February 24, 2024

The writer, a rabbi, is CEO of Israel Educational Supply. I led a discussion with high school students in America where I explained that among the many struggles Israelis are dealing with during the war is the question of how much of our daily lives should be interrupted because of the war. Is it OK to go to a movie, to go out to eat at a restaurant, or to a stand-up comedy show? There are no right and wrong answers to these questions. Each person must decide on their own what they feel is appropriate during this time. I asked these teenagers what they felt the appropriate answer should be for American and Diaspora Jews. How much of their daily lives should be interrupted because of a war in Israel? The real costs of war: the families sitting shiva who will never see their families again; the injured soldier who will never get to jog with his daughter again because he lost his leg; the families wondering what is happening to their hostage child; and the hostage child worrying about his family. Initially the students advocated for balance between being involved in the war and carrying on with their normal lives. They talked about not allowing depression over the losses the Jewish people suffered to get the most of them so they can galvanize themselves to helping the Jews and soldiers of Israel. We divided the interruption in our lives between emotional and practical disruptions. Emotional disruptions are natural. The students discussed how much their day-to-day practical lives should be interrupted due to the war. Should they attend classes? Should they work at after-school jobs, play sports on their school teams, or go to their favorite club? How much should their lives be overtaken by the war the Jewish people are waging in Israel? We are so careful about mental health and “taking care of ourselves” that we’re often reluctant to tell people to stay in a disturbed state, especially children. “Are you taking care of yourself?” follows immediately after “How are you?” These questions and their focus put more emphasis on our emotional state than the state of the Jewish people. When the Jewish people experience a tragedy that is out of the norm, like a plague, illness, famine, or war, they enter a metaphysical and halachic state of existence called a “time of pain.” Acting differently In a time of pain for the Jewish nation, such as war, it is inappropriate to continue with life as usual. The Jewish people must change their mindset and their actions. They must pray more, study more, and do more mitzvot. They must also change their mindset about their relationship with God. Maimonides wrote about the tragic mistake the Jewish people can make by ignoring the “time of pain,” and continuing their lives as if nothing is wrong. It is simply untenable for the Jewish people, whether in Israel or in the Diaspora to go on with life as normal. Every Jew must recognize the loss we’ve suffered, the state of existence we’re in, and the expected behavior we need to model. May God see our new approach and bless us with providential success against our enemies.