Sharing the Burden of Giving

israel Mar 28, 2024

Israeli society is embroiled in a passionate and crucial debate reverberating through the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. At its core lies the contentious issue of Charedi enlistment in the military—a topic with deep historical and ideological roots.

This conversation is not new; it echoes a historic meeting between Ben Gurion and the esteemed Torah sage, the Chazon Ish, in the 1950s. During this encounter, the Chazon Ish emphasized the importance of a physical army and a spiritual force dedicated to Torah study for the well-being of the Jewish people. Ben Gurion, steeped in the narratives of the Tanach, respected this perspective.

Over time, tensions have escalated as calls for the enlistment of religious yeshiva students have grown louder. The failure to find a mutually acceptable solution has created a significant divide within Israeli society, exacerbated by broader debates over the role and authority of the judiciary.

The petor—or different from the army—for males studying Torah was developed, while females were deferred to civil service and completely released from army obligations. 

In later years, this subject grew loader and loader as the segment that served in the army demanded that the religious yeshiva students should be drafted. 

In truth, the failure to find an amicable solution for the army services has been the rift in Israeli society.

This rift was exasperated by the judicial overhaul process and spiraled out of control with incessant riots for both sides of the Israeli reform system. 

At the core of the debate is whether the secular judicial system has the highest power in the land, even above the government itself.

The pro-judicial side wanted transparency so the government could choose judges and balance the judicial system's power.

The anti-judicial overhaul side claimed that this was usurping the power of overthrowing the secular government system for a religious government governed by Torah values. 

The riots were and are loud, ugly, and often filled with anger.

The events of Yom Kippur and October 7th marked a pivotal moment. With men called up for duty and soldiers rallying from abroad, Israel faced an urgent need for unity and strength. Beyond the battlefield, a spirit of generosity and solidarity blossomed, transcending religious and cultural barriers.

Israel was changed. Forever. 

There was an incredible outpouring of spirit. 

But spirit was not just on battlegrounds. The spirit of giving was palpable. People of all backgrounds were cooking, collecting money, and assisting in various ways for the greater cause of Israel at war. 

The sounds of prayer and Torah learning were and are sounded throughout the land. 

The power of prayer and the sound of Torah have kept us alive for all of these generations. 

In the book of Esther. After the wicked decree of Haman, which aimed to exterminate the entire Jewish people, we find that Esther instructs Mordechai and the entire Jewish people to fast for her for three days, day and night. 

Esther was also fasting. She then entered the royal chamber of Achashverosh to reverse the decree. 

She did not look attractive, yet she held on to prayer. In fact, Psalm 22 in Tehillim is about this brave encounter. 

She entered and she looked marvelous. Achashverosh extended his wand to Esther and asked “what do you want, until half of my kingdom is yours.” 

We are taught a powerful lesson in the most trying time of our history. Our destiny is not contingent on our external circumstances. They are completely in the hands of G-d. 

Esther did not dress up and put on the best makeup and perfumes. She came as is, with Emunah and self-sacrifice. 

But keep reading.

This is not a piece on how one segment of the population has a monopoly over G-d and destiny. 

It is a shared responsibility. 

Any and all Jews have the power of self-sacrifice and courage. Some more than others, yet we all share this essential Jewish truth. 

Mordechai is called “Mordechai Ha’yehudi.” The Talmud asks why he is called Ha’yehudi. He was not from the tribe of Judah; he was from the tribe of Benjamin. The Talmud answers that the sign of the Jewish people is Ha’yehudi—Judah, who had self-sacrifice for his brother Benjamin and one who rebels against any trace of idolatry. 

This brings us to today and now, and we are still discussing the enlistment. 

It may not be an amicable solution for both sides who feel violated and distant from each other. 

The army should welcome religious people and make it valuable for them to want to make this move. Meanwhile, the secular segment should be respected and loved without judgment. 

These sides' coming together allows dialogue of what is important to the other and how each side can accommodate. 

In nonviolent communication, both parties must express their needs and hear what is beyond what is said.

Both sides are saying we are the guardians of Israel, while both sides want to be understood, loved, and validated. 

At the core of this discussion is self-sacrifice for each other and our shared destiny as a nation. 

I recently had an in-depth chat with a lovely young Golani soldier stationed in Avivim, a town on the Lebanese border that I frequented often and in which a winery of a friend was recently destroyed.

His name is Or- light. 

He and his friends are aware of the depth of their actions and the time of the hour. They recognize that the government and political jargon are damaging to the war efforts and their focus. Generals, higher-ups, and foot soldiers all agree that this type of divisive talk must stop. 

Before coming to solutions, we must first be able to communicate non-violently. 

Both sides want full participation and do not want to be taken advantage of. 

In any conflict, both sides must listen and give 100 percent.

In truth, we are not going to resolve this conflict.

Yet you and I can be the ones to ask ourselves, “Am I giving and part of the solutions, or am I indifferent and self-serving?” And can we impart that feeling to others? 

Giving means spiritually and physically, either through fighting, cooking, counseling, or, yes, praying and learning. 

Are we fully doing what we can only do since we are in that exact place? Can we step up to the plate and actualize our Mordechai Ha’yehudi and Esther the queen? 

Now is the time to dig deep and self-reflect on what I am doing for the good of the collective.

Kabbalah teaches that we constantly choose to receive for the self vs. the will to give. The will to receive for the self alone, the "what's in it for me," is ego-centered and thereby divisive, while the will to give is Divinely like and inclusive.

Are we on the front lines and choosing to remain in the ego consciousness, or are we contributing to the greater good of the collective land of Israel and the people of Israel and for the greater good of the world, which is steeped in the divisive tit for tat war?

A sense of solidarity and purpose lingered as Or and I parted ways. In our shared commitment to Israel's future, we recognized that while the road ahead may be fraught with challenges and complexities, our individual efforts can still make a difference, no matter how small. With hearts open to empathy and a willingness to give what we can, we embrace the journey ahead, united in our resolve to contribute to a more inclusive and harmonious Israeli society, one step at a time.

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