By LCpl Menucha Greenwald, USMC
There have been several times when I have found myself in a field environment or in a series of training during a Jewish holiday. Accommodation comes in different forms depending on the situation at hand, but there were occasions when I was lucky enough to be able to physically get to a religious service.
The experience of going straight from a field environment into a chapel is shocking regardless of rank, occasion, or opinion. There are obvious factors, such as air conditioning, even flooring, and a friendly environment. Aside from that, when a Jew walks into a synagogue and experiences the sights and sounds of a way of life that might have been only available inside his or her head for a number of months, emotions will follow, including a sense of finally coming home.
But then you go back to where you came from and day-to-day life continues. Does God exist in a small chapel during a service that lasts an hour or two? Do we gather up some prayers and then head back out to the wild hoping they will be enough to sustain us through whatever challenges lie ahead? That mindset is satisfactory for an individual who has the accessibility to return to recharge at any time. Any military member is familiar with the need for self sufficiency. Not always will there be a gas station around the corner in case of emergency. If one is expected to be physically self-sufficient in any environment, there has to be a way to be self-sufficient spiritually in any climate or place as well. A general worry that can arise when heading out to the unknown runs along the lines of, “Will this be the deployment, field op, or schoolhouse where I crack and turn against my faith and the standards I have set for myself?” One form of this question may be, “What will the effect be of not davening with a minyan on Shabbat?” while another form might be “What if this time I can’t help it and I eat that pork sausage patty MRE?”
However the concern shows itself, what we are really saying deep down is that we are apprehensive to leave a situation that we identify as presenting capabilities to connect with our Father in heaven. That concern can only exist with the idea that access to God is available only through your local synagogue.
Perhaps we can find solace in the phrase “America is no different.” These were the words of the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, during a visit to America in 1929. His message to all Jews was that this country is not different from Russia in the need for meticulous service of God, regardless of the fact that they were free to worship in the new land.
Applying this to the military as well, I would say that the field is no different. Everything that exists, from the most impressive chapel to the smallest blade of grass, is an expression of Godliness and God’s will to express his wisdom through creation. God is everywhere and everything. God is not limited to a fancy building where you wear nice clothes. God created dirt, grime, hunger, anger, deadly thoughts, and foul language. God created exhaustion, self doubt, and frustration between peers. When we see God in everything that happens to us throughout the day, that is true service. I clearly remember Rabbi Moshe Feller announcing repeatedly to the congregation in St Paul Minnesota, “The main point is to act every second of the day as if God is standing there watching you, because He is. when you accomplish this, every moment of your day will be in the service of God.”
Visualizing the fact that God is always with you can be done anywhere. Carrying a will to live a life according to the teachings of the Torah can be expressed in any environment that exists. If it exists then it was created by God, and if it was created by God then there is no reason why it cannot be used to serve him. Will it be easy? Absolutely not. Some environments make it heavily difficult and nearly impossible to maintain a pure faith. But with proper discipline and determination, there is no reason why a service member shouldn’t be up for the challenge.
We are currently in exile; the soul is not in garrison. It is common knowledge that a rifleman who is ineffective without eight hours of sleep and three meals a day is nearly useless. We need to be able to operate under harsh conditions. When the final redemption comes, we can spend all day in the glory of God and serve Him in open understanding and comfortability. Until then, we are his combatants, bringing Godliness into the farthest and darkest areas of the world, no matter what it takes.
Originally published in the Shavous 5782 Jewish-American Warrior