Israeli Hesder soldiers enter the army singing and dancing, brimming with enthusiasm for the honor of protecting their holy country. With a rifle in one hand and their Gemara and Tefillin in the other, they bid their families “shalom” and hope that indeed that will be the case.
Thank God, most of them return home. Unfortunately, too many of them don’t. However, more often than not, their heroic sacrifice not only leaves a story of Kiddush Hashem but often a greater legacy as well.
Yossi Levi was a student at Yeshivat HaGolan in Northern Israel. He was part of Alon, a company of 40 Hesder students in the armored corps led by Captain Effi (Efraim) Margi, himself a young man and, as is most often the case with commanding officers of Hesder units, not religious himself.
The year was 1982, the war was Peace for Galilee – the First Lebanon War – and the battle was on the outskirts of Beirut in Kfar Sil. Yossi and six other young men fell in that battle.
Effi Margi now lives with his family in Moshav Ramat Tzvi, a secular moshav between Afula and Beit Shean.
Effi always admired Yossi Levi. He admired that after servicing the tanks late at night, even after midnight, he would sit and learn Daf Yomi. “I always had a picture of him in my mind: A loyal soldier on the one hand and a loyal student of Torah, on the other,” Effi says. A soldier loyal to the army of Israel and the army of Hashem, “he always moved me both with his army service and his learning.”
I can tell by the catch in his voice that Effi was impressed and inspired by Yossi and remembers him fondly.
And then two years ago, something happened to immortalize him.
As a member of Ayelet HaShachar, an organization that tries to introduce the unaffiliated to the beauty of Judaism, Rav Yisrael Meir Eliyahu rode into Moshav Ramat Tzvi with his wife and children. He had been looking for a place where there was not one religious person and he found it at Ramat Tzvi. The moshav had a beit knesset that opened its doors Erev Yom Kippur and closed them after the fast. Rav Eliyahu hoped to breathe some religious life into the spiritually-bereft settlement. He gave some classes and encouraged people to go to shul and now the erstwhile empty building hosts minyanim on Friday nights.
As part of his activities, Rav Yisrael Meir looked for someone with whom to learn Gemara. Effi was an intellectual, a solid, quality person and so the rav asked Effi if he would be willing to learn Gemara with him. “Are you kidding?” he said, “I’ve been waiting for this for 30 years! But I want to learn what my soldier learned, I want to learn Daf Yomi.”
“That’s what I want us to learn,” the rav told him, “I want us to learn Gemara together.”
“No,” Effi countered. “I want to learn Daf Yomi.”
Once Rav Eliyahu explained that Daf Yomi was Gemara, Effi was eager to start. And they have been learning once a week for the past two years. Like every newcomer to Gemara Effi began learning Bava Metziya. And with hashgacha pratit, he found what he had lost. “Effi is always talking about the inspiration that Yossi had given him,” Rav Eliyahu says.
The Israeli army is a melting pot that forges bonds between men forever, especially those in fighting units and so Effi Margi, now a retired lieutenant colonel and the rest of the company have met periodically over the last 33 years to share what only they can remember and can never forget.
Recently they met at Ramat Tzvi for Effi’s first siyum on part of the masechta. The religious soldiers and their wives, the secular commanding officers, the residents of Ramat Tzvi and their rav, Yisrael Meir Eliyahu, and his family – all celebrating a milestone in Torah learning together.
There is no way that Yossi could have known that the mission God had set for him was quite different than the one the army had given him, yet both paths merged with commanding officer Margi.
The Torah teaches us that at the End of Days, children will teach their fathers. I guess soldiers will also teach their commanding officers. Today Ramat Tzvi boasts several chavrutot, but Effi remains the only one learning Gemara. Effi enjoys the learning and says it does so much for him and his family. He longs for the day when he and Yossi will be reunited in learning with the coming of Moshiach.
L’illui nishmat Yosef Tzvi ben Shlomo and Ayala Hy”d