Rabbi Eldad Zamir
Former shaliach in Cape Town (1997 -1998)
Currently Senior Instructor at the Nativ ’Giyur” program in the IDF
A Soldier’s Teshuva
A charming chassidic aphorism states that when you’re peeling onions and crying anyway, you might as well do teshuva while you’re at it.
This saying popped into my head a few days ago, as I was driving to the missile-stricken North. I was traveling with a friend, and like soldiers and, especially, reservists (who try to delay the inevitable and who have all the time in the world) everywhere, we stopped for a bit of refreshment. However, all the roadside kiosks and gas-station mini-stores were boarded up with signs explaining that it was “due to the matzav (the political and military situation).” In fact, as we continued northward, the traffic became thinner and thinner; we began to comprehend that this was serious business.
Suddenly, it occurred to me that this was for real; we were heading towards a dangerous place, and it was time to ensure that we appear on the correct lists in Hashem’s books. “Defending Yisrael from the hands of an enemy” is a major mitzvah, but nevertheless, a war is a war. There may be casualties, and who can vouch that my merits will protect me?
Now, it’s true that the Rambam (Sefer HaMitzvot – Lo Taaseh 58) counts the following as a negative mitzvah:
“That we were commanded not to fear enemies during wartime.”
Furthermore, the Meshech Chachma (Parshat Shoftim) adds that this lav’s punishment is that:
“The fugitive is deprived of his thigh.”
Still – even without fear of our enemies and despite emunah (deepseated belief) and bitachon (trust in Hashem) – it’s important to increase the hashgacha pratit (Divine Providence) rate and to use this as a chance to do teshuva. Of course, teshuva is always recommended – at any time and in any place – but somehow, one tends to procrastinate. As we know, even Yaakov Avinu, before meeting Esav, feared “that sin would prevail.” Therefore, it’s best to do teshuva.
The specific details of my hakarah, azivah, vidui, and kabalah la’atid (i.e. the four steps of the teshuva process) are not really for public consumption. I will note, however, that – among other challenges – I resolved to stop being apologetic about religion (to say nothing about being embarrassed, ala the 1950’s through the 1980’s) and, instead, to start directly and indirectly spreading shem shamayim (Hashem’s word) in public. (Our shlichuyot abroad are our version of Chabad’s “u’paratzta” (literally, “you should spread out”) custom. We finally internalized that we can – and must – engage in “missionary activities” within our nation and that the goal sanctifies many means to that end. )
For the benefit of IDF soldiers (myself among them), I implemented the Shulchan Aruch’s (Orach Chayim 8:11) words:
“The fundamental point of mitzvat talit katan is to wear it over one’s clothes, so that he will constantly see it and remember the mitzvot.”
Thus, against my nature and community, for the first time in my life, I occasionally walked around the base/position with my talit katan over my clothes (obviously, military considerations permitting).
Also, for the first time in my life, I urged other people to come daven and lay tefillin. The response was intoxicating, and so it’s no surprise that I pressed on and achieved all-out religious coercion. I was heading towards the showers at the main base – between a 24-hour long ambush and 48 hours of guarding tanks – when the company sergeant-major politely (reserve duty is a far cry from regular service!) asked me to take the latest present from the Friends of the IDF and leave it in the showers.
The package included shampoo, soap, toothpaste, shaving cream and razors. I spent the next few moments deliberating what to do with the last two items. Wasn’t I supposed to be doing teshuva? How could I then be the one to cause others to violate a Torah-level prohibition? I once again resolved that this was a time to increase Yisrael’s merits. There was no one around. (I had hoped to see a woman or a known non-Jew.) I wrapped up the contraband and respectfully put in into the nearest trash can.
It’s hard to get used to a reservist’s life, especially during wartime: the incessant and noisy bombardments, the oppressive heat, and sleeping with clothes, shoes and equipment on the ground. But worst of all are the millions of relentless and exasperating flies.
Yet teshuva can teach us why HKB”H created this heartless creature (which earns rounds of applause whenever it makes an entrance…). The fly can be compared to the yetzer hara (the evil inclination). We are in an endless war against both of them; despite all our efforts to drive them both off, they inevitably (and rather quickly) regroup and attack again. However, we must understand that we have no choice. The confrontation is eternal, but with the proper resolve, we’ll emerge victorious.