Of all the aspects of the threatened draft of Eretz Yisrael’s bnei Torah, one must be addressed before all others. Before we consider whether there is any way to explain our worldview to secular Israelis in terms they can understand and accept, there is a far more important question to ponder: Do we, shlomei emunei Yisrael, accept and understand it? Do we perceive why this is evil? Do we appreciate just how great a danger this poses to our nation?
The unfortunate answer, to a very large extent, is that we do not. There is a huge, perhaps unprecedented misunderstanding about this issue. This is evident simply from the conversations one has and hears, as well as from numerous other developments. A sampling:
We must attain clarity on what is at stake and what precisely we believe. Let us begin with that on which both sides agree. Former Mossad head Ephraim Halevy recently stated that whileIran is “a formidable enemy,” it does not represent “an existential threat” toIsrael. Rather, it is “the growing haredi radicalization” in Israeli society that “poses a greater threat than … Ahmadinejad.”
Let us ignore for now, if we can, the breathtaking demonization of fellow Jews that statement represents. The man is right — Ahmadinejad is not the problem. There is, indeed, a threat different not only in degree but in kind, an existential one, facing the Jews inIsrael, but it is not that slithering Persian snake and his mad pursuit of a nuclear device with which to bring about his dream of a world without Jews. It is there, of course, that the meeting of minds with Halevy ends, and a gaping chasm wider than all the universe opens between him and us.
The great catchphrase that has all the wise men, all the ostensible nonconformists and original thinkers, shaking their heads and clucking their tongues in unison, is “share the burden.” By this they mean the burden of defending our nation, with the implicit assumption that we can all agree on who it is that poses the threat against which we must defend.
We dissent. The crux of the matter is not who protects our nation, but who threatens it. And now, stand warned: I will pronounce what is for many Jews an insufferable heresy. True, we live today in such a wonderfully open, pluralistic Jewish world, in which “Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai” and the “multiplicity of voices” strewn across every Talmudic folio are invoked endlessly to permit the airing of the most outrageous of views in Judaism’s name. As a result, there’s very little anymore that’s still regarded as blasphemous, but I’ll now say something that remains so: Nevuchadnetzar couldn’t destroy the Beis HaMikdash, nor can Ahmadinejad destroy Eretz Yisrael. Only Jews, those most spiritually potent of creatures, whose “feet are planted on earth, but whose heads reach the highest heavens,” can.
There, I said it. Actually, I didn’t say it — Rav Chaim Volozhiner did, in his Nefesh HaChaim (1:4). But please understand: In speaking thus, Rav Chaim, the Vilna Gaon’s prime disciple, was stating an axiomatic truth of the Judaism of the ages. He was expressing a principle so fundamental to the Judaic worldview that it leaps from the pages of every sefer in Tanach and every masechta in Shas: Spiritual reality underlies — indeed, gives rise to — physical reality and thus is the far more real of the two, with the latter mirroring the former.
Welcome to Jewish reality — also known as reality, period — where spiritual causes bring about material effects, both positive and negative; where the “action” all takes place in the spiritual realms, with the ensuing this-worldly results, substantive as they seem to the human eye, being mere afterthoughts. Our deeds, ours alone, activate spiritual forces on high that, in turn, determine the course of human affairs.
Whatever your views may be on the particular issue of the Israeli draft, if you identify as a genuinely believing Torah Jew, you subscribe to this way of seeing the world, and it informs the way you live your life. It is why you insist on not working on Shabbos and Yom Tov, believing that G-d will bless your household for declaring Him Master of your destiny; it is why you pray thrice daily for all your needs; it is why you trade the so-called “high cost of Jewish living,” as expressed in money, time and convenience, for the riches of a spiritually elevated life that connects you to the Eternal One and through Him, to eternity.
And so, if we are to be religiously consistent, it is through the prism of this irreconcilable divide over the fundamental nature of reality that the attempt to draft bnei Torah must also be viewed. What most threatensIsrael’s future existence? The Torah is unequivocal on this: Not an Iranian mushroom cloud, but Jews — fervently religious ones, ultra-secularist ones and everyone in between — acting un-Jewishly.
Incidentally, one need not be a benighted chareidi, his big tomes of Talmud in tow, to believe that Israel’s fate is bound up with its inhabitants’ conduct — one can even be, say, Yair Lapid. Not unlike a Southern Baptist preacher, the television-anchorman-turned-statesman has only the Bible to guide him, yet he has famously, and admirably, stated that he believes our claim to this land to be based on the Divine guarantees made therein. Well, now, they say “talk is cheap,” but ought he not to be held to his words?
So we open the Torah and read: “You shall observe all My decrees and all My ordinances and perform them; then the land to which I bring you will not disgorge you” (Vayikra 20:22). Let’s charitably assume for the moment that “all My decrees and all My ordinances” doesn’t, G-d forfend, include things like Shabbos, kashrus, and tefillin (save perhaps for women, in certain venues). But surely, at a minimum, it refers to the litany of sins set forth in the immediately preceding verses: adultery, homosexuality, niddah, and all the rest.
So when we read that a leading publication in America’s homosexual community has declared Tel Aviv to be the single best travel destination — worldwide — for its members, what are we to think? What does the estimable Mr. Lapid think of his country serving as a blight unto the nations? Does he ever ponder what the Author of Leviticus thinks of the fact that just minutes from the Lapid abode in Ramat Aviv, thousands of women, including many minors, are bought and sold every day of the year in broad daylight for unspeakable purposes — or can’t he spare a minute from plotting the next child subsidy cut?
And what guarantees Israel’s safety? Jews acting like Jews and doing those things that Judaism teaches bring blessing and peace and sustenance and every manner of good fortune into the world. And among these, our Sages teach, none can remotely compare to Torah study for the protective merit and abundance of blessing it affords. Moreover, wonderful as initiatives like Daf Yomi are for their contribution to the contemporary profusion of Torah learning, there’s no gainsaying the Chazon Ish’s clear pronouncement: kol segulos haTorah lo ne’emru ela al amalah, all of the manifold benefits that Chazal ascribe to limud haTorah follow only from the ceaseless, toil-filled plumbing of its depths, which occurs in the yeshivos hakedoshos and virtually nowhere else.
So let me understand: Now, as this fragile little country, whose 65-year history has been a string of wondrous miracles, faces the apocalypse being feverishly readied by the lunatic of Teheran, now is the opportune time to drag talmidei chachamim from their shtenders with brute physical or fiscal force, in a grand social reengineering scheme? Now, with the returns of the Zionist project in, and the result a country where hundreds of thousands of goyim mingle freely with millions of Jews who cannot identify, let alone recite, the Shema; where a procession of proud practitioners of abomination can wend its way through Yerushalayim’s holy streets; where a million potential lives have been snuffed out since the state’s founding; where Jewish women are held captive by Arabs, and other Jewish women desecrate the makom haMikdash with impunity — and all the while vicious enemies encircle us — is this the moment to allow the squelching of the amal haTorah that stands between us and a violent vomiting out of the inhabitants of this most spiritually sensitive of lands?