Does the number 23,320 mean anything to you?
How about 4,958 or 553 or 116 or 52?
Do these numbers even ring a bell? They should… they definitely should. These numbers should send shivers down your spine because they are all connected to holy IDF soldiers who were killed in battle while fighting to defend the land which Hashem gave to Avraham Avinu and which was then inherited by… YOU!
23,320 is the total number of Hashem’s messengers killed while protecting the Jewish nation.
553 is the number of soldiers who tragically have no burial place in this world.
4,958 is the number of IDF widows who cry themselves to sleep each night, all alone.
52 are how many military cemeteries there are in the small State of Israel.
And finally, 116 is the number of soldiers killed in battle since last year’s Yom Ha’Zikaron (Israel Memorial Day) – an average of one every three days.
These are real numbers which stand for real people. When asked what they gave their life for, many people would answer – as I wrote above – “to defend the land” when, in reality, it is much more than that. Yes, the land of Israel is important and we defend it with every ounce of strength we have. Halacha permits us to violate Shabbat to defend the land and although we choose to live, we are ready and willing to give our lives in its defense. However, when you sit down and think about, we are defending much more than rocks and mountains. Our holy IDF soldiers are defending our status as a nation (Am Yisrael) and are bringing honor to our Father in heaven. To a Jew, nothing is more important that this and every “chayal” is a walking, talking and breathing “Tzaddik” who is sanctifying Hashem’s Name each and every day.
Many years ago I spoke in California and mentioned this concept. While most people in the room identified and agreed with what I said, one guy got very upset. He was a Yeshivish-looking fellow and he questioned my use of the word “Tzaddikim” when I spoke about the IDF soldiers. He said that he was certain that a few soldiers were probably very righteous but that I called them ALL “Tzaddikim”??? Every single one? What about the IDF soldiers who have tattoos and eat on Yom Kippur? They are certainly not “Tzaddikim” and by calling them that I was insulting many great Rabbonim who really were Tzaddikim. He suggested that I rewrite my next presentation with new words that were more accurate and not simply exaggerated hype.
My answer to him was direct and very clear. “My dear friend. I listened to what you just said and I want to make it very clear that I do not intend on changing one word of my presentation. I called the IDF soldiers “Tzaddikim” because they are!! Each and every one is a “Tzaddik”, including the one who inked an image of Madonna on his right bicep! Let me tell you why.
There is a very famous passuk in Yishayahu, chapter 60, verse 21: “And all Your people are Tzaddikim…” (Pirkei Avos begins with this passuk) Many commentaries ask a simple question – similar to what you just asked: “ALL Your people” are Tzaddikim??? Every one? Can’t be… but that is what the passuk says that they are ALL Tzaddikim! The best answer I have seen is from the famous Chassidic master, Reb Elimelech, author of the Noam Elimelech. He says the following: This passuk refers to the Nation of Israel, not to individuals. It actually says “ve’amech kulam tzaddikim” which literally means that the Nation is all tzaddikim. When talking about individuals, there are those who are righteous and yes – there are those who are evil, but this does not apply to the nation. The nation of Israel – as a whole – is one big Tzaddik and the secret to a Jew’s success is to be connected to that nation. As long as a Yid is connected to the concept of Jews as a nation he/she is a 100% pure Tzaddik!
Now you understand why I called every soldier a “Tzaddik” because there is no Jew in the world more connected to the Jewish NATION than an IDF soldier. He freezes in the wintery nights doing his guard duty, crawls in mud near the Lebanon border to track Hezbollah, faces terrorists daily in Ramallah and Jenin, blows up Hamas tunnels in Gaza and cleans his tank so it is ready for battle… all because of one thing: His mission from Hashem to defend the Jewish nation! As the Noam Elimelech says, when one is a member of the Jewish nation he is a definite Tzaddik so yes… every soldier, no matter how they look or what they eat are pure Tzaddikim “
This is what I told the guy in California and this is what I truly believe. Therefore, to put things in proper perspective, when Israelis commemorate Yom Ha’Zikaron this week, it will be to remember 23,320 Tzaddikim who perished “Al Kiddush Hashem”. May their merit protect us all!