Monday, July 07, 2008

The Amazing Private M., Bravery, and the Spirit of the Lord

Here in Israel acts of bravery take place every day. Some get publicized and some don't. Last week the entire world was witness to a remarkable act of bravery that happened here in Jerusalem. Private M., an off duty soldier, became an international hero last Wednesday by killing the Arab terrorist that used a bulldozer to murder three and wound many others. For the benefit of those that still haven't heard the story:
"As far as what happened," M. continued: "I was bicycling from the center of town [westward] towards my home, when I saw a bulldozer battering a bus lying on its side and a lot of commotion. I immediately realized that it was a terrorist attack. I threw the bicycle to the side, and I ran towards the scene, trying to get as close as I could to the bulldozer so that I could get on it and stop the driver. As I got closer I tried to somehow get a weapon. When the bulldozer stopped, a policeman climbed up, and I climbed up right behind him, screaming at him to shoot."

"Oron Ben-Shimon, with whom I was privileged to cooperate in stopping the terrorist, also climbed up, and he and the policeman tried to stop him with their hands. At first I could not shoot him, because the policeman stood in between us and the terrorist. The terrorist suddenly got up and started to drive again, screaming out Allahu Akbar, and Oron was able to turn the steering wheel so that the bulldozer wouldn't run over more cars. Finally, I was able to grab Oron's gun and shoot over the heads of the policeman and Oron, three bullets to his head. Then a Yassam policeman got on and fired again to ascertain his death."
Last Shabbat morning I happened to pray at the same synagogue where Private M prayed. The congregation honored M. by calling him up to the Torah. As I saw M. receive his aliyah, I could not help but make the connection between Private M. and the portion from the Prophets that Jews all over the world read that Shabbat morning.

The portion, from the book of Judges, tells us about Jephthah the Gileadite. In those days the Ammonites made war against Israel, claiming that the Israelites stole their land (sound familiar?). Jephthah soundly rebutted their claim, but the Ammonites wouldn't listen:
"Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him."
Jephthah has no choice but to go to war:
Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
What was this "spirit of the LORD"?

The Targum Yonatan translates this in the following way:

ושרת עלוהי רוח גבורה מן קדם ה

And a spirit of gevurah (courage, bravery, strength, might) from before the Lord rested upon him.
In other words Jephthah's extraordinary gevurah was something Divine, something that came from Above. Maimonides, in The Guide for the Perplexed, defines this as being a low level of prophecy:
The first degree of prophecy consists in the divine assistance which is given to a person, and induces and encourages him to do something good and grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from the hands of evildoers; to save one noble person, or to bring happiness to a large number of people; he finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to this deed. This degree of divine influence is called" the spirit of the Lord": and of the person who is under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord came upon him, clothed him, or rested upon him, or the Lord was with him, and the like. All the judges of Israel possessed this degree, for the following general statement is made concerning them --" The Lord raised up judges for them; and the Lord was with the judge, and he saved them" (judges ii. 18). Also all the noble chiefs of Israel belonged to this class. The same is distinctly stated concerning some of the judges and the kings:--" The spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" (ibid. xi. 29):
I can't help but think that Private M.'s extraordinary courage and valor came from the same source! The Torah that he received from his home and from the various institutions that he learned at, instilled within him the purity of heart that made him an appropriate vessel to receive this Divine gift.

By the way, M.'s aliyah to the Torah was accompanied by singing from the congregation. It was obvious from the expression on his face that M. did not enjoy the attention that he was receiving. Not only does he dislike being a hero on a national or international level, he is also quite uncomfortable about being the neighborhood hero.
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