My congregants know that I have a “delusion”; I feel that the Parshat HaShavua – the weekly Torah Portion – always has surprising relevance to current events. In the many years that I have been looking for something to say Shabbos morning, I have virtually never been disappointed in finding that the Sidrah can be used to find inspiration or guidance for what we are going through at any particular time. This, of course, makes my job as a Rabbi much easier, for which I am eternally grateful. But sometimes, I am just astounded and sit back in awe. This past Shabbos was one of those times.
This past Shabbos, as we all sat in trepidation over what was going on in the part of Eretz Yisrael known as Gaza, I spoke among other things about Moshe’s exclamation to the tribes of Reuven and Gad. They had proposed to Moshe that they would like to stay in the trans-Jordan, and forgo their share in the land of Israel, a proposal that infuriated Moshe. Besides his astonishment that these tribes would , seemingly, dare to repeat the sin of the Spies, who had rejected Eretz Yisrael and caused the entire generation to perish, he had another complaint: האחיכם יבואו למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה
Will Your brothers go to war, while you sit (in peace) here? (Bamidbar 32:6)
Where is your sense of duty? Where is your sense of responsibility for all of Klal Yisrael? Where is your willingness to put the needs of the Nation above your personal needs?
This exhortation certainly applies to us, who live in the relative safety of America, when we think of not only the soldiers who are bravely going into that extremely dangerous hellhole, but also of the population as a whole who are absorbing a constant barrage of thousands of rockets raining down, protected only by Hashem’s miraculous Hand and His help in the amazing efficacy of the Iron Dome. I asked my audience to think of how this applies to them, and what each of us can do to take part in this national effort. Whether it means traveling to Israel at this time, bringing chizuk and much needed tourist dollars, whether it means doing our best to advocate for Israel with our elected representatives, whether it means contributing to the many organizations that are bringing help and relief to the soldiers, their families, and the families who live in the areas of the Negev and Ashdod, and most certainly by increasing our kavannah and quantity of Teffilah and Torah , even if it might interfere with our summer vacation plans.
But then, at Seudah Shlishit, we had Rabbi Chaim Sendic as a guest speaker, who pointed out a fascinating Midrash. Earlier in the Sidrah, we read of the war with Midian. There is a dispute in the Midrash as to how many soldiers were actually drafted for the battle. One opinion reads the statement One thousand for each tribe, One thousand for each tribe” (Bamidbar 31:4) to say that each tribe gave two thousand for the war effort. Another opinion, however, says that there were actually three thousand from each tribe: One thousand to fight, one thousand as a rear guard, and one thousand to pray. Rabbi Sendic asked, “Why was it necessary for the one thousand who prayed to go out to the battlefield? Surely all of Klal Yisrael joined in prayer at such a time – why was it necessary for there to be a group that prayed right at the battle?” The answer, fairly obviously, is that one cannot compare the prayers said far from the battle, in relative safety, to those said right near the front. How much more kavannah and feeling would certainly be infused into those prayers, with the rockets red glare and bombs bursting in air all around them!
Rabbi Sendic then quoted Rav Sosevsky of Ohr Yerushalayim in arguing that every Shul and Bet Hamidrash is, in effect, a spiritual “embassy” of Israel, and when we come to daven together in a shul, it is as if we now stand on Israeli soil, that much closer to being among those who are davening on the battlefield.
I wanted to extend this beautiful idea just a little bit. Certainly one the reasons for the efficacy of this prayer was due to the shared sense of mission between those who fought and those who prayed. They were equal parts of a whole – Elef Lamateh, Elef Lamateh – the same exact words repeated twice, underscoring the unity in spirit and mission between them.
In our Jewish world today, some of our young men go to fight the wars in the IDF, and some learn Torah full time. This ought to hold true for ALL parts of Klal Yisroel. Rashi on Bamidbar 31:4 takes pains to point out “לרבות שבט לוי”, that the tribe of Levi, who normally were exempted from many communal responsibilities, were equally called upon to fight when it was a Milchemes Mitzva, an obligatory war, which unquestionably applies to wars to defend the Jewish people. The tribe of Levi also gave their three thousand finest young men, together with the rest of Klal Yisrael. * When a severe crisis threatens all of Israel, all of Israel needs to contribute equally in Torah, Tefillah, and fighting.
In our world today, such elementary thinking is not practical, I will be told. Many parts of Klal Yisrael are not engaged in Tefillah or Torah, so other parts must compensate and provide the Torah and Tefillah for those who are not engaged in such. While this is most certainly true in regard to Torah, I am less convinced that Tefilah is not shared very widely, even by those who perhaps do not pray in the traditional way. (I note that the quoted Midrash says nothing about “One thousand for Torah study”, but surely there are other sources that speak of the importance of Limud HaTorah for the protection of Klal Yisroel. Reasons for the omission here are beyond the scope of this essay, but the omission is certainly interesting). Clearly, however, all factions ought to feel a shared sense of mission and purpose at such a time.
Our shul, and many other shuls, feel that the prayer for Tzahal is crucially important in expressing this unified mission. Many other shuls, for a variety of reasons – some reasonable and some to this writer’s mind inexcusable – omit this prayer. Let us hope, however, that no matter what form that prayer takes, we show our appreciation for the soldiers who are courageously doing their part in this mission, and find ways to assure them that we are so very grateful to them, and offer our fervent and incessant prayer for their success in battle and safe return home.
* The Imrei Emes provides a beautiful explanation of how the tribe of Levi is counted if the next verse refers to only 12,000 being given over. He says that all the tribes were hesitant in coming for the draft, because they knew that Moshe would die soon after the war. Shevet Levi, however, as they did at the Golden Calf, ignored their personal feelings and relationships (they were the closest to Moshe) and with a מי לה’ אלי spirit, came forward immediately. That is why it says in the next verse – about the other twelve tribes – וימסרו מאלפי בנ”י that they were “given over” or had to be coerced, שנים עשרה אלף the remaining 12,000, besides the 1,000 (x3) of Shevet Levi.
About the Author: Rabbi Yehuda Leonard Oppenheimer is the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Forest Hills, and a practicing attorney. He has an extensive background in Jewish Outreach, and is particularly grateful to have been the Rav of Kesser Israel in Portland, Oregon for ten years. He has long and deep connections with the land of Israel, where he lived for many years and where most of his family and children reside, and thus blogs at http://libibamizrach.blogspot.com/
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