Parashat Mishpatim: Army Drafts

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US Soldier

Parshat Mishpatim 23:20

“Behold, I am sending an angel to protect you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared for you.”

After we have completed reading and learning the parshiot which deal with the exodus from Egypt, and in the light of currents events, I wrote the following short story – zecher le’ye’tzi’at Mitzrayim – to commemorate the exodus.

The phone rang in the nearly empty, topsy-turvy home of the Levines.

Mrs. Beth Levine, who was busy packing boxes, nervously let the wrapping cord fall from her hand as she ran to answer the phone. Too late. The light on the phone’s base signaled that there was a recorded message.

She pushed the “listen” button and a heard a familiar voice.

Hello, this is Miri from Nefesh b’Neshama. I have two messages for you; a happy one and the other a bit disappointing. The movers will be coming to your home tomorrow morning, Monday, at exactly 7:00 AM, so please be ready. And the not so happy news. I know how much you wanted the three ABC seats by the window, because of your names Al, Beth and Carol, plus the adjoining D seat in the middle section for David, on this Thursday’s flight. But because you are a family of four, you were assigned the four DEFG seats in the middle section. In any event, the thrill of going on aliya will certainly overshadow any such minor irritations. Aliya tovah!

“Miri was so right,” Mrs. Levine thought to herself. The thrill of a dream-come-true leaves no room for such mundane issues as seating on a plane; although it would have been nice to see the coastline of Israel drawing closer as the “wings of eagles” brought us home.

Al and Beth Levine had decided to come on aliya five years ago, when Carol was ten and David had his bar-mitzva. However, it took five years for Al to find a suitable replacement in his law firm; in addition, selling the house for the right price was a protracted process. But thank God, the local shul bought it as the community home for whichever rabbi would be serving at the time.

In the interim, the Levines kept up with current events in Israel, as well as developments in the Middle East, and kept their dream alive.

It was spring of 2007 and tensions were high. Iran, patron of the murderous Hezbollah and Hamas gangs, continued to develop nuclear capacity. The United Nations Security Council passed a limited economic boycott resolution against Iran, and in an angry knee-jerk response, the Iranians decreased their daily production of oil and the world price jumped to $100 a barrel! As if this was not bad enough, Venezuela’s leftist president signed a ten-year agreement to sell its oil exclusively to China, which brought the price of gas at the pump to $5 a gallon, with no sign that this would be the end price.

But none of this could detract from their decision to come on aliya. David is to begin Bar Ilan University right after the holidays and Carol is registered in the Ulpan in Kiryat Arba. David was the crisis person in the decision. Youngsters of his age in Israel are drafted into the IDF, but David was promised that he would be permitted to finish his BA uninterrupted by army service.

With this issue behind them, there was really nothing to prevent the Levines from taking the step of a lifetime.

The one annoying factor in their aliya was the attitude of some relatives and friends, who, perhaps for reasons of jealousy or personal weakness, were very critical of their aliya plans.

“What’s the rush?”

“Wait until the children finish school!”

“You’re now at your peak earning power!”

“Is this the time to leave?”

On the other hand, the Rabbi was wonderful. On Shabbat he spoke from the pulpit on the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael. He praised the Levines, saying how they would be missed in the many areas of their community involvement. Al for giving up his Sundays in order to coach the shul’s little league team; Beth for being the Shabbat kiddush coordinator; Carol for helping her mother with the kiddushes and David for managing the various teen activities of the shul.

But of course, the Rabbi was careful to point out that the mitzva of living in Eretz Yisrael was in the category of a four-cornered garment, which although not mandatory to wear, if one should do so he would be required to attach to it tzitzit and merit a mitzva. So too, one is not required to “go up to the land” until the Moshiach comes, but if one should do so he merits a great mitzvah.

To their skeptical friends and relatives, Al would respond that there have been too many warnings of late that the time had come to go home. So if not now, then when?

The war in Iraq was not going well, and the President had just sent an additional 21,000 troops in light of the British decision to “bring the boys home”. American soldiers had been sent to the Philippines to help in their war against Al Qaeda, and Colombia was requesting a U.S. military presence in their on-going war against the insurgency. To complicate matters, Mexico had just elected a leftist president, who spoke of an anti-United States axis composed of Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia. The strain on the military which complained of dwindling human resources was an issue, but Congress opposed reinstating the draft.

The following day, Monday, true to Miri’s message, the movers arrived at 7:00 AM sharp to take all the worldly possessions of the Levine family to the packing company and from there to Israel.

Packing was an unforgettable experience.

Beth Levine stood wondering how they “succeeded” in 20 years of marriage to accumulate so much “stuff”. They began in the attic, which served as a nostalgic trip into the past. Many memories were evoked as they rummaged through their possessions: the less-than-modest wedding gown which Mrs. Levine did not want her Carol to see, a 78 RPM record player, Al’s catcher’s mitt, which he could not part with, old photographs from the Pine View and Pioneer Hotels and summer camps. How these experiences had sweetened with time.

But life goes on, and with a mental scissors they will be severed in the light of the new life in the Promised Land.

Eventually, much was given away, more was thrown out, and the necessary articles were now packed in cartons to be shipped off. In the packing process, the Levines concluded that Moshe Rabbeinu was so right in ordering the Jews to leave with only a few matzot, for if they would have been permitted to bring their possessions we would still be in Mitzrayim.

Ten in the morning and the movers had finished about half the work.

A Western Union messenger suddenly arrived with a telegram for Mr. David Levine.

Al signed for it, opened the envelope and read aloud.


You are hereby informed that The President of the United States of America and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces, and Congress in emergency session, have passed the Selective Service Act of 2007, to be enacted immediately.

You are ordered to report on May 14, 2007 to the Induction Center at 1948 Independence Ave. for induction into the armed services for a period of not less than three years. You will be sent to Paris Island, Georgia, to commence basic training as a proud United States Marine.

Your passport will be on hold until the completion of your military service.

Good luck and God speed to you in the service of your country.

Al handed the telegram to Beth as the phone suddenly rang. He got there too late to answer, but the light on the phone’s base indicated that there was a recorded message.

Al pushed the “listen” button and heard a familiar voice.

Hello, this is Miri again from Nefesh b’Neshama. Good news. Due to last minute cancellations we have been able to get for you the three ABC seats near the window and the D in the middle section. Derech Tze’lay’cha.

Parshat Mishpatim 23:20

“Behold, I am sending an angel to protect you on the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared for you.”

How huge are the actions of Hashem – the greatest scriptwriter ever, who constantly surprises us with unimaginable solutions.

The great institutions of Bavel are about to have their new day. They will be restored by young yir’ey shamayim (God fearing) men, eager to have the voice of Torah resound loud and clear again in those places where the Talmud was written.

These young men will look very similar. In fact, they will be identically dressed in the uniforms of the United States Army or Marine Corps. For instead of being in the Yeshivot like Shalavim, Torat Shraga, or HaKotel, they will be drafted when the United States Congress reinstates Selective Service and restores the voice of Torah in the cities of Sura, Pumbedita and Mata Mechasia-the city of Rav Ashi.

Many people will claim that it will never happen. Perhaps! But in view of the objectives the U.S. has taken upon itself in the war against terrorism, the army is already spread too thin and reenlistment is much lower than expected.

This, in addition to the call for more democratization in the sacrifices being made by the lower middle and lower class citizens, will drive the President to reinstate the draft. I recall the great difficulties I had in receiving permission to leave the States in 1962, when the draft was in affect and I was already 24 years old, a rabbi and married.

Now, one might guess that I am suggesting Aliya to Eretz Yisrael as an alternative; but what kind of a solution is that, for here too one must serve in the army. True! But what a difference it makes when your battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel, is a Yeshiva bocher who doesn’t shave during the Sefira period; who understands that the regulation time of half an hour for Shacharit is not enough; who makes sure that what you and he eat is kosher; who will not let you violate the Shabbat unless it is halachically permitted, when the lieutenant colonel, who is unapproachable for a regular soldier, davens with you and even blesses you with birkat kohanim; and when your flab turns into muscle and you get calloused feet as the ground you march on are the hills of Yehuda and Shomron, as did your forefathers 2000 years before you in the defense of Eretz HaKodesh.

Now it might be argued that there is always the 4D escape route which exempts divinity students from military service. But I would think that if the next war will be perceived as a religious war between Islam and the Western world’s religions, it would be reasonable to assume that the ones who would be drafted first would be those who are religiously orientated. In which case, being a Yeshiva student would make one all the more eligible for service.

A member in my bet knesset (synagogue) told me of his first day in the US army in 1957. The first night before going to sleep, the sergeant called out to all the men, “Be very careful with your personal belongings. For all you know you might be sleeping near a Jew”.

I recall a poem we learned in high school. It described two soldiers in the First World War who were shooting at each other. One was a soldier in the German army and the other a soldier in the Russian army – both were Jews. The stanzas revert from the thoughts of one soldier to the other. The German Jew asks Hashem why he has to serve the Kaiser, and the Russian Jew asks Hashem why he has to serve the Czar.

Both take careful aim and mortally wound each other. With their waning strength, they both crawl out to meet the man who is taking away his life. When they are very close, one says, “Shema Yisrael”. The other says, “Hashem Elokeinu”. And then gripping each other’s arms both call out, “Hashem Echad”.

So tonight, go into your son’s bedroom and look at him sleeping so peacefully.

Don’t forget to pull up the blankets. You wouldn’t want him to catch cold.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.