Sometimes a rabbi is presented with an impossible halachic problem. And sometimes the answer to an impossible halachic question is a human solution.
Let me explain. First, the background: Soldiers who have been in Gaza for some time are being given a 24-hour break. They come out of Gaza to an army center in Ashkelon. There, they get a chance to shower, wash their clothes, see family, and then, the next day, go back to their posts in Gaza.
Last Thursday night, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon received a halachic question from the logistics coordinator of an IDF unit. Soldiers will be coming out of Gaza on Friday at 12 noon and returning to Gaza on Shabbat morning. Their wives and children and parents want to see them, but if they drive to see them, they won’t make it back home in time for Shabbat. May they drive on Shabbat?
Rav Rimon said that in this situation, a family member could not break Shabbat.
But – the questioner continued – these are soldiers who haven’t seen their loved ones for weeks, and we don’t know how long they will continue to be in Gaza. If they come out and cannot see their families, then the break will be frustrating and depressing, not refreshing. And their mood and morale is a serious factor in their confidence and safety behind enemy lines. Is there no way that the families can drive home on Shabbat according to the halacha?
Rav Rimon asked: “Is there a possibility that the families can stay in a hotel for Shabbat?”
The IDF coordinator responded: “But we just don’t have money for that!”
As Rav Rimon was on the phone, he was sitting next to a rabbi who was visiting, on a solidarity mission, from Teaneck N.J. The visiting Rabbi interjected, “If that is the solution, then we would be happy to help fund the hotel.”
So Rav Rimon and his team started looking for a hotel to host a group of families in under 24 hours’ notice. But since Ashkelon has been under rocket attack, all the hotels in Ashkelon were closed. He found a “guest-house” whose owner had evacuated the city, who came back, especially, to reopen the guest-house. Rav Rimon found volunteers to purchase and transport food, toiletries, toys and books for the children, and everything that the families would need for Shabbat.
And forty families were able to celebrate Shabbat together and give their loved ones some love, care and attention before they returned to fight in Gaza.
Sometimes the best answer to an impossible halachic problem is a human solution, an act of support and kindness. In this case it was a true expression of a deep caring and a huge investment of time, energy, money and logistics.
I know because Rav Rimon told the story in shul on Friday night.
I know because my son is one of those soldiers.
Thank you to HaRav Rimon, to his educational organization Sulamot, and to Rav Rimon’s tireless team of volunteers who have brought equipment, a smile and a pick-me-up to many thousands of soldiers over the past month with their endless efforts and contributions. And thanks, of course, to the community of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun in Teaneck for your kindness and support.