Letters from the Front

Religious Zionist soldiers reflect on their experiences during the immediate aftermath of the Yom Kippur War

 

What characterized this war was the spiritual awakening among the secular soldiers. They say that in this war, it was clear that it was not “My strength and the might of my hand that has accomplished this for me” (Devarim 8:17), but that there is a higher power that saved Am Yisrael. And they say that when they return home from the front they will go to a beit knesset and make the blessing of haGomel. And in the field they are donning tefillin every morning.

Chaim Schechter, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aharon

We saw the hand of Hashem in this war. We were surrounded by heavy enemy forces on one side, and the sea on the other side, but we nevertheless held on. One time, one of their tanks came very close to us, right up to the gate of the base. Aharon Genser and I shot at them with machine guns and yelled: “These trust in chariots and these in horses, but we remember the name of Hashem our G-d!” (Tehillim 20:8). He immediately turned tail and ran away.

Hillel Unsdorfer, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Ra’anana

From the very light of the Mashiach, which has been revealed literally among and through us during these days of war for our existence, we send blessings of peace. Even as shells explode all around us, Hashem protects us. May we all be blessed with the blessing of strength that Hashem has placed in our hands, and may we merit to be immersed in Torah study and the awe of Hashem, with peace of mind.

Yigal, Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav

Thank G-d, after all that we experienced, I am alive and well. This war built us up, far more than anything else we learned and absorbed over the years – despite the severe shock and the great suffering we have been through.

I am convinced that whoever truly possesses, with clear awareness, the idea of redemption, will feel that we are experiencing a historic moment envisioned by our prophets concerning the end of days. Specifically this great crisis has made us feel that we are experiencing the birthpangs of Mashiach. Those prophecies, which foresaw such great disasters, were very far from our experiences. Perhaps because of our lack of recognition, we said that these events were still far off in the future. The great tragedies of this war, however, have brought us back to the truth, constantly reminding us that we are literally living through the times of redemption.

The young men who are able to maintain a little peace of mind, and can remember the promises of redemption to Am Yisrael, have brought great blessing to the other soldiers whose spirit fell from the heaviness of battle and the frightening experiences of battle, particularly during the first days of the war.

Elchanan Ben-Nun, Yeshivat Har Etzion

How were the Syrians stopped? How were the Egyptians stopped? We try to give explanations, but the true reason is this: it was a miracle. The soldiers feel that something unusual has happened here. And each one in his own way expresses this with words of faith.

Yehuda Meir Stern, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Kfar HaRoeh

During difficult moments, people seek out their faith and return to their roots. Every soldier has moments when he stops for a moment to think, and when you stop and think you also identify with your historical background, with everything that brought you to this moment, with the continuation of the path, and with the same faith that Am Yisrael has taught for generations upon generations.

Lieutenant Colonel, Battalion Commander, Paratroopers

Let someone come now and try to argue that we are not an am segulah, a treasured nation… During peacetime, I know some of the chevra rebelled against words like this, about being an am segulah. It’s chaval; I don’t know how to pray, but if I did I would get up every morning and thank the G-d of Israel – not in a negative way, by saying “for not making me a gentile,” but rather “for making me a Jew.” In my first war, I didn’t yet feel this way, but from war to war I feel that I am becoming, more and more, a Jew.

Ma’ariv, Interview with a Phantom Pilot

During these days and hours, the Jewish spark was lit within every Jew in Am Yisrael. We were overcome with a feeling of mitzvah, for we knew that with our bodies we were contributing to the defense of the nation and the Land. And on the other hand, we also felt natural human fear. With these two emotions, we fulfilled “v’gilu bir’ada”, “Rejoice in trembling” (Tehillim 2:11).

El Michutz LaChomot

What we can conclude from this terrible war is this: that the verse “Hashem will fight for you, and you shall remain silent” (Shemot 14:14) is so real that it is more real than reality itself. It’s simply impossible to understand how such awesome miracles occurred, which saved the lives of dozens of us at the base. Even the atheists in our group cannot grasp the wonders of the Creator. It simply cannot be described in words.

Ya’akov Krotenberg, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aharon

We reached the unit when it was already completely dark. Tanks were returning from their missions in Egypt. Suddenly I heard the sound of singing. Tens of soldiers were sitting in a small sukkah, passionately singing “HaRachaman hu yakim lanu et Sukkat David haNofalet,” “May the Merci​ful One raise up for us the fallen Tabernacl​e of David.” After many days of very difficult battles, there was an atmosphere of holiness and high morale in that sukkah. The officer who was invited to the sukkah said: “With morale as high as this, we don’t have anything to worry about.” 

Eliezer Sheffer, HaTzofeh

Many soldiers here put on tefillin every day – and not only the religious soldiers. We’ve already reached the point where we no longer need to remind them. They come of their own initiative and ask for the tefillin. Some of them already know the berachot by heart and the order for putting on the tefillin.

Mordechai Bar Dagan, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Pirchei Aharon

It’s hard to believe how the war changed people. Young men who were eating on Yom Kippur now put on tefillin every day, and plan to continue doing so going forward. I wonder if this is one of the reasons Hashem brings wars like this upon us, even with all the tragedy that comes with them.

David Farjun, Yeshivat Bnei Akiva, Kfar HaRoeh

 

● Originally published in Hebrew in Milchemet Yerach HaEitanim (1974). Translated by Rabbi Elie Mischel.

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