The emotionally charged expression “Sharing the Burden” means different things in different contexts. In the context of the Jewish Day School tuition crisis conversation, sharing the burden means helping families find relief from the debilitating levels of tuition. In the presidential election season, sharing the burden is code for raising taxes. When it comes to serving in the IDF, sharing the burden refers to every segment of Israeli society participating in the army. But sharing the burden when it comes to the IDF means something more and is not just about Israelis.
Israel is not the Israeli homeland; it is the Jewish homeland. The law of return states that all Jews have the right to return to, to live in, and to be a citizen of Israel. Most remarkably, Israel feels a responsibility not only to its citizens and residents, but has exhibited extraordinary steps to help protect and rescue Jews everywhere including Ethiopia, the former Soviet Union, and Argentina. Do we doubt for a moment that if, God forbid, a Jewish community were in danger or at risk anywhere in the world, Israel would step up and do whatever necessary to protect them or us?
Israel belongs to all Jews, not only all Israelis, and all Jews, not only all Israelis, must share the burden of protecting her. The question, then, is what are diaspora Jews doing to share the burden? I am not naïve or foolish. I understand that there are different rights and different obligations for those who live in the land and are legal citizens of it than for those who live outside. Our share in the rights is not as great: we cannot vote, for example. And our share in the burden is obviously not as great, as we in the diaspora are not conscripted into the IDF. However, what is not debatable or deniable, it seems to me, is that we have at least some share of the burden.
The obligation of Jews outside of Israel to share the burden of protecting her is not only a philosophical or ideological statement, it is a halachic one. The Talmud tells us that in the circumstances of milchemes mitzvah, a mandated war, all must participate, even a bride and groom who were standing under their chupa. The Rambam defines a milchemes mitzvah as “war against the Seven Nations, war against Amalek, and assisting Israel in defending herself from the enemy who descends upon them.” (Hilchos Melachim 5:1) His last definition certainly seems like an apt description of Israel’s condition today. The halacha doesn’t differentiate between those that live in Israel or outside her boundaries. Rather, in the circumstance of defending Israel from her enemies, halacha demands that all Jews, wherever they may live, must share the burden and participate in protecting the people. Technically, we should all be drafted into service, no matter where we may live.
And so, while in Israel they debate the question of Yeshiva students exemptions from army service, I propose that we in the diaspora ask ourselves how can we do more towards fulfilling our share of the burden?
The first and foremost suggestion is to consider aliyah. There are legitimate and valid reasons not to make aliyah right now. But, there are no excuses not to consider, struggle with, and plan for a time that we can move to Israel, the Jewish homeland and be part of the Jewish destiny.
Secondly, though we lack a legal obligation to serve in the IDF, we don’t lack a moral obligation to support the members of the IDF in every possible way that we can. I hear regularly from those serving in the IDF whose units have needs that cannot be met by the Army itself. Partaking in a small share of the burden means generously supporting organizations like Friends of the IDF (www.fidf.org) whose motto is “Their job is to look after Israel, our job is to look after them.”
This weekend is our annual Shabbat Ha’Chayal in partnership with Friends of the IDF. Please consider supporting them directly, or through the Boca Raton based Helping Israel Fund who supports FIDF. Additionally, while we don’t protect soldiers in the field, we can seek to protect them with our heartfelt prayers by always thinking of them, each and every time we pray.
Thirdly, sharing the burden means advocating for Israel and seeking to influence America’s policy towards Israel on a regular basis and in meaningful ways. Minimally, being a member of AIPAC, (www.aipac.org) and hopefully being active and involved, positions AIPAC to successfully lobby on behalf of Israel’s interests and to be the strongest voice influencing the policies of the US-Israel relationship in the world.
There are countless other ways we can share the burden even from the diaspora, such as by investing in Israel through Israel Bonds (www.Israelbonds.org), supporting organizations that care for IDF veterans (www.zdvo.org), and much more.
As we mark Yom Ha’Zikaron and celebrate Yom Ha’atzmaut this week, let us neither forget nor neglect our obligation to share the burden and let us pledge to do more for Israel this year than ever before.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.