Rabbi Mordechai Willig
Rabbi Mordechai Willig

Wartime Obligations

"A thousand for a tribe, a thousand for a tribe, for all the tribes of Yisrael shall you send to the army" (Bamidbar 31:4.) Some say that three thousand served from each tribe: one thousand fought at the front, one thousand guarded the gear behind the battle lines (See Rashi Breishis 14:24), and one thousand engaged in tefilla (Bamidbar Rabba 22:3).

Forty years ago, at the frightening beginning of the Yom Kippur War, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt"l cited this Medrash in his exhortation to his talmidim (Erev Sukkos 5734, Sichos Mussar, 2010 ed., p. 456,7). This week, with rockets landing throughout Eretz Yisrael, R' Chaim's message is timely and critical, particularly for American Jews.

At present, many heroic soldiers are risking their lives to defend Israel's citizens. Our obligation to pray for them is boundless. Those who gave their lives on behalf of Am Yisarel, or were killed only because of their being Jewish, "no creature can reach their place of reward in the next world" (Bava Basra 10b). The Talmud refers to R' Akiva, and the brothers who gave their lives to save the Jews of Lod. Today we refer to the kedoshim of Tzahal, the three talmidim murdered last month, and this week's victim of a rocket fired from Gaza. Today, all of Israel's citizens, behind the battle lines, are in danger.

In recent weeks, we have seen the hand of Hashem in sparing us from casualties despite thousands of potentially fatal rockets. This demands thanking Hashem for His protection, and beseeching Him for safety and ultimately for peace. Our embattled Israeli brothers and sisters are doing their part. American Jews, far from the murderous enemies, must share the pain of the Israelis, and intensify their tefillos for peace and serenity in the holy land.

R' Chaim cites the expression (Yeshaya 54:9), "the waters of Noach", which refers to the mabul. The Zohar (parshas Noach) holds Noach partially responsible for the deluge, since he did not pray that the generation be saved. We dare not repeat this mistake. Our tefillos, especially communal ones, are our indispensable contribution to the war effort.

"When you draw near to the war, the Kohen says to the people: Shema Yisrael, today you are coming near to the battle against your enemies" (Devarim 20:2,3). Even if you have no merit except for krias Shma, you are worthy that Hashem should save you (Rashi). We must say Shema, with intensity, and on time, to merit Hashem's salvation. Extra chizuk is needed during a crisis which is taking place at a time of laxity, such as summer vacation.

The pesukim continue (20:3,4), "Do not be afraid of them for Hashem fights for you against your enemies to save you." R' Chaim states that only the realization that Hashem alone can save us can prevent fear. Ashur (the U.S.A.) will not save us, we will not ride (rely) on horses (planes) and we will not call our handiwork (the army) "our god" (Hoshea 14:4). We must pray with all our might for the safety of our soldiers, but we must realize that only Hashem can save us.

As the war drags on now, as it did then, R' Chaim's words (p. 460-61) continue to inspire. We dare not become accustomed to the dangerous situation and be lulled into a state of complacency. Moreover, the thousand who prayed did so near the front, so that their tefillos would be more intense and effective. In America we must try to feel part of the dangerous matzav. If we daven for those in danger, Hashem will have mercy and help them and us.

From afar it is difficult to feel their pain. "Moshe went out to his brothers and saw their burden" (Shemos 2:11). He focused his eyes and his heart to be distressed over them. Only then could he feel their pain, and, by joining in their plight, pray intensely and effectively.

One who pains himself together with the community merits seeing their consolation. But one who separates himself from the community will not see their consolation (Ta'anis 11a). One who separates himself and does not pray together with the community is included in this category (Pri Megadim Orach Chaim 574:6).

Indeed, concludes R' Chaim (p. 463,4), our suffering is a means to the end, that we should daven to Hashem Who desires our tefillos. Why did Hashem create the crisis at Yam Suf? Because he desired to hear their voices in prayer, as it says (Shir Hashirim 2:14) My dove [trapped at the sea as if] in the clefts of a rock, let Me hear your voice [in prayer]. (Sehmos Raba 21:5).

Each day, near the end of Hodu, we say, "Open your mouth wide" - with intense tefilla - "and I will fill it" (Tehillim 81:1). Once the purpose of your suffering, from Mitzrayim until today, is achieved by your tefillos, Hashem will answer them.

The previous pesukim in Hodu express our sentiments in this time of crisis. Hashem save, may the King answer us on the day we call. Save Your nation. Hashem is our help and our shield. Grant us our salvation. Redeem us for the sake of your kindness. And, as R' Chaim taught, may your kindness be upon us, as we prayed to You, thus achieving the purpose of the crisis.

Klal Yisrael's response to the abduction which precipitated the present crisis was breathtaking. We witnessed unity among previously fragmented groups. We saw faith and prayer across an incredibly wide spectrum. We felt the everlasting truth of the subsequent pasuk in Hodu: Fortunate - and praiseworthy [See Metzudos and Rashi, Tehilim 1:1] - is the nation that Hashem is their G-d.

As Klal Yisrael suffers in Eretz Yisrael, Jews worldwide must join in the suffering and pray to Hashem for salvation. Our tefillos must include faith and trust in Hashem, even when He does not accede to our prayers. May we merit the conclusion of Hodu "My heart will rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to Hashem for He has saved me".

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