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Parsha Mitzvot: Shofetim: Mitzvah 528 – Concept 610

I heard the following story from a non-observant ranking IDF officer: The young man lives in a small Moshav in Israel. His family finished the Seder around 4AM, and he sat down to learn Gemara for a few minutes before going to sleep. The phone rang just before he climbed into bed; he was summoned back to base for an IDF action in response to a bombing in Netanya.

He hurriedly dressed and began his trek. A car full of Israelis saw a soldier walking, hear where he was headed, and drove him to his base. He and his Chavrusot (Study Partners) climbed into their tank and drove straight into Nablus. They were on high alert for the next twelve hours.

His commander radioed in permission for the tank crew to sleep for four hours. They had to sleep inside the tank  because it was far too dangerous outside. Everyone knew that the Hesder students had not slept in more than 24 hours, but a four hour break was the maximum the IDF could offer in such a tense situation.

They were exhausted. They were desperate for sleep, but there was something they had to first do; the entire crew took out their Gemaras and studied for 15 minutes before closing their tired eyes.

“He shall say to them, ‘Hear, O Israel, today you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let your heart be not faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For God, your Lord, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you.’” (Deuteronomy 20:3-4) We are prohibited from panicking and retreating during battle. (Rambam, Hilchot Melachim – The Laws of Kings and Their Wars)

Ever since reading the “The Red Badge of Courage” I have understood the difference between courage and the absence of fear. The Torah seems to demand that we go beyond the courage to face our fears and attain a level of no fear!

The young soldier of our story was frightened inside his tank, except, when he took out his Gemara to learn. He had no fear when he was studying. At that moment, he and his friends brought us back to the battles described in our verses: He used his Gemara to rise above his fears and experienced “God, the One Who Goes with you.”

I fear less for the soldiers who will study Gemara for 15 minutes before going to sleep than I do for the soldier who does not. I fear less for a nation with such people defending her than I do for a nation with Gemara-less soldiers.

There are times I experience life as a constant battle. (See Ready For Battle) Elul forces me to think ahead to the coming year and I wonder, and, admittedly fear, what lies ahead. At such moments, I take out my Gemara, and the fear disappears.

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