With My Brother in Pain

Dan Margalit, one of Israel’s most prominent media figures, began his July 4 column in Maariv, with a shocking accusation: “The youth Eliyahu Asheri was kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists, and only half the nation cried bitter tears. Because his parents are settlers and raised him in Itamar to a life of mitzvot and good deeds – because of his address — his blood was deemed less red.”

According to Margalit, a wide cross-section of the population view Chanan Barak and Pavel Slutsker, the two soldiers killed in the Palestinian attack on the IDF outpost at Kerem Shalom, and ybl”ch, Gilad Shalit, the soldier kidnapped in the same operation, “as the salt of the earth, the children of all of us, but not so Eliyahu Asheri.”

“Have we made a silent agreement with the Palestinian terrorists who want to kill Israeli citizens that they may do so, as long as they confine themselves to settlers?” asked Margalit.

Margalit’s indictment takes on even greater force because he writes as a man of the Left, as one who believes that Itamar should be dismantled and that Prime Minister Olmert’s convergence plan offers the best hope for the future. Yet he finds himself pouring out lamentations over the absence from Eliyahu Asheri’s levaya of simple Jews moved by a love of their fellow Jews.

We have lost the ability, Margalit claims, to separate between our political arguments, on the one hand, and the unity of the Jewish people, on the other hand. He goes so far to compare the present situation to the division of the Jewish people into two kingdoms during the First Temple period.

AS TORAH JEWS, we nod our heads at Margalit’s analysis, and at least console ourselves that his strictures do not apply to us. How could they? After all, for us the mutual responsibility of Jews for one another is not just a slogan, it is a religious principle.

And unlike our secular brethren, we can provide a coherent account of why every Jews counts, and why we bear responsibility for one another. At Sinai, we received the Torah as one entity – k’ish echad b’lev echad. Hashem entrusted us there with a national mission to which every single Jew has some unique contribution to make.

And indeed it is an easy enough matter to demonstrate the connection between a waning attachment to Torah and a decline in the sense of responsibility for one’s fellow Jews. A pure ethnic identity has proven incapable of transmission from one generation to another.

Still, we are perhaps a bit too quick to pat ourselves on the back and assure ourselves that nothing is lacking in our concern for our fellow Jews. Our well warranted concern with protecting ourselves and our children from the spiritual pollution around us, for instance, comes at a cost. For one thing, it can cause us to forget the bond we share with other Jews.

Times of war provide one good test of the strength of our connection to our fellow Jews. We tirelessly proclaim that our Torah learning and mitzvos protect the Jews of Eretz Yisrael no less than the might of the IDF. We will never convince those who do not share our perspective. But at the very least let us check to see whether our own actions attest to our sincere belief that learning and mitzvos can help determine the outcome.

Removing Hizbullah rockets from range of northern Israel may well entail a large Israeli ground offensive into Lebanon, with the call-up of thousands of reservists. If thousands of troops are still mired in Lebanon two weeks hence, or if the residents of the North are still stuck in bomb shelters, will yeshivos close down, as usual, for bein hazemanim? Will the increased intensity of our learning and davening be palpable? Will we be spending our time thinking of concrete ways to relieve the stress of families under fire – perhaps even inviting them into our homes?

THE THREE WEEKS BEGINNING ON 17 TAMMUZ and ending on Tisha B’Av would force us to contemplate the state of Jewish unity, even if Israel were not at war. The five tragedies that took place on 17 Tammuz all represent a different aspect of our lost connection to the Revelation at Sinai. That is most obvious with respect to Moshe Rabbeinu’s breaking of the Tablets of the Law, but it is true of all of the tragedies of the day.

Nebuchadnezzar breached the walls of Jerusalem on 17 Tammuz. Until then, Jerusalem had the halachic status of a private domain, and all its inhabitants were bound together by sharing a single common domain. The built up Jerusalem – Yerushalayim hab’nuya –a “city that fosters togetherness” (Tehillim 122:3).

With the breach of the walls, however, the city was transformed into a public domain, permitting free entry to one and all. Jerusalem’s residents became a collection of unconnected individuals. The last remnant of the unity of Sinai, when the entire nation accepted the Torah as “one person, with one heart,” was destroyed.

Divisions continue to plague us today – divisions between religious and non-religious, divisions between different types of religious Jews. Even if we were completely blameless for these divisions, we must still mourn their existence. For they remind us of how far we are removed from Sinai.

The mourning during the Three Weeks of our loss of connection to the unity we experienced at Sinai should lead us to fan whatever flickering embers of Jewish unity still exist.

Sometimes Hashem in His great chesed reminds us of our true situation and provides hints of what we must do. This past Shabbos I was told that Hizbullah has advanced rockets that can reach all the way to Beersheba. And in some perverse way the news made me happy, for it clarified the fact that we are all in this together. We all share one lifeboat.

This article originally appeared in Mishpacha magazine.

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4 Responses

  1. Marty Bluke says:

    If I’m not mistaken a similar question regarding the yeshivas came up during Operation Defensive Shield which was carried out during Nisan when the yeshivas are also off. Does anyone remember what happened then?

  2. Steve Brizel says:

    What a superb column. RYBS was fond of quoting Rambam in Hilcos Teshuvah 3:11 that one cannot solely work on one’s religious self improvement without simultaneously identifying with Klal Yisrael Bes Tzarah. Rambam views such an attitude as apikorsus and worthy of “ein lo chelek bolam habah.”

  3. Chareidi Leumi says:

    During the Yom Kippur war, Rav Gustman Zt”l ordered the bachurs to sleep with their shoes on and learn every waking moment. He says that it is unthinkable that soldiers will be uncomfortable and risking their lives while yeshiva boys are sitting in a comfortable beis midrash learning at their leisure. He also told them that if he was younger, he would join the war effort.

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