By Yochanan Gordon –
It seems that our collective conscience is occupied for the most part with the matter of protests and laws to draft Yeshiva students in Israel to army or national service. Judging from the reaction it has elicited one would think that the Israeli government is looking to invade the religious fervor of its Charedi sector – a claim which they have repeatedly denounced.
Addressing this issue subjectively seems somewhat of a tenuous challenge for fear that some may misconstrue these words as being contrary or antithetical to the charge of the generations leaders who have unanimously called the community en-masse to the Yom Tefilla that had taken place last Sunday in downtown Manhattan. But the truth is 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. However, clearly, today’s generation with the advent of the internet and an era where opinions are published with ease there is much more of a need to be able to explain things so that they are understood across the board. In previous generations if you asked a question in class that the Rebbe was unequipped to answer you were hastily removed from class and perhaps the school altogether – as if the question impinged upon some heretical idea. Today, it has become clear that in more cases than not it was the Rebbes inability to answer the question that got the student in trouble. Judaism unlike other religions encourages questioning and the arrival of sound comprehension and 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 when I was discussing this matter with some friends, they seemed rather enflamed recalling the discourse that had ensued in a Yeshiva between Rebbeim and some classmates, regarding the issue at hand. It seemed as if they were 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. They were in quick concurrence over the idea that Torah has sustained us as a nation and continues to do so both here and in Eretz Yisrael. However, upon mentioning the importance of a fortified military force to protect the borders of Eretz Yisrael as a way of putting the proposed laws into perspective they were challenged to choose sides as if intimating that if you understand the position of the Israeli government you have betrayed the Torah and 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 Megilla where he says, “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 sicha that has been broadcast to the mainstream Jewish websites, namely collive.com as well as theyeshivaworld.com the late Lubavitcher Rebbe addressed the issue of Torah vs Army service more than thirty years ago with words of clear leadership which we are in desperate need of today. In it 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 Dovid 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 Hamedrash while their brothers stand on the front lines with their lives literally on the line. But the Rebbe denies these claims saying that removing those who are supposed to be in the Beis Medrash 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 is 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 a student of Torah 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 Rabbenu 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.
The truth is there are lots of areas in Yiddishkeit that present two variant approaches in which the Torah devates 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. In fact, 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 front lines or serving nationally in any capacity which the government has clearly defined in the law.
But one thing is certain; 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 umefurad 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. Instead 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.