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Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5779

Parashat Hashavua: More on Bonfires, Zionism, Torah, and Army

Harav Yosef Carmel

We saw last time that Israel has those who celebrate with fire the light of Torah and others who sit around bonfires to emulate non-religious pioneers. We looked to unify the two, which we will get to this week.

Many people in Israel are of the opinion that one cannot successfully integrate serious Torah study with service in the IDF. In metaphorical terms, we could say that they do not believe that the two flames can be combined to serve as a testament that the Divine Presence dwells in Israel.

An interesting gemara in Sanhedrin (49a) is a key to understanding whether Torah learners are expected to serve in the army or not. Shlomo argued with Yoav whether he was guilty for killing two generals, Avner and Amasa. Regarding Amasa, Yoav argued that he had rebelled because David commanded Amasa to gather soldiers and he did not do so. Amasa had answered that he was not at fault because when he approached many of them, he saw that they were engaged in Torah study and thus exempt. This implies that one cannot draft such people. However, the gemara continues on to a conclusion that Yoav was not a murderer for killing Amasa but that Yoav had rebelled himself on a different matter. Thus, Amasa was indeed guilty, which implies that the exemption from the army for Torah study is not accepted.

Does the establishment of an independent Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael have spiritual, Torah-based significance? We saw last week that Rav Kook explained that while application of the land-based mitzvot in Eretz Yisrael is a part of the significance of the Land, living in the Land is significant even when those mitzvot do not apply. He compares it to Torah, which is significant even when it is not leading to the active fulfillment of any other mitzva. He cites the gemara (Chagiga 5a) on the pasuk in Eicha (2:9): “Its king and officers are among the nations, there is no Torah,” explaining it: Once Israel is exiled from the Land, there is no greater bitul Torah than that.

It is possible to explain the pasuk the simple way. Having no king and officers means that the nation is not independent in its Land; then, everything falls apart. As a result, there is no Torah because no one has a choice but to involve themselves in simple physical survival. That fits with the rest of the pasuk, which says that the prophets did not have visions anymore – for lack of the spiritual peace of mind. As Rav Kook wrote: “The main foundation of Torah depends on the upper spirituality that is in Eretz Yisrael.” Therefore, full success in Torah and in prophecy depends on a kingdom of some sort in Israel. As Chazal said, exile is a guarantee of bitul Torah. While this can be exacerbated by troubles in the Diaspora, the importance of the connection to the Land is more essential. The existence of the IDF, which allows for an independent state, is part of the recipe for Torah.

In the more than seventy years since Israeli independence, we have seen Israel turn into the greatest Torah center in the world. We pray that we will merit seeing an ever-increasing Torah presence within the Land, with both scholars and soldiers, who both contribute to the ability of Torah to flourish.

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