Jewish Revival At Sinai
Written by Menachem Ziegelboim
As Told by Rabbi Nosson Bercahn

At the height of a farbrengen on Rosh Chodesh Kislev this year, I suddenly remembered an event that took place on this date 27 years ago. The date was Rosh Chodesh Kislev 5737. On the announcement board in Kfar Chabad there was a small sign announcing a group of people going on mivtzaim at army bases on the Egyptian border. This was two and a half months after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, and the Sinai desert was teeming with thousands of soldiers, regulars and reservists.

I couldnít resist the opportunity. I gathered some friends who lived in Shikun Chabad Lud, and early in the morning we went to Kfar Chabad to join the mivtzaim team.

We found four vehicles ready to go - three private cars and one large new Volkswagen. Lightheartedly, I said, "Come, thatís ours," pointing at the new Volkswagen.

We got in, despite our reservations. No one believed we would be allowed to travel in the new vehicle. We loaded boxes of vodka and coins for tzedaka that the Rebbe had sent for the soldiers. The driver was Rabbi Berel Karasik, today a shliach in Kiev.

We went on our way in good spirits. The trip was uneventful, and as we drove, especially as we passed the Sinai border, soldiers waved and called out happily towards us. Everything seemed wonderful - that is, until we were near Refidim, when our new vehicle began acting up. Somehow it puttered along until we reached Refidim and then it stopped. All attempts to bring the engine back to life were fruitless. We had no idea what had happened.

Fortunately, the car stopped near an army base in the heart of the desert, and the soldiers who were mechanics tried to help us, but to no avail, and obviously in a place like that a new motor was not available.

At least the soldiers were happy. From all sides came requests for us to stay with them at their base, but I insisted, "We set out for Egypt. We must reach the soldiers on the border with Egypt, or at least get as close as possible."

The army agreed to give us a lift on an army truck, which took us to the edge of the asphalt desert road. From there we switched to armored vehicles and made our way to the main encampment. This was right near the enemy. On one side was a pocket comprised of the Egyptian Second Army, and on the other side was the Egyptian Third Army. Surrounding us was nothing but sand.

I donít know what got into me, but right then and there I jumped up from the armored carrier and shouted, "Hatkafa Chabadis (Chabad Attack). It was in this spirit that I approached the commander of the base, Yitzchok Shoshanim, who just at that moment had finished his final preparations for his trip to the center of the country for a meeting at Army Headquarters.

I saluted him like a soldier and said, "I am a Kohen, and the Torah gives me the privilege and obligation to bless the Jewish people. Since you are the commander, I will bless all the soldiers through you." The commander stood silently while I placed my hands on his head and blessed him with the Birkas Kohanim. The soldiers watched in silence, and the officers who stood nearby were teary-eyed. I was also moved, and when I was done I kissed him on the forehead.

Youíll remember that this was shortly after heavy fighting had subsided. On this front hundreds of young soldiers had died and the atmosphere was sad and gloomy. Since their hearts had opened up, Shoshanim ordered all the soldiers to come to the center of the army base, leaving just one soldier at each forward position to keep watch.

Berel Karasik spoke to the soldiers from the depths of his heart, followed by Peretz Barzin. The rest of us went from soldier to soldier putting tífillin on with them, giving out coins for tzedaka, and saying líchaim.

It was impossible to return home that evening; we were forced to stay at one of the bases in the area. The carrier got us back to the edge of the road where the army truck that had brought us to the base, called Mitzve, still awaited us. At the base, they prepared the dining room in our honor, and after we ate, the officers and commanders came in and began farbrenging with us. The atmosphere was warm and magical. Ah, if only there were more farbrengens like that one!

On the side of the room near the wall on the left, stood an officer the entire time. He just watched us silently, obviously lost in thought. Suddenly he came over to us and shouted, "Quiet!" and I could see he was very emotional.

We were all surprised. Everybody looked at him silently and waited for him to say something further. He began relating the story of his life, starting with where he had been born and which schools he had attended.

"In the War of Attrition, I was a communications officer, and I served at the famous Mezach base. One Thursday I was about to leave for the weekend, but some Lubavitchers came in to the base to put tífillin on with the soldiers.

"I didnít feel like putting on tífillin, but I didnít want to argue with them either. I motioned to my arm, indicating that I had already put on tífillin, and they left me alone.

"I left soon after for the center of the country. The trip was long and tedious. At some point, the car in front of ours veered from the road and blocked us. Since night had fallen and army patrols had closed the roads to prevent danger from infiltrators, they took us to a nearby base where we spent the night. That very same evening, performers came to entertain the soldiers. I joined them, but suddenly I felt dizzy and my head felt heavy. I assumed I was just tired from the long trip and the dusty desert roads. I found an army bed and lay down. I felt sicker and sicker, and I realized I needed first aid. With my last strength I crawled out of bed to get help and then lost consciousness.

"I donít know how much time passed, but I woke up between white sheets at the Tel HaShomer hospital. They told me that a passing soldier had found me lying unconscious in the sand. He had called for help and a doctor examined me and got a helicopter, which transported me to Tel HaShomer, where I lay for weeks.

"The doctors could not explain what had happened to me. They had no idea what made me lose consciousness, and they didnít let me get out of bed. While in bed I had plenty of time to think, and I remembered the Chabadnikim who had come to the base and had wanted to put tífillin on with me, and that I had refused. I tortured myself for having misled them. Why hadnít I put on tífillin?

"Three weeks passed and one Friday some Chabadnikim came to put tífillin on with the wounded soldiers. That was the happiest day of my life. I called to the Chassidim and asked them to put tífillin on with me. They brought me water and I washed my hands, and then I put on tífillin. That very day I got out of bed. The doctors considered it miraculous."

That was the story the officer related during the farbrengen in the dining room of the army base somewhere in the Sinai desert. I asked him to write it down. He said he couldnít do it just then, but he promised to do so at home and send it to me. I gave him my address in Lud although I was sure he would forget, but ten days later I got the letter that described what had happened to him.

The night passed and we had to get home, but the Volkswagen was still stuck on the side of the road. We went back to Refidim to try to find an alternate way to get back home. Berel tried to start the car to see if it would move (not really expecting it to) but surprise, surprise! The motor came to life!

Seven years passed. One day I reminded myself of the officer and decided to find him. He wasnít too hard to locate since I still had his letter which said: Meir Lavron, Rechov Chernichovsky 25, Chaifa. I looked for his name in the phone book and quickly found his listing. I called him and he remembered me immediately. I asked whether we could meet, and he said, "Nosson, donít take the trouble. Iíll come to you with my wife and children."

On Simchas Beis HaShoeiva 5741 he came to my home with his wife Aliza, his son, and daughter. He told the story again with great emotion, and promised to continue putting tífillin on every day. His wife agreed to light Shabbos candles.

Four years later I got a call from him. "Nosson, I must come to see you."

"What happened?" I asked.

"I canít tell you on the phone," he said and promised to meet me soon.

A few days later we met at a wedding in Chaifa. He was waiting for me there with a folder full of documents. He excitedly began to tell me that at the school his twelve-year-old daughter attended, her teacher had given them a project to research their family tree.

The girl began working on the project and traced his family roots back to the Baal Shem Tov! The man took out a book called Yad Yosef, which had been printed in Romania in 5686. At the end of the book, his grandfather had written his will, in which he informed his grandchildren and great-grandchildren of their illustrious pedigree.

   
 
 
   

"I am a Kohen, and the Torah gives me the privilege and obligation to bless the Jewish people. Since you are the commander, I will bless all the soldiers through you."

 

 

 

I remembered the Chabadnikim who had come to the base and had wanted to put tífillin on with me, and that I had refused. I tortured myself for having misled them. Why hadnít I put on tífillin?


YECHI ADONEINU MOREINU V'RABBEINU MELECH HA'MOSHIACH L'OLAM VA'ED!

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