Matos: Soldier My Soldier
When I was a teenager, I spent my summers as a counselor at a camp in the Catskill Mountains, encouraging my campers to engage in water fights, pillow fights, and other illegal sports which would leave them with a summer they wouldn’t forget.
This summer too, thousands of young Jewish teen-agers around the world are enjoying their summer, camping, hiking, touring, toiling, hanging-out, and having a blast as only 18-year-olds know how to.
But this is not the case in Israel. There, tens of thousands of youngsters of the same age — 18, 19, 20 — are confronted with a different reality.
Just yesterday, Thursday afternoon, two IDF soldiers were killed and six others were wounded in heavy clashes with Hezbollah just inside south Lebanon. Another was killed in a helicopter crash. On Wednesday morning, another two Israeli soldiers were killed and nine wounded. This brings the toll to more than a dozen Israeli soldiers killed since last Wednesday, July 12th, when Hezbollah launched a surprise, vicious war against Israel, kidnapping two soldiers, killing another eight, and launching thousands of rockets on Israeli cities and towns.
The five soldiers killed during the last two days, were buried on Friday. These young heroes were not given the opportunity to fully grow up, embrace the world, build a family, and enjoy a meaningful and successful life. They were cut down in their youth after two short decades of living. Oh, if we could only embrace them!
Israeli parents send their children to serve in the IDF, knowing that they may never return. For these parents, IDF is not a courageous acronym, a military might; the IDF consists of their kinderlach, their children, infinitely precious and irreplaceable. When one of these soldiers is lost, the life of his loved ones is transformed forever. A hole is opened in the heart of a family, never to be filled.
“Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?!” are the words Moses thunders in this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 32:6), to the Jewish tribes who wished to settle the Eastern side of the Jordanian River and not enter with their brethren into the West Bank. How can you justify to yourself, Moses was asking, that while your brothers will be at war, you will be sitting in your vineyards, meditating and munching grapes?
3300 years later, we can still hear Moses’ question reverberating through our hearts. “Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?!” Are we not one family? Are we not one people? Why is it that some Jewish children end up spending their summers in leisure, while others – no less holy or virtuous – end up in the killing fields of Gaza and Lebanon?
I don’t know the answer. Fate places different people in different circumstances, and it does not always seem fair. In 1938, at the young tender age of five, my father watched the Soviet police take his father away as he recited the Kiddush Friday night. The communists sentenced my grandfather, Simon Yakobashvili (Jacobson in Georgian) to 25 years in Krasnoyarsk, for the “crime” of reviving Jewish awareness in the “communist paradise.” That moment, defined my father’s life in ways more than one.
Why did my father go through what I never had to?
Again, I don’t know. But I do know that each of us has been given our own opportunities and challenges, within our own timeline in history and circumstances unique to us, and we have been charged with the mission of making a difference in our corner of the planet. Nothing, simply nothing, can compare to the commitment, sacrifice and holiness of our soldiers, who physically give their lives to protect their people and their land from an enemy craving to annihilate Israel. Their example must challenge us, at the least, to ask ourselves: Are we committed to our mission in this world with the diligence, zest and sacrifice personified by our brothers in the tanks and trenches?
“Shall your brothers go out to battle while you settle here?” You and I must ask ourselves at such times. Just because I live in the US, am I absolved of the line of duty? We, every single Jew, is connected to Israel in a million knots; only our bodies have been exiled from that land two millennia ago, but the Jewish soul still resides in Eretz Yisroel, in the Land of Israel. An organic and intimate connection exists between every Jew and Israel.
At such times, the entire nation must be mobilized. Mobilization means not only giving money; mobilization is directing ones essence to accomplish a single goal: Achieve victory over a ruthless enemy seeking the obliteration of our people. Just as our soldiers are currently battling with all their heart and soul, so too must we increase our spiritual warfare, through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos; through prayer, charity, and acts of goodness; through expressing solidarity without reservation. With G-d’s help, we will triumph.