by Dovid Landesman
Last week, my wife and I had the distinct pleasure of attending the induction ceremony of the Netzach Yehudah [a.k.a. Nachal Chareidi] brigade. Our youngest son is the brigade’s sergeant major and as such, was in charge of the event. This was no little boy playing soldier. My wife and I witnessed a mature, trained and dedicated chayal, cognizant of his responsibilities as an NCO and a ben-Torah, leading those under his command with the authority and presence that is a manifestation of the interdependence of those roles. We also attended in loco parentis for a young man from the US who is living with us and was one of the inductees.
The ceremony itself was typical of the IDF’s disdain for pomp and order; I can only imagine how your typical American drill sergeants would have reacted seeing the inability of the soldiers to march in even – let alone perfect – groups. Nonetheless, I was greatly moved and there were a number of elements that gave me much to reflect upon.
The main speaker was the commander of the I.D.F.’s Kfir division; Netzach Yehudah is a unit within that group. Although he was not wearing a kippah, the officer spoke of Netzach as being a glorious link in the chain beginning with Yehoshua, continuing with the shoftim and melachim, and on to the Chashmonaim and partisans. What makes Netzach unique, he continued, is the public statement that each chayal makes; am Yisrael’s real protection is a combination of safra and sayfa – the book and the sword. It is the brigade’s responsibility, through its service and the manner in which it conducts itself, to demonstrate these qualities to the rest of the army.
He was followed on the podium by Reb Yoel Schwartz, a talmid of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and one of the visionaries responsible for the creation of Netzach. Reb Yoel reiterated the special responsibility that these young men carried on their shoulders and concluded by advising them how he was convinced that Yehoshua bin Nun was looking down from Heaven and deriving enormous nachas from these soldiers who continued in the path he had charted. The ceremony ended with the soldiers singing ha-Tikvah followed by Ani Ma’amin.
For the ceremony, the brigade was divided into three platoons; each platoon facing their sergeant major and their immediate commanding officer. The officer of the group directly in front of me had a beard, peyot behind his ears and tzitzit with techelet hanging from his belt. Later, my son introduced him as Second Lieutenant M, one of the five young men recently dismissed from an IDF officer training course; he had quietly left an event because there were women singing. Ultimately, he was reaccepted into the training course and, after graduation, rejoined Netzach as an officer. I doubt whether he would be considered a chareidi by the Ichud ha-Kehillot, but wonder if his actions and deportment are in anyway deficient of a chareid l’dvar Hashem? I wish that some of the spokesmen and leaders of “charedi” Judaism would have taken advantage of the opportunity to spend some time with these young men. Not only might it change their perspective; it would provide enormous chizuk for these soldiers who deserve public respect and support. Just imagine how they would have felt had other major roshei yeshiva come to give them their berachot that they have hatzlachah.
To travel to the ceremony, I took the Jerusalem light rail. As we left the station near the old Sha’arei Tzedek hospital on Jaffa Road, an elderly woman frantically tried to attract the attention of the driver by pressing the emergency button. It turned out that when boarding the train, she had inadvertently left her walker on the platform. The driver patiently explained that he was not permitted to open the doors between stations and she would therefore have to wait until he arrived at the next stop, disembark, and take another train back to retrieve her walker. She responded that someone would probably take the walker in the meantime and she was helpless without it. The train was stopped at a light and despite the regulations, the driver left his compartment and used his emergency key to open the door to allow the woman to exit. In the meantime, a young man of perhaps fifteen or sixteen and, judging by his dress, a student in a Bnei Akiva high school, came running up to the door and told the driver that he would run back and get the walker. He suggested that the woman exit at the next station and he would meet her there. The driver thanked him and told him that he would hold the train at the next station until he returned.
I have no doubt that a student in a yeshiva or cheder would have done the same thing. Every student of Torah is imbued with the fundamental concept of v’asita hayashar vehatov and all are descendents of Avraham – the paradigm of chesed. But, I wish that the isolationists among us, afraid to allow their children to be exposed to young men whose kippot are not made from black velvet, would consider how beautiful are the tents of all the children of Yaakov.
A final incident, really the cherry on top! On motzaei Pesach, one of my daughters was suffering greatly from an abscessed wisdom tooth. Because of Yom Tov, all of the dentists were off and none of the emergency clinics were open. The hospital emergency room could offer her nothing more than a pain killer and her regular dentist was gone on vacation. My mechutan heard about the problem and asked his neighbor, a prominent Jerusalem oral surgeon, if he knew of any place where she might get treatment in the morning. The dentist answered that she should come into his office immediately, which meant at 11:00 P.M. When she arrived, he took x-rays and then removed the tooth. My daughter was extremely grateful, but her gratitude was transformed into open admiration when the dentist categorically refused any payment. He explained that he did not work on chol ha-Moed because he really did not need the income. He was always willing to deal with emergencies; however, he felt that there were absolutely no grounds to accept compensation for these services. My son-in-law argued that he was entitled halachically to payment, but the doctor stood his ground, adding that he was more than satisfied by the s’char of having performed a ma’aseh chesed for another human being.
Makes me wonder if we recognize some of the real chareidim.
Rabbi Dovid Landesman resides in Ramat Beit Shemesh and teaches at Tifferet Yerushalayim. He is the author of THERE ARE NO BASKETBALL COURTS IN HEAVEN and FOOD FOR THOUGHT – NO HECHSHER REQUIRED.