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Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

A Letter to our Soldiers

To our dear Chayalim and Chayalot,

Like you, Avraham left home. All of a sudden, he received the order, gathered his belongings, and departed. And it is at that decisive moment in his life, when he set out on the journey to the promised land, that his own story began.

Avraham’s entire life is a journey, both physically and spiritually. In the most literal sense, even upon arriving in the land of Israel, he continues to move from one area to the next. Avraham faces a spiritual journey, too.

While the Midrash reports that Avraham first developed faith in God at a young age, Avraham still faces questions about God as he ages, challenging the decision to destroy Sodom and being wary of the divine promise that he would, with time, have children of his own.

This experience of trials and travails is framed by Chazal as the ten tests of Avraham. At every step of the journey, Avraham faces new challenges. How shall he protect his family from harm and strife? What do the demands of justice and righteousness ask of him? And what ultimately is God’s destiny and plan for him?

The Mishna in Pirkei Avot (5:3) introducing these ten tests explains their function: “to make known the extent of Avraham’s love for God.” The challenging life of Avraham is orchestrated by God, in order for Avraham to demonstrate to the world his great love for the Creator.

Not only does Avraham withstand and overcome each of his trials, but, as Rashi notes in his commentary on the Mishna, he demonstrates his love by not once questioning God’s plan, not once wondering whether he should leave this destiny for someone else. Avraham pushes through, steadfast in his commitment, knowing that the journey ahead of him is all part of a divine plan, even when that plan remains elusive and unclear.

You, brave Chayalim and Chayalot, are the chanichim (חניכים), the students and foot soldiers of Avraham (the only time in Tanach that this word is used). You, too, are on a journey, and you are on the front lines of the test we are all facing at this moment.

The same questions and challenges facing Avraham are now your lot. How do we protect ourselves? What do our values demand of us at this moment? What could God possibly be thinking right now?

But like Avraham, every one of you with whom I have spoken remains steadfast in your faith and confident in our mission and its success. You embody the legacy of Avraham, facing physical, emotional, and spiritual tests of character and approaching them with confidence and commitment, knowing that at the end of the road is the divine promise of redemption.

It is your commitment to our beliefs, inherited from generations upon generations of Jews who have walked the long road of our national journey, that is holding us all together and propelling us forward.

We pray for your safety and wellbeing, and we pray that, as happened to Avraham, your tests and ours will come to an end, when God will assure us that we have lived up to the remarkably high expectations set out for us by our Creator, and that you and all of us will be the recipients of great blessing from the Heavens, speedily and in our days.

Keep well. You have my personal phone number – use it 24/7.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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