Tzalash: Saving spiritual lives in the IDF

"Someone who observes the commandments will be a better soldier because of it," says Rabbi Peretz Einhorn.

Itamar Segal ,

David Haim Yaish

The Tzalash organization – an acronym for the Hebrew words that translate as “the army for the sake of Heaven” – is bringing about a profound change in the way religious soldiers and officers perceive their army service.

Around seven years ago, Rabbi Peretz Einhorn began to work toward the aim of convincing religious soldiers in the IDF that it is not only possible but vital to advance in one’s spirituality while serving in the army. His basic idea was that the IDF could be perceived as an environment that could actually foster religious observance, combating the common perception that religious soldiers invariably experienced a spiritual decline during their army service.

Rabbi Einhorn’s dream was to see IDF soldiers learning more Torah and being more meticulous in their observance of Jewish law, as well as excelling in their military service and being an example to their fellow soldiers – bringing them closer to Judaism with a smile and warm enthusiasm.

“Tzalash is basically telling religious soldiers that they are not alone,” says Rabbi Einhorn. “You’re not alone – you’re part of a group of soldiers who are serving G-d wherever you find yourselves; you’re part of an organization that has core groups of Torah-observant soldiers on army bases all over the country, giving you a spiritual framework that keeps you strong.”

Among its other projects, Tzalash also produces pocket-size Gemaras and other holy books, which it distributes for free and which can be found in the hands of soldiers everywhere, enabling them to recharge their spiritual batteries even years after they have left the study halls they occupied before commencing their army service. The organization holds around 500 “siyum” ceremonies per year, celebrating the completion of a program of Torah learning.

But Tzalash also aims to impact those soldiers who did not benefit from years of Torah learning before enlisting, providing them with the spiritual warmth that will hopefully enable them to remain religiously observant in challenging surroundings.

In describing his aims for religious soldiers inspired by Tzalash, Rabbi Einhorn says that such a soldier should take care to arrive at sentry duty early if possible, concern himself with the wellbeing of lone soldiers, and also remember to buy flowers for his mother before going home for Shabbat or festivals. “Someone who observes the commandments will be a better soldier because of it,” Rabbi Einhorn asserts, “because he’ll notice everything that’s going on around him.”

Indeed, one of the soldiers inspired by Tzalash related: “I had just a few minutes left before I had to leave on a mission. Suddenly, from the room next door to mine, I heard a soldier crying as if his heart would break. I knew I didn’t really have time to check it out, but then I remembered what Rabbi Einhorn always says – that we have to be aware of what’s going on with our fellow soldiers and take care of each other.”

After a swift inner debate, the soldier decided to risk punishment and go and see what was wrong with his comrade. “I knocked at the door, and asked him how he was doing, but he didn’t reply. So I opened the door and saw a soldier with the barrel of his rifle in his mouth. I ran over to him and grabbed his weapon, managed to calm him down, and made sure that he got the help that he needed.”

“This is our aim, our mission,” relates David Haim Yaish, a project coordinator for Tzalash. “We want soldiers to know that the Torah accompanies them throughout their army service. There are too many soldiers who think that they’ll just do the minimum during their army service and plan to resume a religious lifestyle when they leave the army. The message we are trying to get out is that we have to bring our full religious life and practices into the army with us, and it’s this that will enable us to grow and thrive.”

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