The Holy Jews who Sacrificed Their Lives for Israel

With All Your Soul

The appalling murder in Itamar shocked everyone – all of the settlers, and every Jew without exception, because it wasn’t the Fogel family alone who they wanted to murder, but rather, each and every one of us. In the neighboring communities, which are situated on the frontlines of Jewish settlement, many residents are picturing in their minds what if it had been them, how they would react, and if, God forbid…what will happen to…, and the children and parents are finding it hard to sleep at night.

Nevertheless, we must not be weakened. The fears and worries must be elevated to the mitzvoth of ‘kiddush Hashem’, or sanctifying God’s name, and we must remind ourselves of what we are strict to say everyday, both morning and evening, in the reading of the ‘Sh’ma’ : “And you shall love Adonoy your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your possessions.”

In the Mishna (Berachot 9:5), the Sages said: “With all your soul – even if He takes your soul”. This is what every Jew must think of when reading the ‘Sh’ma’ – if it was required, he would be ready to die for ‘kiddush Hashem’.

It is brought down in the name of Rebbe Elimelech from Lizhensk: “…a person who lies on his bed and can’t fall asleep, should contemplate the positive commandment of ‘I must be sanctified among the Israelites’. He should imagine to himself as if an awesome and great fire is burning in front of him, rising all the way to the heavens, and for ‘kiddush Hashem’, may His Name be blessed, he shatters his natural inclination and throws himself into the fire. God includes a good thought to the actual fulfilling of the mitzvah, and thus, he is not just idly lying around in bed, but rather fulfilling a positive commandment from the Torah. One should also contemplate this thought in the first verse of ‘Sh’ma’ and the first blessing of the ‘Shmoneh Esrai’… (Tzetl Koton 1-2).

Connecting to Eternity

This awesome mitzvah is what connects every Jew to eternity. It detaches him from the temporariness and pettiness of life, and connects him to the world of truth and good, to the vision of the redemption. This is also the idea of the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel in our times, which is the only positive commandment in the Torah that obligates the Jewish nation to endanger their lives in order to conquer the Land and settle it. True, there are three severe mitzvoth – idol worship, illicit sexual relations, and murder – for which a Jew is obligated to give-up his life, for if he is threatened: “Either you transgress one of them, or you will be killed – he must sacrifice his life”. However, there is no mitzvah to purposely enter such a situation which would obligate one to sacrifice his life in order not to transgress one of these three mitzvoth. On the other hand, the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel is the only mitzvah that obligates the Jewish nation to enter, on its own initiative, a life-threatening situation, in order to conquer and settle the Land (Minchat Chinuch 425; Mishpat Kohen, pg.327).

The Mitzvah of Settling the Land

There is no mitzvah comparable to that of settling the Land of Israel, through which even the seemingly insignificant actions that one does during the course of the day, receive profound and divine meaning. A person can breathe, eat, sleep, or walk – and in his mere presence in a location whose settlement requires strengthening – he fulfills a mitzvah. And the more one strives to improve the quality of his life, both spiritually and physically, the greater the mitzvah becomes, for through the revelation of divine values within everyday, happy living, the entire world sings the praise of the living God. It turns out that one’s house, job, family, social life – are all partners in the revelation of the word of God in this world. This is the great message to the world emanating from the Land of Israel, that there is no schism between the heavens and the earth, and precisely within everyday life, it is possible to reveal the word of God, bring redemption, and improve the entire world. “For from Zion will go forth the Torah and the word of Adonoy from Jerusalem.”

Facing the Evil

We do not strive for private vengeance; rather, we seek national vengeance, with the I.D.F. and all the official government agencies leading the way. We have not returned to our land in order to banish the Arabs from their houses. However, after having risen up to destroy us, we demand that anyone who wanted to kill us, be killed; and anyone who wanted to expel us from the land, be expelled. With the rest of the Arabs, we will live in peace.

Security Concerns and Internal Criticism

Together with the readiness to sacrifice one’s life, security requirements must be taken care of as best as possible. It would be desirable that the person who fills the position of Minister of Defense would be someone who understands why the Jewish nation is in its land. Instead, Mr. Netanyahu appointed Ehud Barak, with all the familiar problems of this man. The I.D.F. soldiers carry out their tasks with self-sacrifice; they know who the enemy is, but their hands are tied by the Minister and the senior commanders, who have forgotten the goals for which they were appointed.

The judicial system must also be criticized, for just as every other negative event that takes place in the country, here too, they play a part. The electronic security system of the settlement of Itamar remains on a low level because the legal advisors decided that the route of the security fence, which was paved in coordination with the I.D.F., does not justify seizing land. The land in question is unclaimed. Thus, the settlement of Itamar is left with minimal means of defense – way less than the accepted level of security in the area. I was told that Talia Sasson, while working in the State Attorney’s office, was the one who made the decision. Today, she is a candidate for the Knesset from the radical left-wing Meretz Party.

The Question of Security and Settling the Land

We stand on two foundations: on the principle of the mitzvah to settle the Land of Israel, and on the principle of security – that if, God forbid, we retreat from Judea and Samaria, the danger to the State of Israel will be greatly increased. From the outset, we should settle the land in order to make the desolate areas blossom and to inhabit the land. When we don’t merit doing so – tragedies occur, and for security reasons, we are forced to come to Israel and settle the Land.

The Spies in the desert were afraid to enter the Land of Israel because of security reasons, and only after God decreed that they were to die in the desert, did they attempt to ascend, but it was too late. The entire generation died in the desert, and their children entered the Land to settle it.

Had we merited, we would have ascended to the Land of Israel in order to care for its soil, to build the destroyed cities and blossom the desolate hills, as was the call of the Vilna Gaon, and after him, Rabbi Kalisher, Rabbi Gutmacher, and Rabbi Alkaly. However, we didn’t merit this; the majority of Jews were afraid to ascend to Israel, refraining from moving because of ‘pikuach nefesh’ (saving one’s life from danger). Our tragedies then grew in the Diaspora, and we were required to ascend because of security reasons. The first Jews were able to overcome the fear of the pogroms, and only after the Holocaust did the last ones escape to Israel. There were rabbis who said that even if one Jew had to be killed in order to build the Holy Temple, it would be better not to build it at all. As a result of this, they also feared the Arabs, and thus believed it was better to stay in the exile. Then the Holocaust occurred.

The liberation of Judea and Samaria during the Six Day War also occurred due to security reasons. After the war, the government of Israel wanted to retreat in order to achieve some type of peace agreement, but due to security reasons, it wasn’t possible. Had we merited settling Judea and Samaria because of the mitzvah – our present security problems would be immeasurably less significant.

To My Brothers, the Settlers

I woke-up before sunrise, and went to my study to write this article. In the middle, I stopped to pray ‘shacharit’ (Morning Prayer) in the early 5:40 A.M. ‘minyan’, and observed the people who rise early in the morning to pray: engineers, a banker, an architect, handymen, and academic researchers – white and blue-collar workers as one. Afterwards, the 6:00 ‘minyan’ arrived, and following them, others. In the meantime, the women arise, waking-up their children, preparing them for kindergarten and school. The majority of the mothers will then leave for work. Parents begin to bring their little ones to the day care centers and kindergartens, and the school children gather at the bus stops. Chaim Fogel, the grandfather of the Fogel family murdered in Itamar, has a share in all of this; for many years he accompanied the development of the community ‘Har Bracha’ in his work for the ‘Amana’ settlement movement.

I thought to myself: Dear settlers, who can convey to you just how significant your trivial actions really are! In your daily routines, you are building the Land and rectifying the Sin of the Spies. You are fully aware that those who choose to live here accept upon themselves additional dangers, and nevertheless, you continue to live here, establishing families and working to improve the world.

And if we have slightly forgotten the enormity of the mitzvah, we must constantly remember the slaughter of the five members of the Fogel family. Perhaps in the merit of our genuine acceptance that, for the sake of defending the nation and the Land we must be ready to offer sacrifices, God will have mercy on us, and we will merit dwelling in the Land of Israel securely, without having to die for it.

Isn’t it Dangerous to be a Settler?

Quite often people ask: Isn’t it dangerous to live in Judea and Samaria? Indeed, it is; there is an additional danger living in a settlement, and this is precisely the reason why we are here. Nevertheless, in the merit of the mitzvah of settling the Land of Israel on its highest level, the chances of increasing and elevating one’s life is also greater. The fact is that if we compare the families of the settlers to those of people with similar qualities who live within the ‘Green Line’, the settler families are much bigger. Self-sacrifice for the settling of the Land strengthens one’s life. Usually, in this world, this is manifested by an increase in the number of children and grandchildren, in Torah and mitzvoth, and spiritual creativeness. Sometimes, it is revealed in the world of truth – as immeasurably sacred people, with no creature being able to stand in their company. One thing depends on another.

People die from accidents and illnesses, finding various ways to destroy their lives. Many of them can’t find love, and don’t raise families. Global suffering is great. Someone who flees the nation’s mission because of the dangers it entails, usually finds himself faced with other bigger and more difficult dangers or risks. Fortunate is the person whose suffering has value, for through these trials and tribulations, he is purified and refined, and his life flows in its proper path.

In not too many years, with God’s help, the remaining children of Rabbi Udi and Ruth Fogel, may God avenge their blood, will stand under the wedding ‘chuppah’, will have son’s and daughter’s, grandson’s and granddaughter’s, great grandson’s and great granddaughter’s, multiple as the stars in heaven.

An Independent I.D.F. Rabbinate Can Also Conduct Conversions

Conversions in the I.D.F.

In principle, the idea of allowing conversions in the army is extremely appropriate; however, the problem is the source of authority of the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. The first stipulation of a rabbi’s authority is – he must be independent, his halachic decisions must be made entirely according to their own merits and not swayed by external considerations and pressures. As regards to the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F., who is selected by non-religious people such as the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff, who would fire him if he decided to act in contradiction to their beliefs — his authority is questionable.

Indeed, every rabbi and judge is part of society and is influenced by the mood and pressures of the general public, but they are not entirely dependent on them. However, when it is almost certain that the Chief Rabbi of the I.D.F. will be thrown out of the army if he dares to make a decision which contradicts the beliefs of his non-religious superior officers, his authority is questionable.

The way to improve this situation is to change the system of choosing the I.D.F. Chief Rabbi. In the meantime, only after an issue arises where the position of the Chief Rabbi contradicts that of the Defense Minister and the Chief of Staff – and in spite of the pressures, he does not change his mind and nevertheless remains in his job, will we know that, indeed, his decisions are made independently. Without this, his authority as a ‘posek’ (Jewish law adjudicator) is questionable. He still has a very important job as the administrator of religious issues in the army, but not as a ‘posek’.

From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Exodus

Throughout all of the Torah portions in the Book of Genesis, I quoted at length many verses dealing with the Land of Israel. For a short while, it seemed to me that perhaps I was exaggerating. However, from reader’s responses, I realized that for many of them, this was an eye-opener. One Haredi Jew wrote me: “For tens of years I have learned the Book of Genesis, and I never paid attention to the fact that almost all of God’s revelations to the forefather’s deal with the promise of the Land of Israel.” Another person wrote that for the past few weeks, whenever he gives rides to Haredi hitchhikers, he asks them: “What did God say to Avraham aveinu” or “What did God say to Yitzchak aveinu” – as per that week’s Torah portion. In his great sorrow, many of them couldn’t answer, as if for them, all of the verses dealing with the Land of Israel in the Torah have been deleted. Those who are already familiar with the holiness of the Land of Israel were happy to read about it over and over again, as is befitting for such a blessed matter.

Rashi has already taught us in his first commentary to the Torah that the entire idea of the Book of Genesis comes to teach that God gave the Land of Israel to the Jewish nation. He did this by bringing the words of Rebbe Yitzchak from the Midrash, who asked why the Torah started with Creation and the accounts of the forefather’s instead of opening with an explanation of the mitzvoth. He replied: “He has declared to his people the power of his works, that He may give them the heritage of the nations”, for if the nations say to Israel ‘You are thieves! You conquered the land of the seven nations!’ They say to them: The entire world belongs to God. He created it and gave it to whoever He decided. [At first], He decided to give it to them, [now] He has decided to take it from them and give it to us.”

Faith Revealed in the Land of Israel

Delving deeper, it becomes clear that all our wars over the Land of Israel, since days of old and until today, rotate on this axis – the revelation of Heavenly faith within physical reality. This was the reason we went down to exile, and this is the reason we are returning today to the land of our forefather’s.

Answer to a Breslov Chasid

Accordingly, my answer to a Breslov Chasid, who with characteristic enthusiasm, wrote me: “Why does the honorable Rabbi speak about the Land of Israel? The main thing is to speak about faith in God,” not understanding that this is exactly what the Land of Israel is all about – to reveal faith within the world. Even Rebbe Nachman and Rebbe Natan wrote about this in a number of their writings. All the talk about faith without its implementation in the Land of Israel is similar to castles in the sky; like the high of a drug addict, who, after the drug which thrilled him wears off, falls into a deep depression. Indeed, the great Breslov Chassidim were always strongly connected to the Land of Israel and its settlement.

Encouragement for the Settler’s

However, the thing that most encourages me is the reaction of the settler’s, who tell me just how heartening my words are, reinforcing them in mitzvoth, in the absorption of more families, and in building more houses. One woman wrote me: “I want to thank you, Rabbi, for the words of support which you customarily write in your column ‘Revivim’ concerning the importance of settling the land. As a victim of the building freeze, your words were of great encouragement, and helped me to accept the pains of the freeze lovingly. Presently, thank God, I am privileged to see my house being built. Thank you and all the best!”

The Mean Spirit of Ehud Barak

Inside the General Staff

The Police announced that the Major- Generals of the I.D.F. are not suspected of forging the ‘Galant document’, bringing a sigh of relief to many officials in the Defense department. In practice, however, it was revealed that the situation within the General Staff is bleak. The Defense Minister is in deep dispute with the Chief of Staff. Relations between the Chief of Staff and the Maj.-Gen. of the Southern Command are dreadful. Generals bad-mouth each other, and in private discussions express a lack of trust in their fellow colleagues. Media commentators find it hard to believe that given such a murky web of relationships the General Staff is able to function properly, and raise doubts about the ability of Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi to implement an orderly change-over with his replacement.

Outwardly, indeed, there are the usual formal and polished statements. After it became clear that the document was forged, the Chief of Staff rushed to express his happiness, even adding: “Not for one second did I believe that a member of the Chief of Staff’s forum or senior officers of the I.D.F. were involved in this.” Seemingly, however, for a number of months he did believe that the document was real. Therefore, he kept it in a safety-box, showing it to his close associates, not asking the police to investigate who forged it.

The Spirit of Officer Barak

Evidently, the mean spirit of Defense Minister Ehud Barak evokes a negative atmosphere of egoism and betrayal of values and friends, promotes rivalry and conflict, and encourages General Staff members to bring out the worst within themselves on one and other. Members of his party claim: “Barak is using the same methods which he used to crush the Labor Party, in order to harm the army also.” Ma’ayan Amoda’i, the former head of the ‘Young Guard’ of the Labor Party said: “The time has come to remove the mask from Barak’s face. All of the recent events in the I.D.F. were created within an atmosphere in which Barak stood behind them,” including “his decision to place the responsibility for the mishaps of the Flotilla incident on the I.D.F.”

The Committee of Investigation and Ehud Barak

In a properly administrated country with a tradition of true democracy, after an incident which was seen as a disgraceful failure, provoking condemnation from the entire world, leading to the establishment of an international committee of investigation, and caused the State of Israel to withdraw from its strategic policy (the removal of the embargo on Gaza), the Minister accountable would accept upon himself the responsibility and quit, thereby solving the problem for the Government and the State.

This idea, which expresses personal responsibility, never even crossed Barak’s mind. Some say that our Defense Minister is a talented man; however, it seems that for many years now, his main talent is his ability to evade responsibility, while passing it on to those surrounding him – no matter what the price.

The Government and the Defense Minister could have claimed that there was no failure in the events of the Flotilla. The ‘peace’ activists attacked, the results were in accordance, and in future flotillas, if the ‘peace’ activists assault, the reaction will be similar. The Land of Israel is ours, we have the right to live here securely, and we will do anything necessary to this end. Incidentally, it’s not clear that such a position would provoke more condemnations. And if we are going to be condemned in any case, better to be condemned over something worthwhile.

However, it is not ethically tolerable for someone who decided to crumble under international pressure and concede our full right to our land to suddenly be assertive when his personal status is concerned. It’s a good assumption that in the not so distant future Ehud Barak will be thrown out of office. It’s a pity he didn’t quit immediately after the Flotilla incident, thereby benefitting the State of Israel to a certain extent, and releasing us from his punishment.

The thought that this man chose the next Chief of Staff arouses dismal feelings, and also great resentment for the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who deceived the confidence of his supporters by entrusting Ehud Barak with so much authority, instead of appointing Maj.-Gen. (Res.) Moshe Ya’alon Defense Minister – as he promised him before the elections.