The Jewish Army and the Jewish Family

In the book of Numbers, the Israelites are to be counted by tribes and family. We are given a detailed list of the exact numbers. That, by the way, is the source for the name of the book! The census was conducted by illustrious men, the leaders of their tribes. Why was all of this necessary?

The commentaries say that it was preparation for battle. The Israelites were going to enter into the land, and needed to have a proper army. They were to face two challenges: the danger of battle, and the ethical challenges of warfare. In order to meet both of these challenges, family was critical. The family background of each soldier made all the difference. How?

Firstly, we all need the "merit of our forefathers." By counting the individuals and acknowledging their family heritage, the merit of their forefathers is being stressed. Does this mean that having a righteous ancestry means that I will be OK in every case?

I don't think so. Merit of the forefathers is not the same as a monetary inheritance, for example. It's not that we get a bank account filled with money. It's more like getting a safe filled with money, that we can only access if we know the combination. If we have forgotten it, if we don't live according to the ethics of our ancestors, their merit is inaccessible to us.

So to start with, each soldier must examine their values and learn from the role models of his upbringing. Then, if his ancestors were worthy, he will gain extra reward for following in their footsteps. This may be what he needs to be protected from the dangers of battle.

The second aspect is extremely relevant, especially in today's world. It relates to war crimes. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch explains that the leaders of the tribes were to exclude from the Army anyone who came from a dysfunctional family background. The concern was that they would commit war crimes and atrocities. When you put someone with a violent and unstable nature in the extremes of battle, they can morally self-destruct.

The historian Richard Ambrose contrasts the way American soldiers treated the Europeans they conquered at the end of the second war, with the way the Germans did. The Germans, as we know, were brutal and barbaric. The Americans, by and large, were exceptionally civil and decent. Why?

Because they were fighting for a value, and that value was human rights and dignity. That value was freedom. The German was fighting for power and conquest, and once he had it, he allowed every base instinct to express itself in brutality. The American saw himself as a liberator, and treated the people, even the Germans, as beneficiaries of freedom. He treated them decently.

Israel has the most ethical army in the world. That is not to say that there aren't soldiers who commit crimes. Unlike any other army, Israel investigates, and prosecutes when these things happen. The codes of combat, and the basic values of the Israeli soldier, are so high that no other army in the world can compare it to them. That is why it is the height of hypocrisy for some of the world's greatest human rights violators to accuse Israel of war crimes.

They might as well revive the blood libel of the Middle Ages. These accusations are completely false, and are not coming from those who support Israel and its right to defend itself.

A Jewish army must be holy. It must let the values of their ancestors guide them and protect them, both from their enemies and from their own struggles. We are proud of the IDF.