It has now been close to three years since my son was drafted into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Recently he received his latest military rank. He is now a Sergeant First Class. As I prepared to sew my son’s rank on his uniform I remembered the long time ago words of my dear friend, Jeremy Goldberg, z”l (of blessed memory).
Jeremy was an American Orthodox Zionist Jew, and I am a Modern Orthodox Zionist Israeli Jew with a strong feminist streak. Long before I got married, moved to Israel, had children, and became widowed, Jeremy and I had a loud friendly discussion about who should wear a Tallit (Prayer Shawl) and who should lay Tefillin (Prayer Phylacteries). I remember that Jeremy wasn’t being very persuasive until he said: “Ok, so will you please consider this: When the son of a loving and strong Jewish mother puts on his Tallit, it may be considered as if she has put on a Tallit. This is because it is the mother who physically takes care of her son’s Tallit and on a spiritual plane, in living an observant life it is the mother, by her own example, who teaches her son to follow the Mitzvot (Commandments). Think about it, there is a clear way to saying that David HaMelech (King David) was as strong and capable as he was because his great-grandmother was Ruth. So we can say that male children who have strong mothers inherit a special strength from them.” I wasn’t entirely convinced but I liked the creativity of his comment enough to award him “match point”. Truly, it has ended up that Jeremy, z”l, was correct, I am the one who sends my son’s Tallit to the dry cleaners and washes his Tallit Katan and because my son was orphaned at age 9 months, his religious training has been entirely my responsibility.
I thought about that long time ago conversation as I prepared to sew my son’s new rank on his uniform. In my world view there is a clear parallel between caring for my son’s Tallit and sewing on his new military rank. In the same way that I taught him the Mitzvot, I taught him to love and serve Israel. To be sure it is my son’s duty to serve, it is his uniform and it is his military rank, but I am his mother, so it is, that in caring for his IDF uniform and sewing on his new rank, it is as if I too put on that uniform.
“For the sake of Zion, I will not keep silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem, I will not rest, until her righteousness goes forth like radiance and her salvation, like a flaming torch.” (Isaiah 62:1) May the Mighty and Merciful G-d of Israel bless and protect all soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. Kol HaKavod L’Tzhal (All honor to the IDF!)