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The Gap Is Wide – but We Can Bridge It; Perspective By Rabbi Moshe Hauer

Since Simchas Torah, our people have been actively engaged in an existential battle against an enemy intent on destroying us. Hundreds of Israel’s precious soldiers have given their lives, and thousands have been wounded in defense of our land and its inhabitants, changing the lives of their families forever. Thousands of Israelis have been living for months with the unimaginable tension of having a child, spouse, parent, or sibling on the front lines as they await the dreaded knock on the door.

There is an unbridgeable gap between them and those of us — the vast majority of both the Israeli chareidi population and of American Jewry — who have not shared that experience and who cannot possibly imagine it. A dear friend lost his son, a reservist who was exempt from service as a father of six but nevertheless went voluntarily to the front lines. Thinking of his child who literally gave his life for the Jewish People and of the wife and children who proudly encouraged him and sent him into battle, my friend cannot bear hearing others bandy about the term “mesirus nefesh” to describe things like traveling three hours to a wedding or staying after an event to clean up. Those of us far from the front lines really have no clue what true mesirus nefesh is.

We need to recognize that this is currently the deepest division in Klal Yisrael, the disparity in lived experience between those bearing the direct burden of the war and those removed from it. This gap is far more substantive than which side we take in the philosophical and policy debates over the pros and cons of granting draft exemptions to yeshivah bochurim. And it is a space that needs to be filled not by debates in which we argue our own side but by pure and unadulterated empathy, nesius b’ol im chaveiro, trying our hardest to understand the other’s experience.

We may love to hock endlessly about the ethics of who should bear and share the burden (and privilege) of army service, how one can maintain frum life in the army environment, whether the army really wants and needs chareidim, the protective value of limud Torah, and the difference between exclusive dedication to Torah study and the blending of study and service. These are perennially recurring questions that, when debated, tend to exacerbate hurt and emotional distance, as each side raises its voice to highlight the power of its arguments and contributions and the weaknesses of the other.

The gap in experience, on the other hand, is addressed by listening and trying our best to understand the sacrifices and challenges of the other, and the more we engage in that, the closer we become to each other, and the more we move toward healing our divisions and bringing both comfort and strength to those who have given Klal Yisrael so much.

This approach was used by Rav Zvi Pesach Frank of Yerushalayim in a letter he wrote on the 24th of Nissan, 1948, to the chiefs of staff of the pre-state Jewish defense forces, days before the Declaration and War of Independence. The letter’s purpose was to request an exemption for yeshivah bochurim and makes the familiar argument that they should be allowed and encouraged to continue to study Torah as a critical spiritual element of the defense of the country. But Rav Zvi Pesach began the letter not by arguing the merits of his side, of the contribution of Torah, but with an expression of profound appreciation, empathy, and admiration for the dedication and sacrifices of those fighting in the trenches:

“With a recognition of gratitude and wishes of blessing to all who rise up with dedication and self-sacrifice and stand firm as a rock opposite the enemies of the Jewish People… these remnants of Israel have adopted a spirit of zeal and bravery, confronting the enemies and fighting them back. Every heart grieves and is torn and impassioned over their innocent spilled blood that flows through our land.”

A similar sentiment was expressed by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz to the talmidim of Yeshivas Mir on Erev Succos 1973, as the Yom Kippur War raged: “Chazal teach us that those who were killed at Lod will be in a class of their own in the World to Come because they sacrificed their lives for the safety of the Jewish People (Bava Basra 10b). I say the same regarding those who are giving their lives to save us: No one in the world can come close to their greatness. Our obligation to daven for them is unlimited.”

As the philosophical and policy debates over who should bear and share the burden of army service continue to rage and divide Klal Yisrael, we must figure out how to approach the gap in lived experience in the spirit of the words of Rav Zvi Pesach and Rav Chaim. Here is an idea.

We are approaching a day when thousands will grieve for those whose spilled blood is flowing through our land. Every year, the 4th or 5th of Iyar is observed as Israel’s Memorial Day, Yom Hazikaron, dedicated to remembering today’s holy harugei Lod, the soldiers who gave their lives for Eretz Yisrael. It is a day of intense mourning for the families and communities of those who serve, but it has not been seriously observed beyond those circles, either in Israel or the United States.

And while we may instinctively classify observance of Yom Hazikaron as a nationalistic or Zionist experience and therefore put it into that same hock of perennially recurring hashkafic debates that divide us, perhaps this year, when so many are grieving their raw and fresh losses, we can pull it out of that realm and place it where it belongs: as an opportunity for pure and unadulterated empathy, nesius b’ol im chaveiro, as we try our hardest to understand the experience of those who have sacrificed their lives for us, for Klal Yisrael, whom no one in the world can approach in their greatness.

So many soldiers have given their lives this year that we struggle to remember that each of these kedoshim represents a world. They all deserve to be remembered individually by having their story told and by having Torah learned and Tefillos said in their memory. Each and every one of their families deserves to know that their sacrifice is recognized as having been on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael.

This Yom Hazikaron, let us — the community that does not serve in the army — bridge the gap of experience and join the families of the fallen in recalling and appreciating their profound sacrifice. We at the OU plan to ensure that on that day there will be a broad and deep expression of profound ahavas Yisrael and nesius b’ol im chaveiro that crosses the ocean and the gap of experience, remembering each and every soldier uniquely in one of our shuls or batei midrash; and bringing uplift to their neshamos, strength and comfort to their families, and hopefully bringing the geulah a bit closer.

Please act now to include your shul or beis medrash in this opportunity by undertaking to memorialize one of the kedoshim. Please reach out to [email protected] or register at to participate in this effort.

This article was written with the sincere tefillah to HaKadosh Baruch Hu that its words generate unity and healing and not chas v’shalom argument and division. Dear readers, there is little in our fractured world that is “shaveh l’chol nevesh” and orks for everyone. Iif you find these words worthy, please act upon them yourselves and do not use them to question, challenge, or rebuke others.

Rabbi Moshe Hauer is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.

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14 Responses

  1. I continue to be appalled by the authors and commentators who make statements or ask questions similar to above: “how one can maintain frum life in the army environment”. There are twice as many Daati Leumi religious in Eretz Hakodesh as there are Chareidim. The vast majority of Daati Leumi men managed to learn, serve with distinction and are Torah jews by any measure. While I can support the notion that anyone that wants to learn full time should be allowed to, how look at the list of Kippa wearing G-d fearing Neshomos that were Moser Nefesh for Klal Yisroel and even think this “can’t stay frum in army” is nothing more than a poor excuse.

  2. With all due respect to Rabbi Hauer,

    You are correct that people need to have more empathy for our brothers in Eretz Yisroel, but why do you keep referring to “hock” and debates about sharing the burden, protective power of Torah study, etc etc. Why do you assert that “debating” these subjects just deepens the divide and awakens the pain of those suffering?

    Are you not aware of the words of our great gedolim that there is a war on the Torah in Eretz Yisroel? Hagaon Rav Moshe Hiller Hirsch said: “They hate us, they hate religion, they hate the Torah, they hate B’nei Torah. See here for full speech:

    Hagaon Rav Eliezer Piltz, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Tifrach, said: “They are once again turbulent spirits, spirits of the Satan that are renewed intermittently, with the aim and purpose of tearing the people of Israel from the covenant of the Torah, by ceasing the study of Torah in the holy yeshivas. And the hearts of fathers and mothers are anxious and worry in fear of what is to come. Lest G-d raise their plot in their hands, and the covenant of the forefathers of the sons will be forgotten, G-d.”

    You say that we “hock” about how one can maintain frum life in the army environment. Do you not agree with the Gadol Hador of the sefardim in Eretz Yisroel?
    Rav Moshe Tzadka, Rosh Yeshiva Porat Yosef: “We should all know, that only the Torah protects us from all our enemies, the guys who go to the yeshiva are the ones who protect the soldiers.”

    “Even those guys who are not so strong or half-hearted, they finally come to pray, come to learn a little, and if they go for its sake, God forbid, they will see forbidden things there, R.L., who can withstand this thing, who can?!”

    “It is absolutely forbidden to send them to the army! Even those who are not so dedicated! If they go, what will happen?? They will see terrible prohibited things!! And it’s horrible!!”

    The Moetzes Gedolei Hatorah of America issued a statement protesting the Israeli govts recent move to cancel draft deferments to bochurim. They said:

    We have merited tens of thousands of Torah scholars – in whose merit the Jewish Nation exists – as well as a large population of G-d-fearing Jews, who fulfill the Will of Hashem, and through them all our people are protected from our enemies.

    Now, the authorities in the Holy Land have cancelled deferrals and exemptions from army service for those scholars, attacking the Torah and its Giver, and because of these anti-religious motivations they are endangering all Jews in this time of war.

    Yes, our gedolim have always stressed the need to be nosei b’ol im chaveiro, and many Yidden are. A woman I know has stopped eating ice cream ever since the war broke out. Purim parties were cancelled, trips cancelled, simchos toned down, tehillim is said by tens of thousands of frum Yidden across the nation. Of course, we need to strengthen ourselves, but do we need to “understand” the “other side”?

    Do we need to doubt the holy words of our gedolim who say with one voice that there is a war on Torah in Eretz Yisroel?

    Are you suggesting that we classify the words of the Mashgiach, Harav Don Segal Shlita, that “the burden is only being carried by the bnei Torah” as mere “hock and debate”?

    You say: “Those of us far from the front lines really have no clue what true mesirus nefesh is.” With these words you trivialize and denigrate thousands of bnei Torah in Eretz Yisroel who sacrifice, yes sacrifice, to sit and learn. Many have no money for basic necessities, many struggle with marrying off kids, many struggle with anti-torah brothers, but the greatest mesiras nefesh is to sit and learn Hashem’s holy Torah.

    May you be blessed with health, happiness, and shallom.

  3. Our Gedolim were against making a specific memorial day for the Holocaust since we have Tisha Baav as a national mourning day for all tragic events that have transpired over 2 Millenia. Why does Rabbi Hauer wish to upend that and make this an exception to the rule based on his personal feeling?

  4. Very passionate and all Yeshivos should continue to Daven as they are all doing with special Yemei Tefila as our Gedolim enact.
    But please remember it’s not the position of our Gedolim to join in a day which was created with a totally unreligious approach as a preparation to Yom Atzmaut

  5. I truly believe that if we would show proper empathy and appreciation for their sacrifice, and acknowledge what a great מצוה and זכות they have, many of them wouldn’t care so much to see us join them. They’ll understand that we’re also part of the war effort. It’s that denial of reality that gets them really wondering about us…

  6. This is an excellent suggestion to use Yom HaZikaron in a positive way to foster achdus among Klal Yisroel using the vehicle of Nosei b’Ol im Chaveiro.

    Perhaps we can extend this from an annual event to a nightly event as well by having as many people as possible “adopt” a soldier to learn for during regular night seder and thereby fulfill the words of the Medrash in Parshas Mattos that says Elef Lamateh, Elef LaMateh” – that for every thousand soldiers sent into battle, another thousand remained behind to daven and learn for those sent into battle. This would be a nearly daily expression of Nosei b”ol im Chavero championed by the Medrash.

  7. To AML…….and with what compromise and/or lieniencies do the dati leumi serve? If I remember correctly there are dati leumi that go serve in netzach yehuda because the level of observance they want is not avaliable in the other brigades. The question is not “can’t stay frum” the question is “how do we grow”. The army does not offer or want to offer that, so to compare those from a philosphy of the army being kodesh kodashim and therefore compromises will be made to those that don’t believe that compromises should be made is not an accurate comparrison or argument.

  8. To all commenters here who object joining the Yom Hazikaron:
    No-one is saying that we should officially make it a remembrances day. Of course not. But that doesn’t mean we cannot show some empathy, respect, sorrow and awe to those individuals who are inevitably going to remember and relive their sacrifice on this day.
    Please understand. This is NOT something that should come from “Gedolim”, it should come from one’s basic intellect and decency. It’s that פשוט. A ‘Gadol’ is limited in what he can say. If a Gadol makes just an off-the-cuff comment how great is the sacrifice of the soldiers and that we have הכרת הטוב – that doesn’t alert anyone to anything. and if he makes an official deliberate statement, many will wrongly say that he’s being week on the איסור of serving in the army and it’s okay for a week bochur to join etc. The Gadol is begging you to use your own brain and don’t involve him is such basic matters.

  9. bla bla bla yeah that sounds modern orthodox. True Bnei Torah know that we follow the words of the gedolei Yisroel, we do not observe Yom Hazikaron as it is in Nissan when we are not allowed to mourn. As well as the fact that it’s a holiday made by atheist Jews who hated Torah and mitzvos.

  10. To fulfill the will of Hashem requires both bitachon and hishtadlus.
    To believe that only Torah study protects soldiers and civilians is bitachon. But what of hishtadlus?

    At best, one can say that disproportionate hishtadlus is made in protecting klal Yisrael

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