When my husband first told me that things were heating up on the Northern border, I ran to check the news. Things weren't just heating up, they were downright boiling.
"The baby doesn't have a passport," I told my husband nervously.
"Are you going somewhere?" he asked.
I should have known that my reaction wouldn't please him.
When the Gulf war broke out in ‘92, my husband was still single, and living in America. The peril of chemical warheads paled when compared to his duty to show solidarity with the homeland of the Jewish people. He purchased a ticket and went to an army-navy store in downtown Manhattan to buy himself a gas mask.
"What do you need this for?" the curious proprietor asked him
My husband briefed him of his plans.
The man laughed. "You think this mask over here is going to help you? They have ten thousand rockets pointed at Tel Aviv. The gas will burn off your arms and legs anyway. Breathing through this mask won't do you any good in that case."
My husband thanked him for his good wishes, took the mask, and hopped on a plane to Israel.
So it did not take me by surprise when my husband told me that he was staying put in Israel through the thick of it.
Though I wasn't running anywhere, I never like to feel that my options are too limited. With the threats of Syria and Iran hovering in the bleakness like a tenebrous mushroom cloud, I wanted my personal weapon cache readied. I went to the passport office, and I prayed.
Over the course of the next few days, we realized that this war was not targeting our terrain, at least not for the time being. Things in our city were almost disturbingly tranquil, while rockets rained on the homes of our brothers, two hours away from us. As immigrants who chose to settle in the land of Israel, we came to immerse ourselves in the great pride of our nation, as well as its great pain.
And that is why the facade of serenity that currently masks my life is disquieting. I want to be amid my brothers in their pain.
But do I really?
I wonder if I am doing a service to anyone by allowing the searing pain of what is befalling our nation to penetrate my psyche.
Granted I do not long for rocket barrages to fall on our city, nor do I contend that I would have my husband's pluck should that, God forbid, befall us. And I will most certainly admit relief at not having a child old enough to serve his country. But going beyond that, there is a certain element of comfort in not checking the news for a few hours so that I can pretend that life is on its due course. There is a certain sense of emotional freedom in going to buy milk at the grocery without thinking of those who can no longer do that safely. There is a certain unshackling of the spirit when I draw a red line between my own family and those that wear green and don guns.
I wonder if I am doing a service to anyone by allowing the searing pain of what is befalling our nation to penetrate my psyche. Is there any merit in willingly surrendering my mind under a shadow of pain? If there is a limit to my practical ability to help, then who does it help? And if I decide to remain aloof, the remoteness of my geography echoed by the diffidence of my thoughts, whom does it hurt?
I would venture to say that it hurts a lot of people, but this certainly not an original thought.
When the children of Israel fought with the Amalekites, the Talmud (Tractate Taanit) tells us that Moses sat on a stone. He was asked why he sat on a rock when he could have found something more comfortable to sit upon. Did he not have a pillow, or the equivalent thereof? Moses wisely answered, "Here the children of Israel are entrenched in pain. I will also be with them in their pain."
If this eminent leader of our nation advertently steeped his mind in a quagmire of pain, then should I not follow his example?
The Code of Jewish Law sums up the obligation. "He who separates from the community, does not see its consolation. Anyone who is pained with them will merit to see its consolation."
Choosing involvement over indifference is a choice that reflects a deeper attitude towards my communal contract.
Each day I compel myself to identify with just a piece of the pain that my brothers in the North are enduring.
So for the time being, I have shelved the passport plan. And each day I compel myself to identify with just a piece of the pain that my brothers in the North are enduring. I think of the children, sitting in their bomb shelters. How do their parents entertain them? I think of the fear that accompanies the whistling of the rockets. I think of those who have been exiled from their homes and all that they love, return unknown.
And that's when it hits me.
The solidarity that God demands of us has a dual purpose. On a practical level, by supporting our people, we are bolstering their spirits. Through prayer, we are effecting change in a metaphysical sense. Through contributing money, we are providing relief and entertainment for those besieged in their shelters. By participating in polls and petitions, we are perhaps indirectly effecting a change in foreign policy and world opinion.
And by identifying with the pain of our people, I am effecting a change in myself. I am cultivating a more caring, feeling, loving member of the community.
And perhaps that is what God intended all along.
A few days ago we signed up to pray for the fate of our injured and missing soldiers, along with the chief Rabbi of Israel (www.tfila.org.il). We called our children in so that we could recite Psalms as a family, at the same time as 50,000 people globally were doing the same. We read off the list of all those we were praying for, and I conjured up a mental picture of each one.
The soldiers in captivity in enemy hands.
The 18-year-old injured soldier, who had lost his legs fighting to protect us.
The critically injured soldier whose parents have already lost a child to terrorism.
The soldier whose life lay ahead of him like a long, vast expanse.
And I cried the saddest tears.
And each day as I read yet another biography of a soldier lost, who sounds so much like I sounded when I was 20 years old, it hurts like a raw wound.
But then I remember the words of the soldiers, interviewed in Lebanon. "We're doing it so that mom can be safe at home," said one boy.
"We try to protect each other...and if someone is scared, to hold them," said another. "Honor and strength, until it is over."
Yes, it hurts. But I know that I have thrown my cards in with the Jewish people, and that feels right to me.