The chagim are over, the new year has begun, life has returned to “normal” and nothing is more “normal” or ubiquitous in Israel than Tzahal – the Israeli Army of Defense. A few weeks ago, before the chagim, two of my grandsons – one the eldest of his family, and one the youngest – were sworn in all in one week. The first ceremony took place at Latrun, a fort overlooking the Biblical Ayalon Valley on the road between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Latrun was the site of a number of battles during Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, where Arab Legionnaires would shell Israeli vehicles traveling on the road below. Between 1948–1967 it was in Jordanian hands at the edge of a no-man’s-land, but in 1967, during the Six-Day War, it was taken by Israeli forces. The fort became a memorial for fallen soldiers of the Israeli Armored Corps and a museum was established there. It is used as the site of official army ceremonies.
My grandson was part of the Hesder combat unit being sworn in. After several years in yeshiva he was now taking his place alongside his many friends to do his part in the “sword and sefer” philosophy.
It was late afternoon, after the day’s heat. The large amphitheater, the rolling hills and the color-drenched sunset provided a very pastoral setting. As part of the traditional ceremony, an officer read the first chapter of the book of Joshua. It was less pacific than the setting. In fact, it probably would not have passed the current test of political correctness. It spoke of the Land of Israel as the G-d-given gift to the Jewish people and the commandment to conquer it from the gentile nations of Canaan. It spoke of G-d’s promise that if His people followed His Torah, He would guarantee their success and their progress.
The Yizkor prayer which followed was less traditional. An integral part of every army swearing-in ceremony, it was challenged several years ago by Left-minded groups and changed to a more “universal,” less religiously oriented version. It no longer proclaims that “G-d shall remember” but rather “Am Yisrael shall remember.” Okay. That too is something.
I looked at the several hundred young men standing stiffly at attention in front of me. They had just finished a grueling four weeks of basic training. Several months were still in front of them. Yet they passed the first phase and now received their ammunition and the prescribed Tanach – a basic in the Israeli army.
The second ceremony was held two nights later at the Kotel. Unlike Latrun, a ceremony at the Kotel is inevitably a mass gathering. No seating arrangements plus limited space make for more crowd, less order and constant movement as families, friends and groups of tourists wend their way through the crowd, jostling for a better position or making their way to the Wall to daven. But no matter how crowded it gets, it’s never overwhelming. It always amazes me that among the many thousands of people who congregate at the Kotel, you simply cannot get lost. You may not always be able to see what’s going on, but move around a bit and you’re bound to find whomever you are looking for!
The ceremony here was a bit shorter than at Latrun and among all the army khaki, the bright, white uniforms of the Israeli navy stood out. This was a navy commando unit which had undergone grueling basic training. These young men were in, not for three, but for five years of service. I shuddered to think of what they would be doing. But at the moment, they and their families and friends were celebrating, feeling justifiably proud at having finished their first momentous step forward in the service of the Jewish people.
I looked at them and could only think about how young they all were. Barely grown-up boys. And how happy and proud and enthusiastic they all were. Then my eyes clouded with tears and an uninvited, unspoken prayer welled up. Keep them safe, Hashem. All of your beautiful children. They are ready and eager to keep Your people safe in Your Land, so please, You keep them safe too. Watch over them. Guard them from harm. From our enemies. From the world’s hatred. Bring them all back home. Each and every one. Safe and sound and whole. Just as they are now.
One of my grandchildren saw my tears and was surprised. “Why are you crying, Bubby? Aren’t you proud of him?” he asked. “Of course I am,“ I answered. “I just wish Mashiach would hurry up and get here. Like right now!”
“We’ll still need an army, even when Mashiach comes,” he replied. “Maybe,” I said, “but then the army won’t have to fight. They’ll be like the police. They’ll just have to keep order.”
People have interesting ways of dealing with difficult situations. Three of our sons were in fighting units in Tzahal. All three fought in wars – one in a tank, one in the artillery, and one in infantry. Thank G-d, they all came home safely (unlike some of their friends who, Hashem yerachem, did not).
Today it’s all a blur. I can’t remember which wars they were in, where they were, when they took place or what they did unless I make a determined effort to pry open the closed drawers of memory. I think this was originally an instinctive act of self-defense so I wouldn’t melt down at the time, so that I could pick up the threads of normality and get on with everyday living and do the things that had to be done. Now, with the world in such a sorry state of affairs and the Middle East in such violent flux, I find myself dealing with a new generation in uniform. That’s enough to think about without keeping their fathers’ military adventures in mind as well! Somehow, it’s seems harder this time round. When will it all end? The Jewish soul still longs for real peace and real redemption – not the frantic illusions of the Left on their mindless quest for universal salvation – and we continue to pray and hope that peace will come. Real Peace. Mashiach-Peace. Soon.
Would I want my grandsons to be elsewhere? Not for a minute! (Although I wouldn’t mind miraculously deporting all our enemies to Saudi Arabia or the Sahara. Maybe then we could declare and guarantee an eternal, ironclad state of Universal Peace in the Holy Land.) I am filled with pride when I see them and their friends and I have no doubt that their Father in Heaven feels exactly the same way. May they, and every single one of our kids in uniform, continue to do G-d’s holy work and then come safely home, to build a Jewish country full of G-dliness, real Peace and the sound of Torah.
“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks… lo yilmadu od milchama.” And may it be soon.