Yom Hazikaron Address by Rabbi Kenneth Brander to the Yeshiva University student body in Lamport Auditorium, April 22, 2015.
I have no idea of what it means to be a Chayal.
To go through the training to become a combat soldier in the IDF.
To trek 45 miles in less than 24 hours while carrying 60 lbs of gear.
To climb the steepest part of the Hermon while supporting a stretcher is something that is beyond my grasp.
I have no comprehension of what it is like to be taught to breathe and shoot at targets 2 football fields away but cautioned that precision is essential in order to insure, not mission objectives, but mission success that the civilian standing adjacent to the enemy combatant is protected, for we are all created b’zlem Elokim (in the image of God).
Yet I am a parent of a soldier, and I know how it feels to be a parent of a soldier. As I stand here tonight I know exactly where my sons, daughter and daughters in law are but only have some vague idea where Yosef, our chayal son, is.
When young people in this country tell their parents that they are going out for the night – it is understood that they are hanging with friends, attending a party, participating in a shiur or enjoying some food at a trendy restaurant.
But when your child is a chayal going out for the night can be to patrol through the streets of Shechem, to stand on the borders of Gaza, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, or to lay in wait in the high grass providing protection against those who wish to cut down our people.
When your children do not return your text or call back – you simply assume they are busy with friends, in the library working on a paper, studying for a test, perhaps in the Beit Midrash, maybe on a date, or most likely not in the mood to talk to one of their nudgy parents.
But when your son is a chayal and he doesn’t respond to your texts or you don’t hear from him for a week you assume he is somewhere that having a cell phone on his person, even turned off, is dangerous.
It is Rav Lichtenstein Zt”l who wrote:
“The yeshivah prescribes military service as a means to an end. That end is the enrichment of personal and communal spiritual life, the realization of that great moral and religious vision whose fulfilment is our national destiny; and everything else (even a parents piece of mind) is wholly subservient.”
It is this mindset that inspired our son to enter the army and was at the core of the conversations that he had with Rav Lichtenstein and yibadal bein chayim l’chayim his son Rav Moshe as he formed his decision to serve.
But I also know that there are no guarantees in life and I wonder on a daily basis, is my army son warm on the hilltop that he is patrolling or in the pillbox in which he is stationed, is he today in harms way or please God have a boring day.
One of the students from Yeshivat Kol Torah approached Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach to seek permission to travel to the Galil while yeshiva was in session, in order to pray at the graves of the righteous.
After listening, Rav Shlomo Zalman replied, “To pray at the graves of the righteous, you don’t need to go to the Galil. Go instead to Har Herzl, to the graves of the soldiers who died in sanctification of God’s name.”
Since the day he began his service, we sleep with a phone next to our pillow – and our sleep, except for the days he is on re’gilah –(time off from the army), is never completely restful.
When Yosef stops a car or enters a home to check for terrorists do the inhabitants know that this soldier is just a boy, with a heart of a poet, who is deeply committed to the protection of his people but pained for the privacy he has invaded?
When will the world understand that our son, along with so many others in his unit who wear the bigdei kehunah (priestly garments) of TZAHAL are the grandchildren of those who wore the Garments of Tyranny, the striped pajamas of Auschwitz?
Rav Gustman the former Dayan of Vilna and the great Rosh Yeshiva of Rechaviya entered the shiva home on Rechov Ben Maimon of the Auman family. Inside was Professor Auman, his wife Esther Schlesinger Auman ob”m and their pregnant daughter in law; all sitting shiva for Shlomo their son and husband killed in battle during the first Lebanon war.
Rav Gustman approached the mourners and said “I am sure that you don’t know this, but I had a son named Meir. He was a beautiful child. He was taken by the Nazis from my arms and executed. I escaped. I later bartered my child’s shoes so that we would have food, but I was never able to eat the food — I gave it away to others. My Meir is a kadosh — he is holy — he and all the six million who perished are holy.”
Rav Gustman then added: “I will tell you what is transpiring now in the Heavens. My Meir is welcoming your Shlomo into the minyan of martrys and is saying to him ‘I died because I am a Jew — but I wasn’t able to save anyone else. But you — Shlomo, you died defending the Jewish People and the Land of Israel.’ My Meir is a kadosh, he is holy — but your Shlomo is the Shaliach Zibbur – the leader in that holy, heavenly minyan.”
Rav Gustman continued: “I never had the opportunity to sit shiva for my Meir; let me stay here with you just a little longer and sit with you.”
Paraphrasing the Gemara in Makot Professor Aumann replied, “I thought I could never be comforted, but Rebbe, you have comforted me, Rebbe, you have comforted me.”
Let me conclude in this auditorium, which Rabbi Soloveitchik would fill for special events with those who wished to hear his pearls of Torah, the Rov’s thoughts on the holiness of the flag of Medinat Yisrael.
“If you ask me, how do I, a Talmudic Jew, look upon the flag of the State of Israel, and has it any halachic value? – I would answer plainly. I do not hold at all with the magical attraction of a flag or of similar symbolic ceremonies. Judaism negates ritual connected with physical things. Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of a law in the Shulchan Aruch to the effect that: “One who has been killed by non-Jews is buried in his clothes, so that his blood may be seen and avenged, as it is written: ‘I will hold (the gentile) innocent, but not in regard to the blood which they have shed’ (Yoel 4:21).” In other words, the clothes of the Jew acquire certain sanctity when spattered with the blood of a martyr. How much more is this so of the blue and white flag, which has been immersed in the blood of thousands of young Jews who fell in the War of Independence defending the country and the population. It has a spark of sanctity that flows from devotion and self-sacrifice. We are all enjoined to honor the flag and treat it with respect.” (Rabbi Soloveitchik, Five Addresses, p.139).
Tonight we commemorate the loss of so many Kedoshim and we celebrate Medinat Yisrael which Rav Kook recognized even in 1935:
מדינת ישראל, יסוד כסא ד’ בעולם
The State of Israel [will be] is the foundation for the throne of God in this world
I am in awe of all the YU students who are here tonight – who served Medinat Yisrael in a way that may have frightened their parents but definitely made them and all of us very proud.
Rabbi Kenneth Brander is Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.