by Yehuda HaKohen

BAMIDBAR begins with the decree that Israel take a national census. It is in this commandment that G-D reveals an intrinsic value that should lie at the foundation of our perception of Torah.

"`Take a census of the entire assembly of the Children of Israel according to their families, according to their fathers' household, by number of the names, every male according to their headcount. From twenty years of age and up – everyone who goes to the army in Israel – you shall count them for their armies, you and Aharon. And with you shall be one man from each tribe; a man who is leader of his father's household.'" (BAMIDBAR 1:2-4)

Many of history's great Torah luminaries explain that the entire purpose of this national census was to organize an armed militia to liberate the Land of Israel from foreign rule. The holy Ohr HaChaim even adds that there was a hidden miracle involved in the census – that every Israeli counted was in top physical shape and eligible for combat duty.

In his supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot, the Ramban teaches that it is a Torah commandment for all time that the Nation of Israel conquer and settle the Land of Israel.

"This is what our Sages call Milchemet Mitzvah (obligatory war)... And do not err by saying that this precept is the commandment to vanquish the seven nations... This is not so... This land is not to be left in their hands, or in the hands of any nation, in any generation whatsoever... Behold we are commanded with conquest in every generation... If so this is a positive commandment, which applies in every time..." (Positive Commandment 4 of the Ramban's supplement to the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot)

The Ramban illuminates that the conquest and settlement of Eretz Yisrael is a Torah precept for every Jew in every generation. He clarifies that Israel is forbidden from allowing any part of our country to fall into, or remain under, gentile control. In addition, the Shulchan Aruch states conclusively that all of the arbitrators of Torah Law agree with the Ramban, that the mitzvah of liberating Eretz Yisrael is a precept that applies for all generations.

"All of the Poskim, both Rishonim and Achronim, decide the Law in this fashion on the basis of the Ramban." (Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, section 75, sub-section 6)

The eternal mitzvah of implementing Hebrew sovereignty over our homeland can only be fulfilled through an Israeli army. Without such a national military force, Israel would not be capable of waging the war of liberation necessary for the fulfillment of this Divine commandment.

To this day, Israel's army is known as the Israel Defense Forces. That the official name of our army is a conceptual error on the part of our political leadership has been sufficiently proven by history since its inception. Rather than simply warding off external threats, the primary function assumed by this so-called defense force is still that of a liberation army re-conquering its homeland from foreign rule. Because Israel has not always taken the initiative, however, G-D has forced us to retake our country one piece at a time. Through being attacked by hostile peoples unlawfully ruling over parts of our soil, the IDF has launched defensive strikes that have resulted in freeing portions of our country from foreign hands. However poorly misnamed, the Israel Defense Forces constitutes the army of the Hebrew Nation fulfilling the mitzvah of liberating our land.

The Rambam (Hilchot Melachim 5:1) describes a Milchemet Mitzvah as any war fought to assist Israel from a hostile enemy. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 229:6) rules that if gentiles attack Jews, even on the Sabbath, it is a commandment to organize a defense force and counter-attack. The Ramah adds that even if the gentiles have not yet attacked but Israel is aware that they might plan to open hostilities, war should be waged against them as a pre-emptive measure.

There is nothing more sacred than Israel's army, which in its second function serves as the defense force it dubs itself. Its great dedication and strength spring from the holy resolution that never again shall Jews be slaughtered like cattle; never again shall Israel live at the mercy of foreigners. While the primary function of our army is often only subconscious in the minds of our soldiers, this resolution of never again is the conscious driving force behind the IDF – a yearning to liberate Israel from a world of brutality. And only with the liberation of Am Yisrael can the entire human race ever hope to taste freedom.

In the Song of Devorah, the prophetess praises and rebukes Israeli tribes based on their behavior during Barak's war against Canaan.

"The leaders of Yissachar were with Devorah, and so was Yissachar with Barak, into the valley he was sent on his feet. But in the indecision of Reuven there was great deceit. Why did you remain sitting at the borders to hear the bleating of the flocks? The indecision of Reuven demands great investigation. Gilad dwelled across the Jordan; and Dan – why did he gather onto ships? But Asher lived by the shores of the seas and remained to protect his open borders. Zevulun is a people that risked its life to the death, and so did Naphtali, on the heights of the battlefield." (SHOFTIM 5:15-18)

While recording the responses of various tribes and cities during the war, Devorah reveals the importance of participation in national battles.

"`Curse Meroz,' said the angel of HaShem, `Curse! Cursed are its inhabitants, for they failed to come to help HaShem to help the Nation of HaShem against the mighty.'" (SHOFTIM 5:23)

The Radak explains that Meroz was an Israeli city near the battlefield that refrained from joining Barak's military campaign. The verse attacks Meroz for not assisting G-D to assist Israel, revealing that HaShem helps those who help themselves. Israel is required to take the initiative and meet G-D half way (so to speak) if we expect Him to perform miracles on our behalf.

The Sages (Brachot 20a) ask why miracles rarely occurred in Talmudic times as oppose to the many great miracles in Biblical times. The Sages question if it might be because Israelis in Talmudic times were learning less Torah. But the Talmud dismisses this and answers that it can be proven that there were generations that studied less Torah in Biblical times but still experienced great miracles. The Talmud continues by revealing that it is not due to a difference in learning but rather in the level of self-sacrifice that exists within the Hebrew Nation. The Israelis of Biblical times were more prepared to risk their lives in order to sanctify the Name of G-D. The Talmud therefore concludes that miracles are the result of courage and selfless devotion. When Am Yisrael displays great valor in battle, we are often rewarded with miraculous victories.

In addition to being an army of liberation and a defense force, the IDF is also the national organization for the creation of miracles. Through the great self-sacrifice and dedication of our soldiers – boys ready to give their lives for the future of Israel – miracles become an almost daily occurrence. It can be seen in modern history that HaShem frequently rewards acts of courage with astonishing victories and protection from danger. Because miracles are often the result of uncanny self-sacrifice, the IDF – which breeds this valor – is the national organization for the creation of miracles. While Israel is forbidden from relying on miracles, we are certainly encouraged to help G-D create them.

The Torah was given to be lived in this world according to the laws of nature that G-D set in motion. By participating in every facet of life, the Nation of Israel is able to uplift all spheres of this world to their highest and most productive functions in Creation. By implying that all twenty year old males should be serving in our army, the Torah is revealing that even the military requires Divine guidance in order that it live up to its loftiest ideal as part of HaShem's plan for the world. And by sanctifying Israel's military according to His plan, the Hebrew Nation should lead the whole of mankind into an era of peace, liberty and universal morality.

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