Reuvenations - Thoughts and Feelings Living Through War in Israel - Week 6
When Hashem decided to give the Torah to Israel, the angels objected.
“How can you give something as precious as the Torah to mere flesh and blood? At the very least, you should ask for guarantors that will ensure that they honor and respect it.” Hashem agreed, and immediately turned to Moshe to ask for a reliable guarantor.
“Avraham,” Moshe replied.
“Avraham…” considered Hashem, “But he doubted Me when he asked 'how shall I know that my seed will inherit the land.’ He is not a reliable guarantor.”
Moshe suggested Yitzhak and then Ya’akov, but with each, Hashem had reason to doubt that they were entirely suitable.
Finally, Moshe suggested, “Our male children. We will enter them into the brit when they are only 8 days old, before they can object.”
Hashem agreed: 'These are reliable guarantors.'
“Are you sorry that I made Aliyah?”
Had I asked that question of my mother, the answer would have been simply ”Yes, of course.”
During the thirty-eight years since I moved from the States to Israel, rarely have we had phone conversations where she did not prick me with the guilt-knife of the Jewish mother. Mostly, I just took it. It’s her right, really. And she’s gotten more merciful in recent years, especially since one of my daughters moved to LA to live near her.
But what if it is the question that I’m asking my children, who are experiencing a very war of existence? What if it’s the question I’m asking of myself, who put his own children in harm’s way?
When I talk to my students about this, usually while sitting among the neat white graves in the military cemetery of Mt. Herzl, I tell them a story about standing at the counter of a car parts store, the day after Yom Kippur. I was listening to a conversation between the store manager and a customer who had returned a car part the previous week for a full refund, but he knew that he had broken it. Apparently, his “theft” had been on his mind all of Yom Kippur, and here, the following day, he had come to pay his debt. The store manager would have nothing of it:
“Don’t you understand,” he said, “that the only reason we are here in this world is to help each other? And by coming in to try to pay for the part, you are just attesting to the purity of your soul.”
I tell my students that a society that can be concerned with the spiritual well-being of another in a car parts store is the kind of society that is worthwhile defending and fighting for. We are here to create (or at least witness) these fleeting but not uncommon moments of holiness, a feature of this unusual and wonderful place we call Israel.
I believe this, but what’s also true is that when I made Aliyah, I knew there was a good chance I’d never serve in the army, at least not in a meaningful way. In the end, the army did not take me (I was already in my 30s with three children, and I looked pregnant with the fourth), but I knew my sons one day would be serving.
There was a song that came out during the Oslo terror in the 90’s, called the Children of the Winter of ’73. It spoke of the men who came back from that awful and deadly war and did what men do when they return from war. There was a baby boom the following summer and fall. And this song tells of parents who promised their children that there would be no more wars, only an olive branch, only peace. But here are the children, grown up, with their rifles and helmets, and they gently reprove their parents for making promises they couldn’t keep.
The hardest thing, sending your children off to war.
Lev was home for a couple of days last week. I picked him up in the center of the country and drove him home. A couple of days later, early in the morning, I drove him back to a hitchhiking post where he’d catch a lift back to Gaza.
I can’t tell you exactly what he’s doing in Gaza. I know he’s attached to the brigade commander. I asked him if that meant that he was in a headquarters and not out fighting on the streets. He said without much elaboration: Everyone is fighting in the streets. Without having to detail, he let me know that he was in situations of real and immediate danger in Gaza.
And that’s when I asked him if he regretted my decision to move to Israel. And I was at that same moment asking myself the same question.
And Yitzhak spoke to his father and said, “My father,” and Avraham answered, “Here I am.” And Yitzhak said, “Here is the fire and the wood, but where is the goat for the sacrifice?” Avraham answered, “Hashem will see the goat for the sacrifice: My son.” And the two walked on together.
Lev knows he is in danger and he takes responsibility for the decisions that led him to his position. He is with a group of fellow soldiers that he loves and he is following a commander who he trusts and respects.
And I too take responsibility for my decisions, the ones that brought us here to Israel, to live in the Shomron, to do what Moshe did, which was to place all Jewish male children inside an agreement over which they had no say, as guarantors of a brit between Hashem and the Jewish people. I am doing as did Avraham, who when commanded by Hashem walked to the hill of Moriah, bringing with him the sacrifice commanded by Hashem and not knowing what the offering might yet be.
Lev and I rode on together.
As he gathered his bag and rifle at the stop, I took his hand and told him that I loved him. I think he was crying too as he closed the door.
Is it more difficult to be Avraham or Yitzhak? Or are all of us, both of us, wrapped together tightly in the close spiral of our history, bound by covenant and enemy to walk on together, praying that we will both return safely to our people?
I want to have the strength to say: There's no place else I'd rather be. I want to say it, and I feel it. But I'm a father waiting for my sons to return from war.