You are Insane

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“You are insane!”

Those were the words Rav Asher Weiss Shlit”a used to greet me when I visited him this week and shared that we had a group of 70 people from BRS who had come to spend Yeshiva Week in Israel. He continued that anyone visiting Israel right now, anyone flying into a country at war, is insane.

In a few weeks it will have been two years since Russia invaded Ukraine. In that time, six million Ukrainians have fled to Europe, but do large groups of Ukrainians from around the world come to visit Ukraine? How many have come on solidarity missions to bring supplies, to visit army bases, to sponsor barbecues, to hug displaced families?

“And so, you and the many who have come to visit Israel during this war are simply insane,” said Rav Asher. “But it is a magnificent insanity, a beautiful insanity, an insanity driven by love and loyalty, by connection and community, by a sense that we aren’t just a people, we are a family and family doesn’t run away from trouble, they are willing to run towards it.”

Of course, in truth there is nothing insane about visiting Israel right now. It feels not just safe but tremendously meaningful, moving, and one truly appreciates that visits make a difference. I don’t take for granted for a moment the privilege of spending time in Israel during this monumental, historic, and critical time.

There are many legitimate reasons not to be able to visit Israel during this time. Not everyone can take off from work. Those with young children and those who are responsible for taking care of aging parents cannot travel or be far away. The expense of flying and finding a place to stay is significant and the relationships and connections needed to craft a productive and meaningful itinerary are not available to all. And so, there are many legitimate reasons that people can’t stop what they are doing during this war and come to Israel.

But here is the thing. There is no legitimate reason for every member of our precious Jewish people not to feel with every fiber of their being that they want to go to Israel right now, that they are drawn to the beautiful and magnificent insanity of running to be with our family in Israel at this moment: for them, for ourselves, to honor our history, and to together forge our destiny.

As this war continues to rage, as the danger of it expanding to a northern front increases, as hundreds of thousands of families remain displaced, as funerals and shivas of soldiers are tragically still taking place, as hospitals and rehabilitation facilities remain full of thousands fighting to recover and resume life, as the economy continues to be compromised by a massive dip in tourism, and as too many in the world are working to marginalize and isolate Israel, every member of our sacred family should be drawn to our home, should feel the powerful force of the magnetic pull to be with our people, to be in our place, to be part of this sense of purpose.

It shouldn’t be hard to want to go to Israel right now; it should be hard not to, it should feel impossible to stay away, it should hurt to not be there, to not be counted and to not be contributing.

Rav Michael Yammer, the Rosh Yeshiva of Shaalvim, told me about a call he received from a talmid of the Yeshiva who was in Gaza. Anxious and upset, the young man had gotten access to a special phone from his captain to be able to call his rebbe to tell him that he had decided to put his role as a husband and father ahead of being a soldier and that pending permission from his rebbe, he was requesting to leave the Gaza battlefield to go home. Sensing that something had happened, Rav Yammer asked him what changed, why was he feeling this way? The young man said that just a few hours earlier, a dear friend and fellow soldier had been killed in fighting and he now felt he just couldn’t go forward with the feeling that his family might lose their husband and father.

Rav Yammer told him there is a conflict taking place between your head and your heart, between what you are thinking and how you are feeling. Come home for a couple of days, speak to your wife and come with her to meet me to explore if you think your head can rein in your heart, if what you believe can sway and control how you feel. Rav Yammer challenged him, in this moment, can you set aside your being an ish perati, am individual person, to serve as an ish ha’kelal, a person who is devoted to the greater good? Can you put what is right for am Yisrael ahead of what is right for you or your family? If you can’t, that is completely understandable and acceptable and not subject to anyone’s judgment, but consider it thoroughly, be true and honest with yourself.

The next day, the couple cancelled their appointment with him explaining they had been up all night discussing and had reached a conclusion. With his wife’s support, he was determined to continue to be an ish ha’kelal, a person who was dedicated to the greater good of his people. His head could and would rule his heart, his commitment and belief would be stronger than his fear, and he and his feelings were going back in to fight and defend his greater family, the Jewish people.

Israel is filled with anshei ha’klal right now, ordinary people with extraordinary commitments to serve something bigger than themselves, and they are making tremendous sacrifices as they do so. While fatigue has set in for too many, soldiers cannot afford to tire, their wives and families have to continue to pick up the slack, a nation whose citizens are at most one or two degrees of separation from October 7 victims, or soldiers who have paid the highest price since then, has to live with trauma and grief it hasn’t yet had time to process or experience.

This war is and will be won by a country of individuals putting aside their individual needs, wants, and well-being to serve the klal, the greater community and people. Soldiers are risking their lives on the front lines. Families are filling in while loved ones are way from home for prolonged periods. Volunteers, many of whom don’t sleep for days at a time, are cooking, delivering, serving, supporting, and supplying. A nation is davening and learning with greater diligence, determination, and dedication than ever before. People who have been far away from mitzvos and spirituality are experiencing an awakening and pledging to take on practices outside of their previous experiences and comfort zones.

Not everyone who lives outside of Israel can go right now but every one of us should feel that we want to, should work to plan to, should find a way to not do what is best for us or even just for our families, but to prioritize what we can do for our collective future, for the good of our people.

Even if we can’t physically be in Israel, our focus, consciousness, and compass can be connecting us constantly to Israel and to the sacrifices our brothers and sisters are making there. We cannot and must not be tone deaf or disconnected, acting as anshei prat, individual people, practicing, posting, speaking and living as if there isn’t a war raging, heroic angels aren’t being killed, hundreds of thousands aren’t grinding through the grueling reality of being displaced for many months.

Before planning, posting, or doing anything during these difficult days, ask yourself, is this the behavior of an ish ha’klal, someone connected with our greater people? How would this picture, this comment, or this message, be seen or understood by those I claim to care about going through something we cannot begin to truly comprehend? How can I put my personal, individual instinct or need aside and use my time, energy, resources and attention to serve, contribute and put the family first instead?

In this critical time, ask yourself simply, how will you be magnificently and beautifully insane?