Two Sides of the River
Many years ago, a timeless incident occurred. As the nation of Israel stood on the east bank of the Jordan river, two tribes approached Moshe Rabbeinu with a unique request. The tribes of Reuven and Gad had a lot of sheep, and the east bank was home to fertile pastures. They requested to stay there and make the east bank their home rather than entering the land of Israel. Moshe responded in disappointment. He proclaimed words which reverberate with us all these millennia later:
הַאַחֵיכֶם יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה׃
Will your brothers go to war, and you remain here?
~ Bamidbar 32:6
Those words are truly haunting. We all feel them pointedly. Our young men and women are entering some of the most dangerous places in the world. How can we be here while they fight?
The Burning of Tziklag
If we trace forward almost 500 years after this incident, a different and tragic story unfolded. David Hamelech was already anointed as the monarch over Israel, but he was forced to flee from Shaul, the encumbent king of Israel. After many close calls he decided to leave the land of Israel and live among his enemies, the Philistines. He fled to the area of Gaza today and managed to convince the Philistine king Achish that he was no longer aligned with Israel. Achish believed his narrative and granted him, his 600 men and their families a small village in which to live in safety. It was called Tziklag. David and his cohort lived there for some time until war broke out between Israel and Philistines. Forced to show his false allegiances to the Philistines, David conscripted his men to the battle front in the north, leaving Tziklag with no soldiers to protect it. His bid to join the Philistine war effort was thankfully rejected and he was sent home by the Philistine kings shortly thereafter. He returned to Tziklag to find an unprecedented disaster. A large roving band of Amalekites had taken all the women and children captive and burned the village to the ground. It was a true shock. The reaction of David and his men was something we feel today:
וַיִּבְכּוּ עַד אֲשֶׁר אֵין־בָּהֶם כֹּחַ לִבְכּוֹת׃
They wept until they had no more strength to cry.
~ I Shmuel 30:4
Their beloved and defenseless families became victims of unscrupulous and merciless brutes. The pain was immeasurable.
After processing their pain they reached a turning point:
וַיִּתְחַזֵּק דָּוִד בַּה׳ אֱלֹקיו׃
David strengthened himself in Hashem his God.
~ I Shmuel 30:6
They gathered up their arms and began their pursuit of the aggressors. But David’s small band were exhausted. They had just come from the Philistine battlefront. They arrived home to find there was no home. There was no food to be found. There was no sleep to be had. As their pursuit continued, 200 of the men could simply go no further. They had no strength, so they rested and only 400 managed to continue the pursuit. The rescue mission caught up with the Amalekites and vanquished them, liberating their captive families and collecting many spoils. As they made their way back, they met with the 200 hundred men who had remained behind. The active-duty soldiers turned to David and suggested that the spoils not be shared with the 200 men who did not fight. But David dismissed their argument firmly.
כִּי כְּחֵלֶק הַיֹּרֵד בַּמִּלְחָמָה וּכְחֵלֶק הַיֹּשֵׁב עַל־הַכֵּלִים יַחְדָּו יַחֲלֹקוּ
Those who fought in the way and those who were not at the front will divide the spoils equally.
~ I Shmuel 30:24
Why is that? Doesn’t logic demand that those who fight more deserve more?
I would like to suggest, as the Ralbag inferences, that both those on the front and those behind the front were fighting. The war was won based on merits of those in the war and those not in the war. Because those behind the front were praying and soliciting God whole time. They were the front behind the front.
There are times we cannot be on the front lines. We feel the pain of Moshe’s criticism – how can our brothers and sisters be fighting and we are just here. But we are also fighting. Our spiritual war is the front behind the front.
The Front Behind the Front
I would like to explore some concrete suggestions of what we can do spiritually.
In July 2006, during the 2nd Lebanon War, Rabbi Dovid Feinstein זצ״ל, was asked what the spiritual response should be for those who cannot be in active duty fighting. I would like to summarize what Rabbi Feinstein said, as he addressed the Lower East Community during the 9 days of 5766. I want to thank R’Shimon Kwestel, chavrusa of Rabbi Feinstein for many decades for showing me this list.
ותשובה ותפלה וצדקה מעבירין את רע הגזרה
But repentance, prayer and charity remove the evil of the decree!
In order to break a difficult decree, we have 3 tools. One should choose to adopt or a few of these ideas. These commitments should be adopted, bli neder for 30 days (even if the redemption will occur today). Being as Rosh Chodesh is Sunday and Monday, make Marcheshvan the timeframe for any of the acceptances you choose.
Repentance – תשובה
- Do repentance for something you are doing wrong.
- Review the week’s Torah portion each week.
- Do not speak during the Tefilah
- Learn 3 Mishnayos each day.
- Learn an extra half an hour of gemara per day.
- Have your Tefillin and Mezuzos checked. If necessary, they should be upgraded.
- I am going to add one thing to the list of Rabbi Feinstein here:
- May I suggest that each of us take upon ourselves to reach out and make Shalom with someone with whom perhaps we have had a misunderstanding, conflict, argument. Call up a person with whom one has a disagreement and say: “There is a war going on. Our issue is small, let’s start again”
Prayer – תפלה
- The Brachos of the Amida are stated in the plural. Therefore, we should have all of Klal Yisrael in mind. In addition to those close to us. Specifically, the brachos (blessings) about גאולה(redemption), רפואה(health and healing, and פרנסה (prosperity), should be said with intent about all of Israel, including the people of the land of Israel.
- The bracha of השכיבנו at Maariv should be said with additional concentration including all of Israek and the residents of the land of Israel. Women who do not say this blessing should incoroporate it at the enf of the Amida before the yehi ratzon. The concluding blessing should not be said.
- When saying והוא רחום on Monday and Thursday, say on section with concentration. The three sections are:
- Begins with והוא רחום and ends with חנון ורחום אתה
- Begins with אנא מלך and ends with חנון ורחום אתה
- Begins with אין כמוך and ends with השם אחד.
- Women should say at least on prayer per day. If one is already doing so, one should add a second prayer.
- Tehillim is separated into 30 sections (for the 30 days of the month). Please say one section each day followed by the יהי רצון recited after Tehillim. In the יהי רצון there is a phrase starting with ולכל הולכי דרכים. Please have the soldiers of the Israeli army in mind when saying this phrase.
Charity – צדקה
This commitment is ironically easier than the others because it is once off. There are many charities to give at this time and many are very worthy. Find a worthy cause whether immediate or long term and stretch yourself beyond your means.
As we unite in repentance, prayer and charity, may our efforts behind the front help those on the front.