Earlier this week, was the tenth yahrzeit of Lady Amelie Jakobovits or Lady J as she was affectionally called. Those who remember this remarkable personality would surely agree that she would have brought her unique perspective to bear in dealing with coronavirus pandemic!

Her father was the distinguished Rabbi Elie Munk of Paris who wrote an insightful (French) commentary to the chumash that has been translated into in English, The Call of the Torah. In his remarks at the beginning of the book of Bamidbar, Numbers that we begin this week, Rabbi Munk makes a pertinent observation

He writes that whereas, in the book of Vayikra, Leviticus, the Torah had depicted holiness as the great ideal for Israel, in the book of Numbers, this ideal is supplemented by that of the soldier. That is why this book begins with a count of all Israel. All those who are twenty years old or older are called to serve G-d; they will have the mission of being not only His messengers but also His soldiers. The book of Numbers continually portrays the Jews as fighting for the defence of ideals.

Rabbi Munk says:

“Sometimes they are vanquished; sometimes they are victorious. But we see them always as valiant soldiers fighting for their faith. Here we see a portrayal of the soul of the Jewish people being forged through the long experience of a life following after G-d in the desert.”

“There is an almost military aspect to the early chapters of the book of Numbers; units are formed, leaders are appointed, marching orders are given, and instructions for encampment are issued. G-d did not turn the people into a military organisation but He did endow them with the worthwhile qualities of discipline and order, so necessary for Israel in its future role. The nation needed to be a cohesive unit, obeying instructions and following orders, not a band of slaves having just fled their master.”

The benefits of being endowed with a mind-set that has internalised the qualities of discipline and order, has come into focus recently in considering Israel’s very effective response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mishpacha Magazine last week, quoted Yoel Hareven, director of the International Division at the Sheba Medical Centre, who credits Israel’s military culture for enabling leaders in the medical field to think out of the box and continually come up with novel approaches to combat the pandemic, as the need arises. “As an example, our hospital’s director, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, is a former Israeli army surgeon general, and many top Israeli hospital staff have served as senior army officers. And so we can call on shared values of discipline, order and an understanding of how things are best accomplished in times of tremendous stress,” said Hareven. “We’re constantly assessing and processing what’s working well and what needs to be improved.”

A dose of military discipline is something that would all benefit from as we cautiously begin to emerge from lockdown. Obeying the rules and being alert to the risks becomes even more important as we ease up from strict control. Let us, as a community rise to these challenges and set an example to others in society. Shabbat Shalom.

Dayan Ivan Binstock