Before Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935) became the chief rabbi of pre-State Israel, he served as the rabbi of Boisk, Latvia. On the holiday of Purim, 1897, Rabbi Kook sat together with some of the young men who were students in his religious school and shared lofty and inspirational Bible teachings.
On Purim, the Jewish people have a custom to dress up in costumes. Following the Bible study, Rabbi Kook told all of his students to dress up as soldiers, while he dressed up as an officer. He then proceeded to lead his student-soldiers in an imaginary conquest of the Land of Israel. They performed army drills – “left, left, left right left” – blew trumpets, and even ate lunch while sitting on the floor as if they were soldiers eating on the battlefield.
Afterwards, Rabbi Kook and his students prayed the afternoon service together. When he reached the words “Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise a banner to gather our exiles, and bring us together from the four corners of the earth into our land,” Rabbi Kook broke down in tears, as if it were the final moments of the Yom Kippur fast.
“It came to pass at the end of four hundred and thirty years, and it came to pass on that very day, that all the armies of Hashem went out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:41).
When God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, He referred to them as “the armies of Hashem,” a seemingly strange way to refer to about three million men, women and children who had spent their entire lives serving as Pharaoh’s slaves. The Israelites who left Egypt were no Marines! Why, then, does God refer to Israel as His “army”?
Within this verse is hidden an essential teaching. Though many people do not realize it, we are currently in the midst of a world war – a war for the existence of the State of Israel, a war for truth, and a war for the future of Western Civilization. Our enemies are on the attack. Some, like Hamas, have taken up arms to massacre Jews and Christians. Others, like the radical left-wing media and the anti-American professors who have infested our universities, are stealing the souls of our children and brainwashing them to hate America, Israel, Christians and Jews. No matter where we live in the world, those who remain true to God and the Bible are under attack. We must understand that our enemies have declared war on us, for if we do not realize that we are in a war, we are destined to lose it.
If we are to win this war, we have only one option: to enlist. Every one of us – men and women, the young and the elderly – must become God’s holy soldiers. We must fight the jihadis, wherever they raise their head. We must fight the corrupt media, which twists the truth and sides with barbaric terrorists who rape and murder women and children. At a time like this, no one can remain a civilian, no one can remain on the sidelines. Just as Rabbi Kook and his students symbolically joined God’s army to fight for freedom and redemption, we must all enlist in the army of God. It is a fight for our existence and for our future. We need everyone!
Whether our deployment is in Gaza to fight terrorists, on Facebook or Twitter to fight people who are spreading lies, or at a church board meeting to wake up our friends to the importance of supporting Israel, we must view ourselves as soldiers. For if we don’t recognize the gravity of the moment, we will not rise to the occasion.
Interestingly, the Hebrew word used in the verse for “armies of God” is Tzevaot instead of the more common Chayil.
Rabbi Yaakov Tzvi Mecklenburg (1785-1865) explains that this is no accident. The word Chayil refers to an army that draws its strength from having massive numbers of soldiers that are capable of overwhelming its enemies. By contrast, the word Tzevaot refers to an army that draws its strength not from numbers, but through cohesion and unity of purpose.
We who are soldiers of God, who are willing to give our lives to fight for Hashem, do not draw our strength from numbers. The people of Israel and Israel’s holy friends are outnumbered by our enemies. But we must not fear, for we draw our strength from our holy unity and our devotion to God.
Together, we will defeat Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran. Together, we will overcome the jihadis and woke progressives who threaten the soul of our society. Together, we will lead the armies of God to victory!
“This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, saying: ‘Not by military force (Chayil) and not by physical strength, but by My spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts (Tzevaot)” (Zechariah 4:6).
Rabbi Elie Mischel is the Director of Education at Israel365.