Exactly 50 years ago, Egypt and Syria simultaneously launched a vicious coordinated attack against Eretz Yisroel on Yom Kippur. The Rebbe’s leadership during those trying times is a guiding light today.
A Chassidisher Derher
On Yom Kippur 5734 at 2:00 p.m. local time, Egypt and Syria simultaneously launched a vicious coordinated attack against Eretz Yisroel. Seven years earlier they had been miraculously crushed during the Six Day War and vowed revenge for the humiliating defeat.
The attack came as a complete surprise to the millions of Yidden fasting and davening that afternoon, especially since most of the army had been allowed to go home for Yom Kippur and the fronts were manned by a bare minimum of reservists. As thousands of Egyptian soldiers poured into the Sinai in the south and hundreds of Syrian tanks rolled across the ceasefire lines in the Golan Heights to the north, Israel’s defenses were overwhelmed and thrown into disarray.
Sirens screamed throughout the land and soldiers and reservists wearing their taleisim ran to military trucks outside of the shuls to join their battalions racing to the front. In a few short hours the tranquility and confidence that had characterized the mood in Eretz Yisroel since the victories of the Six Day War were replaced by fear and trepidation, with some leaders privately expressing their despair that complete destruction was imminent.
News of the invasion reached Yidden across the globe very quickly and a deep fear and foreboding set in. In 770, the throngs of Chassidim gathered to daven with the Rebbe were frightened and concerned about the news, especially the guests from Eretz Yisroel, stranded far away from their families at such precarious times.
When the Rebbe arrived in shul for Shacharis and one of the mazkirim mentioned that war broke out in Eretz Yisroel, the Rebbe responded with two words: “איך ווייס —I know.”
Throughout the day there was no noticeable change in the Rebbe’s behavior in connection with the war other than to encourage the singing at certain parts during davening more than usual. At the end of Neilah when the crowd sang “Napoleon’s March” and the Rebbe stood on his chair covered in his tallis, the Chassidim felt that there was an extra urgency to the way the Rebbe encouraged the singing.
That night after Kiddush Levana, Reb Boruch Pariz approached the Rebbe together with his daughter Zlata Freiman. “Rebbe!” he cried. “My two sons-in-law are at the front. What will be with them?!” Pointing to Mrs. Freiman, he continued, “She left her children in Kfar Chabad with her husband. Today he was taken to the front. What will be with my grandchildren?”
The Rebbe instructed Mrs. Freiman to return to Eretz Yisroel immediately. “You will find everyone safe and sound. When you have good news for me, remember to call the mazkirus on a collect call to notify me that all is well.” The next day, the Rebbe instructed Rabbi Hodakov to notify all the guests from Eretz Yisroel that those who had no military obligations should not change their travel plans and remain in New York for the duration of their planned stay. They should behave as if the war was won.
Victories Greater than the Six Day War
Reb Gershon Ber Jacobson, editor of the Algemeiner Journal, was also a special correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot. One day after Yom Kippur, at the funeral of Mrs. Hinda Deitch, the Rebbe gave him an important message to convey to his contacts in Eretz Yisroel.
“Write to them that they should not worry. In the end there will be many miracles and great victories, even greater than the Six-Day War. But they need to be sure not to tarry. They must allow the military to operate as they understand. The politicians are interfering when there is no time to wait. The Yidden must ensure that they are not fooled into trading a full-scale victory for something worthless.
“The Israeli government must not give in to pressure from the superpowers and the UN. They should instruct the IDF to capture as much land as possible in Syria and Egypt, as quickly as possible. Every moment they tarry, they are forfeiting a major opportunity and it will cost many casualties.”
The Rebbe went to the Ohel that day, apparently in response to the war, and Reb Gershon Ber approached the Rebbe several times near the car to clarify the message he was to deliver to Israeli politicians, military leaders and journalists.
The first day of the war went very badly for the Israeli Defense Forces. In the south, the Bar Lev Line (which had been lauded by military leaders as an impregnable defense to any Egyptian attack) turned out to be a miserable failure and 100,000 Egyptian soldiers and 1,000 tanks advanced 12 miles in the Sinai before inexplicably stopping.
There was nothing between them and Tel Aviv.
In the north the Syrians captured several strategic areas as well as most of the southern portion of the Golan Heights. For the first 24 hours of the war 3,000 Israeli troops and 180 tanks were all that stood between the northern cities of Tzfas and Teveria and the 28,000 enemy troops with their 800 tanks.
The Israeli soldiers fought bravely and with much mesiras nefesh, but their losses were frighteningly staggering.
A Heavenly Farbrengen
On Yud-Gimmel Tishrei, after spending many hours at the Ohel, the Rebbe held a farbrengen in connection with the yom hilula of the Rebbe Maharash. This was the first time the Rebbe spoke publicly since the beginning of the war and the live telephone hookup was heard in Eretz Yisroel in real-time. (We highly recommend our readers hear the recording of this unique farbrengen.)
The Rebbe started by addressing the obvious question: Is it appropriate to have a farbrengen when Yidden are fighting for their lives?
“The Rebbe Maharash was known to say that while the world suggests you try to first ‘go under,’ I say that you should always ‘go over – לכתחילה אריבער ‘! As we heard many times from the (Frierdiker) Rebbe that the Rebbe Maharash did things in a ‘Baal Shem’skeh’ way.”
This set the tone for the truly unique and Baal Shem’skeh farbrengen that was about to unfold.
Quoting the known Torah of the Baal Shem Tov on the possuk “’הוי צלך—“that Hashem is like a shadow of the Yid and reflects the actions and attitudes of a Yid, the Rebbe concluded that “it is self-understood that the best way to help out [the situation in Eretz Yisroel] these days is through joy, because joy breaks through all boundaries.”
After the maamar, the Rebbe started the next sicha by quoting Rashi in Parshas Vayigash that there is a one—ניבא ולא ידע מה ניבא of concept can say or do prophetic things without realizing what it is all about until later.
“Throughout the summer I was speaking about the idea of מפי עוללים ויונקים יסדת עוז וגו‘ להשבית אויב ומתנקם From the mouths of little children you establish strength, to put an end to the enemy and avenger,’ and I connected it to the famous maamar of וקבל היהודים תרפ”ז .
“What pushed me to speak about this idea and this maamar so strongly and with such a shturem specifically these past few months? It turns out that we need to ‘put an end to the enemy and avenger’ now more than ever.
“This applies to many other things I spoke about during the summer including the importance of increasing in tzedakah…”
At this point, the Rebbe addressed the most painful question on the minds and hearts of Yidden throughout the world. “Why is this happening all over again?” Barely six years had passed since the last war in Eretz Yisroel!
“The reason is very simple: There are those who are enslaved to their yetzer hara, and after Hashem gifted so many territories to the Yidden in Eretz Yisroel during the last war, there were certain politicians who immediately started scheming how they would return them to the enemies, with many strange justifications.
“How can one single person confront a group of people who claim to speak on behalf of hundreds of thousands of Yidden?”
If the leaders of Eretz Yisroel were democratically elected by the majority of their citizens, it seems that their decision to reject Hashem’s miraculous gift of the captured territories is in accordance with the views of their supporters.
“Based on the clear psak din of the Rambam in Hilchos Gerushin, we know with perfect clarity that what these leaders said and did was not on behalf of klal Yisroel, nor on behalf of several individuals and not even on their own behalf. Their yetzer hara forced them to do it!
“Therefore, when a congregation of Yidden is gathered… we must make a public announcement, and do so with a loud voice, that all of this talk [about giving back land]… was only the results of their yetzer hara forcing them to do so!
“Especially now after they themselves realize how foolish this idea was, seeing how terrible the situation would have been had they given up even half a kilometer of territory, they certainly realize that it was their yetzer hara talking, not themselves.
“When Yidden will announce this in a holy place, a Beis Hakneses and Beis Hamidrash, especially in the daled amos of the [Frierdiker] Rebbe… and all the assembled will respond with a loud “amen”… this will affect those who entertained such thoughts and the entire world that such ideas will disappear and everyone will admit that Eretz Yisroel belongs to Yidden as a result of Bris Bein Habesarim… and it will be so forever, until the coming of Moshiach when we will receive the territories of Keini, Kenizi and Kadmoni, at which time will be the realization of the promise “!כי ירחיב ה’ את גבולך
As the Rebbe concluded this sicha, the thousands of gathered Chassidim roared with a resounding “amen!”—and then there was silence. For two tension-filled minutes, the stunned Chassidim were unsure how to proceed when all of a sudden the Rebbe started to sing in a loud and joyful voice “Vesamachta Bechagecha…!” The message was clear: the spiritual weapon to winning this war will be boundless simcha.
Chassidim started realizing that the Rebbe had been increasing the simcha since the beginning of the year. On both days of Rosh Hashanah, at the conclusion of Musaf the Rebbe suddenly turned around to the Chassidim and announced “Gut Yom Tov!” three times and started singing the hakafos niggun of his father Harav Levi Yitzchok. Everyone was shocked with this, since it had never happened before on Rosh Hashanah, and incidentally did not happen again afterward. Now everyone understood that this was a preparation for what lay ahead.
During the third sicha, in the spirit of finding reference between the current war and what had happened in the recent past, the Rebbe addressed the fact that at the farbrengen of Vov Tishrei he had said a hadran on Maseches Challah which concludes with two mishnayos containing the following halachos:
אַנְשֵׁי אֲלֶכְּסַנְדְּרִיָּא הֵבִיאוּ חַלּוֹתֵיהֶן מֵאֲלֶכְּסַנְדְּרִיָּא, וְלֹא קִבְּלוּ מֵהֶם.
“The people of Alexandria brought challah [to the Beis Hamikdash], but they did not accept it from them.”
אֲרִיסְטוֹן הֵבִיא בִכּוּרָיו מֵאַפַּמְיָא, וְקִבְּלוּ מִמֶּנּוּ, מִפְּנֵי שֶׁאָמְרוּ, הַקּוֹנֶה בְסוּרְיָא, כְּקוֹנֶה בְּפַרְוָר שֶׁבִּירוּשָׁלָיִם
“Ariston brought his bikkurim from Apamea [to the Beis Hamikdash] and they accepted from him, because they said, one who buys [a field] in Syria is as one who buys [a field] in the outskirts of Yerushalayim.”
These two halachos make reference to the idea that Eretz Yisroel extends all the way to the Nile River in the south and well into Syria to the north. The connection of this siyum to the war now raging between Eretz Yisroel and Syria and Egypt was obvious to everyone.
The Rebbe then addressed another parallel issue to the disastrous idea of giving back land: the terrible decree of Mihu Yehudi—the fact that the Israeli government even considered the idea that conversion to Yiddishkeit does not need to be in accordance with halacha.
“But in truth, as we said earlier regarding shleimus ha’aretz, those who made statements regarding Mihu Yehudi were not speaking on behalf of klal Yisroel, a large group of Yidden, or even on behalf of themselves. Their yetzer hara forced them! When one is forced into something against their true will, they cannot be held responsible for their thoughts, speech or actions.
“Therefore, when Yidden gather together and make an announcement… that conversion to Yiddishkeit can only be in accordance with halacha… and everyone will answer ‘amen’ loudly… this will nullify any foreign idea regarding shleimus ha’am.” As the Rebbe concluded the sicha the assembled Chassidim once again roared in a resounding “Amen!”
By now the tide of the war was turning. That night the Israeli Air Force bombed the Syrian General Command building and the adjoining Syrian Air Force Command in the heart of Damascus. U.S. President Richard Nixon authorized a massive airlift of military supplies to replenish the planes, tanks and heavy artillery that had been lost in the first disastrous days of the war.
On Erev Sukkos the Israelis managed to push the Syrians out of what had been Israeli territory before the war and on the first day of Sukkos they were swiftly advancing into Syrian territory.
On the second night of Yom Tov the Rebbe held a “dry farbrengen” (without l’chaim or mezonos) in the main shul. The Rebbe said a maamar and in the two short sichos demanded that Chassidim should have farbrengens every night and every day of Sukkos, and afterwards too. The Rebbe used the expression “ומלאה הארץ פארבריינגען את הוי’“
On Shabbos Chol Hamoed, when Musaf concluded in 770, the Rebbe walked out of shul without waiting for the gabbai to announce the time for Mincha. This was the usual sign that there would be a farbrengen and indeed a few minutes later Reb Dovid Raskin announced that the Rebbe would farbreng in the main shul (without l’chaim or mezonos) at 1:30 p.m.
In the first sicha, the Rebbe explained the theme of simcha as it pertains to Yom Tov in general, Sukkos in particular and especially on Shabbos that immediately follows two days of Yom Tov. After the maamar, the Rebbe explained that one of the main purposes for the farbrengen was to expand on the hadran on Meseches Challah from Vov Tishrei and Yud-Gimmel Tishrei, and through clarifying a halacha here in this world it will have an effect in all the heavens and affect the reality in this world.
The Rebbe then proceeded to expound on the statement that “one who purchases property in Syria is like purchasing property in the outskirts of Yerushalayim,” quoting a Sifri and a Midrash that interpret the possuk in Zecharya חדרך ודמשק מנחתו to imply that when Moshiach will come the city limits of Yerushalayim will extend all the way to Damascus.
“Since Damascus is the capital city of Syria, when you capture Damascus, you have captured the entire Syria!”
The Rebbe explained, that although the above-mentioned prophecy that Yerushalyim will extend until Damascus is referring to the times of Moshiach, since the Magen Avraham quotes the Arizal in Shulchan Aruch that on Erev Shabbos one is obligated to taste the food of Shabbos, this geulah-reality must also be tasted now in the moments preceding Moshiach!
This was the first time the Rebbe declared publicly that the Israeli Defense Forces must capture Damascus. During the opening days of the war the Rebbe had sent urgent messages to the highest echelons of the Israeli government that it was crucial to end the war with a decisive victory and that capturing the Syrian capital, even for just a few hours, would deliver a death blow to the enemy, knocking them out of the game in all future negotiations. At that very moment, the Israeli tanks and troops were speeding towards Damascus practically unchallenged, but were stopped by the political leadership the next day—just as they were within artillery range of the Syrian capital.
“As the Torah tells us ‘when you will go out to war against your enemies… Hashem will deliver them into your hands… and you will take captives.’ So too, [by capturing Damascus] may they release all the Yidden who are there in captivity and all of the nitzutzos kedusha that are there.
“And especially since all the Yidden involved are on the level of tzaddikim; the war started on Yom Kippur, which the day itself atones for everything, and especially Yidden who disregarded their own safety and are defending millions of Yidden with mesiras nefesh, they are all on the level of tzaddikim gemurim.”
Rejecting the argument that so many of them violated Yom Kippur in so many ways as they raced into battle, the Rebbe emphatically quoted several sources in Shulchan Aruch as proof that whatever was done in connection with the war was absolutely permitted and even an obligation.
On Sunday, the second day of Chol Hamoed, 750 Israeli tanks faced off against an attacking force of 1,000 Egyptian tanks in one of the largest tank battles in history which came to be known as The Battle of the Sinai. There was bitter fighting and heavy losses on both sides but in the final tally, over 250 Egyptian tanks were destroyed compared to less than 40 tanks on the Israeli side. It was a miraculous victory, crucial to the eventual outcome of the war.
That evening in 770, Chassidim were dancing in the upstairs zal and the Rebbe sent Rabbi Leibel Groner to tell them that “when you dance in that room the floor shakes, and all of Eretz Yisroel is shaking as well.”
During the farbrengen of Shabbos Chol Hamoed the Rebbe mentioned the famous story of the Tzemach Tzedek and the Rebbe Maharash. After a certain “keitz” for the geulah had passed, the Rebbe Maharash asked the Tzemach Tzedek why Moshiach had not yet arrived. When the Tzemach Tzedek answered that the “keitz” was realized with the publishing of Likkutei Torah, which is a taste of the Torah of Moshiach, the Rebbe Maharash responded, “We need to have Moshiach bepoel mamash.”
The Rebbe explained that although the Tzemach Tzedek knew this himself, he wanted to hear it from someone who was not a nossi at the time.
Based on this story, Chassidim felt it appropriate to give a pan to the Rebbe on behalf of klal Yisroel in connection with the terrible situation in Eretz Yisroel. A group of Chassidim representing different countries approached the Rebbe with the pan as he was leaving 770 and asked the Rebbe to read it. At first the Rebbe said he does not have his glasses with him and then added, “I am now in a state of simcha. Why do you want to place me in a state of sadness? I will accept the pan because you gave it to me. You can go with a minyan of Chassidim to the Ohel and read the pan there.”
The next day Israeli forces and tanks crossed the Suez Canal and started wreaking havoc on the SAM (surface to air missile) sites that had caused so much trouble for the Israeli Air Force at the onset of the war. They also started advancing deep into mainland Egypt, eventually reaching within 60 miles of Cairo, the Egyptian capital.
During this time the Rebbe instructed Chassidim in Eretz Yisroel to increase their efforts in visiting the soldiers on the front to bring them personal regards from the Rebbe, to help them wrap tefillin and on Sukkos to afford them the opportunity to make the bracha on the daled minim. The Israeli newspaper Yediot Achronot reported that during the first days of the war the Rebbe sent lekach to General Ariel Sharon together with a letter.
As hakafos on the night of Shemini Atzeres got underway in 770, the Rebbe instructed the gabbai to announce after the first set of Atah Hareisah: “Since this year is Hakhel, עמדו הכן כולכם everyone should stand ready, men, women and children to greet zman simchoseinu of Shemini Atzeres and Simchas Torah.
After the second set of Atah Hareisah the Rebbe instructed the gabbai to make the same announcement and to add: “Since the idea of עמדו הכן is connected to a military, we will now sing a niggun of victory!” Napoleon’s March resounded throughout the shul.
Following the final set of Atah Hareisah the Rebbe again instructed the gabbai to make the same announcement and added: “Since a military breaks through from all sides, we will sing “Ufaratzta” from all sides!”
In preparation for the fourth hakafa, the Rebbe instructed that all those who were ever in the Israeli military or reserves be honored with the hakafa. Once all those who fit the description were standing in the appointed spot for the hakafa, the Rebbe took his siddur and moved towards the edge of the stage where he stood.
With the traditional tune of “Ha’aderes V’haemuna–Tzu Vemen” the Rebbe started to sing loudly the pesukim of the fourth hakafa ‘miztvas hashem bara…’ As the Rebbe sang each stanza, a group of bochurim and yungerleit, following the style of the tune the Rebbe was singing, instinctively responded with the words לחי עולמים as a corresponding stanza. The strange and wondrous spectacle continued until the Rebbe reached the words נעימות בימינך נצח and the word נצח (which also means victory) was said in a very high crescendo. The Chassidim were astounded by this heavenly spectacle.
The next evening, the annual tradition for the delegation from the Israeli Consulate in New York to participate in the hakafos of Simchas Torah happened again despite their overwhelming obligations in the middle of war. The delegation members were honored to stand near the front of the shul and at one point Consul General Menachem Levin approached the Rebbe.
“Why did the Israeli Defense forces not capture Damascus yet? They managed to dislodge the Syrians from the Golan Heights, what are they waiting for?”
Mr. Levin tried to explain to the Rebbe that the Israeli leaders are concerned about how the Americans will react to such a move and that it will cost many lives, but the Rebbe rejected these explanations.
“When you get home send an urgent message to Israel in my name that they should order the army to capture Damascus without worrying about anyone!
“Regarding the Americans, I have information from reliable sources in Washington D.C. that the Americans are anticipating for a long time already to receive the news that Damascus is captured. And about casualties, the current situation where the army is in limbo will cost a lot more casualties Rachmana litzlan than the number of casualties a swift conquest of Damascus will cost. “The Ibn Ezra explains that the Jewish nation needed to remain in the desert for 40 years because the slave mentality was so ingrained in their souls and they needed to wean off their galus perspective to become independent. You in Israel are in galus for 25 years already. How long will you remain in galus?
“Even a small child understands that when he needs to fight with two combatants he must conquer one and then concentrate on the next. Do the same. Conquer Damascus and then you can concentrate on fighting the Egyptians with confidence.”
[On that night, the Rebbe also taught the new Niggun of “Ha’aderes V’haemuna” to the tune of the French national anthem.]
By now the Israelis had established a stronghold on the western bank of the Suez Canal and Israeli soldiers, tanks and artillery were pouring into mainland Egypt, conquering more territory ever closer to Cairo. The Egyptian Third Army which had invaded the Sinai Desert with much fanfare was now encircled by the Israelis who by then enjoyed almost complete air superiority.
Israel’s enemies realized how desperate their position was and sued for a ceasefire. On 27 Tishrei the UN passed a resolution calling for all sides to stop the fighting and the war ended with the Israeli army barely 60 miles away from Cairo and 10 miles away from Damascus.
The war lasted 18 days
Lifting the Morale
Although the war ended with a clear Israeli victory, the blow to the overall morale of its army, its citizens and Yidden around the world, was crushing. 2,569 soldiers were killed, HYD, and many thousands more were wounded, maimed or captured during the fighting.
Additionally, the fact that the army had been caught by surprise and their enemies were able to make such amazing gains in the first days of the war was difficult to accept. To make matters worse, within the first week of the war the political leadership admitted that they had had advance warning of the impending attack early Yom Kippur morning but decided not to mount a preventive strike nor to call up the reserves before the enemies opened fire in order not to be perceived by the world as the aggressors. A foolishly disastrous decision which cost Israel many hundreds of lives.
Despite the eventual victory, the Arabs celebrated the war as a restoration of their prestige that was lost in the Six-Day War. Their successful surprise attack was a vindication of their militaries and put them in a better position in all future negotiations.
The Rebbe instructed the Chassidim from Eretz Yisrael who had been in 770 for Tishrei to visit as many soldiers as possible upon their return to bring them personal regards from the Rebbe and to lift their spirits.
In a letter addressed to all the soldiers of Tzahal, the Rebbe writes that giving tzedakah is the best vessel to elicit many blessings from Hashem. Since a soldier in the army is often unable to do the mitzvah of tzedakah, the Rebbe requests that the Chassidim visiting them should give each soldier a coin as a personal gift from the Rebbe so that they be able to give tzedakah, should they wish to do so. In addition they should recite a possuk from Torah Shebiksav and a halacha from Torah Shebaal Peh.
Many soldiers and officers wrote letters to the Rebbe in appreciation for these visits and received the Rebbe’s response: “May the impression you and your friends had from the visit be permanent, that the encouragement you received be translated into practical deed in your day-to-day lives in the spirit of the words of Torah you heard and the mitzvos you did during the visit… It is a great and unique merit you all have that [Hashem] chose you to defend our holy nation, and the borders of our holy land… May we very soon not need physical defense, because Hashem will grant peace in the land… and we will only need to conquer spiritual conquests…”
Within a week after the ceasefire Reb Efroim Wolff reported to the Rebbe that Chassdim throughout Eretz Yisroel were intensely involved in visiting the wounded and the families of the dead to lift their spirits and to do mivtzoim. People were hired to make rounds in the major hospitals every day and there were long lines to put on tefillin. The Rebbe notified him that he would assume responsibility for half of the total budget for all these peulos.
The Greatest Miracle of the War
On Shabbos Mevarchim Kislev the Rebbe addressed the fact that many were disappointed that they did not witness miracles on the level witnessed during the Six-Day War. In a fascinating sicha the Rebbe pointed out that the miracles that happened during this war greatly surpassed those of the previous war. The details are so embarrassing to the military and political leadership, that they are hiding the information needed to fully appreciate what had happened.
“After the Egyptians successfully crossed the Suez Canal and destroyed the Israeli Bar Lev Defense Line there was absolutely nothing stopping them from advancing all the way to Tel Aviv in a very short time. One can imagine what could have happened… For some inexplicable reason they stopped after advancing only 12 kilometers. The same was true of the Syrian front. A miracle happened here!
“Everyone knew about this and the Americans thought that there would no longer be any more problems from Israel… Their only concern was that the Soviets should not have sole control of the region.
“History proves how great this miracle was. During World War II the French built an impregnable defense line called the Maginot Line. A line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapon installations so strong that the Bar Lev Line in the Sinai was nothing in comparison to it. The Nazis ym”s burst through the line with their powerful armor (similar to what the Egyptians did to the Bar Lev Line) and within a day they conquered all of France!
“Besides, the Germans needed to fight thorough urban areas which were heavily defended, but here the Egyptians were fighting in an open desert that had very few defenders, and yet they stopped in their tracks
May our enemies have the greatest downfall and we should have the greatest victory, bepoel mamash!”