Shani Weinmann
Shani Weinmann

You before Me

There’s chaos around me as the commanders yell, “Ten seconds! Run! You! Seven push-ups!” All I can hear are the sounds of stomping feet and counting off “Ten, Nine, Eight…” A rock is thrown in the centre of our circle and I throw myself on the ground as far as I can jump to take cover from the pretend grenade. My face is covered in mud and there is dirt all over my uniform. I look around at my group and I see that everyone looks exactly as I do: beaten, but smiling because we have completed our week of preliminary training for the IDF.

Sitting on the charter three weeks ago, I could not have known what I would be up against at this point in time. Making aliyah was just the act of getting on a plane, but living every day in preparation for something greater has been the most challenging portion of my life so far. There is so much uncertainty in my future right now and I don’t know where to even begin finding my path.

Living with 20 other people has also tested my capabilities in more ways than I can say, from simple chores to big debates about politics and stressful discussions about how we’ll achieve the jobs we want in the army. What I can say for certain, though, is the importance of “You before Me.”

In the army, individuality is tossed out the window. It’s not lost, just simply ignored for the time being. You must wake up at an exact time and do specific activities without any thought of yourself and what you want and how you feel, which is a shock to those in the habit of opinions and safe spaces. If one is late, all are punished. “The needs of the many are greater than the needs of the few; or the one.” To recognize that the individual is not the most important at the moment is the first step to the concept of “respect” that we all strive for.

Lying in the dirt that day, I saw what everyone else was capable of. I watched my friends run and crawl and dedicate themselves to becoming better soldiers. I learned the merit that each has and the talents they all possess and that is when I realized why I came to Israel in the first place.

From the moment I touched down in Israel until now, I had no idea why I made aliyah or why I wanted to join the IDF. Maybe it was a sense of obligation or just an impulse decision, but either way, the journey was hurtling toward me faster than I could think. I did a lot of thinking; about what I wanted, what job would be best for me, what I felt about living with these other lone soldiers I barely knew. However, there was my problem and the reason for the lack of clarity: me.

Almost every sentence so far has included “I” and “me,” but has left out “we” and “you.” “We” and “you” are the most vital pieces of any stage in life! Without them, there is no humility, and without humility, there is no gateway to respect and honor. All throughout our lives, there will always be someone faster, thinner, neater, prettier, or more knowledgeable in any given subject or activity, and of course we should not put ourselves down or not attempt to try harder, but the sooner we give those people the credit they deserve, the sooner we will obtain the honor we deserve for our specialties.

Serving as part of a whole, the most crucial point of view is that of the other. Your own concerns wash away as you notice what gratification can be achieved by simply listening to another person.

To care for someone you consider family or to help them with a minute chore are the materials for which true humility and respect can be built. Knowing that you don’t know and understanding that sometimes you don’t understand; that is what Hashem is looking for in this new year.

I moved to Israel because I want to live in a society where family comes first. I want my children to depend on themselves and their friends and their family and to receive that very dependency from others. I want my army service to reflect the very humility and “you before me” that will make me a kinder and more compassionate soldier, daughter, and friend. I bless us all that we find so much quality in others that we are inspired by every human being solely because they were made differently from us.

Chag Sameach and Shana Tova!

About the Author
Shani Weinmann was born in Atlanta, Georgia and grew up in the Jewish community of Toco Hills. She attended Torah Day School of Atlanta and Yeshiva Atlanta before coming to Midreshet Harova and then joining the IDF.
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