אי סייפא לא ספרא ואי ספרא לא סייפא
If one engages in the profession of the sword סייפא (i.e., thievery), one cannot engage in the profession of the book ספרא and if one engages in the profession of the book, he cannot engage in the profession of the sword.
This is the simple explanation of Rabi Elazar's statement (it got him off, by the way!). But some commentators (notably the Sefer HaAruch in the entry for סייף ) maintain that the Romans were supposed to understand it one way and we are supposed to understand it another way:
If there is a sword אי סייפא, it means we have let go of the "book" לא ספרא, but if we adhere to the book, there will be no need for the sword.
The Sefer HaAruch suggests that this is meant by the pasukim in Yeshaya 1:19-20 that we read on Shabbos Chazon:
אִם תֹּאבוּ וּשְׁמַעְתֶּם טוּב הָאָרֶץ תֹּאכֵלוּ: וְאִם-תְּמָאֲנוּ וּמְרִיתֶם חֶרֶב תְּאֻכְּלוּ כִּי פִּי ה' דבר:
If you want and you listen, the best of the land you will devour. ספרא
If you refuse and you rebel, by the sword you will be devoured, for the word of Hashem has spoken. סייפא
Well, last week was the swearing in ceremony (Tekes Hashba'ah) for the March, 2010 recruits of the Netzach Yehuda troop in the Kfir betallion (Nachal Haredi). Of course, this featured my Yaakov.
As one of the Rabanim of the betallion (Harav Yoel Schwartz) spoke out, the Nachal Chareidi plays the game both ways and makes sure to equip the men with both the סייפא (M-16) and the ספרא a Koren Tanach. The highlight of the ceremony is when the men are issued the סייפא and the ספרא .
The ceremony for Netzach Yehuda takes place in the Ammunition Hill National Park (we reserve the Kotel for סידרא - davening).
We went out there with the gantza mishpacha (minus two boys who are in full time ספרא ) and beheld the ceremony. I thought it was very inspiring and that everybody should see a Nachal Haredi Tekes Hashba'ah whether or not they know any of the soldiers. It was also a bit amusing because a lot of things went wrong and there were many crossed signals. Yaakov told me that they only rehearsed the ceremony twice and that it wasn't adequate. Understatement.
The enclosed video of the סייפא and the ספרא ceremony was taken by my brother. Yaakov is the one in the center of the threesome (who looks the most serious). His formation fell apart on the retreat march because the front guy (the one to the left) started the forward march on the wrong signal. Then the other two guys had to recover and catch up.
Looks like they could use a little more discipline!
(If you have trouble viewing the embedded video, click HERE for download.)