Restoring Sensitivity: A Call to Unity and Responsibility

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by R. Eliezer Simcha Weisz

As we read about the latest round of terrorist attacks and war in Israel, we cannot help but wonder: have we become desensitized to the tragedies and violence? A few months ago, when we learned about a terrorist attack on Israel or the fall of  a soldier, it would occupy our thoughts for a good part of the day. Now, we read or hear about it and move on. What can we do to restore our sensitivity to such a grave situation?

In times of adversity, the bonds forged between individuals are often tested, revealing the depth of compassion and solidarity that exists within communities. Such is the case on the battlefield, where soldiers demonstrate unwavering support and camaraderie in the face of danger.

One such tale unfolds amidst the chaos of war, where Yoni and Eli, comrades in arms, serve together in the same unit. During a perilous mission deep behind enemy lines, Eli is critically wounded, lying helpless on the ground. Without hesitation, Yoni rushes to his friend’s side, risking his own safety to provide aid and comfort. Despite the ongoing threat of enemy attacks, Yoni remains steadfast, offering reassurance and support to Eli in his time of need. This is a classic case of “משתתף בצערו של חברו,” meaning sharing in another’s distress.

But often we are not directly involved. We are not soldiers on the battlefield. What is our duty then? We learn about this in this week’s sedra, Parshas Tetzaveh.

The Ephod worn by the Kohen Gadol was adorned with shoulder straps, upon which were placed two Avnei Shoham, or onyx stones. Each of these stones bore the names of six Shevatim, representing the twelve tribes of Israel. The significance of these stones is highlighted in the Torah in Parashas Tetzaveh, where it states:

ושמת את שתי האבנים על כתפת האפד אבני זכרן לבני ישראל ונשא אהרן את שמותם לפני ה’ על שתי כתפיו לזכרן. (שמות כ”ח י”ב )

And you shall put the two stones on the shoulder straps of the ephod, stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel, and Aharon shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance. ( Shemot 28:12).

The question arises: why does the Torah elaborate on the placement and purpose of these stones, stating, “and Aharon shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance,” when the first half of the verse already indicates that they serve as a reminder: “And you shall put the two stones on the shoulder straps of the ephod, stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel.” Why does the Torah seem to repeat “for remembrance” in this verse? In order  to understand this, we have  to appreciate the dual responsibility reflected here – both the Kohen Gadol’s duty to remember and be aware of his obligation to Klal Yisrael, as well as Bnei Yisrael’s duty to emulate and remember the level of dedication modeled by the Kohen Gadol.

The Gemara in Makkos 11a connects the exile of the unintentional murderer to the death of the Kohen Gadol. This connection arises from the Kohen Gadol’s pivotal role in the safety and well-being of the Jewish people. If a murder occurs within the community, the Kohen Gadol shares some responsibility. Therefore, the unintentional murderer remains in the city of refuge until the death of the Kohen Gadol, indicating that to a certain extent, the Kohen Gadol was responsible as a leader for the misdeeds of the murderer.

It is for this reason that the Kohen Gadol carried the names of the tribes on his shoulders – to underscore his constant awareness and responsibility for his fellow Jews…In turn, the stones stand as ” stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel”, a reminder to Bnei Yisrael that they too share this obligation to remain mindful of Klal Yisrael’s needs and to emulate Aharon’s level of dedication and responsibility for the welfare of the entire nation…

Just as the Kohen Gadol carried this weight symbolically, so too should we – even if not directly involved – bear the burden of collective responsibility for the welfare and safety of Klal Yisrael.  We do not have to be on the battlefield to carry the burden of Am Yisrael. The war today is not waged just there but also with anti-Semites and Government policies throughout the world who would not allow Israel to defend itself, and whose policies, if carried out, could lead to the destruction of Israel.

At this  time, Jews throughout the world need to mobilize themselves to utilize all their influence and political power to ensure their safety and welfare, as well as that of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. The clarion call of Moshe Rabbeinu echoes to us today: “האחיכם יבואו  למלחמה ואתם תשבו פה?” (Your brethren go to war while you stay here?). Jews cannot remain silent; everyone must mobilize all their talents for Israel’s safety.

This week, 67 years ago, the Chief Rabbi Nissim wrote the following words (published on Friday, the 7th of Adar Aleph, 5757), following the pressure from the UN to return control of Gaza to Egypt, after the Sinai operation.:

האינטרסים מחפים על טוהר המחשבה והמעשה, ולצערינו אנו עדים לכך שהמוסדות הבינלאומיים, אשר תפקידם הראשון היה צריך להיות שלום בעולם, ליישר הדורים, מתחשבים בלחץ אויבי ישראל… אין אנו צרכים להפליג בערכם ובחשיבותם של איומי אויבינו, ואל לנו להרתע. בהתלכדות העם, בנטיעת האהבה והאחווה בין כל חלקיו וזרמיו, בשיתוף עצמי של כל פרט ופרט מישראל עם גורלו של נעם, נהיה נכונים לקראת הימים העוברים עלינו. באמונה במי שבחר בעם הזה מכל העמים, ונתן לנו את תורתו, להיות מאור לגויים, שהביאנו עד הלום, הוא יהפוך להה משטיננו יסכל מזימתם ויפר עצתם

(מנשר שכתב הרב ניסים ופורסם ביום שישי ז’ אדר א’ תשי”ז בעקבות לחץ של האו”ם להחזיר למצרים את השלטון בעזה, לאחר מבצע סיני)

Interests obscure the purity of thought and action. Unfortunately, we witness international institutions, whose primary role should be promoting world peace and justice, instead catering to the pressure of Israel’s enemies. We need not elaborate on the severity of our enemies’ threats, nor should we be deterred.

With national unity, sowing love and fellowship between all branches and members of our community, and the self-sacrifice of every Jew aligning themselves with our shared destiny as a nation, we shall be ready to face the challenging days before us.

With faith in He who chose this people from all peoples and gave us His Torah, to be a light unto the nations that has guided us this far, He will frustrate the schemes of our adversaries, foil their plots and annul their counsel.

Just as when Rabbi Nissim wrote (and throughout our history) today too interests and political pressures obscure moral purity, and international institutions are not living up to their ideals. We need internal unity and determination in the face of external threats. Our faith in Hashem will see us through current and future challenges.

The soldiers Yoni and Eli demonstrated the compassion of “”sharing in another’s distress””. The Kohen Gadol exemplified a broader obligation – bearing the burden of responsibility for the entire nation upon his shoulders. 

As part of the Jewish people, we carry that same duty – whether or not we find ourselves in traumatic situations like soldiers in combat. We must shoulder the weight of our collective destiny and responsibility for the welfare of our people.  

The stones adorning the Kohen Gadol’s ephod symbolize this responsibility for all of Israel to bear. We must not remain indifferent to matters that impact the entire nation, but rather share in one another’s distress and carry each other’s burdens.

About Eliezer Simcha Weisz

Rabbi Eliezer Simcha Weisz is a member of The Chief Rabbinate Council of Israel

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