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YK 5784: 50 Years After The Yom Kippur War

This Yom Kippur marks fifty years since the Yom Kippur War, since our country was almost overrun and destroyed. It is difficult for us to realize what a traumatic event in the history of our country. Three thousand of our cousins were killed out of a then population of three million. That is 1 in 1000 – a terrible loss of life in which every family was affected. Israel suffered a terrible loss of confidence, made all the more traumatic because Israelis realized that their country was no longer invincible like they felt it was since the incredible victory of the 1967 war. Now Israelis were asking what would the future bring?

There are several reasons why the Yom Kippur War was so jarring. The most overriding reason was that it caused Israelis to confront the unthinkable: the end of this incredible event in the history of the Jewish people, the return to our land after 2000 years. The second was that the war was an affront to Israel and to Jews: Arabs attacked on our holiest day of the year. The third was the shock of being thrown from the holiest day of the year to the nightmare of war.

This jolt is illustrated by the story of Rav Yechiel Wasserman. Yom Kippur morning he was praying in his yeshiva. He related that “on Yom Kippur, we ask: ‘who will live and who will die? Who by fire, who by water?’ The next day one of my friends was burned in a tank, another drowned in the Suez Canal.” Rav Yechiel’s tank was hit, and he was unconscious for eight days. When he woke up he found out he had been hit by shrapnel, needed seven operations, and spent in hospital for eight months. He was one of ten thousand injured.

Yet, if we look at this time through a different set of lenses, some very extraordinary insights emerge. Hidden in the pain and ordeal of these events were hidden messages. The fact that the Arabs attacked on Yom Kippur ensured that the soldiers were close to home and ready to mobilize. Had they attacked a week later on the holiday of Sukkot, Israelis would have been on vacation all over the country and abroad. They would have had to go back to their homes to get their uniforms and equipment, and then to their battalions. The roads would have been impassable, and mobilization would have been a disaster. On Yom Kippur the roads were empty, and it was the ideal circumstances for massive mobilization.

The next fortuitous circumstance was that Yom Kippur is on the tenth of the lunar month, which means that the moon was almost full, lighting up the crucial tank battle fields in the Golan Heights. This was especially important because the Syrians has night goggles supplied to them by the Russians which the Israelis did not have. The bright moon leveled the battlefield.

Most importantly, the soldiers were spiritually strengthened on Yom Kippur . R Neriah, a top student of Rav Kook and a leading force behind the Bnei Akiva movement sums it up: the timing contributed to the Jewish soldiers’ spiritual readiness to fight with courage, bravery and attachment to G-d, and with self-sacrifice, faith and trust.

There are numerous accounts that relate that many soldiers, especially including those who were not religious, experienced miracles in battle, and this had a transformative impact on many soldiers.

The story of General Kahalani, commander of the tank brigade in the Golan Heights is legendary. He held out for three days with forty tanks against five hundred Syrian tanks. By the time the battle was over they were down to less than a handful of tanks when reinforcements finally arrived.

A dati soldier, David Farjun wrote right after the war: “it’s hard to believe how the war changed people. Young men who were eating on Yom Kippur are now put on tefilin every day. Another soldier Hillel Undsdorfer related: “We saw the hand of Hashem in this war. We were surrounded by enemy forces on one side, and the sea on the other, and we held on. One time a tank came up to the gate of the base, very close to us. I shot at them with my machine gun and yelled from the Psalms, ‘some trust in chariots and others in horses, but we remember G-d.’ The tank turned around and ran away.”

This is what Chaim Schechter wrote: “What characterized this war was the spiritual awakening among the secular soldiers. It was clear it was not our strength that won the war, but that there was a Higher Power that saved Am Yisrael. In the field they were putting on tefilin every morning, people who normally did not.”

We see that fifty years ago on this holiest day, the Almighty was protecting us. The fifty year period related in the Torah is the jubilee year, which is when the shofar was sounded on Yom Kippur. After that moment the slaves went free. It is fifty years since the Yom Kippur war, and in so many ways Israel was set free was well, in its overcoming the threats against the odds, and in the trajectory that would be set for the future of the country. We have 24 hours until we hear the shofar. What work do we want to do on ourselves to re-dedicate to our country, Israel, to the Almighy, and to set ourselves free through the inspiration of Israel’s challenges?

Many of us have come to Israel as adults. This was a conscious choice which requires courage, leaving important parts of our lives behind, and embracing new beginnings. I do not view this as self-sacrifice, but rather as dedication to something beyond ourselves. Our Sages say that coming to the land of Israel transforms us, purifies us, and is an atonement. Let’s tap into that through the energy of Yom Kippur which also has that power. And let’s ask ourselves, how can we continue the miracles of Israel that have ensured its survival and it’s thriving, and the miracles in our lives that have brought us here? I would suggest part of the answer is to ask ourselves how we can contribute to the future of Israel, and to harness that power to continue to grow spiritually and be part of the ongoing saga of the Jewish people?

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