An Ode to Tzahal

Thursday, 23 April, 2015 - 2:39 pm

Gratitude to the soldiers of the IDF is appropriate all the time. But there are times designated specifically for that purpose. Every year around this time fallen soldiers are remembered and those currently serving, as well as veterans, should be acknowledged and thanked.

Why should I, an American citizen living in this country be thankful to soldiers protecting another land? The answer, I believe, lies in the uniqueness of the IDF as differentiated from every other army in the world.

Tzahal stands for Tzva Haganah L’Yisrael or Israel Defense Forces. Who or what are they defending? Israel of course. What is Israel? Is it a land? Is it a state? Is it a people?

To explain this one must first appreciate the origins of the name (the land of) Israel or (Eretz) Yisrael. Often a group of people are called by a name that is associated with the land in which they live. Sometimes a land is named for the people that inhabit it. In the case of Israel the name of the people and the name of the land is identical. The people are named Israel because of our Patriarch Jacob who was given the name Israel (Yisrael) by G-d. Subsequently the Jewish nation is usually referred to as Bnei Yisrael, Am Yisrael or just Yisrael. Therefore the land that was promised and then inhabited by Bnei Yisrael is called Eretz Yisrael.

To bring this back to the IDF. The defenders of Israel are not just defending the land or state but also, and most importantly, the people. As such that includes anyone that is a part of Bnei Yisrael or Am Yisrael. So even a Jew living outside of Eretz Yisrael (like myself) benefits from the defense of those soldiers. (Certainly this goes hand in hand with having a secure land of Israel, which is in the interest of Am Yisrael as well.)

The Rebbe always pointed out the defense of Yisrael must be two-pronged. Defending the physical security and defending the spiritual security. Having a spiritual focus and element to IDF service is also a morale booster to the soldiers themselves. To quote a letter from the Rebbe to an IDF officer, “This is the secret of our nation’s survival: although numerically we are “the least among the nations,” yet because we are G‑d’s chosen people, the people of the Book and the spirit, steadfast in our Jewishness, no physical force on earth can threaten our eternity. This is the secret of the might and power of the IDF—in the words of the Psalmist, “Israel, trust in G‑d; [and they are guaranteed that] He is their savior and protector.” Although one must of course do all that is necessary by natural means, ultimately it is the faith in the Almighty and in our uniqueness as His nation which brings victory, to the point that “a fear and terror shall befall them, by the greatness of Your arm they shall fall still as a stone”: none will dare to “lift hand or foot” against us, “for the fear of the Jews befell them”—the fear of those who are bound to their Jewishness.”

So I offer my humble gratitude to those who put their lives and safety on the line in defense of Am Yisrael and Eretz Yisrael. May we very soon merit the time when “G‑d blesses His people with peace” with the complete and final redemption.

Our condolences to Alex Brown and his family upon the passing of his father, Morton Brown.

Our condolences to Devorah Leah Binkowitz and her family upon the passing of her father.

A new novel authored by Dr. David Kaufmann – Assault in Forgotten Alley – is now available for purchase in print or e-book. For more info

Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi Mendel Rivkin

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