In the Talmud, Sotah 42a, we read something about how our ancient soldiers of Israel once prepared to go to war. Before they set out to fight, they heard special words of encouragement.
Today, we awaken to news that our modern soldiers of Israel have also gone to war. Late last night, the Israel Defence Force (IDF) crossed into Gaza in a ground offensive against Hamas. Already, one of our own has been killed.
We pray for our soldiers’ safety. We offer condolence and comfort to the family of this fallen soldier. He died al pi Kiddush HaShem, sanctifying G-d’s Name so that Israel itself—G-d’s sacred Treasure-- would be safe.
Perhaps we should pause. Perhaps we should recall how soldiers during the time of the First Temple prepared for war. We do not yet have our Third Temple. We pray for it every day. Perhaps we would be wise to think about it now.
During the time of the First Temple a special Kohen (priest) was chosen to travel with soldiers into battle. He wasn’t just chosen. He was anointed with the rare—and rarely used--anointing oil of the Temple. He was special. He was specially designated because he had the special task of addressing Israel prior to battle.
He was called, the 'Annointed for War'.
He spoke in Hebrew. He began with the famous Jewish call, ‘Hear O Israel!’ He then said (in part), You draw near this day to battle against your enemy. Let not your heart become faint. Do not be afraid. Do not panic and do not be broken. Let not your heart become faint from the neighing of [your enemy’s] horses and glittering swords. Do not be afraid of the [sounds of] clashing shields [sounds created by an army to raise such a tumult that soldiers facing them would fear they face an enormous force]. Do not be afraid of dust-clouds raised by the stamping feet of enemy soldiers [to create the illusion of a large army]. You are commanded to cast away fear—and rely upon G-d. Each of you, dispel thoughts of home, family and possessions—and focus completely on the business before you.
Do not allow fear to cause you to transgress the prohibition, do not be afraid. Banish your fear! With G-d beside you, there is nothing to fear, for it is HaShem your G-d who goes with you.
Your enemy comes to the battlefield with the strength of flesh and blood. But you come to that battlefield with the strength of the Omnipresent.
The Philistines came against you with the strength of their champion Goliath. He reviled our king and blasphemed against our G-d. What was his end? He fell by the sword and his fellows fell with him.
There’s more. This is an interpretive reading of that ‘Annointed’ speech (see The Art Scroll Daf Yomi edition, Sotah, 42a3-4). Nevertheless, this is the essence of that speech.
Such a speech might sound old-fashioned. But it is a reminder to all of us: this war is not about land. It isn’t about self-determination. It’s about G-d.
If you doubt that, read the Hamas Charter.
May G-d’s mercy protect our soldiers as they go to meet the enemy who has sworn to annihilate us.