April 19, 2024
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From the Border: We Must Be More Selfish to Win

Delivery from Lev HaTorah.

“Catch-22” was right. I was wrong. You have to be crazy to voluntarily put yourself in real danger, like a war. It was very easy for me to proclaim that joining the IDF and “putting your life on the line” was a relatively obvious choice, when my greatest imaginable concern was just some kids chucking rocks at cars or terrorists walking around with kitchen knives. But being on the Lebanon border right now, with rockets flying over my head and the threat of Hezbollah and Hamas targeted attacks lurking all day, I honestly feel for the first time the physical danger that comes with being a soldier.

Although I could refuse to believe it, apparently this is what I signed up for. As a naturally logical decision maker, to me, living in Israel and doing my part to protect the country by joining in battle go hand-in-hand. But it seems that “Catch-22” has prevailed in the end, with author Joseph Heller succinctly summing up my thoughts every time I hear a boom in the sky: “… a concern for one’s own safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind.” The rational side to me gave way to the emotional side, instinctively wanting to run to protect myself first, and I related a bit to the feeling of fear of joining an army, despite the greater mission it plays.

The day after the Simchat Torah massacres, I started to see firsthand the might of Israel, with roads packed with citizens on their way back to reserves. For the first few days, I was the recipient of endless donations of food and supplies from all over the land. Then I felt the overseas support start to come in—care packages and even more supplies were shipped to us all the way from America. I’ve been comforted and overjoyed by all the messages I got from friends and family, who told me that they’re thinking about me and to stay safe, as well offering abundances of tefilot and mitzvot in the merit of the safety and victory of Israel in the war. These very impressive, heartfelt and selfless efforts were tangible from here.

I say that the actions from America are selfless, because, quite frankly, the actions of Israeli soldiers and support behind them are inherently selfish. If soldiers don’t go and defend the borders, or are not properly equipped and nourished to do so, then they and their families will lose their homes. As the saying in Israel goes, “אין ברירה”—there is no choice. The reality is that compared to Israelis, American contributions are much more selfless, because if ch”v Israel would theoretically fall, American Jews still have their homes and life, and could theoretically continue, unlike Israelis who have much more direct consequences.

However, I’m not nervous for Israel. It’s not a matter of if Israel will win this war, but rather when. And if not this war then a future war. There’s no shortage of Hashem’s promises in the Torah to the Jewish people that He will always be with us and Eretz Yisrael will always be for our inheritance. These assurances start in this week’s parsha with Avraham Avinu, continue with Moshe and the nation in the desert, and extend through the prophets, including those which have even been read in the past few weeks Haftarot. Although as a single soldier or as individuals we are intimidated at times, I know that our nation will prevail eternally in our land.

After my initial fears for my personal safety, I was surprised to realize that my next biggest fear was not for my friends and family’s physical safety back in Beit Shemesh or Har Bracha, or anywhere else in Israel. It was, rather, for the physical and spiritual safety of my friends and family back in America.

I’ve only been able to check the news and talk to friends in America sporadically over the past few weeks, and from one side I see endless instances of achdut and support for Israel, whether for ourselves or against counter protesters. Unfortunately, on the other side, I’ve seen and heard accounts of rising aggression and hostility towards Jews in their communities and on college campuses. While for some Jews this inspires them to express their support for Israel and their faith in Judaism even more earnestly, others are inclined to conceal it, for fear of harassment or physical safety. I even discovered that Jewish students at universities like Harvard said they feel safer in Israel while at war than their university.

Whether in Israel, America or other locations in the Diaspora, everyone’s hearts have been in the right place during this war. In recent weeks, so many people have reached out to me to ask what they can do, and how they can contribute in this situation. Many, moreover, have also shared with me that they feel useless and powerless as they follow this war from across the world. This is a feeling I’ve been relating to. Being in the line of missiles is the necessary risk of guarding the northern enemies, which influences the entire country’s safety. But as someone who is trying to protect the Jewish people here in the Land of Israel, I have the same hopeless feeling of being unable to guard those in the Diaspora from their enemies as well.

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 49a teaches that were it not for David studying Torah, Yoav would not have been able to succeed in war. And were it not for the military skills of Yoav, David would not have been able to study Torah. And while of course Americans learning, davening and doing mitzvot so we in Israel can fight is necessary and meritorious, soldiers don’t get the opportunity to do their part, and fight so that they in turn can learn Torah and do mitzvot. Additionally, the learners don’t receive the protection and safety from Hashem and the army as a result of their Torah, and instead must rely on American politicians. We as one nation and one people require a complete unification of us learners and fighters for Hashem to be able to grant us joint protection here in Israel.

The pasuk “הַזֹּרְעִים בְּדִמְעָה בְּרִנָּה יִקְצֹרו” is quoted by commanders sometimes: “They who sow in tears shall reap with songs of joy.” Meaning the more work a soldier puts into building a guard post for example, the better the post will be and the safer he will be. In any part of the army or in any part of life, there’s nothing like reaping the fruits of your labor, sweat and tears. What always gave me extra motivation as an active soldier were letters hung up from children from the nearby yishuvim we were guarding, like Kiryat Arba or Shiloh. It helped me keep my eyes open at late hours and be a little more alert for potential dangers. And the fruits of my labor that I was able to reap was seeing people living in potentially dangerous areas calmly, as a result of the seeds we as an army planted to guard them effectively.

From a logical perspective, it doesn’t make sense to help Israel as a Jew in America. The better the IDF is as a result of a donation, the more they can attack Hamas or Hezbollah, and consequently antisemitism will rise in America like it always does. So when we look at the root of why we do want to help Israel defend itself, we see that it’s ultimately because we know it’s our homeland where we want to live together safely forever. For those who truly want to help, let the soldiers gather with songs of joy, seeing the fruit of their labor, and enjoy the safety they and Hashem provide. Let’s make our contributions selfish, not selfless, not just helping Israelis, but all of us as Jews, in Israel, defeating terror from our surroundings.


Brian Racer is originally from Teaneck. He served in the IDF as a lone soldier in the Nahal Brigade and is currently a madrich at Yeshivat Lev HaTorah in Beit Shemesh.

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