Anyone killed defending the nation and the Land is called holy * Thanks to them, life in this world continues and intensifies * A soldier killed by friendly fire is also considered holy to the same degree * Enlisting in the army is one of the most important and fundamental commandments in the Torah * The holy ones who sacrificed their lives, represent the highest level of loving God, and are in a world that is all good * The soldiers who sacrificed themselves to build Zion and Jerusalem, are themselves the consolation
When our holy soldiers are endangering their lives to defend the nation and the Land, with some dying in this effort, it is incumbent upon us to once again study and emphasize the supreme holiness of those killed sanctifying God’s name. Through this, we can understand the supreme greatness of all soldiers who endanger their lives to defend the nation and the Land.
On the Holiness of Soldiers Who Gave Their Lives
Those killed defending the nation and Land merit the highest possible level in the World of Truth, because through their death sanctifying God’s name, they transcended their individual realm that every person dwells in, connected to the communal level of Israel’s holiness, bonded with God, and became sanctified in His holiness. Therefore, even though their lives were cut short in this world, they live fully in the eternal world of the World to Come, to the degree that “no person can one can stand in their enclosure” (Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 10b). Thanks to them, life in this world continues and intensifies, because from their lives in this world, they merited supreme sanctification, revealing the supreme point of holiness in this world.
A soldier killed by friendly fire or a training accident during war is considered equally holy, because that is the nature of an army and war. No army can function without such incidents, and without an army, there is no possibility of sustaining the Jewish people. Therefore, anyone killed in a war defending the nation and Land, is called kadosh (holy).
The Two Forms of Mesirut Nefesh that Sustain Israel Forever
In the merit of their mesirut nefesh (self-sacrifice), Israel’s existence is sustained. The basis for fulfilling commandments with mesirut nefesh is rooted in Akeidat Yitzchak (the ‘Binding of Isaac’), which revealed Israel’s segulah (uniqueness) – that through the willingness to sacrifice their lives, Israel is bonded to eternity.
There are two forms of mesirut nefesh in the Torah: The first form is the willingness to enlist in the army for the sake of the nation and the Land, when Israel fights for its independence in its Land. The second form of mesirut nefesh is one of a bedi’avad (less than ideal) situation, during times of decrees and exile, when the wicked coerce Jews to transgress one of the three severe transgressions, or abandon their religion. That is, when we do not merit fulfilling mesirut nefesh through military service in the IDF, Jews are forced to sacrifice their lives for loyalty to the Jewish faith.
The Great Value of the Commandment to Enlist in the Military
Some Torah students do not pay attention to the tremendous commandment fulfilled by soldiers. They mistakenly think that Torah is separate from Israeli nationalism, as if the Haredim uphold Torah values and commandments, while soldiers uphold national values not found in the Torah. However, the truth is that enlisting in the army is one of the most important and fundamental commandments of the Torah, encompassing two commandments upon which everything stands: saving the life of the nation, and settling the Land of Israel. More accurately, the categorization is as follows: some observe more of the private commandments; some observe more of the general commandments; and some are privileged to fulfill all the commandments of the Torah.
The great importance of serving in the army can be gleaned from the other name for Sefer Bamidbar (‘Book of Numbers’), also called Sefer Ha-Pikudim (‘Book of Counting’). Sefer Bamidbar tells the story of Israel’s journey through the desert to prepare for conquering and settling the Land. Someone who does not understand the importance of serving in the army wrongly thinks that the census in Sefer Ha-Pikudim counted all of Israel. However, if such a person were to re-examine, he will find that the commandment was to count the army recruits over twenty years old. That is, to prepare all of Israel, each man by his own camp and each man by his division, in advance of conquering the Land. Based on this, we can understand the severity of the Sin of the Spies recounted in Sefer Bamidbar which caused the decree of death for all in the desert, delaying Israel’s entry to the Land for forty years. Because in the Sin of the Spies, they transgressed against the most important commandment that generation was meant to fulfill. Thus, from then until the Holocaust, when we did not merit fulfilling the commandment to settle the Land, which includes establishing an army to defend the nation and Land, many more Jews died.
Through Mesirut Nefesh the Values of Eternity Are Fulfilled Within Us
The holy ones in Israel and exile, who endangered their lives for sanctifying God’s name and sustaining His nation, maintain Israel and its faith in the world, embodying Israel’s ultimate self-sacrifice and holiness expressed in the ‘Binding of Isaac’. Therefore, during the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, together with remembering the ‘Binding of Isaac’, all the holy martyrs who sacrificed their lives sanctifying God’s name, arise in our memory.
Life’s True Existence is Sustained through the Martyrs
By nature, human societies tend to sink into the routine of the present, and forget the great vision of redeeming the world. This leads to crises and disasters, because the soul always yearns for more. When positive outlets for this yearning are lacking, destructive outlets emerge, leading society to wickedness and destruction. A situation emerges where righteous people sticking to true values face severe and terrifying trials. When they withstand the trial and sacrifice their lives sanctifying God’s name, they connect present life to eternal values, reminding Israel of the great vision. Thanks to this, the world continues and progresses towards redemption.
The Holy Ones Express Loving God to Completion
The kedoshim (holy ones) express loving God at the highest level, as our Sages said: “‘For love is as strong as death’ – the love with which that persecuted (shmad) generation loved God, as it says: ‘Because for Your sake we are killed all day long, we are counted as sheep for the slaughter’ (Psalms 44:23)” (Song of Songs Rabbah 8:4).
Some Jews have not yet learned to call in God’s name, but they are connected to the divine values manifested in truth, goodness, and Israeli nationalism. They may have heard negative things about observant Jews, but the Jewish/Israeli values they love and are willing to sacrifice their lives for, are divine values. Truly, they too sacrifice their lives out of loving God. As the Torah says: “You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him, keep His commandments, heed His voice, worship Him and cleave to Him” (Deuteronomy 13:5). Our Sages asked: “Is it actually possible for a person to follow the Divine Presence? But hasn’t it already been stated: ‘For the Lord your God is a devouring fire!’ (ibid. 4:24)? Rather, the meaning is that one should follow His attributes: just as He clothes the naked… so shall you; just as the Holy One visited the sick… so shall you; just as He comforted mourners… so shall you; just as He buried the dead… so shall you” (Sotah 14a). Thus, one who cleaves to God’s nation walks in God’s ways, for God loves His nation, and watches over it always.
God Comforts Those Killed Sanctifying His Name
Our Sages said that although the death of those killed sanctifying His name is terribly painful, God said they have not lost a thing, and their blood is more precious to Him than any offerings (Midrash Socher Tov Tehillim 16:4), because they are the foundation of the world’s existence. They embody the absolute connection between the created, and the Source of Life.
Our Sages said that so greatly does their Kiddush Hashem sanctify God, that it is as if at the time of their death, the vengeance that God will exact upon the wicked killers, is already determined and occurring – as if they are already standing to be revived at Techiyat ha-Meytim (Resurrection of the Dead) (Sifra, Acharei Mot 8:13). They further said that in the Upper Worlds, there is an appointed angel over all the Jews killed by non-Jews, who records their names on God’s garments. They will remain recorded there until God avenges their blood, when Mashiach is revealed to comfort them. Angels of light and joy descend with Him to delight them, clothing them in garments of honor (Zohar vol. 1 39a, 41a).
Comfort for the Families of the Holy Ones
The fallen soldiers are in a world that is all good, having already attained the highest level of sanctity of all of Israel, enjoying the radiance of the Divine Presence, with all the righteous heroes. Even in this world, everyone recognizes their mighty heroism and wondrous personality. However, the greatest anguish is that of the soldiers’ families, suffering, with a gaping void in their hearts. Who can restore their terrible loss? Therefore, the mitzvah to comfort them is so important.
The Comfort of Zion and Jerusalem
We comfort all mourners with the prayer that God will comfort them together with the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem. That is, the comfort stems from recognizing that all of life is for the sake of building Zion and Jerusalem. Therefore, any grief, even over a Jew who lived in exile yet maintained his identity, is a stage in the process of redemption towards building Zion and Jerusalem. If so, the soldiers who literally sacrificed themselves for building Zion and Jerusalem are themselves, the very comfort. For until death is finally consumed forever all people will eventually die, and we should console them, for their lives too were a stage on the way to building Zion and Jerusalem. Whereas those killed sanctifying God’s name for the realization of Zion and Jerusalem, through their death sanctifying His name, there is already great comfort.
The comfort does not nullify the awful distress, but rather gives it meaning and direction for carrying on with life. From now on, the mourners will know that everything built here in the State of Israel, is built thanks to the power of their holy loved one. The children that will be born, the settlements that will continue thriving, the immigration that will persist, the Torah learning that will proliferate, the charitable and just deeds that will intensify, every flower that will bloom, and every joy that will emerge from each home – all in their merit. The moral Jewish society that we wish to establish here as the prophets’ vision – belongs to them. Out of such remembrance we will be able to continue vigilantly in their path, the path of self-sacrifice for the Jewish people.
And if thanks to remembering one of the holy ones, we are stirred to add more good deeds, more Torah learning, more volunteering for settlement and immigration efforts, and perhaps even to marry and bear more children – it is fitting to share this with the bereaved families, so that they know just how much their dear one beneficially impacted his acquaintances – thus, strengthening their comfort.
This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.