The Torah tells that each soldier among the Israelites was to contribute a half-shekel coin as “a ransom on his life.” Underlying this practice was the belief that the soldier who was prepared to march into battle was viewed as a potential taker of human life, even as he was not a deliberate murderer. But even so, the taking of human life was deemed so serious that a “ransom for his life” was required-a gesture of atonement for what he was prepared to do.
Long ago, Israel’s soldiers were taught of the preciousness of human life, and of the evil of war, no matter how justified. And to listen to young Israeli soldiers today is to appreciate that this sense of disdain for war continues to weigh so heavily upon these young people.
At our Shabbat service tonight, we will be viewing the film “Follow Me.” It tells of Yonatan Netanyahu, brother of the current Prime Minister, and a great military hero who was the commander of the rescue at Antebbe. I think it’s a great film that captures the worthy sensitivity of Israel’s military. (And it was produced by Mark Manson, a member of our congregation, who will be with us.)
I recall the observation of Golda Meir: That she could forgive the Arab countries for making war with Israel. But she could not forgive making killers out of Israel’s young men. Yes, until this day, everything in our Jewish heritage seeks to remind us of the horror of war and the preciousness of life.
Rabbi David Greenberg