Judaism: Shabbat Nachamu in Lebanon: IDF 2006
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About fifteen months after the Second Lebanon War, we were called up to miluim (reserve duty) in the Gush Talmonim region, which is part of the Binyamin Regional Council. On the second Friday night, I once again enjoyed the privilege of leading the entire company in singing, “Shalom Aleichem”. Although there wasn’t even a minyan (halakhic quorum of ten men) of Sabbath observers, the soldiers pulled out their hats in honor of the song – a handful sufficed with a “hand on the head” – and everyone respectfully rose to their feet (including the Bedouin trackers).
After the meal, one of the soldiers approached me, and in a rare moment of sentimentality (an unusual occurrence on the macho Israeli landscape), he told me that the kiddush was very nice and that it reminded him of the kiddush which I had recited back in Lebanon…
That Shabbat Nachamu of 2006 in the village of Shamah is an experience that I’m not likely to forget.
On the previous Wednesday, we entered Israel’s northern neighbor. Yet, our visit was extended, and within about thirty hours, we had used up all our food and water. Early Friday morning, we arrived in the village of Shamah, tired, hungry and in a daze. We scattered among the local houses, where our hosts did not exactly see to our comfort. (In fact, they weren’t even home.)
Some of the others fared better, but my platoon’s hosts were either desperately poor or had managed to take all their food with them before escaping the Zionist enemy. (I thus avoided the dilemma faced by those others: Were they forbidden/permitted/required to eat the non-kosher food which they had found?)
Fortunately, vegetable gardens are harder to move, and so, we were able to help ourselves to some watermelons and tomatoes. I was even happier that HaKadosh Baruch Hu (the Almighty) planted the brilliant idea in my head of picking grapes from a vine-covered pergola. The grapes were crushed (by hand) in a plastic bag, and the juice dripped straight out of a hole in the corner into an empty bottle.
In pitch darkness, we sat on sofas in the living room, singing “Lecha Dodi”, the mystic prayer that ushers in the Sabbath, together and with feeling. Every few seconds, someone would destroy the mood with a long, “shhh,” which would bring us back down to earth and remind us that we were in enemy territory and should be conducting ourselves accordingly. But in our enthusiasm, the decibels would soon rise again… and the process would repeat itself.
After somehow managing to daven (pray) by-heart, the fresh grape juice was poured into a glass from the kitchen, and then, as noted above, I made kiddush for everyone. Someone shared the pistachios which he had managed to “smuggle”, and so we even had kiddush b’makom “seudah” (meaning, ideally, kiddush should lead into a meal).
The next morning, we discovered that the grape juice had begun to ferment. Meanwhile, we had no food left, and therefore, our shrunken stomachs had to make do with “spiritual food”. One of the guys took out a small chumash (Bible), and we spent the next three hours going over the weeek's Torah reading, parshat hashavua: Parshat Va’etchanan.
Astonishingly, the parsha seemed to have been written just for us:
“Let me now cross over and see the good land… this good mountain and the Lebanon… And Hashem commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and ordinances; so that you should do them in the land to which you cross there (“SHAMAH”), to possess… And from there you will seek Hashem, your God, and you will find Him; if you search for Him with all your heart and with all your soul… To drive out nations… from before you; to bring you, to give you their land for an inheritance, as this very day.” (Devarim 3:25-4:38)
We had just possessed/conquered Shamah, and there we were, sitting and seeking Hashem!
“Face to face, Hashem spoke with you at the mountain, from amid the fire.” (Devarim 5:4)
We certainly had seen plenty of fire and mountains, but what did Hashem say to us “face to face”?
The first three chapters of the parsha contain all sorts of relevant hints, but the next chapter - Devarim 6 – is even more eerily reminiscent of the circumstances in which we found ourselves.
According to some opinions (BT Gittin 7b), the northern borders of Eretz Yisrael reach the location of the village of Kfar Ras El Baide - where we were to spend the next Shabbat (our second and final one) - in what is today referred to as the country of Lebanon (in spite of the anarchy which prevails in its South). During Biblical times, this area was part of the tribe of Asher’s domain.
The parsha continues:
“And it shall be that when Hashem, your God, brings you to the land which He swore to your fathers, to Avraham, to Yitzchak, and to Yaakov, to give you; great and good cities which you did not build. And houses filled with every good thing which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not hew, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant; and you will eat and be satisfied.” (Devarim 6:10-11)
Except for the part about being “satisfied”, all the rest came true. We found cities which we had not built. Some of the houses were, in fact, “filled with every good thing.” (We debated whether or not we were halakhically permitted to enjoy the spoils, which were not a necessity as were the vegetables and fruits which would have spoiled anyway. However, in the end, the IDF ruled for us that it was forbidden. Sadly, some people were unable to control themselves and “nationalized” cameras, guns, etc.
I permitted myself only a single souvenir – and it was worth less than “shaveh prutah”, a penny – a decorative Hezbollah charity box in the shape of the Dome of the Rock, which spelled out in minute detail – in both words and pictures – all the Israeli targets slated to receive “treatment” in the merit of these “charitable” funds. We saw this charity box in many homes, but at first, I didn’t take any of them. But after a bored/irritable soldier abused it and threw it under a bush, I let myself adopt it.)
After there was no more bottled water left in the local grocery store – we generously left the money which we had found in the enemy’s “charity boxes” in the store as payment – we drank water from private wells. (We purified the wells with the chlorine tablets found in the medic’s kit and thereby destroyed their natural taste.) Of course, we also ate from the vineyards and olive trees, which we had not planted.
Moshe Rabbenu (Moses) goes on and tells us what to do there:
“When Hashem, your God, brings you to the land to which you come there (“SHAMAH”) to possess it; and He will cast away many nations from before you… And Hashem, your God, will deliver them before you, and you shall smite them; you shall utterly destroy them: you shall not make a covenant with them and you shall not show them favor.” (Devarim 7:1-2)
Uncanny! Why did we merit this revelation, when we were brimming with sins? The parsha has an answer for that as well:
“Hashem your God has chosen you to be for Him a treasured people, out of all the peoples upon the face of the earth. Not because you are more numerous than all the peoples did Hashem desire you and choose you; for you are the fewest of all the peoples. But because of Hashem's love for you, and because He keeps the oath which He swore to your forefathers…” (Devarim 7:6-8)
Events unfolded just as Hashem had promised. We merited Hashem’s protection, exactly as the p’sukim (verses) describe.
And so, with joy and pride, I was reminded of these occurrences – some fifteen months later, after Friday night kiddush, as I set out for guard duty in Gush Talmonim in the Binyamin district.
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