One evening while studying Torah at Yeshivat Ha’mivtar in Efrat, we had a guest speaker who explained why the IDF is–and IDFmust remain–the most humane army in the world.

This man holds a high rank in the army. His grandmother was a Holocaust survival. She tracked more than 100 miles along the frigid Poland-Russia border to make it to safety. His army career, he told us, is a “testament to the suffering we, as a people, have endured and an attempt to learn from the mistakes of the past.”

The “IDF” stands for “Israel Defense Force.” The fact that the Israeli army’s sole purpose it to “defend” the State of Israel and that we never have and never will try to take more than what has been given to us is important if we’re to try and understand the psyche of the Israeli combat soldier. Unlike of so many of the soldiers who’ve served in other armies, IDF soldiers will never brag about having killed an enemy on the field of battle and will never hope to fight a war. They’re not there to kill; they’re there to defend.

This is part and parcel of the Israeli fighting spirit. The Israeli fighter does not fight for the sake of fighting. He fights to make peace. This is a continuing pattern that has been displayed with just about every Israeli war hero from Menachem Begin to Moshe Dayan to Yitzhak Rabin all the way to Ariel Sharon. We fight only because we have to in order to survive. Peace is the preferred route. We’re measured by our society on whether we’re able to live in peace or not.

Moral clarity and responsibility for one’s actions is taught in Israeli schools. Our text books focus on making peace. Peace is to be achieved by being stronger than our enemies because it can only be reached when the other side accepts the fact that you’re not going anywhere and that’s why we have an army. But peace is also made by two sides who are willing to live in peace. Our side has always been willing.

I didn’t agree with the basic premise that the army officer at the lecture in Ha’mivtar was making and I told him so. My biggest concern was that “We sacrifice our own people’s lives in order to prevent civilian casualties on the side of the enemy.” His answer made a lot of sense. He asked me “Why do you think there are so many more suicides and so much more violence in the American army than in the IDF?” and I knew he was right.

The biggest reason for our army to be so humane has to to do with our own best interests–not theirs. We never target civilians no matter how much they may hate us and no matter how much they’re aiding the terrorists because every time one of our soldiers kills; especially if the victim had no way of defending himself, it leaves an imprint on the soldier for the rest of his life. People who’ve killed, whether in self defense or not, are never able to do the things they once did and unless they’re some kind of “superman” with no conscience, they never return to being the person they were. That’s why so many American soldiers suffer from PDSD and a number of other mental disorders.

While IDF soldiers are passing out rations to “Palestinian” kids, their American counterparts are beating up the same types of kids in Iraq and Afghanistan. American soldiers are good people for the most part and the problem lays in the rules of engagement that have been designed by the U.S. army and that they’re not responsible for but what are “rules of engagement” if not a reflection of the core values of one’s society?

Why is the IDF the world’s most humane army? Because first and foremost, it’s a Jewish army run by Jewish values. We must continue making a good name for ourselves; being a “Light unto the Nations.” Not for their good–not to parade around like some sort of heroes, but for our good; to be heroes for our kids, our wives, our parents and our people. There are plenty of good reasons the IDF is the most humane army in the world–and it must continue being just that.