In this episode of the 18Forty Podcast, we talk to Rabbi Yosef Zvi Rimon, the esteemed Israeli posek, about the role of halacha during war. Additionally, we are joined by Rabbi Shmuel Ismach, a rebbe at Yeshiva University and a rabbi at Young Israel of Great Neck.
Amid the darkest and most chaotic times, we require the guidance of halacha even more than usual. And we see from Rabbi Rimon that halacha is not just a set of laws, but also the poetry that enables us to move forward. In this episode we discuss:
Hi friends. Welcome to the 18Forty Podcast where each month we explore a different topic, balancing modern sensibilities with traditional sensitivities to give you new approaches to timeless Jewish ideas.
I’m your host, David Bashevkin, and this month we’re continuing our exploration of the war in Israel. This podcast is part of a larger exploration of those big, juicy Jewish ideas, so be sure to check out 18forty.org. That’s 18forty.org where you can also find videos, articles, recommended readings, and weekly emails.
I remember in that first episode that we released once the war broke out, there was a real sense of being completely upside down, of being turned over, of not knowing top from bottom, right from left. It was almost a disorientation, and it’s not because I am particularly righteous. I think this podcast has featured, more often than not my struggles, my difficulties, my bad decision making, et cetera, et cetera. But one of the intuitions that I’m very grateful to have and to cultivate is the sense that during times of difficulty when things are upside down, I really look to halacha. I really look to Torah guidance to find some stability in my own life. I don’t know that I embody it. I don’t know that I follow it to every dot and “i”, but I know that it brings me a great sense on a very personal level comfort to know that there is guidance, there is a path forward. No matter how difficult and dark things seem, there is a path forward.
I remember, and I’ve written about it, how when the Coronavirus broke out, one of the things that brought me comfort in those very early heavy days in March was when Rav Hershel Schachter, of the rosh yeshiva in Yeshiva University started sharing responses specifically in his own classical font. He always writes in this Rashi script. The first time I got one of his responses, I’m like, “There’s a path forward. There’s going to be a way out of this.” In a similar sense, when this war broke out and felt just so unstable and so broken, I found at least a great sense of stability, a great sense of comfort, in knowing that we have Torah guidance; we have a path forward. It’s one of the ironies of halacha that one of the areas that I think give people the most stability are the laws of mourning that specifically, when things are most upside down, when things are most painful, when we are in the shadow of suffering, we have a halacha. We have a system. We have a language that allows us to restore and see a path forward, specifically in our darkest hours.
Because the tragedy and the terrorist attacks unfolded in Israel, I really knew that there was one person whose voice I wanted to hear, I wanted to listen to specifically in this moment when it seems so bleak and so dark. And that is our incredibly esteemed guest today, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon. Rav Rimon, who many of our listeners may know from his works or from his leadership in Israel, he is somebody who has literally given his entire life, not just to clarify in incredibly accessible ways the details of halacha, but really uplifting the Jewish people, and particularly spending a great deal of time at the very front lines encouraging and inspiring Israeli soldiers, Acheinu Bnei Yisroel, our brothers and sisters who have dedicated their lives to protecting the Jewish people in the land of Israel.
The difficulty, of course, with Rav Rimon in those moments, in those days and weeks immediately after the terrorist attacks of October 7th, was the fact that he was so incredibly busy. And obviously, the people that he needed to prioritize were the people who needed his guidance most: those serving and protecting the Jewish people at the front lines of the Israeli army. But I knew it was the voice of Rav Rimon that I wanted to introduce to our listeners who had not yet heard him, or at the very least bring forward to many of our listeners who already have.
There is something truly incredible and unique about the Torah and halachic guidance of Rav Rimon. There was a fabulous interview that I went back to reread. It came out five years ago. I remember when it did come out and when his name was first bubbling up on the national scene. It’s an interview in Hebrew in Makor Rishon where he was asked by the interviewer, Elyashiv Reichner, about his work that he was publishing on Hilchos Shabbos. One of the things that the interviewer asked him, and I think it’s so central to why his voice is so important, not just to soldiers in Israel, but I think to worldwide Jewery specifically in this moment, the interviewer asked him a side question asking him about what are the topics that he’s drawn to. He writes on Shabbos; he writes on Yontif; he’s written a beautiful work on the laws of Shemita, but he stays away from certain more divisive topics which while he gives classes in them, he doesn’t really publish on them. I don’t know if that’s changed in the last five years. I don’t think it has, but there are certain topics that he doesn’t want to publish on.
He asked that, why don’t you publish on the juicier controversial topics? And his response I found incredibly moving, and it’s why he was a voice I think of this moment that we need right now. This is Rav Rimon’s response.
He says, “First and foremost, my goal, my worry, my efforts is to bring the depth and substance of halacha and the love, the lovingness, of halacha itself to the Jewish people. Everyone needs to choose. People want to choose how to live their lives. I’m not telling them how to live their lives, but I’m giving them a way to access halacha where halacha is given with a voice of love itself. And he says, “The second thing, I’m going to admit, I run away from machloches. I run away from political polemics like fire. It’s not good for my own soul. I don’t want to get involved in controversial politics and back and forth. I want to give over halacha through a lens of love. That is my goal.”
This is baked into his very personality. His grandfather and namesake, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, was actually a poet, a beautiful poet. He was born in 1889. He died in 1958 and he was in the inner circle of Rav Kook, and his poetry was actually popular in Israel across all circles. The secular public, the religious public embraced his beautiful poems. At the heart of the poetry of his grandfather was the centrality of love itself. This is one of his grandfathers, his very namesake, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon. This is one of his poem.
“God, my God, my soul yearns for your love. Father and God, for the fire of your love, I yearn. Almighty, Almighty, let the reign of your heaven fall upon me. Grant me your vision my God.” His poems are screaming out, “For the fire of your love, I desire. I yearn.”
This is his namesake and I believe in many ways he has taken the poetry of his grandfather and integrated it into the way that he develops and transmits halachic guidance to everyone serving on the front lines and, in many ways, to all of the Jewish people his works on Shabbos, and on Yontif, and on Shemita. If you don’t already have them on your shelves, nearly all of them have been translated into English. You see the vision and beauty and the love of halacha taking the vision of his grandfather’s poetry and almost integrating it into the way halacha is transmitted to the Jewish people.
When the war first broke out, I reached out to Rav Rimon and asked him if he would come on. He was too busy at the time. He didn’t have the time. Not to say that he is not still and remains incredibly busy, but he was able to share a brief voice note about some of the halachic issues that he was dealing with, and I want to share with you. He shared it in English. His native language, as you can hear, is in Hebrew and throughout the episode we did our best. He knows he’s speaking to an English-speaking audience. But I want to begin in those early days, that first voice note that he sent before we actually get to the actual conversation. Here’s what Rav Rimon said.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
I was asked to share questions that I received from the battlefield. I am all the time with the soldiers, with the families. I shared a few quick questions, two questions that were similar from soldiers that wanted to donate a kidney, but if they donate a kidney, they wouldn’t be able to serve in combat units anymore, and now it’s a wartime.
So I’ll just say briefly, we have a rule called Osek b’mitzvah patur min hamitzvah. If you are now dealing with one mitzvah, you don’t need to do another one. You are dealing with this one because of this when it’s a wartime. Someone, the first one that asked me, he wanted to donate a kidney, but he didn’t have someone specific to give to him. I told him, “Look, now it’s a mitzvah of a war, be here. After the war finishes, then can think on the right time to donate a kidney.”
The other one was someone that they found already someone that match exactly to his kidney, and the operation was planned this week on Tuesday. This one I said, “Look, because already you after all the process, and already we have a time for the operation on Tuesday, so you will donate a kidney, although you won’t be able to serve in combat in the army, at least in the next few years.” So this is an example for one question.
Another question from lots of people that they have a wedding set up and they don’t know to marry, to delay it, is it right thing to marry someone now when in the middle of a war, people are killed? I told them, “Look, if there’s a problem that you say, ‘We cannot get married now, where in tension we are,’ in this case you don’t need to get married. But if it’s good for you to get married, but you don’t know if it’s the right thing, so it seems that following halacha, it’s better not to delay weddings. If our enemy tries to destroy our life, we won’t let him. We’ll get married. We’ll continue to build our families and we won’t stop our building in our life also if the enemy tries to do it.
And baruch HaShem, I am already went and was invited for a few weddings, but this was also a popular question. This question is also sometimes more sensitive. There’s one family that one child is wounded, but he’s okay, he wants to get married. The other one, we don’t know where he is. Maybe he’s alive, maybe he’s not alive to make a wedding to delay. Can we tell the army not to tell them what happened until after the wedding? So it’s complicated. I won’t say all the answers now.
In the bottom line, I’ll say that I recommended them to get married and they did it. Another question from a child, 10 years old, that asks me, “Rabbi, what’s going on? How can it be that we are in such a low position and HaShem loves us? God is with us?” I told her, “Look, Jewish people were killed for thousands of years. It’s not the first time, but we have to remember thousands of years we didn’t have the ability to protect ourself.
Now we have a state, we have the IDF, baruch HaShem. We are strong, please God. HaShem gave us the ability to protect ourself. And today, baruch HaShem, we have the ability to protect ourself. We have the State of Israel. We have a strong army and never in history a nation was chucked out of the country and after thousands of years came back. Everything is written in the Bible, in the Torah in the Nevi’im, to see Am Yisrael comes back and have a state and have an army. We know that HaShem loves us. It’s not easy, it’s not simple but, baruch HaShem, the ability to protect ourself, to have a country, a state, an army, this is something that we know that is a part of our redemption and, b’ezrat HaShem, this will lead us also to win this war. All the evil that tries to attack and to kill and to destroy, b’ezrat HaShem, will succeed to win and to bring Am Yisrael to be in peace, in love, unity, and simcha, b’ezrat HaShem.
The magnitude of the questions that he was dealing with and the urgency at the time, I obviously understood why he wouldn’t have the time for an actual interview, but I knew that I wanted to bring his voice onto 18Forty and I didn’t give up and I wouldn’t give up.
I have a dear friend who many of our listeners may know. His name is Rav Shmuel Ismach. He is a rabbi in Great Neck and has been a long time sounding board and friend to everything 18Forty. He is somebody who has given me guidance when I needed it, who’s given me feedback when I needed it, and somebody who I really speak out so many of the issues that I’m privileged to have with our 18Forty community. I visited his community in Great Neck. He has an incredible shul, the Young Israel of Great Neck, and just an incredible person.
We have this affinity. We’re both non-YU products. Neither of us went to YU for undergrad. I did semikha in YU and I did my masters in YU, but I didn’t learn in yeshiva. I learned in Baltimore and we’re both non-YU products in some ways… he didn’t do semikha in YU either… who both teach in Yeshiva University. We have similar outlooks and we get into similar conversations. He went on an incredible trip that we’re going to hear directly from Rav Ismach again.
He almost reignited my original idea of, “We need to get Rav Rimon to speak to the 18Forty community.” I reached out to Rav Ismach. He was kind enough to have a conversation with me about this trip and explaining why he had this urgency. We’re going to make this happen. Here is my brief conversation with Rav Schmuel Ismach.
The reason why I wanted specifically to talk to Rav Rimon is really from the encouragement of Rav Ismach. I heard from Rav Ismach, he made a trip to Israel and he came back. And if you know Rabbi Ismach, he’s not the most effusive person necessarily. He’s not Mr. Running Around in the Middle of the Circle. He’s certain circumspect. He is a trained Litvak in many ways and has a certain composure to himself. But he came back and I heard him speak in ways that I’ve never really heard from him before, which is why this interview, even with Rav Rimon, is done alongside Rav Shmuel Ismach. And I wanted to talk a little bit with Rav Ismach to hear firsthand what his experience was and why he was so urgent that we need to have this conversation for our audience. It is our privilege and pleasure to introduce our friend Rav Ismach.
Thank you, David. One of my life’s dreams is to be called a dear friend of yours. I will share, I did want you to put Rav Rimon on because my experience was so overwhelming when I went and spent about 24 hours with him that I thought it would be beneficial for everybody to hear just from somebody who’s doing the work that we wish we could all be doing effectively.
Essentially, I went before it was… A lot of rabbis have gone since and spent time with Rav Rimon as well. Some are critical of, “What are going for?” I can’t disagree more. I’m not a soldier. It’s true. I’m not that well-coordinated. But at the same time, just to be able to visit a nation where people are using the word escape to be able to get out, to just talk to the cabbies and to the falafel guys, and to share the message that, “We’re coming here and we just want to be with you to give the hug,” as Rav Rimon would constantly refer to it; give that hug was a very powerful thing forgetting about supporting industry and supporting the economy. That’s all great as well, but just to be there and for selfish reasons entirely.
Because the things that I saw and the people who I met and the sensation, the feeling, that I had while I was there was so powerful. As I repeated to my shul, “I’ve been to the State of Israel dozens of times, but never did I really truly deeply meet the Nation of Israel, Am Yisrael, until this trip and I can’t wait.” I’m trying to figure out a way to get back.
So for those who know Rav Rimon, you know how seriously really he takes his job as a leader. When he came to my community, he was taking selfies with the kids who would come to his shiurim, “Do you want a picture?” Because he realized this would be a moment for them and he took it very seriously. His mechanech is involved in do also—
Mechanech means as educator?
An educator, yes, yes. He’s even beyond an educator, honestly. Me and you, we’re just mechanechs.
He’s much more serious, but the truth is his activities on the ground… I just called him up like I think anybody would said, “Can I come along?” From the barbecues that we were able to sponsor, I had a friend of mine from Great Neck, Bernie Mermelstein, who was there with me who was sponsoring these barbecues, the Chayalimwere so incredibly excited to see him.
He would ask, after he was finished … I’m sure we’ll hear from him exactly what he did when he was there. But when he was done, he would ask, he said, “Anybody want a hug or a bracha?” Not everybody wants a bracha, not everybody wants a hug, but everybody wants one of those two things. He would give out these dog tags. Dog tags, which had Shema Yisrael on them. And, of course, everybody would grab one, they would put it on their dog tags. It was like this meaningful moment.
Of course, one guy would ask, “Can I take this into the bathroom?” Because he’s the quintessential posek while he’s the person who’s giving that unbelievably powerful hug as well. My experience was really overwhelming. I think everybody, if they can go, whether you’re going to bases or whatever it is that you’re doing, it is impactful. Had the opportunity to spend some time with Rabbi Hauer who was there for the OU as well.
Rabbi Hauer is the executive vice president of the Orthodox Union.
Yes. He was generous to have me tag along and we went to Sderot. We went to Kiryat Arba to meet with the Liebman family, and these are very powerful, powerful experiences. The people you bump into in the street. Doron Perez, from World Mizrachi, you’ve probably heard his story and what he’s dealing with. One of his children has been kidnapped. He made a wedding with a son who was actually shot on October 7th. The people who are living there are beyond compare. It’s very difficult. It’s very difficult to not just speak to people who are there, who are managing everything that’s happening, and they themselves are a chizuk machine; they’re a strengthening machine. And just for selfish reasons to go and to come back with those messages to share with the community, that’s completely why I went and I know what I drew from it.
I want to just ask one question. I know it’s something that Rav Rimon discusses in the interview, but he didn’t even spend enough time on it and I found it so moving. I just want you to share because it’s what initially grabbed me. How did Rav Rimon open up every meeting with the Chayalim when he would visit a base? What was his opening?
So what he did was he would set them all in a circle. There were some bases that almost everybody would show up, just only the religious kids would show up. Sometimes he would have the Chayalim with the tattoos and the tzitzit on top, these brand new tzitzit that a lot of the seminary girls put together. It was remarkable to see who was in these respective circles, but the first thing he would ask was, “What are you feeling? What are you feeling? What’s on your mind?”
What are you feeling?
Some of the guys would say things like, “We’re impatient. We’re restless.” This was of course before they had entered Gaza. “We’re restless. We want to do something. We have incredible faith,” they would say, “in the army.” The government, not so much. Some of them would crash and complain, and some of them were fearful. They would share their concerns about their families in some of the edge and border towns in the north near Gaza. “What’s it going to be? Will anybody want to live there anymore?” They were very raw, very raw. Rimon did not have all the answers. That wasn’t really what he was there for, but to validate the questions and to, in that circle, be hearing from everyone and having everybody be able to open their mouth and to share their voice was a very powerful thing to observe.
To open up that way, “What are you feeling?” is a powerful image to hear that question, and the opening of Rav Rimon who has so much Torah, so many ideas to share, but he begins a meeting to provide encouragement and inspiration with the question of, “What are you feeling? What is moving you right now?” It’s something that I’ve been thinking about ever since.
And I just want to say, before we jump into the interview, how grateful I am to you for really making this conversation happen. I would be remiss if I did not also say how grateful I am. I know you’re the type to hate this, but I’m going to do it anyways. For such an incredible friendship that you’ve been to me, a supporter, a guide, somebody who gives me chizuk at all the right times, and really it is not something that is lost on me, and wishing you just really continued strength in your leadership and your shuls, communities, in uplifting Am Yisrael and Klal Yisrael throughout the world. I am so grateful to you Rabbi Ismach, for really, you are the one who made this conversation happen and I am so, so deeply appreciative.
Thank you David, and I hope that part gets deleted. But in any event, what you’re doing is great and keep up the wonderful work.
It’s really because of Rav Ismach coming back, calling me back after this trip, and reigniting. I had the voice note and I was thinking, “I could get somebody else on; we could find somebody else.” He’s the one who said, “No, no, no, your first intuitions were correct. Let’s get Rav Rimon to talk a little bit to the 18Forty community.”
Some of you may have never heard him speak before. Again, I want to emphasize he is a native Hebrew speaker. His English sometimes can sound a little bit… but he speaks a beautiful English. I don’t mean to knock it, but for some of our listeners who are used to me translating, or used to me speaking a little bit more clearly, I think for this moment, in this hour, open up your ears a little bit even if you don’t understand every single word. I think it’s fully understandable. He did a wonderful job, but open up your ears. Open up your heart. Rav Ismach really is the one who deserves all of the credit and that’s why I insisted. I said, “Look, you made this happen. I want you on this. I want you to draw out what you saw. You witnessed this yourself.” So here is our conversation, myself, Rav Shmuel Ismach, together with Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon.
Rav Rimon, I know you are the Rav in Gush Etzion, specifically Alon Shvut. And so, going back to the day of October 7th, that morning, Shemini Atzeret, how did you find out and at what point did you realize that there was something very serious going on?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
So in the middle of davening, I could say after an hour, I knew that something happened. I understood that there is attack. Later on, I understood that it’s a real war. It was very complicated because you have a community, thousands people around, hundreds of children, and what exactly do you do?
I decided on one hand to make their hakafot and the things a little shorter, but on the other hand, to continue. In my head, I had the words of my father, Alav Hashalom, that served in the Haganah. He writes then that the situation is very bad, then, the Yishuv is very worried and they don’t know what to do. And then he says, “But we have to continue and to live b’simcha, in happiness. We cannot stop everything.”
Now maybe if I would know how terrible it is, I wouldn’t be able to do anything, but I didn’t imagine that it was so terrible, so we continued but we did it shorter. We said Tehillim, we davened for the soldiers, for the citizens. Every few minutes a soldier comes to me and says, “HaRav, can I have bracha? I’m going to the battlefield. HaRav, can I have bracha?” Another bracha, and another bracha, and another one. Four hundred soldiers went on this Simchat Torah and went there on the border. For me, it was, “Wow!” Another one and another one and another one I give bracha, but my heart is all the time so worried. This was Simchat Torah.
Were there any she’elot that came to the Rav? I know the Rav has many different chats, but with many rabbinim. I’m in one with I think 800 different rabbis, and with soldiers, and with doctors. Were there any she’elot on that day that the Rav was addressing?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
On the war, I got lots of she’elot and I’m ready to share some of them. That day I had she’elot because there are she’elot, first of all, people don’t know what happens. So to turn on my cell phone to see they’re calling me, he doesn’t know. What happens if they didn’t call me to go just to go because they know that something started or to wait? If I’m going, can I take my tefillin with me? Can I take other things? I don’t know, maybe it’s going now for a few weeks, maybe one more. It goes in a war. So lots of questions like this.
I got also other questions. I’m sharing questions and not the answers now. Later on I’m ready to share some of the answers, but sometimes they are very challenging answer. A question, someone that says, “I’m going now. My wife is crying all the time. She’s so worried, but now she’s niddah. She didn’t go to the mikveh yet. Can I give just a short hug before I’m going to the war?” So, it was very tough day.
Wow! So my question when it comes to the she’elot is, that’s a very reactive in the moment, what siman in Shulchan Arukh, what chapter in Shulchan Arukh is the Rav using to prepare to be able to answer these questions? Where does this come up? Is this a matter of experience? Is it a matter of studying some Rishon that I’ve never seen? How do you answer the questions? How do you even come to it?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
It’s very interesting because I share just few questions but a lot of questions that are really war questions. Rav Kook has a teshuva in Mishpat Kohen, Siman Kuf Mem Gimel. And in this teshuva he says that he’s sure there that are halachos, that there were a like special Shulchan Arukh in the time of the Maccabim, the Hashmonaim. They had a Shulchan Arukh for the army and we haven’t got it. For thousands of years, it didn’t bother Am Yisrael at all and it’s complicated.
So the Chofetz Chaim started and wrote Sefer Machaneh Yisrael for Jewish soldiers in the Russian army and then others followed. And also I wrote two books for the Army soldiers. But those are things that you have all the time to understand what’s going around in the army to understand things in halacha. Sometimes when someone doesn’t understand the army good enough, his psakim will be sometimes too mekil or too machmir. You have to understand when you have to be mekil and when you must not be mekil, and it’s complicated. Of course, when you have questions like this, you need to use tools that maybe normally you would never use. You need to think not just on the psak of Orach Chaim Shulchan Arukh. You have to remember those Rishonim and those Rishonim. Maybe you can bring those together and those together. So there are lots of things that now it’s a time to think, “Okay, think on everything and try to see what is the right answer to this situation.”
Rav Rimon, allow me to ask, you had an experience where you served in the army. I’m curious how your own personal experiences in the army and the advice that you sought, and who you sought advice from, are informing your experience and the way that you’re relating and guiding the soldiers now.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
So I served in the army with Tanks Unit 188. It’s a very famous unit. As a soldier, first of all, I had lots of questions and although I spoke lots of times in my life with Rav Cohen, because he was in Tel Aviv, I was in Tel Aviv, he knew my family. But when I was in the soldiers, he wasn’t already in the army or giving questions on answering.
So I had other rabbis I asked them. And all the time, when I saw things I had to check to see what to do here, to do there. I learned in my serving in the army, and from then I had thousands of students that served in the army. So all the time, also after I finished serving, I got more questions but I had people that really know what’s going on here and there. When I wrote more and more, so I got more and more questions, but everyone gave me more understanding what’s going on. Also, I served in reserve for 20 years and I think that this gave me lots of experience in lots of areas in the army.
Was there a specific interaction that you had with Aharon Lichtenstein or a message that he gave you that still stays with you today?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
He gave me lots. I’m thinking now just on things that connected to the army. Because of Rav Lichtenstein, I spoke in the last 30 years of his life every day, so I have lots more to say. But regards the army, there were things that usually he would be machmir.
Example, when I asked him if I can go eat somewhere where there is no eruv, and I have to take the gun with me. And Rav Cohen thought that carrying a gun, maybe it’s something like jewelry, something that it’s okay. Rav Liechtenstein didn’t believe in it, in this psak, but he understood that for a soldier to go around and to eat normally, it’s also important and, because of this, to take the weapon through Machon Tal, doesn’t matter now what is exactly Machon Tal, but those two things together he said, “Okay, this is okay.”
Also, lots of other things. We came from the army and Rav Lichtenstein said, “On one hand I don’t believe in the way of a paltoon that said that education of the army is something that everyone must have.” But he said, “There are lots of things in the army that someone that serves in the army can understand. For example, how important is every minute; 30 seconds, if you are late in one second you are going to run, and lots of things that you have to learn in the army that will give you tools for all your life.”
You were in my shul in Great Neck and you had a story that you told about the interface and the interaction of halacha and tefillah before going out to war. If the Rav could share?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
This story happened in my unit in the army. I came later, but I saw it written in a letter of the officer that is not observant and not religious. He writes that when Lebanon and suddenly a soldier goes on the walkie-talkie and says, “Commander, I want to say tefillah, before we go in battle I want to daven.” And the commander says, “No, there’s no time now, we are a few minutes in attack. If you want, daven privately.” And this soldier says Commander, it’s very important to daven before you go in battle.” And then the commander thinks and says, “Okay you can daven here, you can say the prayer, but quickly.” And this soldier says that tefillah before we go in battle, a short tefillah … Finishes this short prayer and then they hear the commander: “Amen.” And then he says, “Everyone should confirm.” … Everyone confirms and says amen. And the commander says, “I’m not frum, but this tefillah, this prayer, kept me and gave me koach, gave me strength for all the war.”
We’ve been seeing some of these tefillot that have been recorded and have gone out, and a lot of what the Rav was doing is reactive she’elot, answering questions, but I want to talk about some of the proactive things that you’ve been doing.
I had the opportunity to be with you just for 24 hours. We went to many, many bases and I noticed a certain sequence of how you would go about dealing with the Chayalim. I really want to drill in to what you thought were the goals in sitting with them? First, if I remember, we would sit and you would ask them, “What’s on your mind?” I found that very valuable. I’m curious to hear about that, but let me just go review because I want to make sure everybody knows what it was that happened at all of these bases with the Rav.
I’m sure you’re doing this already at thousands and thousands of Chayalim that you’ve seen. I was with you just for a little bit and it was hundreds and hundreds … talking about what it was that was on their minds. And then, there was the message of chizuk, which I also want ask. What’s the message of chizuk that the Rav would share? There was the video of chizuk that you would take for the families who they had left behind for the wives, so the parents for the children. Could the Rav speak a little bit about how you see your purpose in going to visit these bases? And what exactly was it that you were doing with all of those steps?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
It’s interesting because the first thing I did straight after Simchat Torah, I took my team in Sulamot. I told them, “We have to see all the needs of the soldiers.” We bought equipment, ceramic vests, and other equipment also. Ceramic vests are things that I wanted to do in a way that the army would accept them and because of this I made it through the army, and the army also told me to give it.
So everything I gave through the rules of the army. I have three son-in-laws in the army. They didn’t get anyone because I followed the instructions of the army to be professional. So we brought 6,000 of ceramic vests and a few million dollars and other equipment. When I went to the soldiers, so I sent even more. I went to give equipment and the soldiers were very happy, but the most important was, as the Rav said before, the chizuk, to inspire them, to give them power and koach.
So, on one hand, baruch HaShem, the soldiers are motivated. They understand that those terrible evil terrorists, that they killed so many Jewish people and children and babies and women that we are going to come in and to do everything to destroy them. But on the other hand, they need chizuk, and there are lots of questions that they ask.
Yesterday, I went to the south, they would fall to the north again. And also I asked soldiers, “They have questions? What do you feel?” One of the soldiers said, “I have to say I’m going everywhere.” Someone asked me, “You’re going to visit the students from the Gush or Har Etzion?” … He said, “So where are you going?” “I’m going to Am Yisrael, religious, non-religious. I meet of course … Har Etzion and Gush, but not for this I’m going. I’m going to be with Am Yisrael and their soldiers: religious, non-religious.”
It’s very exciting because you see all of them together. As the Rav saw that everyone comes to get a hug, religious, non-religious, to get bracha, to get hug. Sometimes you see questions that this is from religious soldier. He says, “Rambam says that when you’re going in a war, don’t think on your wife, don’t think on your children, don’t think on anything else.” And he told me, “What do you mean? All the time I’m thinking of them. This what bothers me all the time: my wife, my children. So, it’s not okay.” I told him that I think that the Rambam didn’t speak on the time that they sit now on the border. When they sit on the border and they say, “Send WhatsApp to their wife, to the children, it’s okay,” knowing the Rambam, it says not to send WhatsApp to the children in wartime. I don’t think it’s a problem. I think Rambam spoke, “When you are in battle, they don’t think on anyone.”
I have to tell you, our soldiers are so motivated they understand that they’re protecting Am Yisrael that when they’re in battle they don’t need Rambam to tell them. They won’t think not on the wife, not on the children, the fight. Now before battle, think on everyone, send them. It’s okay, no problem. In battle, any case, you do what Rambam told you to do. So this is just an example, but lots of questions that are like this and feelings like this. To give them chizuk for our soldiers is, first of all, to remind them that we are not weak. Some of them I told that my grandfather that I named on him the poet Yosef Zvi Rimon. He was very famous. Rav Kook said that he’s the greatest poet in the last few hundred years and there’s a street on his name in Tel Aviv, in Jerusalem. He was … in Israel, terrible time. That was a hundred years ago.
That’s the 1929 Hebron massacre.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
Exactly. The Arabs killed in Hebron, in Jerusalem, in Safed … Everyone knows it and it’s, “Wow! This is something that we feel it so hard.” Altogether, there were killed, 133 Jewish people. It’s less than 10% of what was in this war. When you look at this say, “Oy vey, what’s going on?”
So on one hand we are crying, we are sad for the people that were killed, wounded, captured. But we have to remember all the time, in all our history, the non-Jewish, they try to kill us. Not all of them, yes, but in a Holocaust … all the history, but never from the destruction, from the churban. Never we had the ability to protect ourself. We have today a strong state, a strong army. This is a part of our redemption. We are in redemption time. We saw things that our parents for thousands of years just dream of them.
We saw how the promises of the Torah of the Nevi’im became real. We came back to Israel. We have a state, a very successful state, and a very successful army. Of course, we’re sad and we’re crying on all what happened, but we are not coming like someone weak. We are strong. We’re coming when we understand, we have the energy of HaShem. We understand that HaShem is with us in wartime. The Torah promises us. And we know that we are going to win. We know that HaShem is with us. We know that we have the power that HaShem promised us and we have our generation. And another thing that we know, everywhere I go, I see all the soldiers, religious, not religious, left, right, all of them together. All of them one family and everyone is ready to fight and to risk his life to save his friend.
When I’m Am Yisrael is together, when Am Yisrael is united in unity, in achdus, and when Am Yisrael believe in HaShem, we are going to win. This is one of the messages that I give the soldiers and I see that it gives them a huge chizuk.
It was amazing to see and it was amazing to see the energy with the soldiers. When I was there, somebody else who I met told me that the war should have been called, because it began on Shemini Atzeret, on the day of Tefillat Geshem, it should have been called Milchemet Mashiv HaRuach, because it was really put together, restored the spirit of the Jewish people.
So that’s the Chayalim, and one of the things you sensitized me to when I was there, and I want you to speak to this, what about the families left at home, the wives and the children, the mothers and the fathers? I saw in every spot you would customize a video to those people who are back at home with the Chayalim in front of you. How is the spirit there and how can we help?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
So it’s true that we have the soldiers to be worried, but the families that are alone… To understand, one of the projects that I did now was 433,000 Mishnayos. I’m teaching Mishnayos. It’s a special system with movies for children. There are around 433,000 soldiers in the army now, and I wonder that families will learn Mishnayos for each Chayal. But you understand that there are 453,000 families that are worrying that maybe the wife is alone now children, the parents. And I know from the soldiers, and also when I was a soldier, that the soldiers are not worried on themselves, they’re worried on the families. When the families are stronger, our soldiers are stronger. Because of this, everywhere I go, in the end before I leave the Chayalim, I tell them, “Now we’re going to video a short bracha for your wives, for the children, for the parents.”
Yesterday, I did it again in the south. When I said it, people took out the cameras. I made yesterday night with rabbis of RCA. There were the hundreds of and they came to me afterwards and said it was so important I bless the wives, the children, the parents. I told them todah, thank them for giving them the Chayal to protect Am Yisrael. I told them that although it’s complicated, thousands of years that we didn’t have the privilege to wear a uniform of an army soldier. I saw that this chizuk, this bracha, is so important. I got so many messages from families that they said, “Wow! We got the chizuk, give us koach.” So we need to think on the soldiers, on the families and, of course, on the families that they had to leave the houses and to go out to be in Jerusalem … or other places, and we’re trying to think on all of them.
There was one she’ela that I remember that I’ve been moved by ever since. I shared it with my shul and I don’t think I could repeat it as well as the Rav said it. There were some young men, Chayalim, who came. We were in a big plane. There were two, I don’t know, mobile artillery on two different sides. And they had a she’ela about moving a Sefer Torah. Does the Rav remember the she’ela?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
Yes. They have Sefer Torah in a tent and they have around, in the minyan when they daven, they can collect around 15-20 Chayalimtogether. But there are four soldiers, four Chayalim, that they cannot come to this tent, to this shul, synagogue, because they have to stay in 200 meters from the place they have to stay there to be in charge there. They asked me, can they bring the Sefer Torah from the tent to those four soldiers and to daven there with them. And like this, they won’t miss the leining of the Torah.
Usually, we don’t transfer Sefer Torah for someone, so it’s a problem, and the Yerushalmi says you mustn’t. “The human being should go to the Torah, not the Torah should come to him.” They asked me what to do. So I told them, “First of all, there is a machloket, there is a disagreement. What happens if you don’t go to the Sefer Torah, not because you don’t want to go because you haven’t got the ability to go?
Let’s say you are in jail, may you bring a Sefer Torah to jail? And there is machloket. There are Rishonim that says, “It’s okay because you cannot go.” There are other Rishonim who said it’s not okay. Shulchan Arukh says it’s not okay. I told him also that maybe the Sefer Torah hasn’t got an exact place. It’s not really shul, it’s a tent. It’s not a place, not here, nor there. Maybe it’s okay, but then I told them that I have a third reason to say it’s okay. The Yerushalmi says that there is an exception that you may take Sefer Torah to Adam Chashuv, someone that is important: Adam Chashuv.
What is Adam Chashuv? Usually, we say a talmid chacham, a rabbi, and also someone that is like the president or something like this. But I told him I believe that a soldier that sacrifice his life to protect Am Yisrael … this is the most Adam Chashuv. This is most important man. I believe that if the Yerushalmi says that if Adam Chashuv, someone important, the Torah gets greatest when she comes to him, I think that the Yerushalmi if they could give an example … it would say in the world, “This is the example.” So when it comes to the Chayal, I think the Torah is excited, and because of this I think it’s okay.
That is incredibly moving. I’m curious, just to shift, you have a WhatsApp that deals with Halakhahic questions that you get from throughout the world. I’m curious, in this moment, it’s not quite a Halakhahic question, but what is the responsibility and what should Jews outside of Israel be doing now to live up to that Adam Chashuv, that person of importance? How can we support? There are so many different efforts and people can get lost and chalila people’s efforts can be for the wrong causes. What do you think is the way people should be directing their efforts outside of Israel at this moment?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
First of all, I have to say I’m sure that there are lots of people that do good things. I’m sure. And I’m sure that if someone gives to this one and that one, everyone tries and it’s so inspiring to see Am Yisrael also in chutz la’aretz, but also in Eretz Yisrael, this one tries this way. That one, he tries to raise money here and there. I think that most things are good. So it’s not that he knows someone gave. I think most things are good.
I can tell you that what I’m trying to do is to check with my staff and the officers, the generals in the army, whatever unit, what exactly they need now. Sometimes they need now winter clothing, sometimes they need other things, drawers, lots of things, lots of needs that they need. We are trying to go for hundreds of units in the army to see the exact need to try get it, to try to get the funds.
And baruch HaShem, until now we gave already a few million dollars for equipment and we try to give it directly to the soldiers. So, you can do it in lots of… It’s not just me, but I know what I’m doing. I know that we are trying to do and everything, all the money, goes directly to the soldiers. We try also directly to bring to them, that it won’t get lost somewhere, so this is one important thing.
Another important thing is also to help all the families that left. There are today 180,000 people that are out of the houses, just to understand. I’m going to the soldiers, but also I’m going to the families. I opened yesterday something new …
You know that 19 years ago was the disengagement from Gush Katif, and then I opened organization called JobKatif to help the people from Gush Katif to find jobs. And baruch HaShem, we have 3,000 of them to find jobs. We helped around 300 to open new businesses and we brought the Gush Katif people to the average of unemployment in Eretz Yisrael, and we got the President Award from Shimon Peres on this thing. And then, we continued to help on the same system the soldiers from the native families … Ethiopians. Straight away, I started to think of those families. Lots of them need temporary jobs because to stay all day in hotel, you can be meshuggeneh. You can be crazy. And some of them I hope not a lot, but there will be hundreds, thousands, you don’t know exactly, they won’t return. They lost children, lots of people. It’s too complicated to return there … and we have to find permanent jobs.
So we started working and just yesterday was the first day, we had hundreds of people that asked for work and we were already put 40 people in temporary jobs yesterday. We are trying to give them counseling and to help them and to make a huge thing, so this is another thing to concentrate on those families. We are trying also to help schools, so we are trying to help now because my head is also education. So we are trying to help now 25 new schools with 35,000 kids that are learning that we’ll come a few times a week and we’ll give … something to inspire them, to give them koach. We are trying to go not just to religious settlements but also to non-religious, and maybe more to non-religious, because I want Am Yisrael to be together. When we help each other in all our places, that a month ago I assumed that they wouldn’t want to hear a speech from me, and today, when I come there they hug me, “Rav Rimon, we love you.”
And then, we are together as if the closest family ever. This we need to work all the time. Also, to have the soldiers and the families, but also try to inspire, to bring people to be in unity together, to be Am Yisrael to be together. This is the right timing. We have it now, but we have to do it and to continue to have lots, lots tochniyot for the future, how to bring Am Yisrael to be united. If we work on the right way, in three years, Am Yisrael will be more united than what it was a year ago. We have to think, to dream, to believe in HaKadosh Baruch Hu and to believe in Am Yisrael, our soldiers, citizen. Wow! It doesn’t matter now. Religious, not religious, to see the energy, the shlichus, to save Am Yisrael. This is something that I think it’s special for our generation, this part of redemption, and together, b’ezrat HaShem, will win.
We are so lucky to have a Rav, and have Rav Rimon, going on bases to inspire soldiers. Listening to all the activities you’re involved in leaves me wondering, where do you go to draw strength to allow yourself to continue during all this time? You don’t have a Rav Rimon visiting you and inspiring you. So where do you draw from? Where do you get the energy and capacity to do all of the work that you’re doing, who so to speak, what text, what idea, what poem, what words of Torah? Where do you draw upon the strength and capacity to continue your incredible work in this moment?
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
It’s interesting because I think I gave speeches of chizuk for thousands and thousands of people. On late Shabbat, I spoke to my community. It’s also around 1,000 people, and people came afterwards and said, “Kol hakavod, what you’re doing!” I saw one teenager around 18 years old, he waits. After everyone went, he came and he says, “HaRav, who is giving you chizuk?” Exactly your question, but it’s interesting that maybe you and another one or two asked it till today. It’s a good question.
The most thing that gives me chizuk is davening. This is the main thing, davening. Also, when I’m busy, usually I learn Torah for hours a day, but now, I have to answer questions and it’s different. But also, Torah gives me chizuk and every Chayal, and every citizen that I see and I hug, I feel wow. And Am Yisrael, Am Yisrael is the best and this what gives me energy. You see Am Yisrael. You see although they try to kill us … they succeeded there, unfortunately, a little, but Am Yisrael has energy, has shlichus, has love connected to HaShem. You see people here, there, see the connection. To be with Am Yisrael, this is what gives me chizuk, davening, praying, and Am Yisrael, and maybe in the end of the war also, I have to get the chizuk somehow
Rav Rimon, it is such an incredible privilege to hear your words and we are all davening along with you for your continued efforts in the success of Amcha Yisrael b’Eretz Yisrael. I cannot thank you enough. This has been an incredible privilege to speak with you today.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
I just tell you why I must leave right now. Because yesterday, I got a telephone from a soldier that I don’t know at all. And he said, “HaRav, tomorrow I have 24 hours of vacation. I want to get married. Can you marry me?” So now, I’m going straight to Efrat …
If he didn’t do in a week, two weeks, three weeks, and they come back, can they do then sheva berakhot? … There are questions that we are not used to be asked. B’ezrat HaShem that we’ll deal with … and we’ll see lots of houses are building in Am Yisrael. The terrorists are trying to do dark, to destroy. We are building. We are bringing light, not just for us. Our fight, it’s not just for Am Yisrael and not just for Eretz Yisrael, everyone that hears what happened with this terrible, terrible enemy from the Holocaust, we didn’t hear things like this. We understand we are going to help not just Am Yisrael, we are going to help the whole world. This thing should be destroyed and, b’ezrat HaShem, should have the ability to bring light to the world.
Amen. Thank you, everyone. Please wish the chatan a mazel tov on our behalf. Ashrei ha’am that we have such a leader, Rav Rimon. Thank you so very much.
Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon:
Todah rabah … Was wonderful to be with you.
When Rav Rimon mentioned to me that his grandfather was this celebrated poet and namesake, Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon, something about that, it was almost as if I already knew because I’m very familiar with Rav Rimon’s works. I’ll be honest, I had never really done a deep dive in much of Israeli poetry. A lot of that has changed over the past couple months. A lot of it has really changed over the past couple of weeks. I find Israeli poetry to be able to articulate this moment and the needs of this moment, the urgency of this moment, how sublime in some ways, how almost indescribable, feeling like you are a part of history as it is unfolding. Something that I think so many of the Jewish people are instinctively feeling right now where, much of our lives, it feels like we are watching history but not really participating, not really at the center, not really in the stadium, to paraphrase the famous words of Teddy Roosevelt.
But now, it feels like we’ve entered and we’ve received that invitation from history itself. There’s something remarkable about Rav Rimon who we just spoke to that you hear the loving poetry of his grandfather echo in such a different context through the guidance, through the halacha, which is normally something that can be associated with something that’s very cold, very uncaring, and he’s able to wed it to the empathy, the sensitivity of poetry and reveal the beauty, the love, the sensitivity, the kindness, the empathy of halacha itself, which is why in this moment it is such a privilege to hear the words of Rav Rimon. If you haven’t already, go out. His book on Shabbos, his book on Shemita, his book on Yontif, all of these are incredibly accessible and you’re really learning with him.
Allow me to close by returning to that interview, that Hebrew interview that he had in Makor Rishon. He shares something so beautiful and he concludes the very interview actually with words of his grandfather where he writes, this is Rav Rimon speaking. He says:
“I believe, I deeply believe, that we need to see the good, the positivity in one another and unite the Jewish people.” He writes that inside of his latest sefer. He actually brings one of poems of his grandfather, which is called “Shabbos Redemption Approaches.” He describes in that poem that they’re like the heavenly candles of Shabbos that illuminate the sky. That’s the ultimate sign and symbol of the ultimate redemption itself. He quotes his own grandfather’s words that I’d like to conclude with.
“Speak good each person to their neighbor. Let’s talk positively with one another and holiness will shine out upon each of us. And the signs of God will be seen like in those old days, like they once were. Redemption is already at the doorstep. The people of Israel just need to unite, and then the redemption will burst forth.
And I hope Rav Rimon in everything he has done to take the underlying feeling and empathy and poetry of his grandfather and unite it and bring out the empathy and love of halachic guidance itself can be in some ways a bond for this moment because indeed geulah, redemption, is at our doorstep. The Jewish people should be able to come together lovingly with kindness to see that good in one another, to see the good, and the optimism, and the sensitivity, and softness, and sweetness in our tradition, and in our Torah, and our halacha, and most of all within one another.
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