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Equality in Sharing the Burden
By: Rav Yechezkel Yakovson
A topic that is currently being discussed in Israeli society is that of participation in military service, which is commonly termed "equality in sharing the burden". The solution is complex. Brief slogans will not solve the problem. We in the Beit Midrash are also required to engage this fundamental and serious issue.
At the outset, we must recognize that the term "equality in sharing the burden" -shivayon banetel- is a mistaken slogan, both in reference to the designation "burden", and in the extreme desire to attain "equality".
Serving in the IDF is a halachic obligation, a moral obligation, and a great privilege.
The halachic obligation is well known. In an obligatory war (Milchemet Mitzvah), everyone is required to participate. Even a bride and groom leave the chupah in such a time. The tasks of Tzahal nowadays certainly fall within this category; saving Jews from oppressors and protecting The Land of Israel.
Study of Torah does not constitute an exemption from this mitzvah. Leading Jewish warriors were outstanding Torah scholars and religious leaders: Yehoshua bin Nin, the Shoftim, Benayahu ben Yehoyada, David HaMelech, and many others.
The Ramban comments on the census of the Jewish People (at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar) as follows: "The Jewish People were ready to enter The Land and wage war against the Emorite Kings on the other side of the Jordan River and others. Moshe and the tribal leaders had to know the numbers of soldiers and the numbers of every tribe in order to wage war...For the Torah does not rely upon miracles that one person will chase a thousand. Therefore the Torah utilizes the phrase 'every one who goes to wage war', because this census was undertaken for the purpose of waging war.."
Thus the purpose of the census was to prepare for war. Despite Divine promises for miraculous victories, one does not rely upon miracles. Therefore, we were required to adequately prepare for the war to conquest The Land. This is a mitzvah on each and every person- kol yotzei latzava.
Rabbeinu Bachya continues in this vein (Bamidbar, Chapter 13). We are required to undertake physical preparations. Afterwards we put our trust in Hashem.
Thus military service is a halachic obligation, which supersedes the study of Torah.
The moral obligation of military service is expressed by Moshe Rabeinu who said to the tribes of Gad and Reuven: "Will your brothers wage war and you will sit here?". It is inconceivable that during a war, one segment of the population will endanger their lives, their family members will be fraught with fear and anxiety and others will continue their daily routines as if nothing has happened. This is moral corruption and as phrased by Moshe Rabeinu "A culture of sinners".
One of the acquisitions of the Torah is "Carrying the yoke with his friend" (Masechet Avot Chapter 6). Chazal comment upon Moshe Rabeinu in his earlier years: "..even though he was in the palace of the king, he went to see the suffering of The Jewish People, this is the intention of Hillel 'Do not separate yourself from the community', a person should not notice the community in pain and proclaim 'I will go home, eat and drink, all will be fine by me'; rather he should be involved with the community" (Pesikta Shmot 2).
This indicates that from an ethical viewpoint one may not abstain from military service, when others are risking their lives.
From a faith based perspective one cannot remain oblivious to the fact that after 2000 years of exile, after the horrible Shoah, The Jewish People is privileged to establish a state, a strong and mighty army that with the help of Hashem merits impressive victories and accomplishments. It is impossible for a believing person who studies Hashem's involvement in history to remain aloof and not to participate in this important historical process.
In view of all of the above, military service in the IDF can not be classified as a "burden"- induction into Tzahal is a halachic, ethical and faith-based imperative, and a great privilege.
It should be noted that even if certain communities maintain that the study of Torah mandates an exemption from military service, it does not explain why those who are not engaged in study do not serve in Tzahal. Why aren't the youth trained during vacations (bein hazmanim), and why isn't the prayer for the welfare of the soldiers (which would express gratitude for those who risk their lives for their welfare) recited in these institutions?
Not that we have dealt with the "burden", let us engage the issue of "equality".
Upon hearing calls for "equality" in military service, we should recognize that this call is directed towards hesder students as well.
Absolute equality, can not be accompanied by justice, as there are essential differences between different people. Absolute equality would generate injustice. The saying states: Don't try in the name of equality to feed an elephant and an ant the same quantity of food and to give them the same task...In Tzahal itself there are different types of soldiers, combat and non-combat, infantry and armored divisions, privates and officers, each one charged with unique tasks to discharge. Expecting the same exact thing from everyone is incorrect.
The construction of the Mishkan provides a model concerning military service. The Jewish People participated according to the following principles:
A. The understanding that this is an undertaking that is shared by the entire Jewish People.
B. A basic and fundamental partnership of everyone (Machatzit HaShekel- the half shekel).
C. People donated according to their desires and financial capability (Yidvenu Lebo- according to the desire of the heart).
Initially everyone-without exceptions, regardless of background, talent or desires- was required to donate the Machatzit HaShekel to facilitate the construction of the Mishkan. Afterwards, and only afterwards, is there room for individual input and variations predicated upon Yidvenu Lebo.
This model serves as a guide concerning the privilege of participating in the defense of the state. Initially there must be recognition that this is a sacred obligation upon all of us. The task is to be prepared to participate in a war, to contribute to military victory. This necessitates undergoing basic training to prepare for such a situation. Beyond the preparation for this possibility, everyone should participate in accordance with his talents and desires.
Thus the call for absolute equality in military service is not a proper demand. The debate focuses upon on the obligation and privilege of participation in the great and important mitzvah of military service.
Parallel to recognizing the importance of military service, we must constantly internalize and remember the great importance of learning Torah. This refers to the great mitzvah of studying Torah, and to the profound personal growth and building the nation as a whole that it fosters.
It must be stressed that the integration of learning Torah and military service is not a contradiction; rather they harmoniously complement each other. Study of Torah adds tremendously to the quality of military service; military service profoundly improves the quality of Talmud Torah. One can not compare a soldier who studied Torah to one who did not. The great motivation to protect The Land, the knowledge concerning its value and importance, which stem from Torah study, greatly influences the quality of the soldier.
Conversely, one can not compare the Limud HaTorah of a student who has risked his life for the sake of Am Yisrael, to a student who learns for himself. Chazal criticized students who learn for themselves (bad bivad), and praised study of Torah that is connected to the Jewish People. The Jewish People only merited to receive the Torah after attaining the unified state of "Eish Echad BiLev Echad".
The integration of faith in the importance of Torah study together with participation in the mitzvah of defending the Jewish People and the Land of Israel is a fulfillment of the verse "The praises of Hashem are in their throats and swords are in their hands". Only by this integration are we able to achieve our national aspirations, "to commit vengeance amongst the nations", to emerge victorious in our wars of defense, to raise the banner of Torah in a complete and proper way. In the merit of this proper integration, may we merit the complete redemption.