“If a person sees suffering coming upon him, he should examine his actions, as it says (Eicha 3:40): ‘Let us search and examine our ways, and return to Hashem’ (Berachot 5a). This is the natural response of a believing Jew – in the face of calamity, we review our deeds, scrutinize our ways, and return to Hashem with all our hearts.
Indeed, in the wake of October 7, prayer gatherings have abounded. Thousands recite Tehillim. Many are engaged in charity and repentance. The tragedy has sparked an unprecedented spiritual awakening. This is true among the religiously observant community and even among secular Israelis. The unprecedented Tzitzis garments among soldiers is just one symptom.
Public repentance carries a different quality from the repentance imposed on each individual. It does not address personal actions but rather the conduct of the general public as a collective and a nation
However, while personal disasters may prompt individual introspection, collective repentance is called for in the face of a public calamity experienced by the entire public. Public repentance carries a different quality from the repentance imposed on each individual. It does not address personal actions but rather the conduct of the general public as a collective and a nation.
Beyond personal growth and prayer gatherings designed to motivate individuals to mend their ways, we must thus investigate whether we have behaved improperly as an entire society and seek to remedy our ways through collective repentance.
Partnership in the War Effort?
Before I continue, I wish to address the debate currently taking place within Charedi society, as evidenced by several articles on this platform.
There is a sense that we, members of the Charedi public, need to recalibrate our attitude toward national unity. Out of concern for the upkeep of Jewish tradition, the Torah, and its mitzvos, Charedi society has disassociated itself from the rest of Israel and formed an independent framework in which to live and conduct a Torah life. Part of this isolationism is the refusal to enlist in the IDF, a Jewish-Israeli that operates under a secular and liberal spirit.
While the majority still rejects universal army service, the terrible massacre we experienced has caused many to revisit the question of the Charedi draft. “Together we win,” goes the popular slogan, and many have rushed to participate, wondering where their “together” was up until now.
For example, one article by Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer (“Will We Win Together?”), notes the following:
And, of course, will we enlist in the army – even as individuals over the age of twenty-six and exempt from army service – for a short regular military service and potentially meaningful reserve duty? […] The answer to these and similar questions is contingent on the simple, piercing question: Are we beyachad? Are we one nation?
On the other hand, numerous voices argue that nothing has changed. They contend that currents of heresy continue to influence state systems and that advocating for the recruitment of the Yeshiva community, even for those who aren’t engaged in full-time Torah study, implies granting legitimacy and exposure to secular influences. Despite the considerable challenges and pain, we are urged not to succumb to the pressures of the collective Israeli melting pot. Rather, the emphasis should be on strengthening and deepening our commitment to religion, spirituality, and Torah.
We need to be cautious of coming closer to the general public, and our wartime inspiration should be directed solely at the private: Torah study, prayer, and mitzvah performance
For example, in the letter from the senior Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Landau, he instructs his followers – “Torah scholars and all Charedim” – that “we have nothing but Torah study.” Moreover,
Those engaged in other activities, attempting to attract the hearts of the vulnerable who imagine that salvation from our troubles and dangers surrounding lies therein, are exceedingly foolish and misguided, and much harm will befall them, their children, and their households, as we have learned from our revered rabbis, of blessed memory. Leave aside your delusions, ideas, and imaginations of your hearts and return to Hashem with Torah study and its observance, repentance, and prayer, for He will save us from all the harms and evils that befall us. The salvation of Hashem is like the blink of an eye.
Certainly, these represent an approach quite distant from Rabbi Pfeffer’s. We need to be cautious of coming closer to the general public, and our wartime inspiration should be directed solely at the private: Torah study, prayer, and mitzvah performance.
What, then, should be done? In the following lines, I will suggest that we can carry the public burden, at least partially, without leaving the Torah study hall. The beis midrash includes public elements, which should be strengthened, certainly at this time. I believe that even those Yeshiva heads who object, out of concern for a religious decline, to actions in the field will agree to a “public track” within the study hall.
To understand what a “public Teshuvah” is, we need to clarify whether the Torah imposes imperatives on a community rather than individuals.
In fact, there are several examples of such imperatives. Examples include the three commandments given to the Jewish people upon entering the Land – to appoint a king, to obliterate Amalek, and to build the Mikdash (Sanhedrin 20b; Rambam, Laws of Kings 1:1; see the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos, positive commandments at the end).
Narrowly defined, the concept of a tzibur, a Jewish public, refers to the settlement of Jews upon the Land (see Horiyos 3; Tzofnas Paane’ach to Hilchos Berachos 10:1). This is why the public mitzvos noted above only apply when we become a tzibbur – when we enter the Land of Israel.
These national commandments, mitzvos hatzibbur, serve as the Torah’s guidance for national conduct. The appointment of a king addresses the socio-public organizational aspect, while the war against Amalek encompasses the battle against our enemies. The third major public mitzvah, the construction of the Temple, represents the completeness of our national service before Hashem.
The appropriate public Teshuvah is to scrutinize our public conduct. Are we actively seeking to align our public affairs with Torah guidance? Are our wars conducted in compliance with the Torah’s principles of warfare? And are we making genuine efforts toward constructing the Mikdash, as instructed by the Torah?
We can also take inspiration from King David, who declared, “I will pursue my enemies and overtake them, and I will not turn back until they are annihilated”
Specifically concerning war, the response to the murder and capture of Jews by the enemy is not only to strengthen ourselves internally but even to return to the laws of war as recorded in the Torah. When fighting the Amalekite evil our Gazan enemies, we should learn from the conduct of the Israelites when fighting the Canaanites – including Amalek, who “dwelled in the Negev” and took captives from among the Jewish people. The nation vowed that if they succeeded in battle, they would consecrate the enemy cities to Hashem.
We can also take inspiration from King David, who declared, “I will pursue my enemies and overtake them, and I will not turn back until they are annihilated,” or seek a deeper understanding from the Torah instruction fighting the enemy city “until its destruction.”
From Community to General Public
A friend who works in the Kiruv field shared a conversation with a Jew who had recently strengthened his observance of Torah and Mitzvos. The individual had been exposed to a series of classes on the Rambam’s Laws of Kings and Wars and was surprised and excited to discover the depth of Torah teachings on such topics. He exclaimed, “I didn’t know the Torah had something to say even on such matters! Our Torah is not limited to the kitchen!”
Regrettably, it is not only recent baalei teshuvah that narrow the scope of Torah to a kitchen environment. We are used to operating as a small community and fail to note the fact that we are not a large (or huge) society capable of running a state.
Why do so many wish to participate in the war effort? One reason is because of our sheer size. As a small community, we could rely on the defense that others provided us – the predominantly secular sector that founded the state. However, as a large and diverse society, it becomes ever harder to demand that others risk their lives to defend the country while we sit peacefully in the study hall.
Yet, even if the claim against our lack of participation has some legitimacy, it is not the main point. As God-fearing Jews, who wish to lead their lives by the compass of Torah and mitzvos, the growth of our society demands attention to what Hashem wants in a public sense, beyond the personal upkeep of mitzvos.
It is time for us to return to the public mitzvos of the Torah, to make a reckoning in matters concerning our public conduct in the Holy Land. Instead of abandoning the space to our secular brethren, it’s up to us to share responsibility for the workings of government, how we wage war against our enemies, and our public service of Hashem, which will be fully realized with the building of the Temple.
Our public repentance involves a readiness to lead – to lead the public affairs of the Jewish State. If the Torah obligates us to establish a Torah kingdom, we should be the first to trace its foundations and proceed to implement them. Does Hashem wish us to fight against our enemies? If this is the case, we will be ready – it is up to us to step up to the plate.
Not every mitzvah can indeed be realized tomorrow morning. However, if we cannot apply ourselves to building the Temple or leading the army in the Torah path, we must set ourselves on the task. We need to internalize that this is our basic national duty.
At the very least, we need to begin with Torah study that relates to wartime. Multiple sugyos need to be studied in depth, and there is no reason why this is not the case: the issue of how to appoint a king or how to wage war, and so on. Kollel students should be writing on such matters, as should leading halachic authorities.
This is the Teshuvah we need: a dedicated study of the Torah sections addressing national mitzvos, with a focus on their practical implementation among nation and land
If we internalize our duty to lead the nation, the current question of integration becomes a temporary concern alone. Given the mindset shift, the question of how our public duty is discharged will become secondary. Once the community has taken responsibility for settling the Jewish people in the Land, the specific choice of how to fulfill the sacred duty to save Israel from its enemies – within the existing IDF framework or by means of a national effort to establish military structures aligned with the Torah and under the guidance of Torah leaders – becomes less crucial.
This is the Teshuvah we need: a dedicated study of the Torah sections addressing national mitzvos, with a focus on their practical implementation among nation and land. Rather than functioning as a community solely concerned with its survival, we must transition to the fulfilment of national calling to conduct our public life according to the Divine word.