Rabbi Shalom Hammer, author of Armed with Spirit (Gefen Publishing House, 2019), has written a meaningful book employing a novel approach. I find his message comforting in our time of self-isolation and quarantine. I tried reading it through at the end of last year but my hectic schedule finishing a semester of teaching, writing a corporate treatise, and a million other things, made the book second fiddle.
I picked the book up again and I’m glad I did. The irony of the situation is not lost. While I read Armed with Spirit in the ultimate quiet, the recordation of inspirational, near-daily correspondence is from a father to a son who lives in the dust, clamor, and hub-bub of military base training. Yakov, is committed to thirty-two months of combat preparedness and service in the Israel Defense Forces. Rabbi Hammer is a senior lecturer for the Jewish Identity Branch of the IDF. The Rabbi knows better than most about the challenging environment of the military not just to physical preservation but threats to a soldier’s emotional and religious beliefs.
Rabbi Hammer employs stories and lessons from the Torah to inspire Yakov to love the purpose of military service, face one’s beliefs, and fulfill one’s duty. Conserving one’s religious faith and continuing religious practices require puissant spirit and strong self-identity. But Hammer laces the book with love and respect for his son’s coming of age. Yakov responds respectfully and appreciatively. Early in his service,
Yakov is able to tell his father
“Thank you for your inspirational words, Abba (father). Unfortunately, the two institutions that I know are crucial often conflict with each other. For example, as a religious soldier, I have extra time in the morning to (pray), but while I do, the secular soldiers in our division have to prepare the equipment for the day’s maneuvers and training…but I have the feeling this does not sit well with our secular comrades…I remain committed to my davening and serving Hashem as best I can…Learning about (the challenge) in theory is much easier than confronting it in practice.”
Armed with Spirit personifies the observation of Carlos Ruiz Zafón that, “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and of those who read it and lived and dreamed with it.”
A significant number of draftees begin their service as observant Jews, Christians, and Muslims but exit secularists. This condition is a cause célèbre dividing Israel politically and nationalistically. The author raises the matter near the end in “I am My Brother’s Keeper” but he gives the matter too short shrift. His insight my help me and others into what keeps Yakov from going off the path while my own son is no longer a practicing Orthodox Jew.
Rabbi Hammer keeps the preaching to a minimum. But a father sometimes breaks his own rules like when he tells Yakov, “When you recognize that you are securing not only the present but the future of the people and Land of Israel, then I believe it will be easier to overcome the various challenges you encounter in service.”
Yakov: “Very true. When things get difficult, my spirit can become downcast and sometimes I even ask myself why exactly I am going through this, but thinking of ideology, religion, and yes, Hashem, is helpful.”
I fear we have many days ahead indoors and may become downcast. Perhaps some will find comfort in Yakov’s response? Readers will find Armed with Spirit is a helpful means of making your day.
Goldmeier is the manager of an investment fund, university teacher, business consultant, speaker and writer who can be reached at Harold.firstname.lastname@example.org