Monday, July 14, 2014

For Whom Does the Bell Toll? - How the Tzeva Adom app has made a difference for me

Ping ping-ping-ping ping. Ping ping-ping-ping ping. Oh no. I feel my chest tighten. The tzeva adom app on my phone is going off again. Where is it this time? Be’er Sheva? Ashdod? Maybe it’s the once a day siren from Tel-Aviv? Why won’t they stop? Like Pavlov’s dog, I have already become conditioned by the sound of this warning bell. I have no doubt that if I happen to hear a similar sound in 20 years, my chest will tighten, even if I can’t remember why.

Why do I have the app? As the head-counselor on a Israel summer program for teenage boys, it would seem to be obvious. I need to know to make sure that we are safe. That’s not it though. All of the staff already have the app, and we are careful to avoid areas where many rockets are being launched.So why put up with the discomfort?

There’s a well known machlokes between Rambam and Rambam about the biblical obligation of prayer. While Rambam says that there is a biblical obligation to pray once a day, according to Ramban, mi’deoraisa, a Jew only has an obligation to pray in times of danger. The Ramban’s position is hard to understand. Can it be that a person who is fortunate enough to have a pain free life has no obligation to pray?

Rav Soloveitchik zt”l offers a couple of possible answers. The first is that even if I have a life that is free of pain and difficulty, there is always someone out there who does not. While my life might be easy, I should never forget that somewhere, there is someone who has a difficult life. His second approach is that my life might seem safe and easy, but we live in a world of “toleh aretz al belimah”, a world where our safety always hangs in the balance, and where, countless times a day, HaShem protects us from danger. As chazal say in Berachos, if we knew all of the mazikim that surround us, we would not be able to function.

It seems to me that these two ideas are really one. There is much pain and sadness in the world. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to have a relatively stress-free life. Still we are asked to both feel another’s pain and see through their painful situation, how fortunate we are and how protected we are from so many possible harmful scenarios. I have only heard a few sirens go off this summer. At no point have I felt that I was in danger. The tzeva adom app reminds me of two things. That there are people who are in harms way who need our tefillot and support, and that I should not take my safety and comfort for granted. Even as my life is less than perfect, as indeed it must be,  I need to feel the pain of others, and think of the nissim through which Hashem protects me each day.

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