Every week before I start writing my column, my wife Jenny implores me to write about something “uplifting.” If you follow the news, especially the news that gets reported in the corner of the world we call home, the Middle East, you know that “uplifting” is another way to say “needle in a haystack.” Weekly I search for the “needle” to write about; sometimes I find it, generally I don’t. This week I will pass on making hay out of certain topics and offer instead thoughts on achdut.
Monday was Yom Hazikaron in Israel, the day on which the soldiers and civilians who gave their lives in war or terror attacks are remembered by the nation. A two-minute siren brought the country to a halt in remembrance of Israel’s 25,578 war and terror victims. This is a column about Jewish achdut and shared purpose. It is a column about the supreme sacrifice made by numerous Jews — including chareidim — who fell in battle fighting for Israel. It is also an observation about a hesder yeshivah’s initiative to honor some of these soldiers.
Recently, the Rosh Yeshivah of that yeshivah realized that dozens of chareidi soldiers who were killed while serving their country were not buried in military ceremonies but, following the tradition of the bereaved families, were buried in civilian cemeteries, primarily in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak. The families of these soldiers do not visit their graves on Remembrance Day, which they do not celebrate, but on their yahrzeits. The Rosh Yeshivah took his entire staff and talmidim and visited their grave sites, to recognize their sacrifice. The Rosh Yeshivah explained, “Through recognition for all fallen soldiers, and through a feeling of public responsibility for the need to recognize the fallen of the chareidi community, we initiated a project for visiting their graves, as representatives of the Israeli public, at civilian cemeteries. There we will light a candle, read from the Book of Psalms and say the Kaddish in their memory…”
The battles of Israel have always been fought both on the battlefield and in the beis medrash. It is taught that King David understood that the wars waged by Israel were not to subjugate other nations but rather to eradicate a moral disease within the holy borders of Israel or to defend these borders. It was therefore essential that he have soldiers fight the opposing army and Torah scholars learn in the merit of the soldiers of Israel and to fight the moral depravity of the enemy. It is clear that victory was achieved only when both the fighting force and the force of learning conquered the enemies of Israel’s body and soul.
With the formation of the state came the oft-quoted number of “400” exemptions to army service, designated for ultra-Orthodox men learning Torah. But that was when Israel’s population stood at 600,000 Jews. According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics in its annual report released on the eve of Independence Day, Israel’s Jewish population now stands at 6 million, a ten-fold increase since the founding of the State. It is reasonable, therefore, to expect a proportional growth in the number of exemptions given to young men of army age to contribute to the country by the merit of their Torah learning. Neither the government nor the citizens of Israel should look at this as a gift, but rather recognize it as a necessity for the continued safety and success of the country. Conversely, the young men who benefit from these exemptions should have gratitude for the opportunity to learn, and recognize that they represent the people of Israel. Just as the soldiers of the IDF do not differentiate whom they defend, those learning should not differentiate in whose zchut they learn and have kavanot for all Jews.
It is an imperative for Klal Yisrael that we recognize and honor the sacrifices that the “other Jew” makes. Non-religious Jews should note the words of a famous secular thinker that essentially says that while Jews can maintain their integrity as Jews anywhere in the world, even in Diaspora, the Jewish state cannot exist without its Jews and Judaism.
Observant Jews who do not serve in the army should nonetheless recognize that the IDF through Hashem’s help has prevailed in battle at the cost of 23,000 neshamot to the nation, making it possible for Jewish life to again flourish in the Holy Land. The Jewish quarter of the Old City and the Kotel were restored to Jewish hands by the sacrifice of Torah-observant and non-Torah observant Jews.
While in shul, I was considering this point and there in front of me was the bedecked Torah. How fitting. Even though the me’il is merely a sleeve, by covering and protecting a sefer Torah it honors the Torah and Hashem. The people of Israel all share in protecting the Torah, each in our own way.
Meir Solomon is a writer, analyst and commentator living in Alon Shvut, Israel, with his wife and two children. He can be contacted at msolomon@Hamodia.com