Lecturers for Machane Meshutaf (Common Denominator) and the Jewish Identity Branch of the IDF are often given a short window of time in which to send an inspirational message to soldiers that, we hope, will resonate with them after we leave: a message of Jewish unity and pride and the importance of wholeheartedly committing to the task at hand, regardless of how menial or demoralizing it seems.
Often soldiers are weary and frustrated, and not at all interested in hearing a speech or lecture, so we have to choose our words carefully, and use our time well.
Many of us welcome the challenge, but when one faces soldiers who are about to experience the danger of combat – which some of us have never experienced and therefore cannot realistically understand – one can struggle to find words to empower and embolden the soldiers to accomplish their critical objective.
THIS PAST week a friend of mine in the United States, who is aware of our role in the army, wrote me that he hoped God would put the right words in our mouths.
Indeed. I believe that I was able to impart such a message to the soldiers, perhaps because God did put the right words in my mouth. I share them with you because it is crucial that we instill conviction in our hearts at this moment of truth for all of us.
This past week’s Torah portion describes the Jewish war effort against the Midianites, sworn enemies of the Jewish nation, during their travel through the desert to reach the land of Canaan (Israel). Interestingly, the Torah describes not only the success of the Jewish army but also and at length the booty, possessions and wealth which the Jewish people amassed as a result of their victory. This begs the question: why does the Torah describe these spoils of war in such fine detail? Perhaps God wanted to transmit to His people that when one fights for the survival of one’s nation and is willing to sacrifice for his nation, there are rewards for doing so, such as prosperity and fortune.
In stark contrast, when the Jewish people are preparing to conquer the land of Canaan, they are clearly instructed not to take from the silver, gold or any of the consecrated property – that it must all go to the treasury of Hashem.
Why were the Jewish people forbidden to take spoils while conquering the land of Israel? Conquering and settling the land of Israel is a holy commandment from the Torah – it is compared to fulfilling all of the commandments in the Torah itself. God wanted the Jewish nation to appreciate that the conquest of Israel and the ability to secure those who wish to settle it is itself the greatest possible reward one could ask for. Granting physical rewards for such effort would belittle the significance and wholesomeness of this unique commandment.
Operation Protective Edge, as well as the other recent IDF operations, is not about territory but about ideology. Hamas is well aware that it cannot conquer the land of Israel, but is interested in spreading terror and spreading chaos, destruction and murder throughout the land of Israel; doing so is rewarding in itself for Hamas.
In stark contrast, the soldiers of the IDF recognize that their ability to protect the great nation of Israel and to ensure its safety, to restore order to a land with so many outstanding accomplishments and still so much unrealized potential, is reward enough in itself. Soldiers of the IDF do not fight for territory nor plunder; they fight for an ideology committed to promoting productivity and encompassing life.
This week I was at an air force base that I visit every week or so. As I exited my car and approached the base entrance, a siren sounded. All the soldiers had already made their way to shelters, except the two guarding the entrance. I quickly ducked into the guard station with them. Suddenly, the voice of the base commander came over the loudspeaker: “Rabbi, please get back in the shelter and make sure you are entirely inside; after all you are very important and precious to us.”
Our soldiers are fighting for the distinct merit to be able to protect that which is most important and precious to us.
This week’s Torah portion completes the Book of Numbers, which describes the travels of the Jewish people in the desert and begins describing the preparations needed to conquer and make their way into the land of Israel.
Upon completion of the Book of Numbers all those in the synagogue will proclaim, “Be Strong! Be Strong! And may we be strengthened!”We no longer struggle for words; we say be strong to our soldiers and to the Jewish nation who they are protecting we say, may we be strengthened by their service and their desire to perpetuate the ideology of this great people.
The author serves as a lecturer for the IDF to help motivate troops and develop their Jewish identity. In addition he is currently involved lecturing throughout Israel on the basics of Judaism for many secular kibbutzim and moshavim. He is a popular guest lecturer for communities throughout the Diaspora.