Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kiddush Hashem – English translation

Here is an English translation of YAR’s beautiful letter. As I noted previously, he and his brother are our relatives, and I thank him for allowing me to post his letter here on Our Shiputzim.

Kiddush Hashem

by YAR

(Sunday, January 4, 2009) This evening, my brother, who serves as a career military rabbi, told me the following story, which took place this past Shabbat, when the IDF entered Gaza.

He was one of three rabbis who spent Shabbat on a base not too far away from the border, together with a few hundred soldiers who were preparing for the ground incursion. After spending the day delivering shiurim and motivational speeches, the rabbis wondered if they should perhaps travel with the soldiers from the base to the staging location, in order to boost the soldiers’ morale.

They deliberated and finally decided – with some hesitation – to go along with the soldiers.

Hoping to arrange a minchah prayer service, the rabbis took a Sefer Torah with them. When it was time to get off the bus, my brother asked someone to pass the Torah to him (in order to mitigate the halachic issue of bringing something into a karmelit). However, when he got off the bus, the Torah stayed behind. He looked back into the bus and saw that the soldiers were passing the Torah from hand to hand. Each soldier took the opportunity to embrace it tightly.

Afterwards, a group of soldiers approached two of the rabbis. (The bearded rabbis stood out; one was holding the Sefer Torah, and the other was wearing his talit.) The soldiers asked the rabbis for a blessing. Since giving blessings isn’t included in a military rabbi’s standard job description, my brother told the soldiers that he would recite the blessing he uses for his sons on Leil Shabbat. To his amazement, more and more soldiers began approaching him. (According to him, most of them were traditional – i.e. not outwardly observant. The bnei yeshivot seemed less interested in receiving a blessing from the rabbis.) Soon, so many soldiers had amassed that the rabbis could no longer give personal blessings.

Instead, they spread out a talit over the crowd’s heads – as is customary on Simchat Torah – and blessed everyone in unison.

With great emotion, several soldiers exclaimed that the rabbis’ presence gave them strength and boosted their spirits. One soldier even added that the rabbis’ blessing was more significant and meaningful for him than all the training sessions he had heard in the period leading up to the operation.

As the sun began to set, the long infantry columns set out towards the Strip. Meanwhile, the rabbis stood near the crossing with the Sefer Torah in their hands and called out words of encouragement and blessing to the soldiers. (“May Hashem be with you,” “may Hashem bless you,” and other phrases inspired by the Rambam’s writings on fear during a battle.) The soldiers, in turn, kissed the Sefer Torah as they marched along.

Ashreichem Yisrael! (How fortunate are you, O Israel!)

My brother wanted to hear what I thought about the story, in terms of the Shabbat laws. He and his colleagues had been reprimanded by the brigade rabbi for permitting themselves to take the Sefer Torah with them. In fact, he claimed that the entire trip was problematic. (For instance, he rejected their argument that they were in a similar position to a husband who travels with his wife to the hospital on Shabbat when she is about to give birth, in order to give her emotional support.)

The commanding rabbi’s words caused my brother to second guess himself. Although he was confident that he had acted in accordance with the worldview of IDF Chief Rabbi Rav Ronsky, he wasn’t sure if he had acted properly.

I immediately assured him that in my opinion, his behavior constitutes an incredible Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of Hashem’s Name).

How could anyone disagree?


  1. Thank you for the story. I actually cried and I Know it gave me Chizuk in these crazy times.

  2. I'm not an expert in the laws of Shabbos, however, I do think taking the Torah was a bit unnescesary.

    However, for them to go along seems like they did the right thing. Especially if you judge it on the outcome.

  3. May Hashem grant without reservation the B'rachot given by these 2 Tzadikim.

  4. Its possible to suggest that by giving chizuk to the soldiers and fortifying their relationship with God, you are potentially saving lives. Pikuach nefesh is a very important mitzvah and may warrant the shabbos violation.

  5. Thank you for this powerful and inspiring story. As a fellow rabbi I think it's fair to say that in retrospect we know that bringing the Torah did in fact give emotional support which strengthened the soldiers, something the brigade rabbi couldn't have known when he made his decision. There are a number of precedents to allowing violation of Shabbat in order to provide emotional support to someone in danger, such as turning on or off a light for a woman in labor so she can be more comfortable.

  6. Anonymous - I cried too.

    Eliezer - I think that having the Sefer Torah there is what made all the difference.

    Aaron K. - Amen!

    Max - I agree.

    Mark S. - Thank you for your instructive comment. I concur that bringing the Sefer Torah provided critical emotional support to the soldiers.

  7. Thanks for sharing this moving story.

  8. I've seen in a few mkorot that if we sin H' arranges that 'gam zu ltova'. Especially if our intentions were noble. Furethermore, H' tries to ensure that rightious ppl do not sin unnecesarily. As such we can say that the decision to travel to the camp and bring the safer torah may have been questionable, but the outcome was hashgacha...

  9. What a lovely letter, and thank you for posting it.

  10. Anonymous - I don't think anyone could possibly consider this to be anything even remotely resembling a "sin"!

    Ilana-Davita and JewWishes - I'm very grateful that the author allowed me to post his moving letter here.

  11. It's a shame that the IDF rabbinate doesn't require its chaplains to have the beginning of the eighth chapter of Masechet Sota committed to memory.
    Although they're hardly a "mashuach milchama," certainly those who bring the Torah along - זה מחנה הארון.

  12. Ultimately, it is conflicts such as this one that support why I remain a Reform Jew.

    What those rabbis did was in the spirit of the Law. Their actions gave much needed strength and support to these guys. The power of this story is palpable and shows such compassion. It is unfortunate that your brother was made to second-guess his intuition. Intuition that was correct!

    Thank you for sharing this experience.

  13. Eli - I'm sure you'll agree with me that this story shows that the chaplains in question are very familiar with the mishnayot you cited.

    Rivster - I guess different people take different things from this story. For me personally, this story is a wonderful affirmation of - and testament to - Orthodox Judaism's inherent beauty, but perhaps YMMV ("your mileage may vary").

  14. I got to this post through the link from Mom in Israel. What a beautiful, beautiful letter. It brings tears to my eyes.

  15. I knew Zev Roness when he was a young child as well as his parents and siblings. I still keep in touch with his mother. This story really touches my heart. To know someone who is such a tzadik is an honor. I want to wish him and all the soldiers the strength to get through these tough times. Thank you for posting this letter.

  16. JeremysMom - Thank you for your beautiful comment. They really are a very special family BA"H.

  17. Pikuach Nefesh for sure. It's an example of how only rabbis involved are qualified to pasken. L'havdil, it reminds me of my "rule" that no chutz laaretz rabbi has the qualifications to pasken about aliyah.

  18. Batya - Thanks for your comment. It seems like many people feel that this was indeed a case of pikuach nefesh.


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