HaRav Shlomo Aviner is Head of Yeshivat Ateret Yerushalayim
We’ve Come From Far Off to Fight
We’ve come from far off, from all the exiles, from all the countries, from all the destructions, from all the suffering.
We’ve come to our army, and we shall love it, for it is ours. We left home, we left a wife, parents, children, friends. Yet in our hearts is a flame that cannot be snuffed out. We’re not afraid of anything, from hunger, or from the enemy. We’ll all go home, proud and happy that we defended our people; that we defended our land. We know what we’re doing and why we’re doing it.
Our enemies are sworn to annihilate us all, but thanks to our soldiers they fail miserably. How truly fortunate we are! The main thing is that we should remain united. Then we won’t fear our enemies. And if they attack us, we’ll show them what for! Our enemies are sworn to liquidate us, but they don’t know our strength. Now they are mortified, humiliated, and in flight. Cowards!
The battle command has gone forth! We don’t like wars! We don’t like battles! Yet when our enemies aim their weapons at us, we’ve got to go into battle, and we’ve got to win. Tremble before us, despicable enemies! Soon you shall pay the price of blood and tears! For we shall fight on behalf of our living brethren, and on behalf of those who have fallen.
Whoever falls so that his people live on – is alive! We shall avenge your blood and liquidate your murderers.
When we bring peace and freedom to our Nation, you will be with us.
When a brother falls and disappears into the shadows, another brother rises up in his place out of the shadows. Some people remain at home, sleeping in their beds, but we go into battle, for your sakes, for our own sakes.
Fallen brethren! We offer you a hand, in the name of our people and our country. We are proud thanks to you. Our hearts get excited when we remember you. We direct our steps according to yours. We claim victory by virtue of your efforts.
We don’t demand much, just life. Not the enemies’ artillery, not the terrorists’ bullets. Just life.
And when we return home after our enemies fall, after our murderers are smitten, we’ll come back tired and scarred, but better, gentler, kinder, more serious, more faithful, and more loving.
How Many Fine Virtues the Army Has!
The ideal is, “They shall beat swords into ploughshares,” but in the meantime, it is G-d’s will that there should be wars, here in Israel and throughout the world. And if this be the will of G-d, Who “is master of wars and causes salvation to flourish” [Morning Prayers], then a blessing shall derive from this as well. True, that blessing derives through suffering, but it is a blessing for all – Charedim, religious and secular. “For G-d is good to all, and His mercy is over all his works” (Tehilim 145:9). And indeed, how many fine virtues our army has!
- The Mitzvah of saving lives. It is a great Mitzvah to save someone who is in danger. “Do not stand by when your friend’s life is in danger” (Vayikra 19:16, Sanhedrin 73a, Rambam, Hilchot Rotzeah U-Shemirat Nefesh Chapter 1). It is also a great Mitzvah to endanger oneself to save someone who is in possible danger (Hagahot Maimoniyot and KesefMishneh), all the more so for the sake of the Jewish People as a whole.
- Protecting the Land of Israel. The Mitzvah of settling the Land is equal in weight to all the other Mitzvot of the Torah combined. We were commanded to conquer the Land and not to leave it in the hands of any other nation (Ramban’s fourth footnote on Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot).
- Sanctifying G-d’s name. “I shall be sanctified amongst the People of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). When the nations smite and wound us, pillage and rape us, exile and murder us, it is a profanation of G-d’s name, for we are G-d’s people. Yet when we defend ourselves, smiting our enemies fiercely, we sanctify G-d’s name (see Yechezel 28).
- Mitzvot hallow a person. As our sages said, “Blessed are You, O G-d… who has sanctified us through His Mitzvot.” Obviously, not everyone who does one Mitzvah thereby turns into a Kadosh, a saint as defined in Mesilat Yesharim, yet every Mitzvah increases holiness, all the more so such a great Mitzvah as saving the Jewish People and sanctifying G-d’s name. Many of the Charedi newsmen and politicians are intentional liars, unfortunately no better than those in other camps. They say that the secular want to draft the Charedim in order to make them secular. This is a bold lie that does not deserve to be dignified by a response.
Unfortunately, every Gadol, every Torah luminary, has his Gehazi, and even several Gehazis. Every Charedi camp claims that the Gedolim of the other Charedi camps have Gehazis who deceive them, and that they also deceive a large portion of the public, who are naïve. They lie to their Gedolim and they lie in the name of their Gedolim, they incite and corrupt and cause divisiveness, as do a great many of the newsmen and politicians in the rest of the Nation.
In the Nachal Charedi and in the Charedi Army unit “Shachar” there are no female soldiers, and the Kashrut there is on the highest level. The standards here are even higher than inductees adhere to in their private lives. The Army meets the needs of the Charedim on every issue, and keeps its promises, even without an agreement in writing.
- Becoming stronger in Torah. People become stronger in Torah in the army. True, there are some who deteriorate in the army, but that is due to their low level of commitment before they arrive there. The fact is, however, that most yeshiva dropouts become religiously stronger in the Nachal Charedi. Unfortunately, the “Yeshivot for strengthening people” have almost no success in strengthening anyone religiously. That is not the case with the Nachal Charedi. Thank G-d, the relationship between the Nachal Charedi and the Charedi public is improving.
- Good character. Responsibility, seriousness, helpfulness, determination, steadfastness. In a word, army service turns you into a “Mentch”, a decent human being. And the more combat-oriented the unit is, the more it builds the soldier’s character. This is what I meant when I said that in any case, the army also infuses the soldier with blessing and holiness. The army is not just a duty. It is a privilege. It is painful to see how much those Charedim who do not go to the army lose out. Certainly the Torah is our life, but good character is our life as well.
- Torah for the sake of heaven. One has to learn Torah sincerely, and not just go through the motions to evade army service. Rambam said (Hilchot Talmud Torah 3:10): “It is forbidden to benefit from Torah learning in this world. Our Sages said, ‘If someone benefits from Torah learning, it removes him from this world.’ They further commanded us, ‘Make it not into a crown for self-aggrandizement, nor an ax with which to chop.’” Ha-Gaon Ha-Rav Yechezkel Abramsky said that if someone does not learn and does not enlist, the laws of the “Rodef” [assailant] apply to him. In other words, he is considered to be endangering all the others who learn Torah sincerely.
- Learning a trade. In the Nachal Charedi, soldiers learn a trade during the third year, and the same is true with the Charedi “Shachar” program.
The army likewise saves people from poverty. Poverty is a terrible thing that causes religious and moral deterioration. It poses a grave danger which cannot be circumvented through spiritual shortcuts or superstitions. Poverty deprives a man of his senses and of a knowledge of his Creator. What man’s intellect does not do, not even the intellect of Torah, necessity will accomplish. Yet how much better is it for one to plan on his own to learn a profession in the army.
- We must show our gratitude to the soldiers. Ingratitude is a terrible thing. See Chovot HaLevavot. We must say the “Mi Sheberach” blessing for soldiers presently serving, as well as the Yizkor for the soldiers who have fallen in battle. And one has to enlist himself. One should not say, “Anyway there are too many soldiers, so I’m superfluous.” That isn’t true. There’s no unemployment in the army aside from the “functional unemployment” of any gigantic system. There is a shortage of soldiers required to bear the security burden. It is therefore ethical for everyone to join up.
- Loving One’s Fellow Jews. In the army, everyone gets to know one another and everyone admires one another. Otherwise, we are in danger of becoming two peoples who are entirely alienated from each other, each group viewing the other as having horns. In the army, they can get to know one another. The Charedim will see the good traits of the secular, their values and ideals, and they will cease their systematic defamation which desecrates G-d’s name and causes the secular to respond in kind. It is a mistake to think that the Torah will be strengthened by our blackening the name of the secular. Rabbi Yisrael Salanter said, “If you want to grow taller, don’t dig a pit for your fellow man. Instead, build him a mountain.” Such an approach will lead the secular, as well, to see that the Charedim are very fine people, that they provide a healthy, natural foundation for the Jewish People, and that ultimately, everyone is going to have to be Charedi. This will end the false, mutual estrangement between the secular and Charedi worlds. If you repeat a falsehood enough times, it becomes the truth. It is true thst every group has people who are not normal. Yet they represent a minuscule minority. The exception to the rule, not the rule itself.
A story is told of a Polish landowner who got drunk in a tavern and came to an agreement with another landowner that the following week each one would bring his bear and the bears would fight each other. When the first landowner returned to his estate and sobered up, he remembered that he did not own a bear, so he summoned a Jew to go to the marketplace, buy a bear skin, and disguise himself with it so that he could pretend to be the bear. The Jew begged him not to make him do this, arguing that it represented a death sentence for him, yet the landowner insisted, threatening the Jew that he would expel his family. On the appointed day, the Jew stood in the bear suit trembling with fear before a frightening bear, freezing in place. Yet the crowd of gamblers pushed him towards the awesome creature. Understanding that his last moments had come, he cried out, “Hear O Israel, Hashem is our G-d…” Much to his amazement, the other bear completed the passage, “Hashem is One!” No one is really a bear. Everyone is amicable. “Who are like Your people Israel, one Nation in the Land!” (Shmuel 2 7:23).