Who is Providing Zechusim for Whom?
Do the soldiers need your mitzvot, or do you need theirs?
Amid this horrible war, we’re constantly hearing about the importance of providing zechusim (or, if you prefer proper Hebrew, zechuyot) - spiritual merits - for the soldiers. We’re told how important it is to learn Torah and do other mitzvos with their wellbeing in mind. We’re told that the soldiers are protected in the merit of yeshivah students.
But there’s two issues with this. First of all, as I discuss at length in the final chapter of Rationalism vs. Mysticism, there’s no such thing in classical Judaism as doing mitzvot and transferring the credit to other people. There is such a thing as gaining credit for mitzvot that you make possible - for example, a person’s mitzvot are a credit to their parents, because their parents raised them. But you can’t just nominate some random person to receive credit for a mitzvah that you do.
One might ask that surely in this case, Chazal explicitly stated that soldiers are successful in the merit of Torah:
אָמַר רַבִּי יְהוֹשֻׁעַ בֶּן לֵוִי: מַאי דִּכְתִיב: ״עֹמְדוֹת הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם״? מִי גָּרַם לְרַגְלֵינוּ שֶׁיַּעַמְדוּ בַּמִּלְחָמָה – שַׁעֲרֵי יְרוּשָׁלַםִ, שֶׁהָיוּ עוֹסְקִים בַּתּוֹרָה.
Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Our feet were standing in your gates, Jerusalem” (Psalms 122:2)? What caused our feet to withstand the enemies in war? It is the gates of Jerusalem, where they were engaged in Torah study. (Makkot 10a)
However, while this Gemara is widely quoted to argue that yeshiva students are providing crucial support to the war effort, this does not appear to be the case. The idea may well be that the merit of a holy and worthy nation ensures that the army will be successful. This does not equate to individual mitzvot having their credit transferred to soldiers. (And, of course, it certainly does not mean that learning Torah replaces an obligation to serve in the army.)
So, we’ve established that there is no traditional mechanism via which to transfer zechusim to soldiers. But in any case, would soldiers actually need zechusim from us? I heard a shiur the other day in which the Rav said precisely the opposite.
He pointed out that thanks to the soldiers, everyone else is able to go about their daily lives. It’s thanks to them that we are able to davven and learn and do all the other mitzvot that we do. Furthermore, the soldiers make this possible via actual mesirat nefesh (as opposed to the non-literal mesirat nefesh that some people use as a term to describe people learning Torah intensively). So it’s the soldiers who have the greatest zechusim of all! Nobody comes close to soldiers in terms of zechusim.
This is the same as with the framework of people who work to support Torah scholars (popularly but inaccurately described as a Yissachar-Zevulun relationship). When Mr Zevulun is working to financially support Reb Yissachar studying for the rabbinate, it’s Zevulun who is creating a zechus for himself, not Yissachar creating one for him. Even if, unbeknownst to Mr Zevulun, Yissachar is secretly not actually learning, Mr Zevulun’s zechus would be the same.
So don’t think that the need of the hour is for you to create zechusim for soldiers. They’ve already got more zechusim than can be imagined. It’s not them surviving in your zechus, it’s you surviving in their zechus. Yes, learn Torah and do mitzvot - lead a life that justifies their sacrifice and which will inspire them to fight for Israel. But the need of the hour is to do what you need to do in order to lead the most valuable life.
(Reminder - on Sunday, I’ll be giving a presentation at a parlor meeting in Teaneck about the museum’s response to the war. If you’d like to join our family of supporters and attend the event, please write to Ellen at advancement@BiblicalNaturalHistory.org. If you can’t attend, but you’d like to support the efforts that we are doing - or to show appreciation for this blog - please visit www.BiblicalNaturalHistory.org/war-support to learn more and donate. Thank you!)
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