Thursday, October 6, 2011

Take a tank to the mikvah

First, to follow up on my Rosh HaShanah derashah about paying attention, a suggestion: Take your Yom Kippur machzor now, and write in it. An asterisk next to an important line. A note reminding you that saying מקדש השבת וישראל ויום הכיפורים counts as Kiddush. An underline of a sentence so that it will catch your eye when your concentration flags. A quick commentary on something you've noticed in the davening.

I want to put up a post, How to Write in a Siddur, but I haven't made the time yet; let this suffice for now.

I'm always unsure how to approach speaking at Kol Nidrei, a time when people are so tense and tired and exhausted and full of food. This year I'm going to center my remarks on a story which I heard in the name of Rav Simcha haKohen Kook several years ago. Here's the story; I'll save the remarks for Kol Nidrei night itself.

My basic theme: When was the last time I took a tank to the mikvah, moving heaven and earth for a mitzvah?

A young soldier, an American named Motti, called me from a town in Aza called Netzarim… At first I questioned the soldier. "You don't mean you are in Netzarim, you mean you are in an army base near Netzarim."

"No," came the reply, “I am in Netzarim.”

I knew that there were only two ways to reach Netzarim: By tank, or by helicopter at night. So I asked him: "How did you get there?"

"I told my commander that it was my custom to go to the Mikvah before Yom Kippur, and the only Mikvah around was in the Jewish community of Netzarim. So he let me use a tank."

Now came the reason for the young soldier's call: "I am borrowing a Torah scroll from the community synagogue to take back to the base. The Jews of Netzarim have donated enough Tzitziot for my whole platoon. My question is, what kind of Yom Kippur Tefillah can I conduct. Besides myself there is only one other observant soldier on the base. Most of the other soldiers have, believe it or not, never attended a Yom Kippur service in their lives."

"Don't worry," I assured him. "You just conduct the service and you instruct them to say "Amen" to your blessing and it will be as if they were praying themselves."

That night, Rav Simcha Kook got up in shul before Kol Nidrei and said:
“Dear Gd, there are many countries in this great world of yours who have armies. And many of these armies have tanks. Some have many tanks and some have fewer tanks. But Gd, is there another country in this world that used a tank to help someone go to the Mikvah before Yom Kippur? Is there another country that used a tank to bring a Torah to an army base so they could have a Minyan for Yom Kippur? Gd, only in Israel are tanks used this way so you must protect your country Israel.”

1 comment:

  1. What might also seem a bit surprising in the story is that his commander let him take the tank!

    But lav davka, the officers and in general Zahal are, in general, very respectful of the religious needs of soldiers, especially in units with Hesder chayalim.

    I have had three sons serve (two in tanks and one in artillery) together with their Hesder Yeshiva chevra and their experiences were very positive when it came to allowances for religious needs.

    The rare exceptions we see on the blogosphere (ordering soldiers back who leave due to kol isha) are just that - rare.

    Gmar Chatima Tova