A Fallen Soldier’s Prayer for Peace

Modified: Transcription of text in Hebrew added. – 30-Sep-2006.(Hat tip to the One Family Fund. May they be put out of business soon!)

Benaya Rein Hy”d fell toward the end of the war on Saturday night (yahrtzeit: 19 Av). He and four others were part of a unit that went in battle to rescue wounded soldiers and soldiers in distress. 24 hours a day, often without sleep or pause, he went into battles, braving heavy fire.

Sunday, the very day after he was killed, his sister went into labor and had a son. Shiv’ah ended, the family went to the cemetery, and from there to the beris of the new grandson, a new Benaya. An emotional roller-coaster. Finally, it was time to go through Benaya’s belongings, and among the things he often took into war they found the following tefillah:

יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ ה’ אֱ-לוֹקֵנוּ וְאֱ-לוֹקֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ,
שֶׁתְּבָתֵּל מִלְחָמוֹת וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָמִים מִן הָעוֹלָם,
וְתַּמְשִׁיךְ שָׁלוֹם גָדוֹל וְנִפְלָא בָּעוֹלָם,
וְ”לֹֽא־יִשָּׂא גוֹי אֶל־גּוֹי חֶרֶב וְלֹֽא־יִלְמְדוּ עוֹד מִלְחָמָֽה,”
רַק יַכִּירוּ וְיֵדְעוּ כָּל יוֹשְׁבֵי תֵּבֵל הָאֶמֶת לַאֲמִתּוֹ
אֲשֶׁר לֹא בָּאנוּ לְזֶה הָעוֹלָם
בִּשְׁבִיל רִיב וּמַחְלֹקֶת חַס ושָׁלוֹם,
וְלֹא בִּשְׁבִיל שִׂנְאָה וְקִנְאָה
וְקַטֵגוֹר וּשְׁפִיכוּת דָמִים חַס ושָׁלוֹם,
רַק בָּאנוּ לָעוֹלָם כְּדֵי לְהַכִּיר
וְלָדַעַת אוֹתְךָ יִתְבָּרַךְ

Translation:

May if be the Will before You, Hashem our G-d and the G-d of our fathers,
That You anull war and bloodshed from the world,
And spread out great and awe-inspiring peace in the world ,
And “No longer will one nation life against another a sword, and they will not again learn war”,
Just they will “recognize and know, all who live on the earth” “the truth for truthfulness”
That we didn’t come to this world
for fighting and dispute chas veshalom,
and not for hatred and jealousy
and accusations and bloodshed chas veshalom,
we only came to this world in order to recognize
and know You, may You be blessed.

I put in quotes those phrases that I recognized were quotes. I also refrained from translating the idiom “chas veshalom”, as I can only think of the longer “[may Hashem grant] pity and peace”, which would distract from the flow of ideas more than an idiom does.

I would love to see shuls say this Yehi Ratzon this Yom Kippur, perhaps immediately after the Yizkor said for those who fell defending Israel or as victims of terror. Or to be included with your shul’s prayers for the State of Israel and its soldiers, if they say any. Please send a copy to your rav with this suggestion.

Coronating G-d, part II — Pragmatics

I was recently discussing the ideas in my essay “Coronating G-d“. In it I utilized the Vilna Gaon’s distinction between a melekh (king) and a mosheil. A melekh rules with the support of his people, a mosheil rules by strength. I suggested that the reason why accepting Hashem as Melekh is such a central part of Rosh haShanah is that a Melekh has more room for mercy. By accepting Him as king ourselves, we enter the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah without the need for Hashem to impose His Will despite us.The person I was talking to asked what should have been an obvious question. “Okay, so how do we go about doing that?” And I surprised myself by realizing I didn’t know. How can I have ever said Shema, a tefillah described as qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim (accepting the yoke of [the One in] heaven), and not know what it is I’m supposed to be doing?

So, I put some thought to the subject.

Looking at Shema, we start by joining the community of Jewish (Shema Yisrael), and then proclaiming that despite our disparate perceptions of Him, Hashem is one and unique. This is an awareness of G-d’s uniqueness and power. True of a melekh or a mosheil, although here we’re actively acknowledging it. We accept the fact of Hashem’s rule.

And then, before the list of pragmatic mitzvos for keeping this message an active part of our day, we are told to “Love Hashem with all your heart (kol levavekha), all your soul, and all your resources.” Willingly bowing to that rule. This is the step of which we’re speaking, the shift from realizing Hashem is Mosheil to accepting Him as our Melekh.

Chazal comment (and quoted by Rashi) perhaps on the word “kol”, perhaps on the use of the two-veis word for heart “levavekha” rather than “libekha”, that this is with both of our inclinations — our good inclination and our evil one.

… veyishtachavu lefanekha kol haberu’im,
veyei’asu kulam agudah achas la’asos Retzonekh beleivav shaleim,
kemo sheyadanu, H’ E-lokeinu, shehashalton/shehashilton lefanekha…

… and all those who were created will bow before you, and they will all be made into a single union to do Your Will with a whole heart. For as we know, Hashem our G-d, that the rule/scepter is before You…

- Amidah for Yamim Nora’im

Bowing before Hashem because we acknowledge His rule is obvious. However, note again that this global union of worship is “with the whole heart”, a two-veis heart. Both inclinations. This to is because we know that He rules. But how does that cause us to engage our baser inclinations?

On Shabbos we say, “Yismekhu beMalkhusekha shomerei Shabbos veqor’ei oneg… — They shall rejoice in Your Kingship, those who keep Shabbos and call it pleasure..” It’s not enough to keep Shabbos. To be happily a subject of Hashem as King, we must find it an oneg, a pleasure.

It would seem that qabbalas ol malkhus Shamayim involves accepting the idea that following His plan is what is best for you life. Not just fulfilling the mitzvos, but seeking to do so beleivav shaleim and with qeri’as oneg.

How does one do it? I must start with the first mitzvah that I don’t do and think I can. And with the first mitzvah I do begrudgingly and search the sources and the experiences it brings me to find its beauty. Then the second…

That is working toward the day when our teshuvah is rewarded, and “vehayah Hashem leMelekh al kol ha’aretz — Hashem will be Melekh over the whole world.” Bimheirah beyameinu, amein!

Frum or Erlich

I highly recommend the essay “Frum or Erlich” by Dr. Yitzchok Levine. Teaser:

The American Orthodox Jewish community of today is drastically different from the community that existed in America 75 years ago. Orthodox Judaism circa 1930 was struggling to maintain its numbers due to mass defections from religious observance.

In these communities one increasingly hears such statements as, “He is so frum.” “That family is very frum; they don’t have or do this or that.” On the other hand, far too often one hears strong criticism of frum people. The source of this criticism is not limited to non-observant Jews or to non-Jews. One also hears condemnation of the so-called frum from Jews who are committed to Torah and Mitzvos. “He is supposedly so frum, and yet he does such and such.” Could it be that frumkeit is not the end all and be all of Yiddishkeit?

Years ago the highest compliment that one could give to a Jew was not that he or she is frum, but that he or she is ehrlich. The term frum is perhaps best translated as “religious.” More often than not it focuses on the external aspects of observance. It describes a person whose outward appearance and public actions apparently demonstrate a commitment to religious observance. The categorization of someone as being ehrlich, literally “honest,” implies that this person is not only committed to the externalities of religious observance, but also is concerned about how his or her religious observance impacts upon others. Frumkeit is often primarily concerned only with the mitzvos bein odom laShem (between man and G-d), whereas ehrlichkeit, while certainly concerned with bein odom laShem, also focuses on bein odom l’odom (those mitzvos that govern inter-personal relationships.)

Sadly, there are people who are frum who are not particularly ehrlich. Let me relate a personal experience that I had about a year ago. …

A Model of Ehrlichkeit, Reb Yisroel Salanter, ZT”L
The question arises, “If being frum is not the same as being ehrlich, then what does it mean to be ehrlich?” Perhaps the best way to get insight into what ehrlich behavior entails is by studying the actions of those who excelled in such behavior. …

Also of interest is his Daily RYS, a daily thought (often in the form of an anecdote) from Rav Yisrael Salanter. While touring his site, you may want to also see Prof. Yitzchok Levine’s essay “Are You Partially Responsible for the Shevach Scandal?“. I only agree with part of it, though. Here’s the part most relevant to the topics discussed in this blog:

There is another aspect of this scandal that is disturbing. How could a person who appears to be a Frum Jew do such a thing? Such actions are totally inconsistent with being an observant Jew. Yet, it happened, and it has happened before. I doubt that any of us will be surprised if it happens again.

Such an action, aside from being completely against Halacha, is totally dishonest. An honest person would never do such a thing. Therefore, it is most important that we instill honesty in our youngsters. Unfortunately, I do not see this being consciously done as part of the educational process that our children undergo.

I am convinced that every yeshiva should have an honor system. When people hear this, they often react with, “Good idea, but it will never work.” When I point out that I teach at a secular college that has had an honor system since 1908, they reply, “Well, it may work at your school, but is will not work in yeshivas.” I can only wonder why not. Is it because the culture of “dishonesty” when it comes to academics is so pervasive amongst our yeshiva students? If so, then we are in real trouble, because being dishonest in one area often spills over to being dishonest in other areas.

The slogan of the Stevens Institute of Technology Honor System is, “The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he would never be found out.” Of course, we know that there will come a time when whatever we do will be found out.

Elul is here. Rosh Hashanah is not far away!

The Simplicity of the Shofar

(Hat tip to my daughter Shifra, who made this point the centerpiece of her speech at her bas mitzvah celebration.)Halachically, a shofar must be a simple instrument. If it has a crack or anything that might shape the note, it is invalid. A cow’s horn, which is layered and therefore not a shofar but a shefarferet, is not usable for the mitzvah. It has no keys, no valves, no strings to tune.And yet from an aggadic perspective, the sound of the shofar is quite complex:

  1. We associate the shofar with crying. We blow 100 sounds because Sisera’s mother cried 100 times when learning her son (off to war against the Jews) was killed and would not return. There is a dispute whether the broken sound required by the Torah is more like yelulei yalal (uneven wailing) or genunei ganach (sobbing), so we blow both the teru’ah and the shevarim, as well as the two together as a pair.
  2. The shofar is also a royal sound. “With trumpets and the sound of a shofar, call out before the King. The mishnah describes Hashem as saying, “Call before Me with the blast of the Shofar – to show that you accept of Me as your King.” In the same way they blow trumpets to announce that the king or queen is entering the room, we blow Shofar on Rosh haShanah to announce a new year of Hashem’s rule.
  3. The shofar is used by the army, to alert the troops that it’s time to break camp and go off to war. Similarly, in the desert, they also blew shofar to tell everyone it was time to move each time the Benei Yisrael broke camp. Rav Hirsch explains the shofar of Rosh haShanah similarly. It is a warning to get ready, to stop what we were doing all last year and do something new and better this one.
  4. Then there are the historical reminicences associated with the shofar:
    • The horn of the ram that Avraham found when told not to sacrifice Yitzchaq at the aqeidah.
    • The sound of the shofar heard during the revelation at Mount Sinai.
  5. These might be additional meanings, or they might derive from the previous ones.

We are required that shofar be something that looks simple at first, and yet what it says to us is complicated. A shofar expresses many different emotions at once. If you just look at it without spending real time, you miss the whole thing!

This in itself is an important lesson of the shofar, one critical to prioritizing our lives and to teshuvah: If we rush through life, everything looks trivial. It is only when we take the time to look deeper do we see the real beauty within.

(In addtion Shifra linked this notion to learning a similar lesson while volunteering every Shabbos to help a mother with two autistic sons. Autistic people seem like they are in their own worlds, not feeling much, not relating to the rest of us. Only if you take the time to see through the shell to the child trapped inside can you get to know them and the beauty of their souls.)

Something you can do to help the situation

בעון נבלות פה צרות רבות וגזירות קשות מתחדשות ובחורי שונאי ישראל מתים יתומים ואלמנות צועקין ואינן נענין שנא’ (ישעיהו ט) על כן על בחוריו לא ישמח ה’

For the sin of vulgar speech many evils and harsh decrees are made anew, and the choicest of … (euphamism ellided) Israel die, and orphans and widows cry and are not answered. As it says, “Therefore over His firstborn Hashem will not rejoice…” (Yeshaiah 9:16).

- Shabbos 33a

Nivul peh, crude speech, calling others derogatory names. Often done without thought or even realizing, but can cause irreperable harm to our unity as a people, and therefore to our protection from the A-lmighty.

(Hat tip to Yehoshua Kahn’s daugher Ayelet.)