Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin
This week’s Torah reading is Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9), meaning “judges” and, as its name suggests, includes the precepts and responsibilities regarding setting up a just society, government, and army. I guess it can be said that this week’s Torah portion is the unofficial Torah portion of the Israel Defense Forces!
“When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you see their horses and chariots — and that they are more numerous than you — you shall not fear them. The Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt is with you. When you go out to war the Priest shall say to the people: ‘Hear O Israel! You are going out to do battle against your enemies! Let your heart not worry, do not panic, and do not be broken – for the Lord your God goes out with you to fight your enemies.”
The Torah is referring to a war in which the Jewish people must fight to defend and protect their land. Our soldiers in the IDF need to know this passage, and they need to know it well. What an encouraging passage to our young men and women who serve to defend the Promised Land! In fact, it is only logical that God is behind them: if God is the one who gave us this land – He will surely ensure that we are victorious in order that we remain on it! Indeed, since our return to our ancestral homeland just over 60 years ago – He hasn’t let us down once.
Although in the biblical era almost all males between 20 and 50 years old were expected to serve in the army, there were some interesting exceptions and exemptions. These exceptions were for one who recently built a new house but had not yet had the chance to inaugurate it, one who planted a vineyard but had not yet enjoyed its fruits, and one who betrothed a woman but had not yet consummated the marriage. Such people were exempt from service.
There was yet another exemption: one who was scared. Such a person wasn’t required to go to the battlefield either. The reason the Torah exempted someone from army service who was scared was for fear that he would influence or otherwise rub off on others. The Torah didn’t want anything –or anyone- bringing down the morale of the others. Fear is contagious. It had to be meticulously contained. Those who would be scared certainly wouldn’t be able to give the battle their full attention. These soldiers were sent home.
The State of Israel finds itself in a rough neighborhood. We have Hamas terrorists, Hezbollah missiles, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and much more that can certainly keep us “scared”. However, we must have no fear. We must recall the Torah’s –God’s- promise of Divine protection. Just like fear is contagious — so is faith, hope, and optimism. As they say, smile, and the world smiles along with you. Those of us who know scripture and the Divine promise of protection must share it with others, and encourage others to stand strong. Unity strengthens us. Faith strengthens us. And with God and the IDF on our side, there really is little to fear.
Let us conclude with the traditional prayer for the success of our soldiers:
May He who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He bless the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces and all the security services who guard our country, and the cities of our Lord, from the border of Lebanon to the Egyptian desert, and from the Mediterranean Sea to the Arava, whether they be on land, air, or sea. May the Almighty destroy our enemies who rise up against us, and may the Holy One, blessed be He, preserve them and save them from every all trouble, danger, and distress. May He send blessing and success in all their endeavors. And let us say Amen!
Shabbat Shalom from Israel!
Rabbi Ari Enkin