What were you thinking on Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the year? The day when we mourn the destruction of our two Temples; our expulsion from Spain, England and France; the Crusades, the Holocaust; our two thousand years of wandering the earth?
What I think of on Tisha B’Av is that – against all logic – our nation has survived!
We could simply have assimilated, ceasing to be Jews and disappearing as a nation.
Who among us would therefore be deserving of the gold medal of what can be termed the “Survival Olympics”?
I believe gold medals should be awarded to our rabbinical authorities, our scholars, and the heads of our yeshivas.
It was they who supplied us with our unifying daily prayers, our pride and wisdom, and helped us recognize how special we are, thanks to our holy Torah given to us by God on Mount Sinai.
Unfortunately, in Israel today we have forgotten our scholars of the past 2,000 years. We have even forgotten to show appreciation.
Where is our hakaras hatov? Our appreciation for our forebears? If not for them, would Herzl have even been Jewish? What about Spinoza? Einstein?
On Tisha B’Av I was thinking about the Sunday Cabinet meeting, when the ministers voted on some sort of equal burden law to forcefully draft yeshiva students away from the outdated Survival Olympics. Where were the roshei yeshiva that day? Why weren’t they invited to address the Cabinet ministers?
For 2,000 years our gold medal winners, our rabbis, taught us to accept “equality of burden” simply by being exemplary Jews. This opened a giant spiritual umbrella for us where our entire nation found safety from the reign of hatred and persecution throughout the ages.
When Menachem Begin, a”h, went to meet with Jimmy Carter and Anwar Sadat at Camp David, he stopped off on the Lower East Side to meet with American gedolim, at the home of HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.
My grandfather, Reb Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, advised him to learn the Torah portion of Vayishlach on his way to Camp David. That parshah tells of the meeting of Yaakov and his brutal brother Eisav.
Begin gasped and said to my zaidie, “I just spoke with Rav Shach in Israel, and he told me exactly the same thing!”
Menachem Begin was a shtetl Yid who knew that our rabbis, our gedolim, wore the gold medals of the Survival Olympics!
David Ben-Gurion, the founder of our state, was also a shtetl Yid from the old country. He created the so-called status quo. He knew that mit de rabbonim fankt mer nisht un – you don’t start up with the rabbis.
Thanks to this respect for our rabbis, everyone in Israel feels Shabbos is coming on Friday, whether or not he or she is observant. On Friday the grocery shelves all over the country feature Shabbos challahs.
But back to the subject of equality of burden regarding army service: My brother, Rav Yitzchok Shurin, has been a rebbe at Shapell College in Jerusalem for many years. It’s an American yeshiva that, unlike Israeli yeshivas, has no deferments for teachers.
When my holy grandfather visited Israel in 1980, my brother, who was married with three children at the time, asked our grandfather if he should find a way out of serving in the army.
My grandfather answered, “First of all, that would be dishonest, but more important, our tiny country is surrounded by millions of enemies. Every country needs an army, especially ours!”
He then added, “The religious soldiers are the best soldiers, because they are protecting a land they recognize as holy and an eternal gift given to us by the One God of Israel.”
The Survival Olympics weren’t left behind in Europe. Israel is full of gold medal winners.
The Cabinet vote is doomed to have a boomerang effect. Currently, 30% of haredim go to the Army. Anyone visiting the main police station in the Russian Compound in Jerusalem will see many haredim training to be police officers.
But now, all it will take will be some direction from the gedolim, from the rebbes, from the roshei yeshiva, and the jails will be full of Torah scholars. (And the jail guards will be screaming, “Get us out of here, we’re starting to become religious!”)