I was in Israel when the Second Intifada was at its peak. Palestinian terrorists were on a rampage. The land was in the grip of a wave of suicide bombings. Jewish blood ran like water.
Living in America, can we possibly imagine what it means to leave our homes not knowing if we will ever return? Can we imagine what it feels like to be a mother calling her child on a cell phone and getting no answer? Can we comprehend the anxiety, the emotional pain, of this mother?
Can we fathom what it means to see, with our own eyes, sweet Jewish children blown to pieces? To look upon innocent young people crippled for life? One has to be a Jeremiah in order to properly describe these cataclysmic scenarios.
Today, although acts of terrorism still occur all too frequently, there is no full-blown intifada. But don’t dare think for one moment that our enemies are turning away from their murderous path. Don’t dare believe, even in your most optimistic flights of fancy, that Hamas, Hizbullah, Islamic State, Islamic Jihad, et al, have given up on their goal of destroying Israel.
No, it is not to such bloodthirsty jackals that we look to understand why terrorist incidents in Israel have significantly decreased since the early- and mid-2000s.
We look, rather, to the Heaven-appointed messengers who protect the land and the people of Israel with the help of Hashem: the courageous soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.
* Who is it who stands guard at the Kotel, at Rachel’s Tomb, at the cave of Machpelah twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year, if not the Jewish soldier, the messenger of the All-Merciful?
* Who is it who puts his body on the line watching over and enabling his Jewish brothers and sisters to pour out their hearts at the graves of their forefathers, if not our brave Jewish warrior?
* Who is it who defends the entire land with great loyalty and immense self-sacrifice, making every effort to prevent the return to a time when blown-up restaurants and burnt-out buses were daily occurrences, if not the dear Jewish youngster in the uniform of the IDF?
Would you therefore not think that the Israeli soldiers who risk their lives on a daily basis to protect our holy land are deserving of a Misheberach in our synagogues on Shabbos? (Misheberach is the traditional prayer said on special occasions to ask God’s blessing on a community, a group, or individuals.)
Tell me, please, is a Jew who is willing to die in defense of our Jewish homeland not worthy of a Misheberach? I ask those of you who feel that to even make such a suggestion is to come perilously close to heresy: Is not the blood of a Jewish soldier worth a Misheberach?
Yes, hard as the concept may be for those outside the Orthodox world to accept, there are very fine “frum shuls” that refuse – stubbornly, adamantly, passionately – to make a Misheberach for the brave and bold soldiers of Israel.
* For the Russian czars, the archenemies of all Jews, the most boorish and barbaric evildoers, frum Jews made a Misheberach. But for Jewish soldiers in the land of Israel, for the wonderful and loyal guardians of our people, some “frum shuls” refuse to make a Misheberach. Why?
* For Romanian dictators, racketeers, ruffians, and vicious anti-Semites (including royalty) we made a Misheberach, but for Israeli soldiers, our God-appointed defenders, some “frum shuls” will not. Why?
* For the Polish rulers, may their names be obliterated, the scoundrels and drunkards who imbibed anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk and killed Jews while crossing themselves, we made a Misheberach, but for our Jewish soldiers there is nothing from some “frum shuls.” Why?
* For Hungarian vagabonds, lowlifes, and womanizers we made a Misheberach, but for the Jewish soldiers, the protectors of our land, some “frum shuls” will never make a Misheberach. Why?
It is written in the Jerusalem Talmud and in Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer that “being an ingrate is equivalent to being a heretic.” If someone does not acknowledge favors done for him by others, he does not, God forbid, acknowledge the existence of Hashem. Can one think of a more powerful indictment?
We find that the saintly Steipler Rav writes in his Birchat Peretz that when our sages declare that one is not allowed to have mercy on someone who has no wisdom, they mean to say we need not show mercy to one who lacks enough sense to acknowledge a favor.
And the Steipler adds that one of the worst things a person can be is an ingrate. He even uses a very strong pejorative to describe this quality.
Similar thoughts are presented by Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer with regard to someone who does not acknowledge favors done for him by others – including the observation that Adam and Eve were chased out of the Garden of Eden only because they did not acknowledge the good Hashem had done for them.
Mishnat Rabbi Eliezer also states that ingrates are not worthy to receive the Kingdom of Hashem. Again, powerful words.
What is the upshot of all the above? What emerges clearly is the severity of the sin of a person’s ignoring the good done for him by others.
Equally clear is that those who refuse to make a Misheberach for the Israeli soldiers who defend, and in all too many cases give their lives for, our homeland will have to answer to Hashem for their repeated and monumental acts of ingratitude.
Even more galling – at least it should be to every reader in whom a Jewish heart beats – is that in some “frum shuls” there are those who have had the audacity, the chutzpah, to rip out the pages in the gabbai’s guidebooks that contain the Misheberach for Israeli soldiers.
Is it possible that such people were present at Sinai when the Almighty revealed Himself in His full glory to give us the Ten Commandments? May Hashem have mercy on them.
* * * * *
There are those who argue that the Jewish soldiers of Israel don’t deserve a Misheberach because they are defending an “irreligious state” state that, according to their teachings, was born in sin.
A simple question to such people: Is the modern state of Israel any less religious than those states that existed in the days of Achov or Menashe or Yirovom ben Nevot?
To put the question in more sweeping terms, is the modern state of Israel any less religious than were the Jewish states under most of the kings of Israel and Judah? The Gemara says that during the reign of King Achov there wasn’t a single lawn in all of Israel that did not have an idol on it. And yet his armies were victorious in battle (Sanhedrin 102, 2).
And let’s not mince words: Is it not primarily the fault of frum Jews that the government of Israel is not religious? Was there ever a mass frum aliyah to Eretz Yisrael? Did we frum Jews answer the call in the state’s formative years, after Europe had slaughtered Jews in the millions and vomited out those who survived, and when the gates of Israel were wide open and the land was crying out for its children to come home? To ask the question is to answer it.
What about prior to World War II, in the twenties and thirties? Or before that? We know quite well who answered the call of the land as it roused itself from its 2,000-year slumber: Hashomer Hatzair and Gordonia, socialists and communists, agnostics and atheists. They were the Jews who answered the call. We did not. Perhaps we had valid reasons, or reasons that seemed valid at the time, but that doesn’t change the facts on the ground. We are in the minority, and to the victor belong the spoils.
Secular and left-oriented political parties have never forced their way into the Knesset or the government. They were voted in. They had their supporters. We did not. Had we frum Jews responded to the call of the land in larger numbers, Israel today would not be an “irreligious state” with an “irreligious government.”
And let’s get a few things straight about this “irreligious state” that so many of us in the frum community love to denigrate:
* This “irreligious state” is the greatest repository of Torah knowledge in the world today. In fact, more Torah is being learned and disseminated in Israel now than at any time since the destruction of the Second Temple.
* In this “irreligious state” there are more yeshivas, Talmud Torahs, synagogues, and gemachs (free loan societies) than anywhere else in the world.
* This “irreligious state” is home to more “Shas Yidden” than any other country. (A Shas Yid is a person who has completed the Talmud cycle with most of the commentaries several times.)
* In this “irreligious state” can be found the greatest assemblage of Torah giants on earth. Their opinions are accepted worldwide, and they are revered by all.
* * * * *
There is an interesting Midrash that seems relevant to our topic.
On Rosh Hashanah we blow the shofar one hundred times (100 sounds). Why is it one hundred? The Midrash says that when Deborah the prophetess fought Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army of King Jabin of Hazor, Sisera’s mother stayed by her window watching for her son’s return home from the war. As time passed she became increasingly anxious and began to sigh – one hundred and one times, to be exact.
Even though she was extremely agitated, she consoled herself with the thought that her son’s delayed return was due to his having robbed the Jews and violated their women. With our blowing the shofar one hundred times, the Midrash says, we annul the barbarism of the world exemplified by Sisera’s mother and by Sisera.
But if that is so, why don’t we blow the shofar one hundred and one times – for the number of sighs emitted by Sisera’s mother? The Midrash answers that we Jews feel the pain of a mother who awaits her son’s return from battle, and we do not wish to annul that particular pain.
Even though Sisera was evil and his mother was a menuveles (a vile person) and a tramp, our sages demand that we empathize with the pan of a tormented mother.
Now, if our sages command us to feel the pain of such an unworthy individual as Sisera’s mother – a woman who justified plunder and rape – then certainly we are expected to show compassion for the tens of thousands of Jewish mothers who await with great trepidation the return of their sons who patrol our homeland or, God forbid, man the frontlines in time of war.
We may not have the means to express our empathy and support to such Jewish mothers more directly and effectively but we can – with relative ease – make a Misheberach for their sons. Do they not deserve that much?
How can those who refuse to make a Misheberach in their shuls for Israeli soldiers ignore the tears and the pain of legions of worried Jewish mothers?
In another relevant historical episode, we learn that Moshe Rabbeinu prodded the tribes in TransJordan, “Your brothers will go to war and you will sit here?” Moshe was telling them they could not sit peacefully at home while their brothers were embroiled in fierce warfare.
Frum Jews in America may not be embroiled in warfare, but we can say a berachah, a blessing, in shul on Shabbos for those dedicated young Jews who are fighting – and putting their lives on the line – for Eretz Yisrael.
For Heaven’s sake, the least we can do is make the same Misheberach for the Jewish soldiers in our Jewish homeland that our forebears made for the Jew-hating thugs who ruled over them in Russia and Poland and Hungary.
This essay was translated from Yiddish by Blanche Fixler.