An IDF rabbi shared this personal testimony...
I had the privilege this week [the week before the ground offensive into Gaza - ed.] of accompanying the Golani Brigade's Regiment 12 soldiers. I am the regiment’s rabbi, in reserves, and I was called up to serve just like the all the rest, to “aid Israel at its time of tribulation.”
As a long-time ba'al-teshuvah [returnee to observant Judaism], a rabbi in a yeshiva who usually walks around wearing a jacket and hat, I now had a major change of atmosphere: my black “uniform” became one of dusty dark green, the hubbub of the Torah study hall was replaced by not-so-pleasing army slang, and my wife's delicious food was given up for the “delicacies” of the mess hall, most of which I don’t eat because of one stringency or another.
We spent most of the week in wet tents, with the terrible cold preventing me from sleeping at night. (I apparently wasn’t working as hard as the other soldiers, because they fell asleep the second they hit the pillow.)
My work, as an official of the Army Rabbinate, was to give encouragement and strength to the soldiers, give out Books of Psalms [Tehillim] and distribute special prayers for those who go out to battle.
Psalms for All
And what did I discover down there in southern Israel? My brothers! The Golanchiks (Golani Brigade soldiers), about to go out to war, want to hold on to the Rock of Israel! There wasn’t a soldier there who didn’t equip himself with a Tehillim in his pocket or combat vest - but the big surprise we had was when we gave out tzitzit [four-cornered shirt with the required ritual fringes attached]. Usually only the yeshiva guys take them, but this time, every soldier there seemed to want one!
“Rabbi, bring me some tzitzit, my whole tent wants.” “Hey, achi [my brother], take one of these, it’s better than the ceramic vest!” These were the types of calls we kept hearing over and over. Every package of tzizit that we opened was snatched up within seconds.
There was one young fighter who came to the synagogue whose face fell when he heard that there were no tzitzit left. He was totally bereft, until one of the officers who wasn’t going out to battle took off his own tzitzit and gave it to him, saying, “Take it, achi (in the Golani you can’t say something without achi), you need it now more than I do.”
The Ma'ariv evening prayer of Friday night, Parashat Vayigash, was simply unbelievable. The Rabbinate realized that the synagogue was too small to fit all the hundreds of soldiers, and so it turned the soccer field into an impromptu synagogue, with prayerbooks, Holy Ark, and everything else.
Whoever did not take part in that Kabbalat Shabbat [Sabbath Welcoming] service, is like one who never took part in a Kabbalat Shabbat service in his life! Almost the entire Golani Brigade, officers and soldiers, yelling out the Kaddish and Tehillim prayers. If it wasn’t for the uniform I was wearing, I could have almost thought that I was at a Yom Kippur service in one of the large yeshivot!
No Questions Asked
Our loving Father, too, was there, enjoying every minute of His sons gathering around Him. Our Father doesn’t ask, “Where have you been until now? Why do you remember Me just when you go out to war?” He welcomes all His children and embraces them with love.
After the Sabbath meal, held in an atmosphere of a great “high,” we were privileged to be able to hold an Oneg Shabbat for the soldiers. Chief IDF Rabbi Avi Ronsky was with us the whole Sabbath, and he warmed our hearts with stories of the Nation of Israel, on compassion, on brotherly love, and more. We sat outside with cake and sunflower seeds in the cold, but inside our hearts it was warm.
During the Sabbath, we had to travel to the places from where the soldiers would leave for Gaza. We arrived and the soldiers were imbued with combat spirit, getting ready, trying to get in a last cigarette. Many soldiers tried very hard not to smoke that Sabbath, after I explained to them the importance of observing the Sabbath. They would come up to me every five minutes and ask if the Sabbath had ended yet.
We prayed Ma'ariv there, recited Havdalah [the Sabbath-ending blessing] over grape juice, a lighter [instead of a candle] and an orange [in place of spices]. And then it was time to go in. The Regiment Commander gathered everyone for last-minute words of strength, and explained to them about the “corrective experience” we were about to impart to the enemy.
When he finished, the Deputy Commander read aloud the prayer before going out to battle. “Repeat after me,” he ordered, and a whole regiment of hundreds of soldiers yelled out, “Ana Hashem hoshia na! Ana Hashem hatzlicha na! [O G-d, save us! O G-d, grant us success!]” After the prayer, the Deputy Commander asked me to blow the Shofar, just as thousands of years ago when we conquered the Holy Land.
Though I’ve blown the Shofar in public before, this particular time was something that will remain with me my whole life. And then, as if I and the Israel Air Force were in perfect coordination, the very second that I finished blowing the Shofar, our planes bombed the enemy area, as if it were a signal to begin the ground offensive.
The soldiers lined up in two columns, and as I parted from them with handshakes, I thought to myself, “What a special nation we have! This is how a Jewish army looks as it goes out to war – not with boastful ‘We will win’ stickers, but rather ‘We will win with G-d’s help.’”
I will just end by saying that where I live in Modi'in Illit, we have a clever interpretation of the verse ‘G-d’s voice is powerful’: The word for 'power' is spelled with the letters kaf and chet, which we say are the initials of kova and chalifa [hat and suit], our usual garb. But as of this week, we now know that they are also the initials of the kumtah chumah [brown beret] worn by the Golani soldiers. There, too, the voice of G-d is heard – and “lo pligi” (there is no argument between the two, both are right).
translated by Hillel Fendel