Karen Wolfers Rapaport

Echoes from the Battlefield: Lessons from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Israeli Paratrooper Unit Sitting on a Tank Shaking Lulav. Lebanon, 1987. Author’s Personal Collection

On Shabbat Simchat Torah morning, I woke up on a spiritual high. After all our nation, despite its differences, had just emerged from the high holidays. On that day, the Israeli sky was crisp, clear, and full of New Year’s promise.

I looked towards the sky, thinking how appreciative I was to be able to participate in that whole, holy cycle, here in my homeland, when suddenly, a siren pieced through the serenity and shook me to the core.

Why was I hearing a siren? I had not read of an imminent attack or escalation from any of our surrounding enemies. Why was I hearing this shrill, scary, echoing alarm bell in the middle of my dance with the Torah?

As it was Simchat Torah, I could not turn on my computer, I could not hear the news. But I understood after the 5th siren, and after seeing the plumes of smoke from a distance, disturbing that crisp, clear sky, that we were under attack.

Only after the holiday did I learn about the extent of what we were in the middle of.

The numbers and details were and are unfathomable. Those living here, with children sent to active duty to fight this catastrophic terror, are scared and disoriented, myself included. Israeli citizens are feeling as if they stepped into a nightmare because they have.

The Yom Kippur war began almost 50 years ago to the day of our current war. Although the details are different, it too was shocking.

Like then, many of us feel helpless.

When I feel helpless, I often find strength in the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s wisdom and teachings.

The Rebbe was sought out, during the Yom Kippur War, by the top brass of the Israeli military, both for his spiritual prowess, and remarkably, also for his grasp of military considerations.

As I explored some of the material about the Rebbe and his involvement in the Yom Kippur War, I was deeply touched, but not surprised, at his incredible thoughtfulness and insight into the realities of the situation, from so many angles.  And I believe you do not have to be part of the armed forces hierarchy, nor a historian, to appreciate the words and sensitivity of the Rebbe.

Because of this, I would like to share some of those contributions with you, with the confidence that they could bring some much-needed light and hope, during the darkest of times.

According to David Zaklikowski in his piece, Israel on the Brink of War, Israelis had known that the Rebbe was “interested and well versed” (1) in the Israeli military and “deeply worried” about Israel.

Referring to the soldiers as tzadikim (righteous individuals), the Rebbe’s two-pronged approach was uniting strenuous pre-emptive military action essential to save lives, with just as strenuous spiritual activity to implore for God’s mercy in lessening casualties and those injured.

The spiritual focus could be seen in a remarkable letter to Israeli “sons and daughters of our people, Israel”, days before the Yom Kippur war broke out.  In the letter, the Rebbe expressed the notion that the “quality” of our observing God’s commandments could prevail over the “quantity “of nations that surround us. In other words, despite our small numbers and their big ones, we could be the victors through our spiritual might.

Prior to the war as well, the Rebbe began a drive encouraging parents to teach their children additional Torah during the summer months, citing the verse from Psalms (8:3), “Out of the mouths of babes and suckling’s You have established strength because of Your adversaries, in order to put an end to the enemy and avenger.”

In fact, the Rebbe called for boys under the age of 13 and girls under the age of 12 to travel up to Jerusalem, to organize a special prayer and to give charity near the Western Wall.

The gathering did take place. “With precise organization, the children filled the plaza before the Wall and the paths to the Wall, to capacity.”

In addition, referring to his directive for children to congregate, pray, and give charity, he conveyed a powerful message: comparing it to medicine, with both its curative and preventive branches, he noted that is far more favorable to gain immunity from sickness (the spiritual work) than it is to cure the sickness (war and its aftermath).

After the traumatic events of the war, when the country and its citizens were grieving and filled with introspection, a parade of generals sought the Rebbe’s guidance regarding deterrent strategies and more. He joined this advice with a focus on the miracles of the war in order to provide some comfort to the heartbroken population. In addition, there was an emphasis on furnishing unwavering support to those who became widows, orphans, wounded, and to those captured.

And now we are here once again.

As I read the insights of the Rebbe, his words pierced through my heart, but in a very different way than the siren had just a few days ago.

Looking back, as I peered out from my patio, on Simchat Torah, I wonder what my perspective would have been if I had known the Rebbe’s wisdom as I do now.

Firstly, this war is coming off the back of a period of expanding and intensifying our faith. As the brave soldiers defend our country and people, we need to merge that reality with the spiritual developments that occurred during the high holidays. Victory comes not through a one-point line of attack, but through two: we need our armed force, and we need our spiritual defense forces. In reading this I felt I had a purpose because although I could not march into a physical battlefield, I could march into a spiritual one.

So yes, we take with us the forgiveness, the prayers, the lulav, etrog, myrtle, willow, the unity, and our Torah, to the front lines. Whether in Israel or throughout the world.

Secondly, our precious children, are the first line of spiritual defense. We must fill them up and teach them about unconditional love and compassion for their fellow human beings at the earliest of ages. They must know about the importance of their prayers. Their pure souls, their pure intentions, are vital for our triumph. They hold the key to a “preemptive strike”.

Their spiritual mobilization joins forces with the enlistment of our valiant soldiers, those tzadikim. Whether in Israel or throughout the world.

Thirdly, as a nation, as a people, we are being called up to duty  If we are lucky enough to be in a position to support during war, we need to amp it up.  Amp up the generosity, amp up the prayers and good deeds, amp up the unity. We need to whether in Israel or throughout the world.

Fourthly, there are miracles happening right now, and there will be more to come. Recognize them, broadcast them. Celebrate their special emergence in our universe. Both in Israel and throughout the world.

For me, gaining insight from the thoughts and words of the Rebbe during the Yom Kippur war, many years ago, has brought a sense of understanding I did not have before. It motivates me to use my strengths and to participate and aid in my own way, the heroes, heroines, and citizens of this mighty nation, right now.

I hope it is the same for you.

  1. Ariel Sharon
About the Author
Karen Wolfers Rapaport is an educator, therapist , writer, and proud mother. Leading groups throughout Israel, she integrates psychology, philosophy, and language instruction for college courses and clients that include the Office of the Prime Minister , Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics , Intel, Mobileye, and Yad Vashem. Karen is also a featured writer for several Jewish websites. She is passionate about unifying people from different cultural and religious backgrounds and creating transformative experiences.
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