By Yochanan Gordon
The struggle for an uncontested, autonomous Jewish homeland, where the Muslims recognize the existence of one Israeli state, seems perpetually elusive. Sadly, despite all the concessions and sacrifices that have been made over the years, we seem further away from that goal today than we have been in the past. While the loss of life has been less than in previous years, that only reflects a heightened sense of security and vigilance and has nothing to do with political stability, which everyone agrees is in shambles.
Years ago, it seemed that the religious leadership was divided regarding how to coexist peacefully with our Muslim neighbors. As shocking as it may seem in retrospect, there were religious leaders who deemed exchanging land for peace a viable approach that should be visited as a possibility to assuage political tensions. Anyone making such an assertion today would, among religious Jews, be shunned and not given a public platform.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, whose 19th yahrzeit was just observed, had declared forthrightly that such behavior would exacerbate the tenuousness of the overall situation and would give way to an avalanche of terror and continued requests, even demands for more territory—ultimately reverting to the pre-’67 political landscape. The Rebbe instructed then Prime Minister Menachem Begin, when asked to justify the basis of Israeli occupation, to open up a Tanach and point to the first Rashi in Chumash, which says that the reason G‑d commenced the Torah with Bereishis instead of addressing the laws was, “Koach maasav higid le’amo lases lahem nachlas goyim.” Rashi says that when the nations of the world will accuse us of unjustifiably seizing the territory, we should say to them, “The entire land belongs to G‑d. He created it and gave it to whomever He saw fit. According to His will He gave it to them and He willingly took it away from them and gave it to us.”
Every political argument that any politician will devise can and will ultimately be contested. The only argument that we have to silence the opposition is what it says in the Torah. The fact that our politicians today are not bold enough to use this approach only reveals their insecurity and lack of belief in the infinitude and infallibility of G‑d and His Torah, and this arguably is the source of many of the tensions between the chareidi and secular factions within the land of Israel.
The greatest weakness of Israeli politicians, save on a few occasions for our own PM Benjamin Netanyahu, is their inability to unflinchingly articulate our uncontested rights to living autonomously in Eretz Yisrael. Our leaders have stuttered for too long, which has continued to drag the “peace process” out and, in the greater scheme of things, has not gotten us very far in our relationship with our neighbors.
The source of the domestic tumultuousness is also close to the root of Israel’s problems with its Arab neighbors. In last week’s editorial, my father quoted a statement made by Mishpacha Magazine’s publisher, Rabbi Eli Paley, to an assemblage dedicated to analyzing the issues that continue to divide the chareidi and secular factions. He said, “It can be said that if the vibrant Torah community in Israel has failed, in a way, it is in their inability to effectively communicate the vital connection between Torah and the security of the State of Israel.” He continued, “Instead, the critics of Torah and the non-involved and non-observant Israelis perceive Torah as being used as a crutch by tens of thousands to avoid sharing the burden, staying out of the IDF and away from national service, and absenting themselves from involvement in the workforce.”
The decision to live in Israel and raise a family there, whether you are not pronouncedly religious or are dedicating your every waking moment within the four walls of the beis hamedrash, is deeply founded upon a matter of moral importance.
If you are living the kollel life and raising a chareidi family, there is something about an Israeli religious lifestyle that is simply euphoric. The thought to be treading the same ground upon which our forefathers came to the realization of “Yesh baal habirah” as a result of which they were ready to sacrifice everything in life just to bring pleasure to G‑d, tells us that there could be no better place to live a Torah-oriented life than in these environs. The Gemara says that the very air that one breathes in the land of Israel positively impacts us on an intellectual level. These are all elements that would drive someone to sacrifice many luxuries or the glamour and excitement of life in America in order to stay in Israel and dedicate his family’s life to Torah and mitzvos there.
For a secular Jew, committed to the progressiveness of Israel and its political standing amongst the rest of the world, there are ideals with which they were raised that tell them there is nothing more important than putting themselves in harm’s way to maintain the security and fortification of Israel’s borders and a flourishing economy.
All of the Jews in Israel, each on his or her own level, are prepared to sacrifice their lives to live on that hallowed soil. And each in their own right feels that what they have dedicated their lives to is part and parcel of the purpose for which they were put into this world—otherwise they would not be willing to give up their lives for it. This being the case, the sound of learning that reverberates throughout Israel’s study halls on a daily basis must in some way contribute to the overall security of Israeli society as well as its industrial success.
Now, if in your mind this assertion seems outlandish, that’s only because you do not live with the realization of “Birkas Hashem hi ta’ashir” and “V’zacharta es Hashem Elokeichem ki Hu hanosein lachem koach la’asos chayil,” so it’s impossible for you to naturally reconcile a flourishing economy and fortified borders with inaction on those fronts. However, it is the obligation of those who are educated along this path to state forthrightly, with confidence, that their daily dedication to Torah is a contribution to the overall wholesomeness of Israeli society. And that the hours of Torah and tefillah that we are engaged in are in the merit of our brethren who are out there on the military or industrial fronts sacrificing their physical lives for the well-being of Israeli society.
It’s important to articulate to the powers that be that Israel is fighting a two-pronged war, where those that are oriented in the spiritual half of that war are playing a vital role. The Torah, when depicting the Jews going out to war, writes that they went out “Elef lamatteh, Elef lamatteh.” Many ask regarding the redundancy of Elef lamatteh and some answer that while the soldiers went out to the battlefield, the learners and daveners went out with them, learning and davening beside them in order that they should be victorious.
Many times in Gemara when two authorities seem to be at odds with each other, the Gemara will conclude, “Mar amar chada umar amar chada v’lo pligi.” There are two halves to one whole. Just because I feel one aspect is of greater importance, worthy of giving up my life for and you feel the same way about another aspect of life does not suggest that we are at odds. That is the beauty of a Torah life. Tiferes, which symbolizes beauty, is defined by seeming opposites becoming one. In another source, the Gemara analyzes the superiority of learning over action and vice versa. The Gemara concludes, “Learning is more important since it inspires us to action.” That is not an authoritative conclusion because the question of talmud gadol or maaseh gadol continues to present itself from time to time, and the answer is that they are both essential in a Torah-oriented life and we need both of them.
The interesting aspect within this ongoing saga is that the obstacles that have stood in the way of peace between Israelis and Arabs are the very underpinnings of this current micro-struggle between the secular and religious factions within Israel. Chareidi leaders and spokespeople need to show within the pages of Torah how their dedication to Torah is a different aspect of the same battle and that we are with you, not against you in this struggle. Then we will be victorious. v
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