When Zalman Rabin was preparing to go into Gaza, he had one request: A protective case for his tefillin. He credits that, and a dollar of the Rebbe that was waiting for him, with his unit’s miraculous survival.
By Bruria Efune
About two weeks ago, Chavi Rosenblum contacted me. Her brother, Zalman Rabin, was on reserve duty and his unit was preparing to go into battle in Gaza.
Zalman is a young father who had to leave his wife and baby at home in order to fight for the safety and security of Israel. His parents and siblings live in England and the United States—he’s what’s called a “lone soldier.”
I can’t imagine the fear or dread of anyone with an immediate family member going into Gaza, let alone that of our brave soldiers themselves as they move into an unfamiliar territory where suicidal terrorists pop out of tunnels, civilians homes, and dark alleys.
When Zalman was called up for reserve duty, his father felt the gravity of the situation. He posted a photo on their family WhatsApp group—a special dollar that his mother had received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe. He wrote with hope, that when Zalman comes out of Gaza, he will come and get it.
What does a Jewish soldier think about before walking into the monster’s lair? Zalman was worried about his tefillin. He had been making sure to put them on to pray every single morning since he was drafted, and he wanted to continue, even inside Gaza. But tefillin are fragile, and the battlefield is unforgiving. So he told his sister that he wants a tactical tefillin case—the kind that’s water and fireproof.
My husband and I were so grateful that Chavi entrusted us with the mission to find the right case and bring it to Zalman. By the time we got through to him, we had just a few hours left before his unit would be on their way.
We piled the kids into the car, and my father-in-law, who was visiting, came along too. We got the special case, but also wanted to bring love to all the soldiers, so we got two boxes of pastries from our local bakery, and lots of granola bars that the soldiers could stuff into their pockets.
The base was off-road and behind many red warning signs, but with Zalman’s guidance over the phone, we found it. My husband and father-in-law jumped out and gave him a hug and his new tefillin case, which he was very happy about. He seemed nervous, but with huge faith in G-d.
We walked around the base handing out the goodies, my kids doing their thing to encourage the soldiers. My husband and father-in-law asked the men if they wanted to put on tefillin, and found that remarkably, almost all of the soldiers had already donned them that day.
One soldier hadn’t yet, and took the time to pray, every word, full of heart.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that tefillin protects our soldiers, and when they put them on to pray, their enemies see that G-d is with them, and they become afraid.
Shortly after we left the base, Zalman and his unit went into battle in Gaza, and we heard nothing from him until this week.
Chavi sent me a voice message, choking up with gratitude to G-d. Zalman and his unit came out of Gaza right before Shabbat. Miraculously, they’re all okay, but Zalman couldn’t talk until now, and finally shared some of his story.
His unit was ambushed inside Gaza. They were surrounded by Hamas fire on all sides, and battled fiercely for many hours.
In the midst of the battles, Zalman’s gun jammed. He couldn’t shoot or fight back. He was stuck relying on his friends for support.
He did have one thing though. Most of his unit had put their heavy bags with their tefillin down before they were ambushed. Zalman kept his with him, on his back the entire time.
After almost 24 hours of fierce battle, the incredible soldiers managed to eliminate all of the Hamas attackers, with no injuries to themselves.
I had read about this battle in the news, but didn’t realize it was Zalman’s unit.
After the battle, many of the soldier’s bags were burned, and most lost their tefillin. Zalman was one of the very few who still had his. And so, in the middle of Gaza, Zalman helped his friends one by one put on tefillin and say the prayer that every Jewish child knows, “Shema Yisrael..,” “Hear oh Israel, the L-rd our G-d is One.”
Chavi asked Zalman what she should tell everyone who had been praying for him.
He wrote, “We definitely saw the prayers in action. What we went through and came out of, and the miracles we saw, would not have happened without the prayers and mitzvahs that everyone took on.”
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