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לימוד תורה

The giving of the Torah and bravery

The religious community and the Hesder Yeshivot during war

Parshah and its realization - Parshat Yitro - and the war of the 'Iron Swords' 5784

Rabbi Eliezer Haim Shenvald

Dedicated to the IDF soldiers' success, to safeguard them lest any harm come to them, to the healing of all the wounded and the return of the abducted.

Last week I witnessed a poignant discussion on the question: Is it correct to publicly state the fact that a very high percentage of the fallen soldiers belong to the Israeli Modern Orthodox / Dati Leumi Community? And if so, to what extent is it correct to highlight it?

On the one hand, it can be said: it is wrong to differentiate the affiliation groups of the fallen soldiers. The soldiers fought together shoulder to shoulder in wonderful unity, out of comradeship and brotherhood, without distinction and without discrimination of sectarian affiliation. In this context, it is also argued that the main lesson learnt from the tragedy that befell upon us on Shabbat Simchat Torah is that there should be no more room for separation and labeling between the sectors, and only togetherness in combat and in civil society will allow us to face the complex challenges before us.

But on the other hand there seems to be a continuous trend, (it is difficult to know its scope), that tries to delegitimize the National Religious Zionist public. Perhaps to train public opinion for future 'political processes'. Senior figures in the public sphere, in politics, academia and culture, allow themselves to insult and blaspheme the religious community and call it a 'cancerous growth' or as those who have received 'extreme nationalist education' and need to undergo 're-education' during their service in the IDF, or who compare it to Hamas. These statements did not get adequate condemnation. If at all. In such a situation, we must not remain silent, and it is our duty to highlight the contribution of Religious Zionism to the country and the heavy price it pays. Its contribution can be highlighted without dwarfing or ignoring the contribution of other sectors of society.

Beyond this discussion, directed towards the Israeli public, and important to have, there is another point to be cleared, regarding the number of victims among the National Religious public. Internal discussions in the Batei Midrash, Synagogues, the various educational frameworks and youth movements of the Religious Zionist public. The amount of casualties, many of them relatively older and in the reserves, reflects that among the religious public, there is a disproportionate large number of reservists that are fighters and commanders compared to the percentage in the general population. This difference is due to a high level of motivation to serve, of the soldiers on the battlefield, and the strength of their family members in the home front. In the last war, the public also received a painful reminder of how much the IDF's decision-making power on land is based on the reserve system, hence its important public contribution.

There are various factors that motivate to serve. Moral and ethical, Zionist, personal (self-realization) and more. It can be pointed out that in the Religious Zionist community the main reason is spiritual. It is reflected in the close connection between home-education, educational institutions - the Yeshivot and preparatory schools and the graduates' level of motivation to serve. In the past there were those who doubted the connection between Torah study and the motivation to serve. It seems today that this connection is clear and visible, and it is hard to deny it - the 'fighting spirit' creates heroism on the battlefield.

In connection with this, I would like to mention the importance the Yeshivot Hesder have. The Hesder track regulates the combination between Torah study periods and military service, over a period of five to six years. I have been asked several times as head of the Hesder Yeshiva and as a commander regarding the military service claiming it is not a full service. This criticism ignores the enormous contribution Torah study in Yeshiva has while shaping the spiritual character of the student, in raising Torah disciples, and adding a valuable contribution to society in various fields. Nevertheless, it also ignores the fact that the Hesder graduates continue to serve for many years in the reserves. I learned about this already during my service as a Company commander in the reserves. There were a lot of officers who were Hesder graduates, in my company, and in the entire battalion. The same is true for the reserve battalion that I commanded over and the brigade in which I served as a Deputy Brigade Commander. The last war highlighted this very much in the amount of victims who were graduates from Hesder Yeshivot.

This week, the President of the State of Israel commented on this during his visit to the Hesder Yeshiva in Yeruham: "The IDF fighters come from all over the country, and many of them are graduates of the religious educational system and Hesder Yeshivot. They go first, and I am here to express my deep appreciation and recognition to you, who 'sit and learn', etc." I want to strengthen you, spiritually, and tell you that we respect you very much. The entire nation greatly appreciates what it sees, the bravery of the soul, the splendor of youth and your wonderful abilities, etc."

This Shabbat we will read the Torah portion about the founding milestone of the giving of the Torah. The status in which they received divine revelation:

אָֽנֹכִ֖י֙ ה' אֱלֹקיךָ אֲשֶׁ֧ר הוֹצֵאתִ֛יךָ מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרַ֖יִם מִבֵּ֣֥ית עֲבָדִ֑͏ים׃

"I am Hashem your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage" (Shmot 20:2)

Sages pointed out a difference between the manner of divine revelation in 'Giving the Torah' and 'Splitting of the Sea':

לְפִי שֶׁנִּגְלָה בַיָּם כְּגִבּוֹר מִלְחָמָה וְנִגְלָה כָּאן כְּזָקֵן מָלֵא רַחֲמִים

"because He had revealed Himself to them at the Red Sea as a mighty man of war and here He revealed Himself as a grey-beard filled with compassion" (Rashi ibid)

In the giving of the Torah, G-d teaches the Torah as a seasoned teacher and in the splitting of the Red Sea as a 'man of war' - as it is said:

ה' אִ֣ישׁ מִלְחָמָ֑ה ה' שְׁמֽוֹ׃        

"Hashem, the Warrior— Hashem is His name!" (Shmot 15:3)

Therefore, now in the giving of the Torah, the scripture comes to emphasize that this is the same divinity that is revealed, only in a different way:

הוֹאִיל וַאֲנִי מִשְׁתַּנֶּה בְמַרְאוֹת, אַל תֹּאמְרוּ שְׁתֵּי רָשׁוּיוֹת הֵן אָנֹכִי הוּא אֲשֶׁר הוֹצֵאתִיךָ מִמִּצְרַיִם וְעַל הַיָּם.

"…Since I change, appearing in various forms, do not say, “There are two divine Beings”; it is I Who brought you forth from Egypt and Who appeared to you at the Sea" (Rashi ibid)

However, Hashem's attribute of Might was revealed as well in the giving of the Torah:

אָנֹכִי (שמות כ, ב) וְלֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה שְׁמַעְנוּם

“I am Hashem your G-d” (Shmot 20:2), and: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Shmot 20:3): We, the Jewish people, heard them from the mouth of the Almighty". (Horayot 8a).

הַגְּבוּרָה הָאֱלֹקית הַשְּׁרוּיָה בָּעוֹלָם, שֶׁחִדְּשָׁה אֶת הָעוֹלָם וּמְחַדַּשְׁתּוֹ בְּכָל יוֹם, הִיא הִיא שֶׁמִּפִּיהָ שָׁמַעְנוּ אֶת הַתּוֹרָה. מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה שָׁמַעְנוּ  "אָנכִי" וְ"לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ", וְכָל הַתּוֹרָה כֻּלָּהּ קִבֵּל משֶׁה מִפִּי הַגְּבוּרָה" (הרב קוק זצ"ל ישראל ותחיתו ח).

"The Divine Might that resides in the world, which renewed the world and renews it every day, is the one from whom we heard the Torah. From the mouth of the Almighty we heard “I am Hashem your G-d” and “You shall have no other gods before Me”, and all the Torah was received by Moshe from the Almighty" (Rabbi Kook Lights from Darkness, Israel and its Rebirth, Chapter 8).

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook, Z''tzal, used to explain in his classes that the Almighty, by giving the Torah, hid away the attribute of 'Divine Might'. Those who study it for the sake of learning absorb the spirit of might, personal and national, civil and military. The Sages have already determined that

כָּל הָעוֹסֵק בַּתּוֹרָה לִשְׁמָהּ, זוֹכֶה לִדְבָרִים הַרְבֵּה... וְנֶהֱנִין מִמֶּנּוּ עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה בִּינָה וּגְבוּרָה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (משלי ח) לִי עֵצָה וְתוּשִׁיָּה אֲנִי בִינָה לִי גְבוּרָה.

"Whoever occupies himself with the Torah for its own sake, merits many things…  And people benefit from his counsel, sound knowledge, understanding and strength, as it is said, “Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, strength is mine” (Proverbs 8:14). (Pirkei Avot 6:1)

As a nation that is eager for life, we must strengthen spiritual educational activities and the study of the Torah as a value in itself, and as a result this will strengthen the willingness and motivation to serve in the army.

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