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Band Of Brothers

by Rabbi Avi Matmon

Rabbi Yissachar Frand relates an article. Major Jered Spencer, United States Army, graduate of West Point, wrote an Op Ed article in the New York Times. In the military there is a concept called band of brothers, it refers to soldiers who are in the same unit who fight together, eat together, sleep together, laugh together, and cry together. The bond is so closely knit that they become willing to risk their lives for their fellow soldiers. Anyone who ever saw the old "Combat" or "Rat Patrol" series knows the cohesiveness and respect each one has for his fellow in the unit. It doesn't matter if one is in the Israeli, American, or whatever army unit in the world, the "band of brothers" concept is real. Spencer was in Iraq in 2003 and in another tour of duty in 2008, and he noticed a profound change in cohesion of his unit in those five years. These are some notes that he conveyed that the reader might find intriguing.

"I had forty men in combat in Iraq. We practically lived and slept in our vehicles. We ate together; we experienced missions together. The only real contact we had with the outside world was an occasional letter or infrequent phone calls. At that time, cell phones have not really arrived. When I returned in 2008, by this time our living quarters were fully equipped with 24-hour internet service and we had purchased cell phones from the Iraqis. Facebook was taking off and changing social media. Soldiers spent hours and hours on the computer lab, posting to their Facebook wall and sending messages to their friends. Astonishingly, this new burst of modern technology had a terrible effect on the cohesion of the group. They would criticize each other more often. I saw them arguing on what decisions to make. We went from a band of brothers to a band of tweeters."

The 'band of brothers' concept has been established since war began. It has been a full proof signature act of brotherhood that ever existed. The goal is to focus on comradery, humanity one for all and all for one. What happened? How can one get so unfocused? How can this group unravel? There seems to be doubt cast in the relationship with their fellow comrades-in-arms. The focus on bringing men together to perform kindness to each other is gone. The drive and focus for the goal of brotherly love has been diluted.

It was perhaps the single greatest collective failure of leadership in the Torah. Ten of the spies whom Moses had sent to spy out the land came back with a report calculated to demoralize the nation. "We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large ... We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we are ... The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height ... We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them." (Num. 13: 27-33)

This was nonsense, and they should have known it. They had left Egypt, the greatest empire of the ancient world, after a series of plagues that brought that great country to its knees. They had crossed the seemingly impenetrable barrier of the Red Sea. They had fought and defeated the Amalekites, a ferocious warrior nation. They had even sung, along with their fellow Israelites, a song at the Sea that contained the words: "The peoples have heard; they tremble; pangs have seized the inhabitants of Philistia. Now are the chiefs of Edom dismayed; trembling seizes the leaders of Moab; all the inhabitants of Canaan have melted away." (Ex. 15: 14-15)
They should have known that the people of the land were afraid of them, not the other way around. How and why did they stray off the plan? They were riding high, steamrolling into Eretz Yisrael. The land of "milk and honey", here we come; this was the rallying cry, the focus throughout the exodus. How did they get off course? Furthermore, even more bizarre, this week's parsha tell an additional story of the Mapilim. (14:44) After the sin of the spies, G-d decreed that the generation would die in the desert and they won't enter Eretz Yisrael. A group of people known as the Mapilim decided they would go to Israel regardless.

Rashi explains {Mapilim} implies force. These people made themselves strong and stubborn and they decided to go to the land with or without permission from G-d. Essentially, they were sinning in the reverse way. At first, when G-d told them to go, the Jews were apprehensive and scared, then when G-d took away the option, now, all of a sudden, they have the strong urge. Moshe said, "Why are you going against G-d decree; it will not succeed. Do not go up because G-d is not in your midst, lest you will be smitten before your enemies..."

But they tried to go to the Holy land anyway. The verse tells us (14:45) "Amalek and Cana'an who live on the mountains went down and smote them." These verses are surprising. The previous day, everyone was afraid to go to the land, on the next day they were courageous and fearless. How can we explain this? How did they change their stance so quickly?

The Chasam Sofer says the Mapilim were misguided tzadikim. Their focus was de-focused. He proves it from a Gemara in Shabbat. (96-97) How did Tzelafchad die? Reb Yehuda ben Beisera said he was one of the Mapilim and had good intentions. They wanted to repent and couldn't bear that they lost the opportunity to go to Israel. Interestingly, now we attach a prequel to the story of his daughters. Tzelafchad's daughter wanted to claim the right of inheritance of their father in the land of Israel. (Tzelafchad had no sons to inherit him.)

In order to understand our problem, I say our problem for it haunts each one of us today, we have to go to the source. The nachash-snake was able to seduce Eve into eating from the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil. By eating from this tree, Adam and Eve brought the yetzer hara-Satan into themselves. This means that they now constituted of a combination of the good that emanated from their pure soul, and the evil that came from the yetzer hara-Satan.

The result of this was that they were now subject to the main weapon of the yetzer hara; confusion and with this confusion he will always attempt to un-focus the focus. When a person knows that something is clearly wrong, he will not do it. The yetzer hara's tactic is to convince him that this sin is actually not a sin at all, in fact it is the correct thing to do. Furthermore, he will convince him that his good deed was not as good after all.

The Netivot Shalom (the Slonimer Rebbe) writes the following idea in his book. Every night we say in the Aravit prayer: "Remove the Satan from in front of us and from behind us". It is obvious to all of us what the purpose of the "Satan in front of us" is. Many times, we are on the way to do something positive and we find it becomes very difficult to accomplish the task. This is due to the "Satan in front of us" who tries to prevent us from doing mitzvot. In the most famous act of trust and love towards the Master of the Universe, the Sages tell us that the Satan wanted to get in the way of Avraham Avinu and not let him accomplish the Akedah [binding] of Yitzchak.

But what is the significance of the prayer to remove the "Satan from behind us"? How can there be a "Satan behind us" if the mitzvah has already been completed? The Netivot Shalom explains that sometimes after we have already completed a mitzvah, or passed a nisayon [spiritual challenge] things don't work out the way we thought they would and we begin to "second guess" our righteous acts. We wonder whether or not we did the right thing. The Satan never gives up. He may lose battle after battle, but he does not give up the war so easily.

What does the person think? What do the people around him think? This is the idea of "Remove Satan from behind us." After the good deed is done, the Satan does not want you to be at peace with it. Even if the person was not contemplating going back to where he came from spiritually, nonetheless, it is no longer the same. It is with a regret and remorse that one decided to do the right thing and become religious.
The Sages tell us that a person only sins when a 'spirit of insanity' [ruach shtut] overtakes him- this means that he loses touch with his sense of right and wrong and therefore does the wrong thing, whilst convincing himself that it is actually the right thing to do.

The Ben Ish Chai and Maskil leDavid both point out that the prayers which we recite stating "please prevent us from sinning" seem to contradict a well-known axiom, that 'everything is in the hands of heaven except for fear of heaven.' This means that the one thing that is completely in the control of man is the ability to choose between right and wrong. If we pray for things beyond our control, such as health and livelihood, it can be highly beneficial because those things are totally dependent on Divine Providence. However, praying to not sin would seem to have no benefit because God does not determine whether we sin - that is completely in our hands.

The Ben Ish Chai explains that there are two different ways by which a person can come to commit a sin. One is where he has total clarity that a certain act is forbidden but he nonetheless decides to do it with a clear recognition that he is sinning. The second is where his yetzer hara (evil inclination) clouds his judgment and persuades him that this act is permissible; enabling him to rationalize that he is not sinning at all.

The principle that 'fear of heaven is completely in our own hands' only applies to the first form of sinning, where a person is absolutely clear that acting in such a way constitutes a sin. In this area there is no benefit for a person to pray for God to stop him committing this sin; it is purely in his own hands and God cannot, so-to-speak, change his free will decision.

However, this is not the case with regard to the second form of challenge where a person may genuinely believe that he is not sinning. The main factor that causes him to sin in such a case is lack of clarity as to the correct course of action. This is not completely within one's free will. When a person wants to do the right thing, but is at risk of being seduced by his yetzer hara, he can turn to God to help him not be clouded by its rationalizations. Therefore, in this situation it is beneficial to pray to God.

We don't have to be in the army to cry over the loss of the "band of brothers". We can cry for it for it has hit us much closer "band of family". I once played for the reader a music video by the Maccabeats where the whole family was sitting around the dinner table and each one had a laptop in front of them. No one said a peep to their family members. Here, the Satan won; he used his primary weapon confusion. The primary goal was to focus on the family, to take advantage of the time with parents, children, and siblings. Satan convinced the individuals of the family that conversing at the table and saying I love you is secondary. The family missed an important moment in life and that is to enjoy and learn from each other. Satan altered the goals of life and threw clarity for a spin. Perhaps, it is similar to the spies an Mapilim whereas a burst of confusion is thrusted upon the situation, the primary focus derailed.

Rabbi Asher Hurzberg relates a famous story of a king who sends his diplomat to another country but instructs him to not remove his shirt when he meets with their king and his advisers. When he got back, the king asked him how the trip went. He replied that it was good and the King would be happy. When he arrived there, the advisers looked at him from top to bottom and asked, "Are you a hunchback?" He responded "No." They persisted, ending up wagering $100,000 that he was. The diplomat thought "Boy, this is easy money." So he took off his shirt and showed them he wasn't a hunchback. The king's face turned red. "You fool I told you not to bet. I bet them $1,000,000 you would not take off your shirt."

Let us stay focused on our primary goals and not get distracted by what seems enticing or for that matter reluctance due to fear for this is the weapon of the Satan. Let the band of brothers live on.

Rabbi Avi Matmon

This article was constructed with the help of either writings, lectures or shiurim of Rabbis Yissachar Frand, Elimelech Bidderman , Lord Jonothon Sacks, Asher Hurzberg, Yossi Bilus, Yonatan Gefen

 

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