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Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Jewish Mother's Prayer

by Rabbi Shimon Posner
Jul 30, '06 / 5 Av 5766

A soldier, an Israeli soldier especially, standing in front of the Kotel meant something to me: pride, virility, bravado and all the good stuff a boy likes. It still means all that; but now, overwhelmingly, I look at one of them and all I see is his mother.


It is the paradox in pride of the army, of youth, really. Even when we were young, we knew how vulnerable the soldiers' position is; we grow up, after all, knowing the fallen heroes. And even as we age, we still cheer their pride and their ability and the work they do. And we know they are cool. But, but - Imma. And Savta. And little sister. And favorite aunt. And Abba, and little cousin. And can you just send him home already?

I meet soldiers; I talk with them, laugh with them, argue with them, agree with them, put on tefillin with them and, more often than not, when we take leave, cry with them. I will never forget the hug a guy from Acre gave me before his going back to duty.

Russian born, easy smile, with a swagger you could actually like. "I'm not religious at all," he insisted, "I just go to Chabad in Acre. And the rabbi there... the rabbi there, he's great!" He choked slightly and gave a nervous laugh. "When I came back from the front once, the rabbi stopped in the middle of services - he stopped in the middle of the service! - and came to give me a hug." He is smiling now, not really talking to me anymore. Then, he comes back. "I put on tefillin. The rabbi asked me to, and once I did it a few times, I started to like it. Now, I miss it if I don't."

This week, I got no less than four emails of a picture from FOX of soldiers davening. There is something about soldiers davening. It shows that prayer comes from a place of strength; it shows that prayer comes from a place of vulnerability. It shows that prayer comes from a place we don't want anyone to see; and from a place that we have a need to share.

Oh, the prophets! How they poured on fire and brimstone when they saw a tragedy happening and everyone else was looking the other way. We despised them, or if we were devout, resented them. They were wet-towel-party-poopers as they "jeremiad" around. We read their words in the haftorahs these weeks.

A smart old man once told me that he never told his grown children the words "I told you so." Neither did the prophets. Once tragedy struck, the prophet was there only to comfort. And cry. And sometimes, there were no tears left, so he just stood there. Silently. And some see silence and think the prophet harbors a I-told-you-so. But really he's saying, "Now you know why I was crying."

Every soldier knows that his mission stands above all else. And I don't doubt that. Their mission is vital, to everyone - every Jew, every free perso, every non-free person. The enemy must be defeated as conclusively as the Nazis were - and that can only be achieved through the military. I don't doubt it or belittle it for a moment.

But every time I start to pray for their success, I see their mothers. Moroccan women in scarves, Kurdish (yes, yes, there are Kurdish Jews in Israel; lots of them) without scarves, Ashkenazi women, standing there stoically, demanding inconsequential things that mothers always do when their kids are going to a dangerous place because they must. ("Keep your coat on!")

I hope I won't be called a troublemaker for making my way to Bethlehem, to the mother's grave; the mother who prays that her children come safely home. May her prayers be heard on high. They always are. I hope she'll let me listen in.

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