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Parshas B'Shalach - What are we Fighting For?     15 Shvat 5784

01/25/2024 02:01:41 PM


This Dvar Torah is dedicated the memory of the fallen defenders of Eretz Yisrael!

The devastation and overwhelming grief which the Jewish people in Israel have endured since the heinous terror attack of Simchas Torah on October 7th can only be comforted by the resilience and unity exhibited by the Jews in Israel and throughout the world. Over 1,200 innocent Jews -entire families - fathers, mothers, babies, children, grandparents were horrifically killed, Ahl Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying God’s name. There have been few days since the October 7th massacre when a soldier hasn’t given up his or her life on behalf of our people. Somehow, the human mind can digest small losses at a time, but when major large losses occur, we are shaken to our core, and that which has become dull to the senses now shocks upon us again.

We, united with the families of the slain soldiers, are devastated over the escalating numbers of Israeli soldiers who have lost their lives in the ongoing war in Gaza. But this week’s attack from Hamas, which killed 24 soldiers, marked the deadliest day since Israel began its invasion of Gaza. We mourn the loss of these soldiers, and all the others who have perished in this war. We extend our broken-hearted nichum aveilim to their grieving families: “HaMokom yenacheim osam b’soch she’ar aveilei Tziyon v’Yerushalayim” – May they be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Yerushalayim- and our most fervent tefillah: v’lo yosifu l’daavah od- And they shall not know sorrow anymore.

There is an overwhelming sense of Jewish pride and dignity that the soldiers of the IDF consistently demonstrate in life and even in death. Some of you may have read about the following powerful adjunct regarding such a loss in the news, but for those who have not, I am sharing this incredible letter written by one of the soldiers who was killed this week.  The letter was read at his funeral:

Among the fallen during Monday's tragic incident in Gaza was Sergeant Major Elkana Vizel, 35, a resident of Bnei Dekalim. Vizel, married to Galit and a father of four Elkana Vizel worked as a teacher at the Naom School in Bnei Dekalim, where his wife also works, and on Tuesday, just hours after he was killed, it emerged that he had prepared a letter ahead of time to be read only if he had been killed in battle. 

 "If you are reading these words, something probably happened to me. First of all, in case I was captured by Hamas, I demand that no deal be made to release any terrorist in order to release me. Our overwhelming victory is more important than anything, so please – just press ahead with all the force until our victory is as overwhelming as possible." This is first paragraph of the letter that was retrieved with his body.

The letter continues: "Maybe I fell in battle. When a soldier falls in battle it is sad. But I ask you to be happy. Don't be sad when you part from me. Sing a lot, plant in hearts, hold each other's hands, and strengthen one another. We have so much to be excited and happy about – we are the generation of Jewish redemption! We are writing the most meaningful moments in the history of our people and of the whole world. So please be optimistic. Keep choosing life all the time – a life of love, hope, purity, and optimism."

He continues with the same theme of celebrating life rather than mourning his death:

"Look into the eyes of your loved ones and remind them that everything they experience in this life is worth it and that they have a lot to live for. Live! Don't stop for a moment the intensities of life! In Operation Protective Edge I was already wounded. I had the choice to stay behind, but I don't regret for a moment returning to be a fighter. On the contrary, it's the best decision I ever made."

We find several places in the Torah which speak of the Jewish people in battle. There are different dimensions regarding the purpose of the wars. Sometimes it’s an offensive war to eradicate idolatry, other times it’s a war to defend against the honor of Hashem and to protect the ideals of the Torah. There were times throughout Jewish history that we were forced to retaliate, taking the offensive side of the war. We only fought when challenged or attacked by others first. *HaRav Yaakov Moshe Charlop z”l relates two significant examples of this.

In this week’s Parsha B’Shalach the Torah states in Shmos 17:9 "ויאמר משה אל יהושע בחר לנו אנשים וצא הלחם בעמלק מחר אנכי נצב על ראש הגבעה ומטה האלוקים בידי"  “Moshe said to Yehoshua, choose men for us, and prepare for battle against Amalek. Tomorrow, I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”  Rav Charlop quotes his Rebbi, Rav Kook z”l, to explain this verse. The entire tendency of Amalek was to fight against ‘the מצוה  Mitzva and the  חובה Obligation’ concept and to cool down the heat and passion of the Torah. The goal was to reduce the activity and service of the Jew down to a “רשות reshus” -to something that is optional.  These three ways of serving Hashem are hinted within the word מחר – tomorrow- as each letter of the word  מחר stands for a word: מצוה, חובה, רשות  When Moshe said Tomorrow, I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” in order to sway or tilt the acronym to a total devotion, a total obligation to serve Hashem and not merely as a suggestion.

Later on, in Bamidbar, during a different battle for the honor of Hashem, the Torah tells us that Pinchasויקח רמח בידו   took a spear in his hand. God spoke to Moshe saying, “Pinchas was the one who zealously took up My cause among the Israelites and turned my anger away from them so that I did not destroy them.” This was the opposite of what had transpired regarding  Amalek when Pinchas elevated the optional to a Mitzva - an obligation - with a spear in his hand. The word רמח  /spear -meaning optional - has the same Hebrew letters as   מצוה – meaning obligation but reversed to mean optional. Moshe took the spiritual staff and transformed the Jewish mind to understand that nothing is haphazard or optional, which is what Amalek wanted to teach. Pinchas elevated something that was optional to a higher level of obligation.

Tzaha”l today has elevated the purpose and goals of Am Yisroel to the level of Torah and Avodah and Gemilus Chassadim. May their sacrifices be considered the modern day Korbanos/sacrifices, but their deeds and actions should lead Klal Yisroel to serving Hashem and to bringing Moshiach sooner than intended, thereby offering, and bringing the other types of sacrifices in the service of Hashem.


* Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Charlap יעקב משה חרל"פ, 1882 - 1951) was an Orthodox rabbi, talmudist, kabbalist, Rosh Yeshiva of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, and a disciple of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Rabbi Charlap served as rabbi of the Sha'arei Hesed neighborhood in central Jerusalem, and author of the Mei Marom series of books on Jewish thought. His grandson, Rav Zevulun Charlop z”l of Yeshiva University passed away last week.

Mon, April 15 2024 7 Nisan 5784