Bamidbar: Our Nation, Our Army and Our Spirit!

Army. This is the first word in my reading of Parashat Bamidbar, and it’s the most remarkable word. It is of course not a new word in the Torah, but it is a new concept. The Israelites are turning into a nation, and as such we need an army!soldiers torah

Following God’s announcement to Moses about enrolling the people of Israel in the army, we read lists with numbers of prospective soldiers from each tribe.

Just a month ago we remembered the Shoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) and a little later we celebrated Israel’s Independence Day, the state whose existence promises our “SAFE” continuity. And one of the ways to ensure this safety, our “insurance policy”, is the army of Israel. So we look at what we had just a few weeks ago – holocaust, independence – and we read Parashat Bamidbar, which confirms the importance (or in other words, the divine commandment) of having an army as a “MUST” for our national formation. But BECAUSE OF THAT the appearance of the army in the Torah doesn’t have a random timing. It happens in the book of Bamidbar. It happens AFTER we received the books of Exodus and Leviticus, the basis to create an ethical people. We received the notions and the values to build a good nation. We learned about loving the immigrant and the stranger, and about “loving your neighbor as yourself” (Lev. 19:18). We learned about economics, how to distribute our resources in order to make a fair society. And after two books of ethics, spirituality, deep connection and lots of humanity, we are called to make an army.

Very often we hear in Israel that we have the “most ethical army in the world”, which means that we define ourselves by seeing what others have. I don’t think that it’s a good idea to establish and to think of our army by comparing it to the values and behavior of others. I wish to think about our army as the most Jewish in the world; committed to the land of Israel but committed nonetheless to the life of and love for others, to peace, justice and Tikkun Olam (repair of the world).

Our love for the State and the People of Israel is not legitimated by the comparison with other countries or nations, but by our capability to bring to our life, to our country, the highest commitment to our Jewish values. For 2,000 years we have fought for and dreamed of our right to be – to exist; we achieved this, we have the right, and we can keep it, but it would be terrible to miss the meaning. So we start “Bamidbar” by remembering our commitment – as a nation and as individuals – to making peace and to loving the other.

Tomorrow we celebrate Shavuot, in which we remember that the Torah was given to us. Not by chance this celebration comes every year after Parashat Bamidbar; it reminds us that even when the circumstances obligate us to have an army we cannot forget who we are. Even when we are obligated to carry rifles we need to carry with us, in the other hand, the Torah: our values and our commitment to make this world a better place.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameah!

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