22 Sivan 5779 / Tuesday, June 25, 2019 | Torah Reading: Korach
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Are You a Baby?    

Are You a Baby?

What's it like to be a soldier's mom? How do we prepare our kids for life's tough spots? Do we spoil them, pamper them or throw them out in the cold to stand on their own?


It’s a funny thing about life in the army. When you succeed your head gets puffed up with a poison called pride, and when you fail you get all depressed…so you wish you could get a cup of coffee, because it’s more comfortable than shooting practice where you might succeed in calibrating the gun, or you might make a million mistakes in just a few minutes.


You need to hold your rifle steady, so you lie on your belly with everyone else.


You look through the scope like the commander said, but how do you know you're looking at the right target?


You turn a knob of your telescopic sights a few clicks up or down, left or right, until both holes in the barrel line up. In the middle of the target is a kind of X. You shoot five bullets. You take a deep breath, look; your heart sinks, and you shoot again. You keep doing this until the gun is aligned. And it doesn’t get aligned.  Too much is wrong; you think can’t do it; you've never had a challenge like this before. It makes no sense to you, and your pressurized commander loses patience and calls you an idiot.


That’s when you get all sad and depressed. You clench your fists, walk off base without permission, go home and hang out with your friends--kids who got out of joining the army, or if they did join they slept at home and next morning punched in time as jobniks (Hebrew slang for desk jockeys) in an air-conditioned office.


After Shabbat, you hang out again. Next morning gets later and later, and you just sit on your bed and miss all the buses to the bases.


Your paratroop brother calls and asks to speak with you, but you know what he’s going to say, so you won’t take the phone.


The next few days, the frantic commander calls, and you lock yourself in the bathroom or take a long hike to the lake.


Your brother walks in and says, “Hey, dude--they’re gonna send the police. They’re coming to get you; it’s just that you don’t know when…”


Suddenly the gate creaks; in a panic you jump out of bed and look out the window. Then you relax; it was only the dog.  


At last you spill it out: that frickin' commander ridiculed you in front of everyone.


You know that you can’t just abandon your post when some guy makes fun of you. On the other hand, you are a soldier who jumps into the thorn bush on cue a hundred times, comes home bleeding and smiling, and you still go AWOL when some guy hurts your feelings? What are you, a baby?


You are; and that’s the point.


Some parents baby their kids. They don’t know anything but somehow produce paratroopers, high-tech engineers, and Golani commandos to serve our country, without even trying or knowing what the heck they are doing.


I’ll tell you the secret: We are babies. People laugh at our mother, but she grits her teeth and goes on nursing us. She reads psalms and cries. She babies her children, whereas most mothers send their kids out to the cold, hard world, thinking it will toughen them up.


And we know that it doesn’t. Those children grow up and at best drive to base in the morning to put in time as a desk jockey.


Now get this: guys who feel the pain, in other words the babies, are the strong ones. The kids who tell their mother in so many words, “put everything aside and listen to us; draw us close!” are the kids who feel pain when she’s not close, and then it’s a short jump to cry out to G-d when they fail. But kids whose mothers sent them early into the cold, hard world, by now they are numb to pain, numb to insults, and numb to the feelings of others.  “…on a spiritual level,” says Rabbi Shalom Arush, “our generation is starving” (Women’s Wisdom, p. 259).


Where does failure come from anyway? Come on; you know. I’ll give a hint: what happens when Daddy Universe can’t stand it?


He can’t stand it when you hurt people with words. He can’t stand it so much that He walks away. Got that? G-d, the Guardian of Israel, walks away.


And if that happens, baby, you have no protection no matter how perfectly calibrated your rifle is, and no matter how quickly you dive into the thorn bush. You’d better run home to your mother.


You feel you made a mistake and know that, despite it all, you are the strong one because G-d is with you. So, you cry out to G-d, call your commander and return to the base to defend your country.  Why? Because your poor mother is at home crying her eyes out and protecting the whole world with her prayers. She's at her battle station so you be at yours. You're G-d's child, but you're not a baby.



* * *

Alizah Teitelbaum was an actress, an editor’s assistant at Random House, and a columnist at the Jewish Times of Johannesburg. Her stories appeared in Hamodia, Ami, Mishpacha, The Voice of Lakewood, The Jewish Press, and other places. She edits fiction and poetry  for https://sassonmag.com/ and blogs at http://alizahteitelbaum.weebly.com/blog . Alizah lives in the Negev Desert. Write to her at teitelbaumalizah@gmail.com 

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