As a lecturer for Machane Meshutaf and the Jewish Identity Branch of the IDF I am often presented with a short window of time during which I am expected to transmit an inspirational message to the soldiers which will hopefully resonate with them after I leave; a message of Jewish unity and pride and the importance of wholeheartedly subscribing to their task at hand regardless of how menial or demoralizing it may seem. Often soldiers are weary and frustrated, least of all interested in hearing a speech or lecture from me and so I have to choose my words carefully and use my time proficiently. I welcome the challenge with reflection and preparation but when one is confronted with soldiers who are about to experience the danger of engaging in combat, one which I personally never experienced and therefore cannot realistically relate to, one can struggle to find the correct words which will empower and embolden the soldiers to confront their critical objective. In fact this past week I wrote to a friend of mine in the United States after I had just been on the border trying to help inspire the soldiers and he wrote back to me that he hoped that God put the right words in my mouth; indeed. I believe that I was able to impart a message to the soldiers, perhaps because God put the right words in my mouth; I share them with you because at this moment of truth for all of us, I believe they will help instill conviction in our hearts as well.
This past week’s Torah portion describes the Jewish war effort against the Midianites, sworn enemies of the Jewish nation during their travels through the desert to reach the land of Canaan (Israel). Interestingly enough the Torah describes not only the success of the Jewish army but goes at length to describe the booty, possessions and wealth which the Jewish people amassed as a result of their victory which begs the question; why does the Torah describe these spoils of war in such fine detail? Perhaps God wanted to transmit to His people that when one fights for his nation’s survival and is willing to sacrifice for his nation, particularly against a nation which threatens its very existence, indeed there are just rewards for doing so such as prosperity and fortune. In stark contrast when the Jewish people are preparing to conquer the land of Canaan they are clearly instructed that they are not to take from the silver, gold or any of the consecrated property and that it would all go to the treasury of Hashem; why with regards to the conquering of the land of Israel were the Jewish people forbidden from taking the spoils of their war effort?
Conquering and settling the land of Israel is a holy commandment from the Torah; one which is compared to fulfilling all of the commandments in the Torah itself. God wanted the Jewish nation to appreciate that the conquest of the land of Israel and the ability to secure those who wish to settle it, is itself the greatest possible reward one could ask for, in fact granting physical reward for such effort would belittle the significance and wholesomeness of this unique commandment in of itself.
Mivtza Tzuk Eitan – Operation Protective Edge as well as the last few IDF operations is not about territory but it is about ideology. Hamas are well aware that they cannot conquer the land of Israel from the people of Israel, but they are interested in disseminating a message of terror and perpetrating acts of chaos, destruction and murder throughout the land of Israel; doing so is rewarding for them. In stark contrast, the soldiers of the IDF recognize that their ability to protect the great nation of Israel and to ensure its safety, to restore order to a land with so many outstanding accomplishments and yet so much potential, is rewarding enough in of itself. Soldiers of the IDF do not fight for territory nor do they plunder the goods of war; they fight for an ideology which is committed to promoting productivity and encompassing life.
This week I was in an air force base which I frequent every week or so. As I exited my car and approached the shin-gimel (base entrance) a siren sounded. All the soldiers had already made their way to their shelters barring the two who were left guarding the shin-gimel, I quickly ducked into the guard station with them. Little did I know that part of my body was protruding out of the station when suddenly over the loud speaker one could hear the voice of the commander of the base saying,
“Rabbi please get back under the shelter and make sure you are entirely inside, after all you are very important and precious to us”.
Our soldiers are fighting for the distinct merit to be able to protect that which is most important and precious to us.
This week’s Torah portion completes the book of Numbers which describes the travels of the Jewish people in the desert and begins describing the preparations needed to conquer and make their way into the land of Israel. Upon completion of the book of Numbers all those in the Synagogue will proclaim,
“Be Strong! Be Strong! And may we be strengthened!”
I no longer struggle for words; to our soldiers I say be strong and to the Jewish nation who they are protecting I say, may we be strengthened by their service and their desire to perpetuate the ideology of this great people.