Overcoming the Separation

A resident of Haifa sent out a plea for forgiveness last week. He has been forced to close his business because of the katyushas falling on Haifa, and he and his family now find themselves wandering between the homes of family members and other good people.

Rather than focus on his own suffering, the anonymous author remembered that at this time last year residents of Gush Katif had come to Haifa to visit him and share their feelings upon losing their homes. He had refused to listen to them.

Now he benefits from the empathy, support, and identification of others, and thinks to himself: the residents of Gush Katif didn’t even have that.

“I am not a religious man, and not of a mystical bent,” he writes, “but who can ignore the deep relation between my attitude towards you and the price that I am paying now.”

THE AUTHOR OF THAT PLEA FOR FORGIVENESS may not be religious, but he has profoundly grasped the connection between all members of Klal Yisrael, and the terrible consequences for one who fails to identify with his fellow Jews in their time of need. The Rambam lists among the 24 categories of those who have no portion in the World-to-Come someone who separates himself from the community. “Even though he did not transgress any prohibitions, . . . if he does not share in their suffering and fast on their fast days . . . he has no place in the world to come,” writes the Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 3:11).

In a similar vein, we will hear many times this week that all those who do not mourn over the destruction of Jerusalem will not participate in its eventual rejoicing.

Identification with the suffering of our fellow Jews is not automatic. It requires work. One of the great tragedies of modern Jewish life is how cut off Jews are from one another.

Last week, we hosted a family of seven from Haifa. One of the many things we learned from our guests was just how sheltered we are from what much of the country is suffering. In part that is a function of living in Jerusalem, removed, at least for the time being, from the threat of missiles falling on our heads.

Our insulation is a function also of not having children serving in the army. Last week a good friend came to visit me. Even though I had seen him in morning shiur just a few days before, I barely recognized him. The strain on his face was palpable. Without asking, I could tell that his son, who is an officer in the elite Golani brigade, must be in Lebanon. I was right. His son had been in the heart of the fighting in Bint Jbail, in which eight Golani soldiers were killed, the day before. I can try to imagine what he is going through, but that is far removed from experiencing it first hand.

The difference between us and our guests was reflected in the way they davened – they spent hours at the Kotel each of the days they were with us – and the way they listened to the news.

LISTENING TO THE NEWS LAST WEEK was almost unbearable. Each fallen soldier was individually profiled, and members of his family interviewed. The stories were too much to bear. Major Roi Klein, a father of two, threw himself on a live grenade, while saying “Shema Yisrael”, to save the lives of the troops under his command. When the rav with whom he learned in yeshiva came to comfort his wife, she told him, “I want my children to grow up to be like their father. But who will be here now to show them the way.”

Recently I watched a documentary on Israel’s destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981. One of the pilots described how he was named Mordechai after a grandfather who died in Auschwitz. He said that he never expected to return alive from the mission, but flew with the feeling that he was saving the Jews in Israel from another Auschwitz.

As I listened, I wondered whether there are still youth in Israel who feel themselves connected to the Jewish people in the same way. The dress, educational attainments or lack thereof, and apparent hedonism of today’s youth give much cause for worry on that score.

But last week’s news brought the answer: the pintele Yid still burns in the hearts of Israel’s youth. The evidence came not just from the videos of tank crews reciting Tefillas HaDerech by flashlight or the countless photos of troops davening in tallis and tefillin before entering into Lebanon. It also came from the interviews with wounded soldiers, who expressed their eagerness to rejoin their comrades at the front, and in the stories of those killed who had implored their parents to join combat units.

THE TORAH COMMUNITY showed last week that it wants to participate with the rest of Klal Yisrael in this time of danger and suffering. Numerous organizations sprung up spontaneously to match families fleeing from the North with those who either had an apartment available or could take guests into their home. Free food organizations, like Chazon Yeshaya and Meir Panim, sent tons of food to those living in shelters in the North, and fed refugees in their various soup kitchens. Ezra L’Marpeh brought medical supplies to those who could not get them from closed pharmacies and moved patients from hospitals under fire to those in the center of the country. Ezer M’Tzion, Refuah V’Yeshuah, and the Bnei Brak municipality quickly organized dozens of summer camps for children far from home. The owner of one small toy business sent almost $40,000 in toys to community centers and hospitals in the North, many of which were contributed at cost by her suppliers. (The list is illustrative not exhaustive.)

These activities provided an unparalleled opportunity for the Torah community to reach out to many with whom we would not ordinarily have contact and to overcome, at least for the moment, some of our separation.

We have no idea how much our fellow Jews want to know that the Torah community cares for them. Our guests related with excitement how Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef had announced at Yom Kippur Kattan that the Sephardi yeshivot should cancel bein hazemanim. (That call was echoed in a letter from the BaDaTz of the Eidah HaChareidis and another from the Bostoner Rebbe.) And they asked us repeatedly whether our sons’ yeshivos would do the same.

I sensed that they were asking not just out of their shared belief in the protective power of Torah learning, but because they wanted to know whether we too were prepared to make sacrifices out of love for them.

Hopefully we will rise to that challenge in one way or another.

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6 Responses

  1. HILLEL says:

    Aryeh:

    Any Jew who learns Torah–whatever his capabilities–serves as a shield and protector of Klal Yisroel. “Lo Nitna Torah Lemalachei HaShores”–The Torah was not given exclusively to angels.

    Frankly, the IDF, which fully integrates women and homosexuals into its ranks, is a very dangerous immoral environment for anyone who has a serious commitment to Torah and Yiddishkeit–especially young impressionable boys. Read this article, and weep:

    http://www.time.com/time/europe/magazine/2000/0703/sexcrazed.html

    Here is why we are having such a tough time with Hamas and Hizbollah:

    By David Meir-Levi
    FrontPageMagazine.com | February 24, 2006

    Hamas’ Long Range Plans
    Mahmoud az-Zahar lays out the character of the Islamist Palestinian state according to the Hamas vision: “This will be a state which will be based on the principals of the Shari’a and will be part of the Arab Islamist Umma,” he says. “In the Shari’a-led Palestine, mixed dancing will be prohibited.

    In Hamas’ Palestine, homosexuals and lesbians which Zahar defines as “a minority of moral and mental deviants” will have no rights.” In the Islamist Palestinian state, says Zahar, each Palestinian citizen will be required to behave according to the Shari’a. (17)

  2. Gershon says:

    I\’m not going to enter a full debate with HILLEL, but I would just like to add a short story:

    During Gulf War I in 1991, the IDF and Civil Defense staff in conjunction with Kol Israel set up a silent channel for shabbos similar to the current situation that exists today.

    The job of pushing the button on shabbos that would activate the sirens and other announcements fell to a well known RA\”M serving his milu\’im. This RA\”M was well known to be a baki b\’shas uposkim.

    I just have one question to ask: Who would you rather have to be mechallel shabbos (even if it\’s due to pikuach nefesh and therefore possibly not even called chillul shabbos), someone who knows EXACTLY what he is doing, why he is doing it and what violations of shabbos he\’s performing on behalf of k\’lal yisroel, or someone who doesn\’t know anything about it at all?

  3. Baruch Horowitz says:

    ‘And I want every boy here to know that if he so much as stops learning Torah for two minutes to take a drink of water at the water cooler, for those two minutes, he is endangering a Jewish soldier’s life on the battlefield.’”

    In general, I think that it is wise to “adopt” mussar one hears for one’s personal situation.

    In cases of people not engaged in twenty-four hour Torah learning(i.e., a mother preparing meals on Tisha B’aav, or a person, in general, working), this becomes a challenge. However,the “twinning” attitude is important, for both reasons of generating zechusim, and because of the Rambam that Rabbi Rosenblum mentions.

    I would say that one should at least think of the soldiers as one gets a drink of water, or the equivalent. Even this is easier said than done. From reading descriptions of American soldiers during WWII, it is apparent that one can not understand the fear of combat, unless one participates in it. It is true, that soldiers do not stop for an instant in the heat of battle, even to say, break for a cigarette.

    There is much for civilians to learn from Jewish soldiers, especially about “yesh koneh olomo b’shaah achas”–it is not limited to the times of Chazal(see both stories on Rabbi Adlerstein’s thread).

  4. Aryeh says:

    HILLEL, I agree with you. But then what follows is that those who are not capable of such intense learning, should join the army. Better fight than battel. There are enough bachurim (if my assumption that American and Israeli bachurim are similar is correct) that fit this description.

  5. HILLEL says:

    Yitz:

    I know you mean well, but your comment sadly illustrates the attitude of all too many Chareidi-Leumi, who feel that Torah should be subordinated to service in the IDF.

    Uninterrupted Torah learning is crucial to those who are fighting on the front. Those who fight are utterly dependent on those who learn for their very lives and safety.

    Who knows haw many casualties are avoided–on the front and in the cities under rocket attack–because of the intensive Torah learning that is now in progress in Eretz Yisroel and all over the world.

    The Yeshivos are our answer to the long-range missles from Syria and Iran.

  6. yitz says:

    \”Our insulation is a function also of not having children serving in the army.\” Perhaps the time has come for the Chareidi yeshiva world to re-examine its stance vis-a-vis military service in Eretz Yisrael. Especially now with Nachal Chareidi and Hesder, the options for religious boys to serve in the Army without affecting their frumkeit are not what they were in the past. Just ask any one of the very religious Chardal boys in Har Nof, Rechovot, or elsewhere in Israel.

    \”Our guests related with excitement how Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef had announced at Yom Kippur Kattan that the Sephardi yeshivot should cancel bein hazemanim. (That call was echoed in a letter from the BaDaTz of the Eidah HaChareidis and another from the Bostoner Rebbe.) And they asked us repeatedly whether our sons’ yeshivos would do the same.\”

    Mention should also be made of the \”twinning\” program [elef l\’mateh, elef l\’mateh] called for by Rav Simcha Kook of Rechovot and the Bostoner Rebbe Shlita. Regarding this, I received the following message:

    \”In 1992, I heard Rabbi Zev Leff talk about when he was Rosh Yeshiva (head of the Yeshiva) during a war in Israel…I don\’t want to scare you with this, but Rav Leff — I\’ll never forget this — told his boys in yeshiva, \’OK, our soldiers are in the trenches, in the tanks, out on the front line. And they don\’t get to go home and sleep in their cozy beds after a 10 or 12 hour day. They are on duty and on call 24 hours around the clock. So as of now, so are we. Yeshiva learning hours are extended to be [I don\’t remember, but it was every waking hour].

    \’And I want every boy here to know that if he so much as stops learning Torah for two minutes to take a drink of water at the water cooler, for those two minutes, he is endangering a Jewish soldier\’s life on the battlefield.\’\”