Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu: Fine, they all hate us, but we love us — and we love being us!
There are long days in the life of a bochur, especially in a double-Adar winter, and sometimes, little conversation breaks with the rebbi, mashgiach or shoel u’meishiv are helpful in getting through seder.
As a bochur, I was a professional instigator, pretty much able to get even the most rigid hanhalah members to schmooze a bit. Not about the weather or sports, of course — the trick was to ask a question so loaded that if they didn’t answer that second, they would have to fear serious hashkafic implications.
(More experienced, seasoned rebbeim never fell for it. They saw through the ruse, smiled understandingly, and said things like, “If this is still weighing on you during bein hasedorim, please come right over.”)
One of the easiest topics was the Israeli army and yeshivos and wearing Tzahal sweatshirts as pajamas. It doesn’t take much more than that to send a rookie mashgiach into full-on Chumash-shiur mode.
It’s a nuanced topic, one that takes a real grasp of Torah hashkafah, of overall Jewish history, of recent Jewish history, and of the agendas of the various players in the arena.
It is certainly not a topic for a magazine column, though — or at least not this column.
It is not just above my paygrade, but also beyond the scope of those who get paid more than me. Real hashkafah is like real halachah. To discuss it with authority, you have to really know what you’re talking about (and when it comes to Jews, “knowing what you’re talking about” doesn’t mean being a demagogue, having followers, or being emotionally invested in something: It means that you mastered the sources the old-fashioned way).
I offer only a social observation.
What a month this has been!
No one sleeps anymore. Whatever you’re engaged in — work, family, simchahs — your mind and heart are always somewhere else. Two months ago, we looked at the picture of a Toldos Aharon chassid helping a bareheaded taxi driver fix a flat tire, and we said, “Mashiach’s tzeiten.”
It was just a phrase. Words, you know, like, so nice.
Now, there is a little tremor every time we say it. This. Is. Mashiach’s tzeiten.
(Whatever that means. The usual gematria/roshei teivos people who predicted election results and weather patterns are strangely quiet this time. I don’t know a ton about Mashiach’s arrival, but I promise that you don’t have to forward a WhatsApp message to be part of it.)
If in the past, maybe we (I!) have been guilty of doing things by rote, saying Tehillim when there was unrest in Eretz Yisrael because the Moetzes said to, this time it’s different. People are now coming into shul the way they come into a warm, dry room when it’s pouring outside.
Not only is the posture different, the davening itself is more forceful, vulnerability giving every person, in every country, a sense that without Him, we have nothing. Every one of us is a little bit of that guy in Dagestan showing his passport to the mob, or the students holed up in the Cooper Union library — we’re targets because of our DNA.
Along with that vulnerability, there is also a rush of pride and confidence, an acute appreciation for the fact that Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu: Fine, they all hate us, but we love us — and we love being us!
Every Yid is giving something; money is easy. People are knotting tzitzis strings and packing duffel bags. Those closer to the action are doing laundry and welcoming displaced families to their own homes.
Children are making lemonade stands, asking not for money, but Tehillim, recognizing that this currency is most valuable of all. Freshly risen challos made by masses of women desperate to be mafrish challah have jostled the sourdough out of the communal oven.
The soldiers themselves are not just recipients of these tefillos and care packages, but part of the revolution themselves. Their tefillos and learning and spirited Kabbalas Shabbos gatherings are not a PR move to show the religious face of the army, but the expression of that same vulnerability we feel — what happened on Simchas Torah reveals, l’mafreia, that the entire 75-year existence of this country was only because He was protecting, sheltering, and safeguarding.
If we feel vulnerable, imagine the courage it takes to leave your family and go face-to-face with an enemy that long ago gave up any claim of being human. These soldiers know that there is nothing protecting them lulei rachamecha va’chasadecha, other than Hashem’s mercy and kindness.
And so we, worldwide Jewry, are more “one” than we have been in many years. Those who do not vote in Israeli government elections are davening and helping in any way they can, and those who considered anyone with a yarmulke and peyos to be a parasite are suddenly perceiving that when you’re down, there is no one more generous, efficient, and capable than these “parasites.”
The achdus feels new, but it is really quite old.
“Our feet were standing in your gates, Yerushalayim. Says Rabi Yehoshua ben Levi: Who enabled our feet to stand triumphant in battle? The gates of Yerushalayim, where Torah is studied” (Makkos 10a).
Dovid Hamelech dispatched soldiers to war, and no doubt, those soldiers were appreciated and acknowledged. He did not just wish them well and make sure they had food — he also ensured that they would be victorious by filling the gates of Yerushalayim with those who toil in Torah, creating a source of merit and protection.
If the soldiers, with their valor and dedication, have captured your heart and you are baking, folding, arranging, or swiping, then take one moment to contemplate the source of their strength and go all the way.
On Isru Chag, thousands of bochurim and yungeleit were back at their posts, understanding just how vital their is mission now. American and European bochurim who’d traveled home for Yom Tov were suddenly stranded, uncertain how to proceed. Within days, their yeshivos had coordinated satellite locations — room, board, maggidei shiur, even the atmosphere — appreciating that every single moment of every seder is crucial to Klal Yisrael.
(The Mirrer Yeshivah’s period in Shanghai was miraculous, but the stint in Woodbourne, New York, was also pretty wondrous, because it lasted for less than two weeks — and tens of thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours were invested in that eight-day yeshivah!)
Then, these young men squared their shoulders, hugged their parents goodbye, and boarded flights back to the place they feel is best for their learning.
Kollel yungeleit, to whom bein hazmanim is less about relaxing and more about the dentist appointment or license renewal or chance to catch their breath, did the same thing. They headed directly back to the shtender and Gemara, unleashing a flood of merit and protection into the world.
Because learning Torah is the reason for creation, and if we hope to find favor with the One Who created the world, it will be by showing Him how committed we are to His program for the world. We live to bring glory to His Name while the bad guys seek to erase it: To whom will He show compassion?”
If there are bochurim who, until now, might have been considered “reservists,” maybe engaged in other things beyond the beis medrash, so many of them have now come forward, finding strength to take on sedorim or goals in learning they had not believed possible.
So here comes the hashkafah part of this piece.
If you have acknowledged the soldiers — and who hasn’t? — make sure that you are at least as appreciative of the ones giving them the energy and strength, bringing blessing, protection, goodness and light to the world (See Nefesh Hachaim 4). Make sure that you are davening for our yeshivah bochurim and kollel yungeleit, that you are helping their yeshivos, and that when you see one, you are thinking, “a brachah oif dein kop.”
Everyone is reaching deep and doing more than they thought possible, recognizing that we are holding by Ne’ilah, the frenzied final moments. If you have a yeshivah or kollel near you, do something extra for them, knowing with full confidence that you just did something major for the team.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 986.
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