Why He Became an Israeli Soldier

Why He Became an Israeli Soldier

I still remember Mendel in a baby carriage, and now he’s going to be an Israeli soldier.

Last week, Mendel’s mother Rachel and I were hanging out at a neighborhood event, and I nearly fell over when she told me that Mendel would soon be joining the army, and that he was being recruited by some of Israel’s most elite army units.

But I’ll tell you the truth: I didn’t really get it.

I’m not saying I don’t admire the soldiers. I admire them, and especially the soldiers in high-risk units, with ALL of my heart. It’s these soldiers who put their own lives on the line facing our enemies day after day that enable me and my family to live in Israel and for this little holy country surrounded by bloodthirsty enemies to continue to exist at all.

But what I didn’t get is what motivates them.

If an Arab came after me with a gun, I would scream, I would flee, I would say, “OK, you win!” and curl up in the safety of my house with a book and a cup of sleepy time tea.

So, I’ve always wondered, what motivates a gifted, highly-intelligent, sensitive 17-year-old like Mendel to put his own personal interests, safety, and comfort aside, and to even place his own life, G-d forbid, at risk as an Israeli soldier in an elite unit?

What motivates a hero?

This week I’ve been getting my answer through reading Rabbi Ze’ev Karov’s extremely inspirational book “B’Levav Penima: A Small Story of Great Heroism” (Yediot).

In January 2009, you might remember that Rabbi Karov’s son, Israeli soldier Aharon Karov received a call from his division commander 4 hours after Aharon’s wedding. The commander told him: “Aharon, you must come. The IDF is entering Gaza tomorrow night. Your soldiers need you here. And they need you now”

Aharon collected his gear, bid farewell to his new bride, and headed off to lead his troops into Gaza. That same week, you might also remember, Aharon was almost killed in battle, and received the dubious distinction of being the most severely injured soldier in the Gaza War.

B”H, during the year following his near brush with death, Aharon experienced a miraculous recovery, and is today nearly fully recovered. “B’Levav Penima” (which, unfortunately, has only been printed in Hebrew) tells the story of Aharon’s injury and miraculous recovery.

But first and foremost, it is a story for me, for people who secretly or not-so-secretly ask what could possibly motivate a normal human being to leave behind his wife of several hours in order to put his life in danger as a soldier in the IDF.

In this book, Rabbi Karov clarifies the ideology that inspires so many young men to risk and even sacrifice their lives as IDF soldiers:

First of all, Rabbi Karov quotes his rabbi, HaRav Yehoshua Zuckerman, who explained to him and Aharon several months after his injury:

“There is no greater expression of love for the Jewish people than serving in the Israeli Army.”

“Religious and secular, left-wing and right-wing, all soldiers declare: We love our people and therefore we are willing to fight for the Jewish people.”

Rabbi Karov continues: “There is no difference between someone who realizes this fact and is aware of it and someone who enlists in this army because it is required of him by law. This declaration of love for the Jewish people is inherent within every soldier’s willingness to fight.”

“The heroism of every soldier who storms the enemy begins with the heroism of restraint, meaning that a soldier puts aside his personal fears of what will happen to him and concern for his own life.”

“Every Israeli soldier who enters battle screams, ‘I am sacrificing my personal needs for the Jewish people and for the State of Israel,’ even if nobody else hears that scream, and even if he himself does not hear that scream and is unaware of its meaning, it screams out of its own accord.”

My comfort and safety are so crucial to me. It is awe inspiring for me to think of young men like Mendel and Aharon Karov, who place as their top priorities in life the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

Even when it’s tough, and even when it’s dangerous, and even when it means they might lose their lives fighting for their ideals.

Last week, I gave my old friend Rachel a big pat on the shoulder. “You go girl!” I told her, “You raised him! How did you raise a boy like that? Unbelievable.”


  1. Congrats to Rachel and to Mendel on his upcoming giyos! Amazing how time has flown– the entire nation will have nachas!

  2. I have to admit I am troubled by Karov’s story. The Torah teaches us that a man who recently married is exempt from war. It also teaches us to give charity to our family first, the people of our city second, and the people outside our city third. What I learn from this is that pursuing grand national ideals is less important than caring for your loved ones. I don’t see how halacha would permit a man to abandon the woman he just married to go fight in a war.

    I understand that in this individual case she must have agreed and supported his decision and it was apparently the right decision for these particular people, but it bothers me that this is presented as “the ideal”. In my mind it is not at all clear that it is.


  3. Thank you again Chana Jenny for keeping us inspired. I too am amazed and awed everytime I see an Israeli soldier.

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