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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

“All the Congregation of Bnei Yisrael” – for Yom Yerushalayim

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"Count all of the congregation of the Sons of Israel by their families by the houses of their fathers … from twenty years of age and above, all who go out to the army in Israel…" (Bamidbar 1:2-3). There is a stress in the p’sukim on "all."

This week we celebrate Yom Yerushalayim, on the 53rd anniversary of the unification of the beloved city. The liberation of the city was possible, with Divine Assistance, in the merit of the dedication of the soldiers of the IDF, who risked their lives (and some gave their lives) for the sake of the sanctification of His Name and the sanctity of the Land. The special welcome that the soldier-scholars of Merkaz Harav received from their mentor and teacher, Hagaon Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook z.t.l., when they returned from battle was the subject of jealousy (in a good way) from those students who did not merit being involved in that important mitzva.

The Draft Law (which some call the Exemption Law) is always on the national agenda (even when Coronavirus has relegated everything to a back seat). So we will now present snippets of the letter we wrote to a respected Jerusalem rabbi who wondered why we accept to Eretz Hemdah only those who have served in the IDF. Our mentor and teacher, Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli z.t.l., reviewed this letter:

Throughout the years that Bnei Yisrael had independence in its Land, it was specifically the Torah scholars who volunteered to protect Hashem’s nation. They were the chosen when Moshe told Yehoshua to find men to fight Amalek, as they knew how to hold both the "sword of the battle of Torah" and a literal sword. The ones exempted from battle were the "fearful and weak of heart" due to their sins (Sota 44a), and even they were exempt only from optional wars. This was true from the time of Moshe/Yehoshua to Pinchas to Bar Kochva, who led Rabbi Akiva’s students. During the two millennia of lost independence, we also became used to not having the opportunity to do mitzvot such as going out to a just war.

We believe that our choice young men should learn in advanced yeshivot for a significant amount of time, as the mitzva of Torah study has no limit and is the building block of one’s life. They should thereby obtain the most important Torah knowledge and especially the understanding that Torah must always be the main value and preoccupation no matter what one does in life.

After the Holocaust, when we lost a third of our nation and entire yeshivot and religious communities were destroyed, the State of Israel fulfilled the request of leading rabbis, including the leadership of the Dati Leumi community, to allow anyone learning in a fulltime yeshiva to defer the draft until he finished his studies. This step, which goes against normal Torah values, was a correct decision which enabled the rehabilitation of the Torah world. The fact that there are now more Torah students in Israel than ever before is a merit for the State of Israel. Just as everyone should dedicate years to Torah study, so he should discuss with his mentors when he should finish his intense period in the "tents of Torah" and then serve Hashem in the realm that fits his talents and interests. As a condition to beginning a daily routine outside of yeshiva, he should make up his obligation/privilege by serving in the army.

Today, after 33 years of raising top-notch Torah scholars, we can say with certainty that it is possible to grow in Torah and serve in the highest level Torah positions, while incorporating army service into one’s life.
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