One of my neighbors, Major Dagan Wertman, was killed in Gaza this morning (Jan.6.)
Adored and admired by his soldiers and all who knew him, he was a wise, humble and courageous young man. I remember his ever-present smile, his love for Torah and his personal battle to constantly grow as a human being.
I dedicate these words to his blessed memory.
When you're a soldier in action, especially in a place like Gaza, you become a different person. You see things differently. You have a higher perspective on life.
And once you discover these revelations, the challenge is to use them in the daily battle between your body, and your soul...
We may not all be soldiers, but we are our own commanding officers and we have the power within us to achieve promotion.
Here are five lessons we can learn from our brave brothers fighting for the Jewish people in Gaza:
1. Being Constantly Aware of Yourself
When you're in the thick of battle, it's all about survival and constant awareness.
From my own limited war experience in September 2000, I know that our boys sometimes work on very little sleep (perhaps two hours a night wearing full uniform), do not eat properly or regularly, and certainly do not have the luxury of a daily shower.
But it doesn't matter.
Because they are fully focused on what they have to do.
Their life (and ours) depends on it.
And that can be an exhilarating feeling. When you're constantly aware, you're in control of your thoughts, your speech and your actions. Your senses are primed. Your soul is in charge of your body.
We can all do it too.
Have you ever stayed up all night to cram for an exam? You may have been tired but you were determined to see it through, right? Or maybe you were caught in a pitch-black alley in the middle of the night? You heard every little scratch, every sound.
Our life is shaped by every move we make. Let's make sure we're totally alert.
2. Being Sensitive to Others
Entering Gaza on foot means looking out for your comrades as much as protecting your own skin.
And in Israel, in general, a state of high alert means being very aware of other people and suspicious objects.
It means we have to be more sensitive where we travel and when we travel. It means we have to take responsibility for other citizens. It means we have to consider other people.
Surely we're supposed to live like that anyway, without the threat of missiles?
Why can't we be more aware of other people, more sensitive to objects around us, more considerate in our behavior?
Are we too engrossed in ourselves?
3. Doing the Right Thing
When you're focused on doing what you have to do, and doing it in the best way you can, you can reach unprecedented levels of happiness and fulfillment.
During my tour of duty, I was lucky to understand why I was sitting in that army jeep, and realized there was no point in worrying. I remembered a poem I'd heard: "For every ailment under the sun, or there's a remedy, or there's none. If there's one, find it; if there's none, never mind it."
That helped me focus on what I could do, and distracted me from unnecessary and damaging worry and panic. I now use it every time I get myself too worried about something.
All I could do then was pray. So I prayed like I never prayed before.
On the one hand, I felt utterly hopeless; a nothing; a speck in the universe, totally exposed and vulnerable to anything that might happen to me. On the other hand, I also felt a strange power of responsibility -- it was my prayers that were going to make the difference between life and death; not just for me but for the whole of Israel.
With that realization, everything you do takes on a new dimension. You suddenly take more care and put more effort into every word of prayer, every word you say, every mundane action.
You suddenly become acutely aware of the extreme consequences of your every move.
The Jewish people are inextricably connected to each other. You and our soldiers are limbs in the same body. So wherever you're reading this, you can be affecting your brothers in Gaza.
If we are part of the same picture, maybe we should be working on achieving the same discipline and focus as our soldiers?
That means no extras when you're fighting the constant battle -- do I really need this coffee break? Is this phone call essential?
Every line of Torah you learn instead of reading the paper, every time you restrain yourself from anger... every little personal "soul over body" victory could be protecting our soldiers who are putting their lives on the line for us.
4. Defining our Targets and Time
We've all heard how the Israeli army is careful to make the distinction between war and humanity.
Pinpointing terrorist targets, sending Arabic SMS warnings to civilians to get out of the line of fire, sending in truckloads of basic supplies and medicines, treating Palestinian wounded in Israeli hospitals...
The IDF is very concerned with the purposeless loss of life.
Whether the world knows or cares, the Jewish army places a supreme value on human life.
They can pinpoint a terrorist preparing a small bomb on the third floor of a building in a crowded neighborhood to avoid killing a woman in the next apartment.
Do we lead our own lives with the target constantly in focus? Can we pinpoint our daily goals? Or do we waste unnecessary time, energy and money in following targets that don't help us grow, or avoid the real source of our problems?
Are we killing our own innocent time?
5. We're all Soldiers in God's Army.
Putting intellect ahead of emotion. That's the Jewish way.
Despite the tension, the anger, the frustration; the calls for revenge, we simply cannot operate purely on feelings and emotions. Every move in Gaza has to be calculated. Cool and careful.
It's feelings and emotions that stir up the Hamas and Hezbollah masses. That's the terrorist mentality.
The Jewish people are taught to take responsibility for their lives. To think, speak and act maturely, harnessing pure and genuine feelings in an intellectual cradle.
Of course there's room for emotion. I'm not suggesting you check yourself every time you laugh or cry. Sometimes you just have to stop and think. Am I making this decision on emotion, or is there intellectual sense to it? What are the possible consequences? Will I be hurting someone?
And finally, let us remember this:
"Not in strength, and not in might, but with My spirit, said God." (Zechariah 4)
We can win any battle, but only with the Almighty's help.