In defense of morality

Book compiles lectures in memory of Ro'i Klein, who flung himself on a grenade to save his soldiers.

Roi Klein 88 248 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Roi Klein 88 248
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With All Your Heart By Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel Edited by Netanel Elyashiv Translated by Sharon Blass Binyan Hatorah 202 pages After nearly two millennia of groveling powerlessness and incessant wandering among the nations, the exiled Jewish people has returned to the Land of Israel, becoming in the process the most militarily active Western nation in the world. The stereotypical ghetto Jew who once stood powerless before his enemies, devoid of patria, stripped of all means of defense save an ingratiating humor and a talent for relocating, has metamorphosed from archetypical victim to military powerhouse. Today, the stereotype of the servile shtetl Jew has been supplanted by the impudent, gun-toting Israeli. From an exiled, homeless nation that had as its sole unifying force Jewish faith, the Jewish people were transformed into a sovereign nation with its own land, language and military might. Not surprisingly, the founding fathers of modern Zionism wished to forget the long years of humiliation they suffered in exile at the hands of the goyim. The novelist Yosef Haim Brenner (1881-1921), who was brutally murdered in Jaffa during an Arab pogrom, called Diaspora Jewish culture "pathological." These thinkers hoped to blot out the long years of sickly exile and return to the days of healthy Jewish nationalism. Their dream was to create a "new Jew" unhampered by the sniveling weaknesses of the Diaspora. In the process of revamping the image of the Jew, modern Zionists rejected Jewish faith and tradition. To this day what is "Jewish" and what is "Israeli" are incongruent, sometimes contradictory, concepts. Courage on the battlefield, flippant irreverence and the ability to improvise in the face of adversity are all very "Israeli" traits that seemed to clash with the stereotype of the weak exilic Jew. With All Your Heart, a series of lectures given in memory of Major Ro'i Klein, who received the IDF Medal of Courage posthumously for his selfless act of bravery in battle in the Second Lebanon War, attempts to show, by using Klein's example, that there is no contradiction. Klein was killed on July 26, 2006, during a battle with Hizbullah fighters in the Lebanese village Bint Jbail. The devoutly religious Klein flung himself on a Hizbullah grenade to absorb the impact of the explosion as he shouted the Shema, "Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God the Lord is One," the most central declaration of faith in Jewish liturgy. Mortally wounded, Klein had nevertheless managed to save the lives of his soldiers by using his body to shield them from grenade shrapnel. According to the short biography included at the end of the book, Klein devoted most of his waking hours to Torah study. He is described as exceedingly sensitive and bookish - very "Jewish" traits. Nevertheless, he was also known for exceptional courage on the battlefield and was an extraordinary military strategist. In an attempt to explain how these seemingly opposing characteristics exist side by side, Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, head of the post-graduate study program at the Bnei David Pre-military Yeshiva, enters Klein's inner spiritual world. The lectures include excerpts from notes that Klein wrote during the years he studied at Bnei David. Klein's writings give the impression that he devoted much thought to the relevancy of his religious beliefs to his military endeavors. His Torah studies were conducted both before and during his advanced army service, which gave him a chance to learn Jewish sources in light of his military experiences. From the excerpts quoted in the book, it appears Klein has completely reconciled himself to the inherent morality of Israel's wars of defense. He sees no contradiction between the ethical principles he has learned in yeshiva and the IDF's military operations on the battlefield. In a chapter entitled "Israeli Heroism" Klein writes: "The heroism displayed in war is an act of kindness so great that all other acts of kindness seem to vanish in comparison." This is a difficult statement. How could the destruction of one's enemies possibly be described as an act of kindness? According to Kashtiel's explanation, warfare becomes an act of kindness when the warrior deliberately and selflessly puts himself in a situation of danger to defend his nation. The kindness in warfare is referring to the soldier's willingness to sacrifice himself for another. Kashtiel goes on to explain that warfare's "great uprightness" and "powerful aspiration toward kindness" are dependent on the soldier's ability to control his more base desires and inclinations and focus solely on defense of his people. This, according to Kashtiel, is true Israeli heroism. Kashtiel ties this idea of Israeli heroism to a rabbinic teaching from the Ethics of the Fathers as explained by Rabbi Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook. "Someone who acts with forbearance is superior to the military hero and he who masters his passions is greater than the conqueror of a city." The original intent of this rabbinic statement was to belittle military heroism in comparison to the personal battle man wages to overcome his base inclinations. Kashtiel retains this meaning, but he applies it to the Jewish soldier on the battlefield. He too must overcome his most base desires and focus on the real goal of war - protection of the Jewish nation. For Klein and the educators at Bnei David there is no inherent contradiction between the aggressive Israeli soldier and the bookish, ethically-minded yeshiva student. Klein and other religious soldiers like him represent a new archetype of a Jewish warrior that has not existed for nearly two millennia. With All Your Heart is a document testifying to this sea change in the Jewish-Israeli image.