kosher bookworm

Torah tribute to a true hero on Tisha B’Av


Grenade! The very mention of the word can send shudders down the spine of even the most battle-hardened soldier. The instinct is to run.

But on the first of Av, during the 2006 war in Lebanon, one brave G-d-fearing soul — IDF Major Roi Klein, z”l — yelled these words in urgent warning and threw himself upon the grenade, shielding the men under his command from certain death.

Roi Klein was a hero, and his life’s story is heroism personified. The accolades filled the papers, magazines and airwaves in Israel for months. But there is one tribute that was published in Roi’s memory that is unique and deserves your attention.

Simply titled With All Your Heart, this volume, published by Binyan HaTorah in Eli, Mateh Binyamin, and edited by Netanel Elyashiv, is based on the shiurim of Rabbi Eliezer Kashtiel, who was Roi’s chavrusa in his last years.

This book, first brought to my attention by Danny Taubenfeld of Cedarhurst, one of our community’s leading activists and advocates on behalf of Medinat Yisrael, is one of the most spiritual books I have encountered in the English language. Roi’s legacy centers on the lamdus of Rabbi Kashtiel’s lectures, focusing on the quality of adinut, the refinement of one’s soul. Based on the writings of Rav Kook’s Orot Hateshuva, the text elaborates on the importance of adinut in striving for spiritual perfection.

This book is not a simple biography of Roi. Rather, it is a tour of the spirit that informed his life’s work on behalf of his faith, of his people and its holy land, Israel. According to Elyashiv, Roi was a combat officer who studied the Daf Yomi every day, delving into the sea of Talmud study on a consistent basis. Anyone who engages in the Daf Yomi routine can easily relate to Roi’s life story. He was one of us.

Therefore, this observation is an apt expression of our shared sentiments of Roi’s last moments: “In his death, the officer who redefined bravery and courage as he leaped on a live hand grenade to save the lives of others while sacrificing his own, who clearly and loudly said ‘Shema Yisrael’ with his last breath, symbolized the synthesis in his personality, Jewish and Israeli traits both in his noble life and in his heroic death.”

This book gives the reader a unique look into the spiritual world that was Roi’s. It opens the portals to the spiritual milieu in which he lived, first in Ra’anana, then Eli, all the time under the influence of the Bnai Akiva movement and its hashkafah of Torah v’avodah.

Chana Weisberg, in a beautiful essay written shortly after Roi’s death, expressed it this way: “Roi’s enemy was willing to die to bring death and mourning to as many as possible; Roi was willing to die to ensure life and liberty for others, to preserve a world in which Jews could pray to G-d in their synagogues, perform G-d’s commandments and make our world a better, more moral and more conscientious place … Just over a half century has passed since the echo of the Shema resonated in the Nazi gas chambers where Jews were suffocated and then burnt into ashes in the crematoriums, just because they were Jews.”

Roi’s recitation of that same Shema was to affirm that same faith, not as a persecuted and despised minority to be tormented and murdered at will, but as a defender of his faith, his people and his land. This is the spirituality that will serve as Roi’s lasting legacy in the glorious pages of Jewish history.

Rabbi Berel Wein, in his review of this book, put it this way: “There are heroes of the body and there are heroes of the spirit. This book is about a unique Jew who combined both types of heroism in his life and death. It is an inspirational and educational read that should be a part of every Jewish library.”

As we enter the fast of Tisha B’Av, may we each give Roi a special place in our hearts, together with all the kedoshim whose sacrifice we recall this week.

A version of this column appeared in 2008.