Update From Home - Message for Rosh Hashana
September 19, 2006Dear Family & Friends,
I know that I promised that I had written my last "Update from the Front", but Dov asked me to send the following message to you all. So actually it's more of an "Update from Home".
Shana Tova, Ketiva VeChatima Tova,
ps Dov wrote his notes in Hebrew. The English translation is mine.
Shabbat in the Israeli Army during the War in Lebanon
by Dov Fachler
With the outbreak of hostilities with the Hizballah in Lebanon, I was called up to serve with my Artillery Unit, and was there for the next 4 weeks.
Firstly, I want to thank all of you for your Tefilot, and for your concern. It was very heartwarming to learn that people, some of whom don’t even know me, pray for me and ask about me. I am convinced that it is to your credit that we returned home safe and sound.
The title can be divided into 2: Shabbat and Shevet (as in "Shevet Achim Gam Yahad" - Brothers Dwell Together), and on both topics which really are the same topic, I would like to share with you some thoughts.
Through the very unique Shabbatot we experienced together in the Army, we learned a thing or two about people who under normal circumstances when we first see them, we tend to categorize them as: "non-observant"; "traditional"; "religious – light"; etc etc, but certainly different than us.
It could well be that they are different than us. No two people are identical. But the very act of immediately labeling them invariably causes us to inter-react in a way that is affected by the labeling, and which unfortunately is usually very inaccurate.
I was actually mobilised on the Monday immediately after being allowed to take a major examination as part of my Rabbinical studies, but my Unit had spent the weekend in the Army’s emergency warehouses preparing the Artillery Vehicles, equipment, missiles and other ammunition for combat readiness. By Monday we were all stationed and fully equipped on the Lebanese border, where we were to spend the next 3 Shabbatot.
Straight away, the fighting and the physical work were hard and very intensive. So much so, that on the first Friday we didn’t finish firing our missiles until half an hour before Shabbat. (I caused great concern and high blood pressure to my wife and family by not calling all day).
In our team we were four religious boys, and there were a few others that we had seen putting on Tefillin and sometimes praying, so we moved around the camp and announced that we would shortly be praying Kabalat Shabbat (Prayers accepting upon ourselves the holiness of Shabbat). We didn’t expect much, and certainly hadn’t hoped for a full Minyan (quorum of ten men). Wrong again! Many more turned up and we managed more than a Minyan! If we could have filmed the scene, you wouldn’t have believed the amazing mix of soldiers, all standing together in the middle of a field, with the deafening noise of canon fire all around us, ammunition visible everywhere, and everything else you expect to find in an Artillery field of battle, and we simply prayed….
Later the whole section ate a Friday Night meal with lighting being provided by other soldiers aiming their Jeeps’ headlights in our direction!
We were soon back at “work” [the enemy hasn’t heard of “Shabbat Menuchah” (rest/peace of Shabbat)] but we were all moved by the deep, thought-provoking and lasting impression created by the prayers and Shabbat atmosphere, and the tremendous strength that our Tefillah must have carried.
Two more Shabbatot passed in similar fashion, with a few changes, but the format stayed the same. Different faces turned up each time, and we even had a Sefer Torah for one Shabbat. But the most amazing thing was to see how everyone wanted to help – even if they didn’t actually join us in the Tefillah – but they insisted on setting the table, preparing the necessary lighting [before Shabbat!], ensuring the food arrived before dark, and many other very helpful things. Obviously, there were things going on that were borderline “Chillul Shabbat” (desecration of Shabbat) but as far as they were concerned, they did it all to help us keep Shabbat properly.
Equally, there were some very annoying things going on that happened on Shabbat totally unnecessarily and without proper explanation – like the time the water tanker arrived late Friday night etc. We also saw some paradoxical characteristics among many of the soldiers. Some would put on Tefillin in the morning, and spend the rest of the day acting and cursing like teenagers. Others who refused to eat meat in the nine days, but who ate on Tisha b’Av. Others were totally non-observant but refused to travel home on Shabbat.
Is this positive or not?
“Hashem Choker Kelayot Valev”. Loosely translated - Hashem reads our most hidden thoughts. We certainly do not need to do other people's personal religious “accounting”. Doing our own is difficult enough.
But the important thing is that all these soldiers came and fought for Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael, leaving behind their wives and children, their lucrative work and a good life, and they all gave of their time and resources in order to fight.
I hope that I have learned from this experience that in the future when we meet different sorts of people with whom we do not normally have that much contact, we shall first learn to treat them as individual human beings. And even when we then subconsciously label them according to the size or type of their kippa, or the length of their hair, or how many earrings they are wearing, this must not take away from our understanding and appreciation that each and every person has an outward appearance but an internal world of his own choosing.
We thank Hashem that we have returned safely home and I hope and pray that with this lesson, we shall all be inscribed in the Book of Life.
I would like to finish with a short Dvar Torah.
There seems to be an apparent contradiction in “Nishmat” (Shabbat and holiday prayer said in the morning prayers). At the beginning we say “And if our mouths were full of song like the sea … we could not sufficiently thank you Hashem”. But later we say “Therefore our limbs that you gave us ... They will thank, bless and praise You...” So can we thank Hashem or not?
Maybe this can be explained in the following way. By ourselves we cannot start to praise Hashem in an appropriate way. If we pray thinking “If OUR mouths … and OUR tongues ….. and OUR lips …” then we cannot praise Hashem sufficiently. But through the means and limbs that You Hashem gave us, with them we can certainly praise: “therefore with the limbs that You gave us, and the breath and soul that You breathed into us, and the tongue that You put in our mouths”, all the things we received from our King Himself “they will thank, bless and praise etc etc”.
Thank you once again for your tefilot and your concern.
Shana Tova Umetuka, (A sweet new year)
Kolel – Yeshivat Kerem BeYavne