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When Shall We Answer the Request for Forgiveness?

The IDF insists on blind obedience and compliance with orders even if they run counter to the soldier's beliefs. It has turned soldiers into unfeeling slaves with no right to exercise objective thought and no right to remain true to their principles.
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1. To the Aid of Our Brothers
2. Relating to the Army
3. On a Practical Level

To the Aid of Our Brothers
Some people ask: "Are we not brothers after all? Is it really proper to say that we will not forget and we will not forgive those responsible for expelling Jews from their homes, destroying the settlements, and handing over of a portion of the land of Israel to non-Jews?"

Answer: To the contrary. When one brother expels another from his home and abandons him without providing the slightest living arrangement, the offense is doubly severe. The fact that one behaves in such a manner toward his own brother is precisely what makes the act so atrocious. How is it possible to forgive such a person?

However, if the expelling brother provides his expelled brother the necessary solutions, if he conciliates him like a penitent who regrets having transgressed and accepts upon himself not to sin again, if he repairs his wrong and returns that which he stole, if he appeases the victim to the point where his grief and suffering leave him and his brightness returns, if he does all of this, there is room for considering granting the requested forgiveness.

If a person sees one of his brothers expelling another, what should his response be? Should he say to himself, "Seeing that the aggressor is my brother, I will not get involved and I will not become angered at him"? Or should he come to the aid of his expellee brother and try to save him from the aggressor, even though the aggressor is also his brother?

If a person sees his brother attack his father, what should his response be? Should he say, "That is my brother and I love him," or should he come to the aid of his father? Even if the injurious brother acts inadvertently, the witnessing brother must aid the victim. Let us not blur things, for it is our brothers who have been assaulted, not strangers.

Relating to the Army
For many generations of exile, we, the Jewish people, dreamed of the redemption and of the day when we would have an army to protect us from our adversaries. And behold, we have finally merited this. To serve in the IDF and defend the Jewish people from its enemies is a very important Torah commandment. Defending the Jewish people from its enemies constitutes a "Milchemet Mitzvah" (obligatory war) for which "all go forth, even a groom from his chamber and a bride from her canopy" (Sotah 8:7). Indeed, when our enemies rise up against us, a person fulfills a very important Torah obligation by being in the army and defending the nation of Israel.

However, we must keep in mind that though defending Israel is a very important obligation, it is really a post factum duty. That is, the ideal situation is that we achieve victory "neither by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). When we are forced to do so, we fulfill a very important Torah commandment by injuring and killing our enemies, and defeating them through military force. Yet, such action takes its toll upon the soul. The Sages teach us that King David did not merit building the Temple because he spilled much blood. The fact that all of the wars he waged were permitted according to Jewish law did not avail him.

In light of this, there is room for reassessing the way we relate to the army. Should we present the army to our youth as a task of first degree importance (after Torah, of course, which comes before all else) and encourage whoever is capable and fit for military service to enlist? Or, should we take the position that because the Torah obligation to wage war and employ physical force is not the ideal, we should not make military service a top priority (i.e., if there is no shortage of soldiers, we would do better to turn our attention to fields in areas such as the humanities and social sciences which determine the spiritual image of the nation)? We are not talking about evading obligatory service, but making do with obligatory service alone and not aspiring to long-term service.

Another consideration which will effect how we relate to the army is the IDF's participation in the expulsion of Jews and the destruction of Jewish settlements in Gush Katif - an act which is absolutely forbidden according to the Torah. How can we encourage our youth to serve more than the minimum when there is no guarantee that they will not again be forced to carry out such an offense?

There was a time when serving in the military contributed to our spiritual dignity and valor, traits which we lacked in the exile. This , however, belongs to the distant past. It is now apparent that there are military men exilic worldviews and yeshiva students with progressive, confident worldviews.

Furthermore, the army insists on blind obedience and compliance with orders even where they run counter to the beliefs of the soldiers. It has turned soldiers into unfeeling slaves with no right to exercise their own objective thought and no right to remain true to their beliefs (those who saw for themselves the faces of the expellers know that I am not exaggerating). The army destroys freedom and fosters a minimum-thought approach, not only amongst ordinary soldiers but also amongst officers and senior officers.

On a Practical Level
Therefore, the religious youth must lay down a solid foundation of faith before enlisting in the army. He must fill his heart with fear of Heaven and love for God, and, it follows, love for the Torah and the land of Israel. He must build up inner strength, become "strong as a lion," and "bold as a leopard" to do the will of our father Who is in heaven (see Avot 5:20). He must be humble of himself yet proud of his path, prepared to bear the banner of Torah and Mitzvot with honor.

A religious soldier must be capable of holding up under pressure, and he must be uncompromising when it comes to fulfilling even minor Torah commandments. Indeed, soldiers have all the more reason to be zealous and cautious in their observance, for the Torah warns us that "when you go out to encamp against your enemies, then keep yourself from every wicked thing . . . your camp shall be holy (Deuteronomy 23:10,15). In the same way that a religious soldier must exert himself when fulfilling the commandment to engage in war (i.e., by striving to excel in training exercises and being as good a soldier as possible), so must he apply himself in the performance of all Torah commandments, safeguarding the Sabbath, adhering to dietary laws, and preserving the required level of modesty.

This, then, is what the ideal Jewish soldier should look like. We are not talking about taking advantage of personal rights for the sake of personal comfort; we are talking about recognizing that this is how every Israeli soldier should behave in the army. And it goes without saying that one must be careful not to violate the principal Torah obligation with regard to army service: defending the land of Israel and refusing to take part, Heaven forbid, in any act which involves forfeiting parts of the land of Israel to non-Jews.

In light of the above, the IDF unit most suited for Torah observance is the "Nachal Charedi." Second is the "Hesder" program which allows soldiers to maintain a proper level of Torah observance. A "Hesder" soldier, however, must be adamant in his desire to keep the commandments, and he must be capable of standing up under pressure.

One who wishes to serve in the army outside of these two frameworks must strengthen himself in the manner noted above. He must be "strong as a lion" and "bold as a leopard" to do the will of our father Who is in heaven. However, experience shows that even those who start out fully determined that they will be able to resist the current and keep the commandments eventually lose their inner strength and become swept up in the atmosphere of the army. Therefore, I would not advise even a person who has a strong character and is well-grounded in his faith to serve in a general military framework for any extended period of time.

Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed
Rosh Yeshiva of the Bet El Yeshiva, was the head of the Yesha rabbis board and rabbi of Bet-El, founder and head of Arutz 7.
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