Since the massacre of October 7, more than 100,000 soldiers have been sent to protect Israel’s north against a potential attack from Hezbollah, a radical Shiite terrorist organization, one of Iran’s most powerful proxies. On the night of October 29, one of those soldiers, thirty-three-year-old St.-Sgt.-Maj. Rabbi Naaran Eshchar, a reservist, was commanding a tank on Israel’s northern border. That night, Naaran’s tank was moving through a treacherous dirt road in the Upper Galilee. The tank came to a 180-degree switchback and for some reason it did not turn in time. The tank plummeted 50 feet into a ravine. Sgt.-Maj.-major (res.) Yinon Fleishman was killed on the spot. Naaran was badly wounded. A few days after the accident, he was pronounced brain-dead. One week after the accident, he succumbed to his wounds.
I knew Naaran since he was seven. He grew up in my town of Moreshet. He was the counselor of my son, Amichai, in his Bnei Akiva youth group. Yesterday, Amichai sent a picture of all of the staff, taken about fifteen years ago. The picture was taken on the beach of the Mediterranean Sea. Naaran is sitting next to Amichai, his locks blowing in the wind. They’re all smiling. So much promise. That was Naaran. He was a free spirit. He was spiritual. He was musical. He was soft-spoken. While he was a brilliant scholar, he consulted his heart before he consulted his head. He was everything that I was not. That’s probably why I liked him so much.
Naaran didn’t have to serve in the reserves. In June, 2023, Naaran donated one of his kidneys to a person he had never met. Of course he did. He was that kind of person. Because he had only one kidney, the army didn’t even call him up on October 7. Naaran had to fight to convince the army to let him fight. He went to the surgeon who had performed his kidney transplant, who was himself a tank commander, and convinced the surgeon to testify to his Commanding Officer (CO) that Naaran was still qualified to serve in battle. On the day Naaran died, five of his organs were transplanted, saving another four lives: His heart went to a 59-year-old man; his two lungs to a 72-year-old man; his liver to a 67-year-old man; and his remaining kidney to a 43-year-old man. Yesterday, at the funeral, his wife asked the people who had come to pay their respects to pray that the transplants be successful. Of course she did.
As he lived, so he died. Naaran’s funeral was Naaran. It began with music. People who played in bands with him brought their instruments. Spontaneously they began playing songs that Naaran would sing. The nearly 1000 attendees slowly began to sing along. With tears in our eyes, we sang, “The soul is Yours, and the body is Your handiwork, have mercy on the fruit of Your labors.” Naaran was taped singing these words from the High Holiday liturgy, only a month before he died. We sang, “A prayer of the lowly man when he is faint and pours forth his plea before the LORD. O LORD, hear my prayer; let my cry come before You. Do not hide Your face from me in my time of trouble; turn Your ear to me; when I cry, answer me speedily.” This went on for thirty minutes. I could see Naaran singing, his guitar in hand. His guitar was always in his hand.
Naaran’s funeral was the longest funeral I ever attended. So many people spoke. His CO from the army spoke about his commitment to his mission. A close friend from his platoon in the army spoke of how he used to study Judaism with Naaran, even though Naaran was a Rabbi and his friend was not religious. He spoke of how Naaran bridged the gap that separated them by accepting him for who he was while all the time showing him who he could be. Naaran’s parents and three siblings and their spouses spoke. Rabbi Cohen, the rabbi of our town, spoke. He, too, had known Naaran since he was a child, but as time went on, he began to study with Naaran, and as Naaran grew in his Torah learning, Rabbi Cohen’s servant had become his master. The next speakers were heads of Yeshivot (Schools of Torah study) in which Naaran studied and taught. The ocean of Torah is vast and yet, somehow, Naaran managed to swim in all of it. The last person who spoke was his wife, Tzuf. She spoke of their family, of their two children, Be’eri and Kedem. She spoke of Naaran as a husband, as a friend, as a father, and as a confidant. The eulogies went on for nearly two hours. All I could think of was the sheer breadth of who Naaran was, of what he had managed to accomplish in only 33 years, and of what he could have accomplished had his CO told him to go home that day. When did he have time to sleep? Tzuf answered this question by quoting Rabbi Elisha Vishlitzki, another Rabbi who died far too young: “We act according to our missions – and then the strength comes.” Naaran was not driven by what he could do, but by what he needed to do. And there was so much to do.
After the funeral, Amichai, who was also there, texted me. He said that while it feels sacrilegious to say so, it feels like G-d took the wrong person. I told him I felt the same. But Naaran wouldn’t have said that. If it were up to him, Naaran would not have accepted G-d’s decree. He would have gone about changing it. But it wasn’t up to him.
Epilogue – How a Song is Born: Itai, a resident of Moreshet, lost his two brothers and then his father. A family friend empathized with Itai’s bereavement. He could not be still until he wrote a poem for Itai that he called "Great Priests.” A woman from Moreshet came across the poem and passed it on to Naaran. Naaran was captivated by the poem, and he put it to music. Eventually, the song was recorded at Yodefat Studios, with Naaran playing and singing in his soft and deep velvety voice. Thus a song was born. The song describes three “priests,” metaphors for Itai’s father and brothers. The lyrics are hauntingly prophetic: “The angels were distressed: How could a son die before his father, they asked? A heavenly voice answered in tears, ‘Be silent. This is what G-d wanted’”. Silence, Naaran, is what you left us.
May his memory be a blessing.