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Choosing Sides

By Yochanan Gordon

It seems that our collective conscience is occupied with the matter of protests and laws to draft yeshiva students in Israel to army or national service. Judging from the reaction, one would think that the Israeli government is looking to quash the religious fervor of its chareidi sector—a claim which they have repeatedly denounced.

Addressing this issue subjectively is a challenge, as some may misconstrue these words as contrary or antithetical to the charge of the generation’s leaders who have unanimously called the community en masse to the yom tefillah that took place last Sunday in Lower Manhattan. I think that there is a miscommunication of sorts regarding the true intentions of the mass gathering and the reasons that are being bandied about in yeshivos and on the street.

In times past, we more easily accepted the call of our leaders without the need to question and understand. Today’s generation, in the Internet era where opinions are published with ease, feels much more of a need to be have things explained so that they are understood across the board. In previous generations, if you asked a question in class that the rebbi was unequipped to answer, you were hastily removed from class and perhaps the school altogether—as if the question was some heretical idea. Today, it has become clear that in more cases than not, it was the rebbi’s inability to answer the question that got the student in trouble. Judaism, unlike other religions, encourages questioning and the arrival of sound comprehension. If we encounter questions that we can’t answer, then it would be respectful to commit to looking into the question at hand instead of handily rejecting the questioner.

So in discussions on this matter, it seems some became rather enflamed. Some are at a loss to understand the precariousness of people having to contribute service to a country that has supported their desire to sit and learn since its inception. Many agree that Torah has sustained us as a nation and continues to do so both here and in Eretz Yisrael. However, regarding the importance of a fortified military force to protect the borders of Eretz Yisrael as a way of putting the proposed laws into perspective, some feel that if you understand the position of the Israeli government, you have betrayed the Torah. That, my friends, is wrong.

We are but days away from the holiest day on the Jewish calendar. That’s correct! The Zohar famously writes that Yom Kippur is called Yom HaKippurim which translated means a day like Purim—which means to say that Yom Kippur is like Purim and that Purim is therefore greater than Yom Kippur. There is a fascinating line by none other than Haman the evil in the Megillah, “There is one nation scattered about the nations.” Even Haman understood that the Jewish people are one nation and sadly our rebbeim are decreeing that we must choose sides—how sad!

In a sichah that has been broadcast on mainstream Jewish websites, namely as well as, the late Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed the issue of Torah vs. army service more than 30 years ago with words of clear leadership which we are in desperate need of today. The Rebbe relates that we as Jews fight a two-pronged war, on the spiritual front and on the physical front. The Rebbe relates the story in Nach of King David and his war general Yoav ben Tzruyah in which David was the one who was expected to learn and daven and Yoav was charged with the mission of going out to war. The Rebbe says that at times people question the veracity of the yoshvei ohel who are seemingly content sitting within the four cubits of the beis midrash while their brothers stand on the frontlines with their lives on the line. But the Rebbe denies these claims saying that removing those who are supposed to be in the beis midrash and sending them to defend the land physically is not only a disservice to them but will compromise the efficacy of the military as a whole.

This is similar to a general of an army who sits comfortably in a situation room far removed from the hand-to-hand combat on the battlefield being questioned about his true concern for the country whose army he is commanding from the comfort of his office. The Rebbe says that in the same way that a soldier who leaves his post is charged with deserting the army, the same would hold true for a general who decided to leave the situation room to go fight or a Torah scholar to leave his post on the spiritual front to engage in physical battle.

We have every right to be concerned over the plight of Torah in Eretz Yisrael because without it we are in jeopardy. But the strength and fortitude of our army is equally as important and needs to be looked up to and respected in the selfsame manner. In an honest world, an encounter between a Torah student and a chayal should cause the two to embrace and kiss with thanks for each one completing the task of the other. In the introduction of the Rambam to Yad HaChazakah, he writes of a dream in which Moshe Rabbeinu appeared to him, thanking him for completing his life’s work. It doesn’t seem far off to suggest that our brothers and sisters whose lives are put on the line for the safety of the undivided Jewish capital should be viewed with any less importance.

Many areas in Yiddishkeit present two variant approaches in which the Torah debates which aspect is of greater importance. For instance, does learning Torah supersede the performance of mitzvos? The Gemara concludes that learning is greater since it leads a person to fulfill the mitzvos. If however someone just learns without inspiring action then such Torah is arguably worthless. It’s futile to debate the predominance of Torah or army service when both are of equal importance. The Rebbe towards the end of that segment makes note of the fact that the Navi mentions Yoav first before talking about David HaMelech. I think the issue here is one of honesty regarding who is meant to remain in learning and who would do well on the frontlines or serving nationally in any capacity which the government has clearly defined in the law.

We should never be forced to decide to choose between one segment of Yiddishkeit and another when our sworn enemies know that we are one nation and it was with the aspect of mefuzar umeforad bein ha’amim that he tried to prosecute against us. We need not be our own prosecutors when there is no shortage of people looking to do just that. We’d be doing ourselves a real service by loving and respecting each other and valuing each of our respective contributions to the totality of Klal Yisrael. v

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Posted by on March 14, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.