Sunday, December 3, 2023

Acknowledge the Sacrifice

I am writing to express how disillusioned, hurt, and disturbed I feel after reading Yisroel Besser’s argument that yeshivah bochurim in time of war should receive the same recognition and attention as Israeli soldiers on the battlefield.

The act and value of learning Torah should ideally make a person deeper, more truthful, and multi-dimensional. Can we, as a community, be broad and truthful enough to acknowledge that while the cheftzah of Torah learning is the most valuable one in the world, those learning with the intense encouragement of their community and family are, for the most part, not sacrificing in the same way as those risking their lives on the battlefield — for the safety and security of Yiddishe lives in Eretz Yisrael?

Are we, as a community, so small and superficial that we cannot admit this truth? Must we self-righteously write articles about the equal dedication of yeshivah bochurim “when the dead are still lying in front of him?” Yisroel Besser, do you believe our community or yeshivah bochurim are that weak, insecure, or one-dimensional?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe acknowledged the soldiers’ true sacrifice, saying, “In one way, the soldiers are more holy than even the holy learners of Torah because they sacrifice their limb and life.” It is not that hard to be clear, truthful, and deep.

I need to believe that a community making Torah learning its central value is a community where appreciation of truth, depth, and intuitive sensitivity resides. This is why I feel so pained, hurt, and disillusioned. Yisroel Besser, I have always enjoyed your articles and respect your writing. You obviously have a huge audience who respects your voice. I implore you to please rectify the harm you have done by writing a public article degrading bnei Torah and portraying them as people who are small.


Rabbi Shmuel Gefen

Lack of Appreciation [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 986]

Dear Rabbi Besser,

I always enjoy your column and writing. Your relevant, blunt, and often amusing perspective gives us real food for thought. But your latest piece upset and angered me. More, it saddened me. I think I see the point you were trying to make. But in doing so, you showed a disconnect to so many of us in Eretz Yisrael.

You write of the sacrifice of the bochurim, you described them as they “squared their shoulders, hugged their parents goodbye, and boarded flights,” and stated that we need to be “at least as appreciative” to them as the soldiers.

I want to preface this with saying that I do absolutely believe that learning and tefillah is the source of our strength, and any victory will come through that. But in your wording, in your equivalence of their sacrifice of going back to a, yes, air-conditioned beis medrash with a bomb shelter steps away, you showed a lack of hakaros hatov and understanding of the mesirus nefesh of soldiers and their families.

For when these soldiers “square their shoulders” and hug their parents, they do so knowing they may not come back. Some have not. While I’m appreciative of those women who struggle through bath and bedtime routine alone yet again because their husbands are learning an extra seder for Klal Yisrael, it really doesn’t compare to those wives who haven’t spoken to their husbands for two weeks or more at a time, knowing they are under fire and trying to keep their children protected from that reality. While we appreciate and see the value of those shvitzing over a blatt Gemara, can we compare that mesirus nefesh to soldiers who haven’t showered in weeks or changed clothing or eaten a hot meal, and every day put their bodies on the line?

When campaigns for kollelim talk about the yungeleit being “on the frontlines,” to my mind this shows a distance from understanding what those words mean. Yes, they are the shield of Klal Yisrael, but the frontline is when you see the eyes and weapons of the enemy blow up in front of you.

Maybe I am a bit raw when I read this. I have spent a week in and out of the shivah home of a boy in our community who fell in battle. I watch a family so full of emunah and bitachon, a home full of chesed, not broken but now with a permanent hole.

We should all be raw from this. We should all be sensitive to this. Yes, we need to appreciate the Torah and the chesed and the tefillah. But in terms of mesirus nefesh, let us not kid ourselves into such complacency, equivalence, and disrespect.

Dalya Goldstein

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