The Importance of a Single Hebrew Letter

A lot has been written and said about the tragic war between Israel and Gaza that is nearing the end of its third week. Countless blog posts from analysts and commentators around the world have offered a wide variety of perspectives on nearly every dimension of this terrible conflict. The most moving piece I read this week came from Rabbi David Golinkin, head of The Schechter Institutes in Jerusalem, who wrote about the funeral of Second Lieutenant Yuval Heiman, z”l who was killed in battle in Operation Protective Edge near Kibbutz Nir Am. Rabbi Golinkin attended the funeral because Yuval was the son of Zohara Heiman, a veteran worker in the Accounting Department at the Schechter Institute. The eulogies offered in memory of this fallen soldier of the IDF described him as a modest person who sought to excel in everything he did in life. His grandfather Yehudah, whose own father was killed in the War of Independence, quoted from the Book of Numbers (32:32) where it says: “And we ourselves shall cross over as halutzim before God into the land of Canaan.” In his eulogy Yuval’s grandfather noted that the word “we” in the verse (“anachnu” in Hebrew) is spelled in an unusual way, without the customary letter “aleph.” Why? Because the soldiers, the halutzim who go before the rest, are modest and they hide the “aleph”, the “I,” because they are acting for the good of the entire Jewish people.

That is the nature of the soldiers of the IDF. They fight with modesty, with the intention of putting aside their own needs for the sake of the needs of the State of Israel and the People of Israel. They fight to protect and defend Am Yisrael, not so they will have a place to live but to ensure that the Land of Israel is there for all who love and cherish the land as the homeland of the Jewish people. They fight not only to win today’s battle, but with the weight of all of Jewish history and all of Jewish destiny on their shoulders. When the soldiers of the IDF fight, they set aside the “aleph.”

I considered writing this week about an overturned world in which justice and morality are scorned, and terrorism, hatred and violence born out of narrow minded fundamentalism are rewarded. I thought about writing about the sting of anti-Semitism and the outrage and fear of being hated by so many in the world. I thought about writing about the importance of unity, felt so deeply at the Solidarity Rally organized by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest New Jersey this week. But the funeral of Yuval Heiman speaks to me powerfully about what it should mean to be a Jew and a Zionist. We’re all called upon to suppress the “aleph” in the word “we.” In our support of Medinat Yisrael and Am Yisrael, whether in times of calm or times of crises such as we are now living through, we ought to act for the good of the entire Jewish nation. We are not soldiers in the IDF, who are too often called upon to risk their lives in defense of the State of Israel, nor are we citizens of the state who live under threat of missile attacks. But we can set aside the “aleph” by giving our resources, spiritual, emotional and financial, for the good of the nation of Israel. If we love Israel, if we are concerned about her welfare, that is the least we can do.

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