A few weeks after the Six-Day War, the Maggid of Jerusalem, HaGaon Rav Shabsi Yudelevitz zt”l was approached by a young, resourceful man who served as a liaison to the officers and soldiers of the Israeli Army. “Rabbi Yudelevitz, I want you to say a few words to the soldiers. Come and strengthen them in their Fear of Heaven.”
“Leave me be,” said Rav Shabsi, as it was well known that the soldiers were not receptive to the words of rabbanim, especially after the amazing victories they believed they had won. Many Israelis adopted an attitude of “Kochi v’otzem yadi asah li es ha’chayil ha’zeh” – “My strength and the might of my hand made me all this wealth” – which is an attribution to one’s own accomplishments and superior abilities rather than to the Hand of Hashem. But the man was very insistent. He sent numerous requests, and eventually the renowned Maggid agreed to come and speak words of Torah to the soldiers.
They were all seated and waiting, hundreds perhaps thousands in uniform with their insignia on their shoulders. It was clear that there was great arrogance in the military at that time. In the weeks, months, and years after the Six-Day War, the IDF enjoyed sacred status, one that garnered almost universal respect from the world, and the rank and file was smug.
Rav Shabsi sat down in a reserved spot and began to prepare his thoughts. At the same time, he listened to the words of the commanding officer as he delivered the opening greetings to the assembly. He spoke with pride about various military subjects, and how the IDF is now feared and respected by all of its enemies. Suddenly, he stood silent for a moment, and raised his hand. He turned to Rav Shabsi and said, “Who isn’t aware that our Air Force greatly contributed to the last victory of the war? The engineering corps also fully contributed in the most critical areas. The soldiers of the infantry gave their lives to further our victory. In short, our great victory was achieved by the contribution of men on the ground, in the air, and on the seas.” He paused with a half-smile on his lips. “Soldiers, a rabbi from Jerusalem has come here, perhaps from Meah Shearim, or some other yeshivah, to tell you about the contribution that the yeshivah students made to our victory!” Laughter erupted as the soldiers loudly applauded, and the officer finished his talk by saying with cynicism, “Over to you, Rabbi!”
Rav Shabsi stood up and walked to the podium. With great poise, he calmed his inner turmoil and began to speak. “Gentlemen, dear soldiers, a question has been raised: How did yeshivah students contribute to the military victory? What part did they play in the great victory of the armed forces? Well, as you and I both know, before the war the general consensus of military leaders was that we were looking at a devastating war. They were speaking about 60,000 dead, and it was already decided that large plots of land were going to be set aside in several cites as makeshift cemeteries during the war. With so many dead, who was going to bury them? Yeshivah students, naturally! They would have mobilized themselves to bury them, like a chevrah kadisha that devotes itself to this sacred mitzvah. Of course, the honorable officer who just gave his speech would have proclaimed that yeshivah students had greatly contributed to the overall situation.
“However, the Holy One Blessed Be He did not want us, yeshivah students, to neglect the study of Torah. That is because the whole world exists only by the merit of Torah, as it is written: ‘If not for My covenant, I would not have appointed days and nights, the decrees of heaven and earth.’ That is why it was proclaimed on high that they would ‘forgo’ these 60,000 dead, and that the merit of learning Torah would protect them! As a result, I tell you from this podium that we yeshivah students – specifically through our intense Torah learning – have contributed 60,000 to the people of Israel! We yeshivah students also contributed large plots of land in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Is fighting all you really want to do? What does it matter to you if Hashem granted life to myriads of soldiers, and that instead of temporary battles we have fine areas of land with green grass? Get up and thank the Holy One Blessed Be He for having given you life!”
Loud applause was heard throughout the hall. It was clear that Rav Shabsi’s message had resonated with the soldiers. Torah is life and Torah study increases life and thwarts an evil decree of death. Ameilus B’Torah protects the one learning as well as 60,000 extra lives!