Rabbi Mayer Twersky
Rabbi Mayer Twersky

Last week's essay (Naftali, Gilad, Eyal Hy"d and the War on Hamas: Reflections on Kiddush and Chillul Hashem, Providence, and Prayer) and this week's expanded dvar Torah are intended to provide perspective on what's happening in Israel and also to result in increased talmud Torah as a zechus for acheinu Bnei Yisroel in Eretz Yisroel. Please share them both with others who might appreciate them, and thereby you too can help maximize the harbotzas haTorah and zechus to protect Bnei Yisroel in general, and the chayalim of Tzahal in particular.

A Three Thousand Year War



Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky, leader of Torah Jewry between the two World Wars, published his first volume of responsa in 1922. At that time in the aftermath of the destruction of the Great War and with assimilation rampant, Jewry was "drowning in an ocean of tears."[1] Rav Chaim Ozer reflected on the seeming incongruence of abstract pursuits such as [publishing] divrei Torah during times of crisis.

These are his immortal words:

"The study of Torah has been an elixir of life. Delving into and reflecting upon the pathways of Torah has served as a spring-like source of life restoring waters. Every yeshiva acts as a citadel for Judaism. The spread of Torah study shields from tribulation and protects against assimilation. Torah and its luminescence bring people back to the true way of life. The study of Torah has sustained our existence until this very day, preventing assimilation [amongst those who study].

We beheld a remarkable vision during the days of the terrible war, days of oppression and displacement. When the Jewish people wandered from their homes and the yeshivos were also forced to wander...the spirit of Torah and mitzvos, which is the soul of the nation, drew Jews together...and our brethren in every place exerted themselves mightily to strengthen the Torah and yeshivos."[2]

May these divrei Torah help in some small way to achieve what Rav Chaim Ozer outlines, especially to shield our soldiers and all our brethren in Eretz Yisroel from all tribulation.


War and Faith

Some of our soldiers, Hashem yikom damam, brave, noble, and altruistic, have already made the ultimate sacrifice. Many others, Hashem yishmereim, risking life and limb, continue selflessly serving. Millions of our brethren, especially in the southern areas of Eretz Yisroel, live in mortal danger and tension from rocket fire. What is it all about? It is vitally important that we have perspective on the war against Hamas.

In his Mishneh Torah Rambam provides perspective on any and every war between Israel and her enemies.

ומאחר שיכנס אדם בקשרי המלחמה ישען על מקוה ישראל ומושיעו בעת צרה וידע שעל ייחוד השם הוא עושה מלחמה וישים נפשו בכפו ולא יירא ולא יפחד...וכל הנלחם בכל לבו בלא פחד ותהיה כוונתו לקדש את השם...
Once, however, he [i.e., the soldier] has joined the ranks [of war], he should put his reliance upon Him who is the hope of Israel, their Savior in time of trouble. He should know that he is fighting for the oneness of God, risk his life and neither fear nor be affrighted...He who fights with all his heart, without fear, with the sole intention of sanctifying the name of God..."[3]

Rambam defines every war which Israel fights against her enemies as being for yichud Hashem, defending belief in the one and only God, and His sovereignty[4]. Our soldiers are not simply שלוחי דידן [our representatives]; they are שלוחי דרחמנא [HKBH's representatives.] They are fighting to sanctify His name.

[Many unspeakable, atrocious acts of war have been and continue to be perpetrated while invoking God's name. This ongoing chilul Hashem makes a travesty of the very pure and beautiful idea presented by the Rambam. By contrast, the stellar conduct of Tzahal, operating by a self-imposed, unparalleled moral standard as they defensively combat ruthless enemies, has been an ongoing kiddush Hashem.]

In his Epistle to Yemen, Rambam provides a framework for understanding much of Jewish history, which also sheds light on his profound religious depiction of war. HKBH elevated Am Yisroel above all other nations by giving us His Torah.

Remember that ours is the true and authentic divine religion, revealed to us through Moses, the master of the former as well as later prophets, by means of which God has distinguished us from the rest of mankind...God made us unique by His laws and precepts, and our pre-eminence is manifested in His rules and statutes, as Scripture says, in narrating God's mercies to us, "And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day?" (Devarim 4:8).

Our pre-eminence, בחירת ישראל, has always been a source of envy and hatred. Rebelling against HKBH's choice, the nations of the world have continuously sought to destroy us.

Therefore all the nations instigated by envy and impiety rose up against us, and all the kings of the earth motivated by injustice and enmity applied themselves to persecute us. They wanted to thwart God, but He can not be thwarted. Ever since the time of Revelation, every despot or slave that has attained to power, be he violent or ignoble, has made it his first aim and his final purpose, to destroy our law, and to vitiate our religion, by means of the sword, by violence, or by brute force, such as Amalek, Sisra, Sennacherib, Nebuchadnezzar, Titus, Hadrian, may their bones be ground to dust, and others like them. This is one...attempt to foil the divine will.[5]

This penetrating, historical analysis underlies Rambam's words, quoted above, in Hilchos Melachim. Every war is a battle for yichud Hashem because our enemies seek to defy HKBH and His sovereign selection of the Jewish people as the Chosen People. "'Those who hate you' - these are those who hate Israel for whoever hates Israel hates the One who spoke and brought the world into being as it says, 'And those who hate You have raised their head'. Who are they? 'Against your nation they conspire secretly.'"[6]

The war against Hamas is not new. It is the most recent battle in an ancient, protracted war. Hamas is one of the modern day successors to Amalek, Sisra, et al. They aim their missiles against Israel's citizens and attack her soldiers. They seek to destroy us. But ultimately they seek to defeat HKBH, R"l.

This war against Israel over yichud Hashem has already lasted more than three millennia. How will this strife end?

"We possess the divine assurance given to Isaiah concerning any tyrant that will wish to undermine our Law and to annihilate it by weapons of war, that the Lord will demolish them so that they will have no effect. This is only a metaphorical way of saying that his efforts will be of no avail, and that he will not accomplish his purpose...This divine promise is contained in the following verse, 'No weapon that is formed against you shall prosper.'"[7]

"We are in possession of the divine assurance that Israel is indestructible and imperishable, and will always continue to be a preeminent community. As it is impossible for God to cease to exist, so is Israel's destruction and disappearance from the world unthinkable, as we read, 'For I the Lord change not, and you, O sons of Jacob, will not be consumed' (Malachi 3:6.)"[8]


Urgency of Tefillah

Divine assurance not withstanding, our tefillos are urgently needed. Victory is assured. The price of victory, however, is not set. We fervently pray that victory not entail any further casualties.


Our Fallen Soldiers, Hashem Yikom Damam

Let us review Rambam's depiction of war. Israel's enemies seek to defy HKBH's בחירת ישראל. Hence when Israel fights her enemies, she does so for the sake of yichud Hashem. Her soldiers go out to battle to sanctify Hashem's name.

Rambam shifts from speaking of yichud Hashem to kiddush Hashem. The explanation for this shift is very simple. The essence of miztvas kiddush Hashem is publicizing the fundamental truth of yichud Hashem. "He commanded us to sanctify His name...the substance of this commandment is that we are obligated to publicize this fundamental belief/truth in the world."[9] Hence Rambam naturally moves from speaking of yichud Hashem to kiddush Hashem.

Our soldiers are fighting to protect HKBH's chosen people, who are under attack because of their chosenness. Eo ipso, our soldiers are fighting for yichud and kiddush Hashem. Any solider, rachmanah litzlan, who dies in that effort has died al Kiddush Hashem. In a parallel context Chazal say so explicitly. According to Chazal, the "martyrs of Lud" occupy a uniquely exalted position in the world-to-come.[10] The martyrs of Lud are two brothers who were put to death after falsely confessing to the murder of the Emperor's daughter. They did so in order to save the Jewish people from a blood libel and threatened extinction.[11]

In his epistle about kiddush Hashem Rambam elaborates upon Chazal. "An individual...who is killed for the sake of kiddush Hashem, even if his sins match those of Yeravam son of Nevat and his comrades he has earned his place in the world to come...And this is what our Sages, peace unto them, have said, 'no one can gain entry to the exalted place of martyrs...[such as] the martyrs of Lud'."[12]

Our fallen soldiers Hy"d have earned an exalted spot in the world-to-come.


Dialectical Experience of Mourning

In Halacha mourning is a dialectical experience. The mourner is supposed to view and experience his loss from two disparate vantage points. From the human vantage point death represents tragic defeat. Experiencing loss is excruciatingly painful and leaves a gaping void. And thus the mourner is expected to cry.[13]

These tragic and painful qualities are always present, even when death R"l overtakes a person at "a good old age, mature and content."[14] The tragedy and pain are magnified manifold when young, promising, noble chayalim die. Words cannot adequately depict the tragedy or articulate the pain.

Simultaneously, the mourner affirms the divine vantage point. He recites tzidduk hadin. He affirms the justice of HKBH's judgment. Whatever HKBH does is just,[15] and for the best.[16] The divine vantage point includes the perspective from the next world. In the case of our fallen soldiers, their families, and all of us, affirm the exalted place to which their souls have ascended.

The co-existence of the human and divine vantage points generates the dialectical experience of mourning. The pain of bereft parents, widows and orphans is so great, the grief so intense. To whatever degree possible we share their pain and grief. And yet while grieving the mourners are buoyed by their faith. They know that their loved one sanctified shem shomayim and earned an exalted place in the next world.

May we speedily merit the fulfillment of Yeshayahu's vision. "He will eliminate death forever, and Hashem Elokim will erase tears from all faces...and they will say on that day, 'Behold this is our God; we hoped to Him that He would save us; this is Hashem to whom we hoped, let us exalt and be glad in His salvation."[17]

[1] הקדמה לשו"ת אחיעזר ח"א

[2] שם. Translation is somewhat free.

[3] רמב"ם הלכות מלכים ז:ט"ו. Translation of Rambam from my father zt"l's A Maimonides Reader. See page 220.

[4] In his Sefer Hamitzvos (מ"ע ב') Rambam equates yichud Hashem with kabolas malchus Shomayim. Yichud Hashem affirms not only HKBH's oneness and uniqueness but also His sovereignty.

[5] A Maimonides Reader pp. 439 - 440

[6] רש"י לבמדבר י:לה ע"פ ספרי. ע' גם רש"י שם ל"א:ג Translation from Artscroll Sapirstein edition

[7] אגרת תימן. A Maimonides Reader p. 440

[8] Ibid p. 445

[9] סה"מ מ"ע ט'

[10] פסחים נ.

[11] רש"י

[12] אגרות הרמב"ם, הוצאת מוסד הרב קוק, עמ' נח. ע' גם סנהדרין מ"ז בענין הרוגי מלכות שלא בדין מקטלי.

[13] מו"ק כ"ז:

[14] בראשית כ"ה:ח. Artscroll translation.

[15] דברים ל"ב:ד

[16] ברכות ס:

[17] ישעיהו כ"ה:ח-ט

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