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לימוד תורה

'Oath of allegiance' or conditional 'contract'

Parasha and its realization - for Parashat Devarim and Shabbat Chazon 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

One of the most exciting moments in the IDF enlistment process of a soldier is the 'swearing ceremony'. With the establishment of the IDF (22 Iyar 5708-1948), it was stipulated in the 'Commission of the General Staff' that every soldier would 'swear' allegiance, (if he is a religious soldier he will 'declare'), as he is receiving his weapon for the first time and an IDF Bible. Ben Gurion understood the importance of this status in a democratic country, to ensure the soldiers' submission to the State of Israel's authorities, 'without conditions and without reservations'.

Throughout the struggle period against the British, the Jewish community was divided into subordinations under various ideological movements and underground organizations. This is impossible in a democratic country. It is necessary to accept the authority of one elected government: "If an army is not totally subject to the democratic rule of the nation, in the end it might take over the people and lead to a military anarchy" ('Uniqueness and Purpose' -Ben Gurion). That is why he disbanded the Palmach (1) and forced it to integrate into IDF units. This move created a strong opposition, especially among Mapam (2), which believed it was correct to continue to maintain it in submission to the leadership of the Histadrut (Michael Bar-Zohar, Ben-Gurion).

Ben-Gurion himself meticulously formulated the 'IDF Oath of Allegiance' - 'to the State, its laws, and its authorities':

 "הנני נשבע ומתחייב בהן צדקי לשמור אמונים למדינת ישראל, לחוקיה ולשלטונותיה המוסמכים, לקבל על עצמי ללא תנאי וללא סייג עול משמעתו של צבא ההגנה לישראל, לציית לכל הפקודות וההוראות הניתנות על ידי המפקדים המוסמכים ולהקדיש כל כוחותיי ואף להקריב את חיי להגנת המולדת ולחירות ישראל".

"I swear and commit to maintain allegiance to the State of Israel, its laws, and its authorities, to accept upon myself unconditionally the discipline of the Israel Defense Forces, to obey all the orders and instructions given by authorized commanders, and to devote all my energies, and even sacrifice my life, for the defense of the homeland and the freedom of Israel."...

It was not for nothing that Ben-Gurion stated that the soldier would 'swear allegiance', 'to accept unconditionally and without reservation'. Because he understood that this is not a conditional 'contract', which has a 'give and take', and conditions are stipulated in it that qualify his loyalty to the 'laws', 'and the authorities' of the state, 'unconditionally and without reservation'.

During the war, in which the fate of the country and the lives of its residents were in danger, it all became clearer: the soldier, a citizen of the country, enlisted in the 'nation's army'. A mandatory army and not a salaried army, to protect the country, the lives of its residents and the lives of his family. The soldier and the state are one body and not separate entities. The 'nation's army' that protects you, your life, and your family in your country. Therefore, it is an absolute 'allegiance' and 'commitment', without hesitation between 'obligation' and 'volunteering'. It cannot be defined as a 'contract', certainly not with 'restrictions' and 'conditions'. Only in a hired army do they sign a 'contract'! A 'contract' is a system of mutual relations between two parties, strangers, separate; of a 'giver' and a 'receiver', and therefore 'terms' and 'violations' need to be stipulated.

At the end of Parashat Devarim, Moshe mentions the 'contract' with the tribes of Reuben and Gad, who asked to settle separately in the eastern part of the Jordan (Devarim 3:18). Moshe feared they were seeking to be a separate body, to separate themselves from the rest of the nation that would conquer and settle in the western part of the Jordan. Therefore, there was a need for a 'contract' that would define their obligation to be partners in the war for the inheritance of the land, to not separate themselves from the rest of the nation. A 'contract' that is so clear it cannot be understood in two different manners:

וַיֹּ֤אמֶר אֲלֵיהֶם֙ מֹשֶׁ֔ה אִֽם־תַּעֲשׂ֖וּן אֶת־הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֑ה אִם־תֵּחָ֥לְצ֛וּ לִפְנֵ֥י ה' לַמִּלְחָמָֽה׃ וְעָבַ֨ר לָכֶ֧ם כׇּל־חָל֛וּץ אֶת־הַיַּרְדֵּ֖ן לִפְנֵ֣י ה' עַ֧ד הוֹרִישׁ֛וֹ אֶת־אֹיְבָ֖יו מִפָּנָֽיו׃ וְנִכְבְּשָׁ֨ה הָאָ֜רֶץ לִפְנֵ֤י ה' וְאַחַ֣ר תָּשֻׁ֔בוּ וִהְיִיתֶ֧ם נְקִיִּ֛ם מה' וּמִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֑ל וְ֠הָיְתָ֠ה הָאָ֨רֶץ הַזֹּ֥את לָכֶ֛ם לַאֲחֻזָּ֖ה לִפְנֵ֥י ה'... וְאִם־לֹ֧א יַֽעַבְר֛וּ חֲלוּצִ֖ים אִתְּכֶ֑ם וְנֹֽאחֲז֥וּ בְתֹכְכֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ כְּנָֽעַן׃

"Moshe said to them, “If you do this, if you go to battle as shock-troops, at the instance of Hashem, and every shock-fighter among you crosses the Jordan, at the instance of Hashem, until [G-d] has personally dispossessed the enemies and the land has been subdued, at the instance of Hashem, and then you return—you shall be clear before Hashem and before Israel; and this land shall be your holding under Hashem… But if they do not cross over with you as shock-troops, they shall receive holdings among you in the land of Canaan.” (Bamidbar 32:20-30)

According to the Sages, this is a double contract, because the terms are spelled out for both instances: what will happen if they comply and what will happen if they do not. This 'contract' became a prototype for an absolute contract, which prevents misunderstandings:

כָּל תְּנַאי שֶׁאֵינוֹ כִתְנַאי בְּנֵי גָד וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן, אֵינוֹ תְנַאי, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (במדבר לב), וַיֹּאמֶר משֶׁה אֲלֵהֶם אִם יַעַבְרוּ בְנֵי גָד וּבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן, וּכְתִיב, וְאִם לֹא יַעַבְרוּ חֲלוּצִים.

"Any condition that is not doubled, i.e., which does not specify both the result of fulfilling the condition and the result of the condition remaining unfulfilled, like the condition Moshe stipulated with the children of Gad and the children of Reuben who sought to settle on the eastern side of the Jordan, is not a valid condition and is not taken into account at all. As it is stated: “And Moshe said to them, if the children of Gad and the children of Reuben pass over the Jordan with you, every man armed for battle before Hashem, and the land shall be subdued before you, then you shall give them the land of Gilead for a possession” (Bamidbar 32:29). And it is written afterward: “But if they will not pass over armed with you, they shall receive a possession among you in the land of Canaan” (Mishnah Kiddushin 3:4).

Moshe in his wisdom understood the need for a 'contract' with a clear commitment. When the obligations must be fulfilled, there is a tendency of the duty-bound to say the obligation is not convenient for them and does not work out for them at that time, trying to rewrite and 'interpret' the 'contract' in an imaginary way that better suits them.

Our generation has the great privilege to enlist in the 'Nation's Army' and defend our country which is the flesh of our flesh. We will not convert the 'allegiance' without conditions, into real or imaginary 'contracts'.

(1) The Palmach (Hebrew: פלמ"ח‎, acronym for פלוגות מחץ‎, Plugot Maḥatz, "Strike Companies") was the elite fighting force of the Haganah, the underground army of the Yishuv (Jewish community) during the period of the British Mandate for Palestine.

(2) Mapam (Hebrew: מַפָּ״ם, an acronym for מִפְלֶגֶת הַפּוֹעֲלִים הַמְּאוּחֶדֶת‎, Mifleget HaPoalim HaMeuhedet -'United Workers Party') was a left-wing political party in Israel. The party is one of the ancestors of the modern-day Meretz party.

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