courageously in Lebanon.
Chananya had been in Lebanon.
I confronted my husband. It turned out he knew all along, but recognizing the limits of my calm, told Chananya not to tell me. I wasn't angry -- I knew the decision to spare me came only from love. Meanwhile, the rest of the world -- including Batya, and Chananya's next three younger siblings -- knew. Only I continued naively believing that my son was sitting bored on the Golan.
Shortly afterwards, Chananya came home on leave. I waited a while and quietly told him I knew where he'd spent half his summer. I asked him what he'd been doing in Lebanon. He told me, matter-of-factly, that he was shooting, being shot at, and blowing up terrorists' bunkers.
I asked him what ceremony he attended the day he was home. He told me it was a funeral for a soldier in his unit.
It's disturbing to have your past reality change so dramatically. But once I recovered, I thought deep and hard.
My son had been in Lebanon. Had I known, I would have prayed intensely. I would have undertaken a huge mitzvah as a merit for him. I would have done anything to ensure his safe return.
Well, he did come home safely. Didnt I now owe G-d just as much as if I'd suffered that worry and tension? Even more, for the incredible blessing of having been spared it?
Could gratitude motivate me as much as fear?
The Torah teaches us to love and to fear G-d. Fear is a lower level of relationship, and it comes more easily to most of us. On the eve of the 1991 Gulf War, when Saddam threatened to destroy Israel with chemical weapons, there was a lot of fervent praying and repentance. Fear is a great motivator.
Love is tougher to muster up, because as long as things are going well, we take most of our blessings for granted. When the Gulf War ended on Purim, the 39 missiles that had fallen on Israel had left only one fatality. It was clearly miraculous, and for a short time everyone felt thankful. But that quickly dissipated, and within no time at all, life was back to normal.
I felt that G-d is now saying: You may be good at fearing Me, but I saved your son from danger that you didn't even know he was in. Can you now love Me as much and keep loving Me?
I should deeply appreciate what I've been given, never take it for granted, and constantly love G-d for it. Simple and obvious truths, it seems, are those we often have the most difficulty internalizing. Thankfully, G-d always gives us the opportunity to try again.
Author of "The Magic Touch," "Inside/Outside" and "Head to Heart: What you need to know before dating and marriage," Gila Manolson is a popular lecturer who lives in Jerusalem with her husband and children.