Never Alone

I talked with Elie the other day, a few hours before the Sabbath was coming in. I’d hoped that he would be able to come home. As the week was closing, it became clear that the army planned to keep the Commanders Course participants for Shabbat so that they could patrol the army base. As with Elie’s Tekes Kumta, the new graduates of the basic training course were allowed to go home to their families, leaving Elie’s course among those left to guard the base.

So Elie stayed. And Saturday night, there was another “event” that he would miss, another lesson to all of us that our lives and his go on despite the separation. There is a tradition, though it takes a tremendous amount of work and therefore isn’t that common, for a young boy to begin learning the immense Mishna, all six large “orders” (each one called a “seder”; collectively, sedarim in Hebrew). Each seder encompasses 7-12 tractates called masechtot, each of which is divided into verses called mishnayot. The goal is to study these hundreds, even thousands of pages, and to complete it in honor of the boy’s 13th birthday, his bar mitzvah.

Each is read, learned, studied. Because it is such a major endeavor, there are milestones along the way. There are sections within sections, each one brings a small celebration, but the biggest celebrations are held when the boy successfully finishes a “seder” – each of the six volumes.

Our youngest son has now finished his second seder and on Saturday night, at a pre-planned community celebration of song and dance, we added our small family celebration to our community’s event to celebrate Davidi’s efforts and accomplishments. Davidi stood and read the final section and explained it and finished by reciting the prayer thanking God for helping him achieve this great goal. And Elie wasn’t there.

It brought to mind the conversation I had had with Elie just the day before. We talked about his plan to join 10 other soldiers today in asking to leave the Commanders Course. I don’t know why the others want to leave, but Elie’s reason is that he wants to go to the Medic Course and once he would pass the Commanders Course, the army would not allow him this other path.

“What if you decide later you want to be a commander?” I asked him. “What if, in four months time, you don’t get into the Course Hovshim?”

“Then Yedidyah and others told me already I could come and take the Commanders Course,” Elie responded.

“But you won’t know any of the boys, as you do now,” I told him.

Ima, you are never alone in the army,” Elie told me. He used Yedidyah as an example. Yedidyah entered the army almost three years ago. Today, he serves his country by training and leading younger soldiers. Not a single soldier under his command or in his unit was part of his initial group and yet, Yedidyah makes friends in each new group in which he serves, knowing that in a few months he will move on and meet others.

Yedidyah explained this to Elie and his unit. It is the way of the army. The army shuffles the boys around as they are needed, as they show individual talents and needs. In the end, they are never with the same soldiers…and, as Elie said, they are never alone.

Saturday night, our family celebrated without Elie, but we weren’t alone, and neither was Elie. He’ll come home next weekend, or perhaps the one after that, and we’ll show him the pictures we took and he’ll give his younger brother a pat on the back and we’ll hope that the next time Davidi finishes a seder, Elie will be here to join in the celebration.

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