The Rebbe’s words during the “Peace in the Galilee” IDF campaign prove truer than ever in the current security situation in Eretz Yisroel. Read a full overview of the Rebbe’s response, courtesy of A Chassidisher Derher.
“Imagine a weak-hearted individual who walks into an operating room and watches the doctors begin a surgery. As he sees the first few drops of blood, he will beg the doctors to pause the operation and wait until the patient recovers from the beginning of the surgery, and only then should they continue operating. ‘How can you continue operating when you see his blood being spilled?’
“You can imagine the surgeon’s response…
“After they began the first surgery [the 1956 Sinai Campaign], a weak-hearted person decided to pause the operation, saying that he needed to convene a meeting, and ask the opinion of certain individuals—otherwise it wouldn’t be a democracy—so they need to ask the opinions of those in the Diaspora. The same occurred by the second surgery [the 1967 Six Day War] and the third surgery [the 1974 Yom Kippur War].
“Now they are holding at the fourth surgery…”
“‘We are sitting ducks!’ my commander yelled into his radio. Soldiers were being killed, tanks were being destroyed, and nevertheless, we were instructed to maintain our positions.”
As a young man, Rabbi Yigal Tzipori, today the Rebbe’s shliach in Kiryat Shemonah, served in the reserves and was called up in the First Lebanon War, officially named Mivtza Shlom Hagalil, which took place in 5742 (1982). The war was a response to years of katyusha shelling of villages in the Galilee from southern Lebanon, which had become known as Fatachland.
“We were positioned low in a valley,” Rabbi Tzipori related, “and the Syrian commando unit was stationed on the hill looking down at us. They entrenched themselves and brought in reinforcements. From time to time, snipers would fire at us. They also set up ambushes. We were a massive military force concentrated in a small area, and yet we didn’t have permission to advance.”
After the PLO terrorists were ousted from their original home in Jordan in 1970, they entrenched themselves in Lebanon, which was in the midst of a crippling civil war between Muslims, Christians, and other factions, along with the heavy presence of the Syrian army. With no central government in control, they had free reign which they utilized to build up a significant military force and to launch attacks against Eretz Yisroel and Jews all over the world.
The IDF carried out an incursion into Lebanon in 1978, known as Mivtza Litani, but it failed to fully destroy the PLO’s bases. As the attacks continued, the Israeli Government decided to act, and a plan was drawn up for an invasion.
On 12 Sivan 5742, Shlomo Argov, Israel’s ambassador to Britain, was ambushed in London by three Palestinian terrorists. The terrorists were caught, but as a result of the shooting, the ambassador was paralyzed for life. As far as Prime Minister Menachem Begin was concerned, this was the last straw. On 15 Sivan 5742, the Israeli tanks rolled into Lebanon.
5:00 A.M. Phone Call
“The night the war broke out,” relates Rabbi Yitzchak Yehuda Yeruslavsky, “Rabbi Hodakov left the Rebbe’s room and looked for my colleague Rabbi Mordechai Ashkenazi, who was in New York for Shavuos. The Rebbe wanted to know what was happening with the Sefer Torah for Chayalei Tzahal.
“Earlier that year, at the end of Tishrei, we had been called into Gan Eden Hatachton along with all the members of the Chabad Beis Din in Eretz Yisroel. No one told us what it was about. The Rebbe opened the door and explained that he wanted to speak about something sensitive. He told us to come inside and closed the door.”
During that yechidus, the Rebbe asked the rabbonim to take on a new project: To encourage the IDF to write a Torah for its soldiers. “Throughout the winter,” Rabbi Yeruslavsky continues, “we worked on the project, trying to break through the endless bureaucratic red tape. Meanwhile, the Rebbe constantly requested updates.
“Then the war broke out. When Rabbi Ashkenazi told Rabbi Hodakov that I was the main person involved, he was instructed to phone me— even though it was five o’clock in the morning in Eretz Yisroel—and to inform me that we must energetically work to finish the project, being that the war broke out.
“When I received the phone call, everything suddenly fell into place. I realized that the Rebbe had already foreseen the outbreak of the war during the previous Tishrei and therefore had initiated this project, in the merit of the soldiers fighting the battles.”
In Eretz Yisroel, the invasion proceeded according to plan. The soldiers advanced quickly; each battalion quickly achieved its objectives, bulldozing through the PLO strongholds and rooting out terrorists. The intelligence agencies provided the soldiers with precise information about the terrorists’ whereabouts and they found and neutralized them with relative ease.
For three days, the army moved deeper and deeper into the country. When the Syrians realized that the Israelis were planning on advancing until the capital city, Beirut, where the PLO command centers were based, they also began attacking the Israeli forces.
Now that the Syrians had joined the fray, the Israeli Air Force began an air battle to demolish the Syrian’s ground-to-air missile launchers. A full-on air battle was launched, and the outcome was astounding. The launchers were demolished and 97 Syrian aircraft were downed, without a single loss of Jewish life.
By the morning of the sixth day, the IDF was closing in on the main highway leading to Beirut and it was a matter of hours before they would cut off the Syrian supply route and essentially control the Lebanese capital. Realizing that they were being totally vanquished, the Syrians and PLO terrorists ran to the UN to beg for a ceasefire. Already at the outset of the war, the United Nations Security Council had been pressuring the sides to agree to a ceasefire. Now, the pressure really began to build from the United Nations as well as the United States. Following an intense debate in the Israeli Cabinet, Prime Minister Menachem Begin decided to accept it.
The decision to accept the ceasefire was welcomed by some, but criticized by many others.
“Right before the ceasefire, Israeli intelligence received information that the terrorist organization was on the verge of collapse,” declared the General of the Northern Command, Amos Braam, during a press conference in New York. “From a military perspective, it was a big mistake to agree to the cessation of hostilities.”
Immediately, the general set off a political firestorm and was harshly criticized for his statement. “The general mixed into affairs that aren’t his,” the Deputy Defense Minister, Mordechai Tzipor, responded. “He mustn’t get involved in political decisions. G-d save us from a situation where the generals decide the army’s next move.”
Two days after the ceasefire, on 22 Sivan, the Rebbe said a sicha to the graduating students of Beis Rivkah High School, and spoke about the situation. The halachic way to go about any war, the Rebbe explained, was to follow the opinion of the security experts.
Politicians invariably have various interests in mind; they think about the next elections and worry how the war will affect their international relations. The army officials, on the other hand, have only one objective: Accomplishing the objective with a minimum loss of life. Therefore, in a situation of pikuach nefesh, we must rely solely on their opinion.
By the time of the Rebbe’s sicha, this had already been demonstrated on the battleground. Once the ceasefire had been declared, the Syrians had the opportunity to bring in reinforcements. They strengthened their positions, brought in additional soldiers and equipment from Syria, and in many places set up snipers bearing down on Israeli positions. As soon as they felt ready to proceed with the fighting, they would start shooting again.
Over the next two months, the army fell into a routine. They would advance a bit, then a ceasefire would be announced and the enemy would reinforce its position, and then the fighting would resume. The IDF would move at a snail pace, incurring more and more casualties. What had been planned to be a short ten-day operation now became a drag with no end in sight.
3 Tammuz 9:25 P.M.
Seder was just finishing in the small zal and bochurim were reaching for their hats and jackets anticipating the Rebbe’s entrance for Maariv. Suddenly, an announcement was made: the Rebbe would hold a farbrengen immediately after Maariv.
“As soon as we heard the exciting news, everyone went running,” writes Reb Aharon Korant in his diary. “Some to the mikvah, some to the telephone, and others to grab a place for the farbrengen. The Rebbe seemed very serious during Maariv, and we were able to hear him audibly recite the words of Al tira…”
During the farbrengen, the Rebbe returned to the issues that had taken place on the other side of Eretz Yisroel, regarding the Sinai Desert.
Following the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War, the Israelis had conquered the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt. From the very beginning, the Rebbe warned against returning any of the land. Firstly, Hashem gave us that land and we have no right to give it away, but more importantly, it was an issue of pikuach nefesh.
Shulchan Aruch rules in Hilchos Shabbos siman shin-chof-tes that if non-Jews besiege a Jewish settlement, even if they claim to have come for peaceful purposes, the Jews are to go out with weapons of war, even on Shabbos, to banish them.
Promises of peace are meaningless, the Rebbe always explained. They can be rescinded the moment after they are signed. Yet the irrevertible sacrifice for that “shalom hamedumeh,” that imaginary peace, literally endangered the lives of all the Jews in Eretz Yisroel, and projected an image of a weak country, which would invite more warfare and more pressure.
Unfortunately, the Rebbe’s words went unheeded, and in 5738, they signed “the Chozeh Ha’umlal, the Wretched Accords” of Camp David, as the Rebbe called it. Within a short time, it became clear that the Egyptians did not plan to respect the treaty.
During this farbrengen, the Rebbe pointed out how these same accords had actually emboldened the terrorists.
Through the return of the Sinai Desert, the Egyptians had access to huge oil fields. Beforehand, their economy had been in turmoil, but the peace treaty had given them a major economic boom, and they now had enough money to sponsor the very terrorists who were warring with the Israelis in Lebanon.
“Soldiers spilled their blood to conquer those territories with the simple faith that they were protecting Eretz Yisroel and the Jewish people, and if those territories are returned, those deaths were for naught.
“After the Yom Kippur War, the prime minister admitted that had they listened to the military expert they would have saved hundreds of lives. Yet nevertheless, the politicians are making the same mistake!”
The lesson to be learned was that the operation had to be concluded as soon as possible.
“A campaign to save human life is the obligation and merit of any normal person!” Each delay costs more human life, and “they too [the Arabs], were created b’tzelem Elokim,” the Rebbe cried out.
Foreign Relations Blunder
Dealing with immense pressure, Prime Minister Begin had embarked on a ten-day mission to the United States to meet with President Reagan.
Pundits predicted that he would receive a very cold reception. Reagan’s administration had been pressuring Israel to scale back its campaign and was harshly critical in the press.
Previously, on the day of Argov’s assassination attempt, the President had embarked on his first overseas trip. For 10 days, he traversed Europe, visiting England, France, West Germany and other countries, and his reactions to the Lebanon War were vague and noncommittal. The president officially criticized the war, but no real pressure was applied.
On the day he landed, one reporter wrote in an Israeli newspaper, “Tonight ends President Ronald Reagan’s first overseas trip as president. And, apparently, tonight also ends the window of opportunity for Israel to finish the campaign without American pressure.”
The Israelis had previously briefed the Americans regarding the Lebanon
plans. Although the Americans were loath to enter into a conflict with the Arab world, they also wanted to see the Syrians and the PLO chased out of Lebanon.
For them, the initial scheduling had worked out perfectly. The campaign was to be concluded before the President returned and was forced to deliver a proper response. However,
once the Israelis agreed to the UN ceasefire, the war began to drag on and the Americans were forced into a conflict they didn’t want.
Nonetheless, when Begin arrived in the United States, he received a very warm welcome.
“What’s been done, is done,” the President announced during the press conference, after reading off an official statement criticizing the operation. “Now we need to look towards the future.” During the meeting that followed, Reagan agreed to Begin’s demand that all terrorists be forced to leave Beirut before the cessation of hostilities.
The surprise Gimmel Tammuz farbrengen coincided with the end of Begin’s trip.
“They announced that the President will be away for 10 days,” the Rebbe pointed out, sending a clear message that they could proceed without American pressure.
“The Americans should be the only foreign consideration,” the Rebbe added, “because they provide funds and weapons. Yet still, the ‘faint of heart’ held up the completion of the campaign.”
The Rebbe also held that there had been a second opportunity to finish it—during Begin’s trip, when someone else had been appointed to be the acting prime minister. It was, in the Rebbe’s opinion, a situation of halacha v’ein morin kein, where the Israelis could have utilized the Prime Minister’s absence to quickly finish the operation.
Unfortunately, the Rebbe’s words continuously went unheeded. The army continued its cycle of ceasefires, and only slowly did it finally reach closer to Beirut.
“At one o’clock in the morning, we decided that the situation just couldn’t continue,” wrote Rabbi Aharon Leizer Tzeitlin of Tzefas in a report to the Rebbe. “A manhig Yisroel issues a directive and it isn’t being carried out immediately?”
The issue at hand was printing Tanyas in Lebanon. The Rebbe had instructed that a special printing be held behind the enemy lines, in the halachic boundaries of Beirut, and to be studied with local Jews (there were some) or with the soldiers stationed there. However, the army’s bureaucracy proved to be a very difficult obstacle. A week after the directive, they still hadn’t gained permission to cross into Lebanon.
“I decided to go to the general of the Northern Command right then,” Reb Aharon Leizer related. “I got into my car and drove the five-minute ride up to the Northern Command. I sped up to the entrance, jumped out of my car, and yelled, ‘Where is the general!?’
“The soldiers got scared and immediately let me through and pointed, ‘That way…’
“I came to his secretary and demanded entry. At first, she laughed in my face, but I insisted that it was urgent for the success of the war, and she finally allowed me in.
“I sat with the general for 15 minutes, and explained to him how the Rebbe viewed this Tanya printing with great importance. He agreed to give me a permit.
“As soon as I received the permit, I woke up the group [of shluchim], we jumped into the printing truck and drove to Tzor, and we printed the Tanya there at four o’clock in the morning. The soldiers stationed there were shocked.
“‘What is that?’ they asked.
“We explained to them that the Rebbe wanted to print a Tanya there. To them, the fact that the Rebbe in New York was thinking about them gave them an amazing feeling of support.
“In the end, we printed the Tanya in 15 places in Lebanon, all with the IDF’s official permit.”
From the war’s outset, and even before, the Rebbe placed a great emphasis on the spiritual side of warfare. Chassidim noted that in the week before the war, the Rebbe went to the Ohel several times, instead of the usual twice a month.
The Rebbe constantly spoke about the merit of the soldiers guarding Eretz Yisroel, and about the significance of soldiers putting on tefillin and being registered in the Sefer Torah for Chayalei Tzahal.
Throughout the war, mitzvah tanks moved from one battalion to the next, bringing joy and Yiddishkeit to the soldiers.
The army chief-of-staff himself later related, “No other organization in the country accomplished what they did. Countless soldiers were encouraged by their presence, and I definitely encouraged their work.”
The Rebbe also encouraged Jews around the world to engage in Torah, tefila and tzedaka in merit of the soldiers.
After the above-mentioned sicha to the talmidos hamesaymos, the Rebbe gave out dollars for tzedaka in merit of the soldiers. During the surprise farbrengen of Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe added that more tzedaka should be given in merit of the politicians—“So that they finally leave their inner exile of the yetzer hara, the ‘kel zar asher b’kirbicha—the foreign god within you,’ and remember that they too, belong to the nation of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.”
The Rebbe also orchestrated the declaration of a taanis shaos, a partial fast day, through the Agudas Harabbonim, for 7 Tammuz. That day, the Rebbe came downstairs for Mincha and spoke a special sicha of divrei kibushin.
Surrounding the Capital
As each ceasefire was terminated, the IDF slowly advanced towards Beirut. After a bit less than a month of fighting, the Israelis tightened their grip on the Lebanese capital. The government began working on a way to force the PLO out of the country.
“One option,” related Arik Sharon, “was to physically enter West Beirut. However, such urban warfare was sure to cost many lives. Another option was to heavily bomb the area. I supported the second option, but the cabinet chose a third: To bomb an open area near the terrorists, which would not destroy them outright, but still give an impression that we mean business.”
That year, Yud-Beis Tammuz fell out on Shabbos, and the main farbrengen celebrating the Frierdiker Rebbe’s release from prison, was held at 1:30 p.m. on Shabbos afternoon. On Sunday, Yud-Gimmel Tammuz, the Rebbe visited the Ohel. “The Rebbe entered the zal for Mincha at 9:05,” Rabbi Korant writes. “After davening, we heard great news. The Rebbe would farbreng again after Maariv. Again, everyone rushed to prepare.”
The Rebbe dedicated a long sicha to the topic of the war, where he placed intense focus on the military aspects:
• The Rebbe criticized the fact that Begin wanted full government approval before every move. The politicians making those flawed decisions, the Rebbe said, were the same who made the disastrous choices during the Yom Kippur War…
• There had been numerous occasions to finish the war. Just recently, President Reagan had traveled to California to watch the landing of the Columbia space shuttle; yet they never utilized the opportunity. (The Rebbe added that the war would now have to continue after Shiva Asar B’Tammuz, which was not a good development.)
• The administration had announced that Reagan would deliver a speech on foreign policy, and all the news networks reported that it would be a negative outcome for Israel. However, it turned out that the President spoke only in support of Israel. The Rebbe said that the news networks weren’t mistaken. “The intention was to test the reaction of Jewish leaders, and yet there was no response. One went on a stroll, the other played golf, another continued in his business dealing… nobody protested that the President was about to criticize Eretz Yisroel.” The fact that the statement was actually positive “was an open miracle,” the Rebbe said.
• “Everyone knows who the PLO is!” the Rebbe declared. “Nobody needs proof.” The PLO’s barbarism was common knowledge yet the Israeli government was busy investing time and money in demonstrating how bad the PLO was, instead of finishing the war!
The Rebbe also directly addressed the issue of clearing the terrorists out, and the government’s claim that they didn’t really control Beirut: “The area is very small; they can easily turn the entire area into a heap, without even entering inside. They can suffice with a five-minute warning so whoever wants to escape can leave, and they can thereby finish the entire operation without a single casualty or injury. Moreover: There won’t be a need to hurt the gentiles there, or even the PLO members—if they will be convinced that it is no empty threat, and you indeed plan on destroying the area!”
The Rebbe continued: “The crowd likes something that is a shturem; here, there is a simple proof that we are already within Beirut! As the Rebbe spoke, he picked up three small Tanyas from the table. Taking off the elastic, the Rebbe handled each one. “Here on the table lies a Tanya that was printed in Beirut (as is inscribed in the shaar) a few days ago, with enough time for it to arrive here so that it can be on the table during the Yud-Beis Tammuz farbrengen. The reason they were able to print it was because the IDF themselves made the necessary arrangements for it to be possible.
“Together with the printing, they said l’chaim; l’chaim to the soldiers and l’chaim to klal Yisroel. They studied there from the Tanya, and they davened and gave tzedaka in a shul in Beirut, which was there before the founding of PLO, and will be there after their downfall.”
The Rebbe concluded the farbrengen with a call to Jews everywhere to fulfill the three pillars of Torah, tefila and tzedaka in honor of the soldiers, and that farbrengens should be held as well. The Rebbe also gave mashke to create a continuation from the main farbrengen to the coming ones.
The Sefer Torah of Tzahal
“As soon as I received the call from Rabbi Ashkenazi at the beginning of the war,” Rabbi Yeruslavski continued his account, “we began energetically pushing the writing of the Torah.
“That very day, we organized cars of anash to go to Lebanon to get soldiers to sign up for the Torah, and simultaneously we organized with several sofrim to write different parts of the Torah, to be finished within four weeks.”
During the Yud-Beis Tammuz farbrengen, the Rebbe spoke at length about the importance of the Sefer Torah of the IDF. The Rebbe was very unhappy that it still had not been finished, and spoke very sharply about the merit it could bring to the soldiers if completed.
“All the soldiers of the IDF needed to be registered in the Sefer Torah long ago. If only this would have been done earlier, many undesirable things could have been averted!”
Two days later, the Rebbe held another surprise farbrengen, and this time the Rebbe shared good news:
“Now we could reveal that on the eve of 15 Tammuz, the Sefer Torah of Tzahal was completed, and celebrated b’rov am hadras melech…”
Although the Torah had been concluded, much work was left to be done for the soldiers to register.
“I traveled with Reb Shlomo Madanchik to the Defense Ministry,” Rabbi Yeruslavski related, “and received permission for Chabad cars to enter Lebanon for ‘spiritual work.’ Over the next few weeks, cars of Chassidim traveled throughout the battlefields, until every single soldier had a letter.
“In Eretz Yisroel, too, Chassidim went to all the army bases, recruiting as many soldiers as possible.” The Rebbe’s words on Yud-Beis Tammuz, that bad things could have been averted through the Sefer Torah, were actually also said much earlier, on the Chanukah preceding the war.
The Rebbe spoke then about the importance of the Sefer Torah for the soldiers, and explained that it would sow fear among the gentiles, “when they realize that every soldier is united with 304,805 other soldiers…”
“Not only will the enemy flee the battlefield,” the Rebbe said, “they will ensure that a war will not erupt in the first place…”
They Mean Business
The PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, began negotiating with the Israelis on the terms of their exit. They argued on how many PLO men were to leave, and if they would be allowed to leave with their weapons, and so on and so forth. The talks began to drag on, and it became clear that Arafat was simply manipulating the negotiators. He had no intention to leave.
It took another month for the government to finally realize that they had no choice but to bombard the terrorists out of the city. A heavy bombardment was initiated, and the army tightened their siege on the area. Heavy artillery was directed at the city. Suddenly, the Arabs began singing a different tune. Seeing their city being destroyed, the local Arab leadership forced Arafat to evacuate, and by the beginning of Elul, the city was finally cleared of the PLO (to the extent that could be confirmed).
A Weak Retreat
“Tell Shamir not to pull out of Lebanon! If he pulls out, I will be very upset!”
During hakafos on Simchas Torah 5744, the Rebbe spoke at length with the newly appointed ambassador to the United Nations, Mr. Binyamin Netanyahu. Part of that conversation is well-known, but the lesser-known fact is that most of the discussion centered around the situation in Lebanon. The Rebbe told Netanyahu to tell Prime Minister Shamir not to leave Lebanon until it was truly free of terrorists, and that the Jews of Eretz Yisroel must conduct themselves b’yad chazaka u’vizroa netuya.
The Rebbe explained throughout the war, and regarding the concept of shleimus ha’aretz in general, that at the core of the issue was something much deeper than mere bad decision making.
The actions of the Israeli administration went against all measures of logic. Their decisions were based on a deep-seated fear of the gentile—who wasn’t pressuring them at all!
The core problem was in the hearts of the Jews: “A fear and embarrassment before the goyishkeit within him, from his nefesh habehamis, ‘Kel zar asher bikirbicha, the foreign god within you,’” the Rebbe said. “There is no greater exile than when a person fears the goyishkeit within him, and the greater his position and rank, his exile is even greater.”
The end result in Lebanon was a never-ending war. The IDF remained in Lebanon for quite a while, while the politicians moved back and forth on the issue. The soldiers were often subject to terror attacks, but due to the political situation weren’t given permission to respond with proper force. As the situation became more and more of a mess, the Israeli public pressured the government to leave Lebanon, with a peace deal or without.
Indeed, as the Rebbe had warned during the war, if they didn’t properly go about the operation, there would be long-lasting repercussions. “If they don’t conclude the operation,” the Rebbe said, “as the possuk says, ‘those whom you leave over will be as spikes in your eyes and thorns in your sides…’”
The Rebbe made it very clear throughout the years that the only way to secure a true and lasting peace in Eretz Yisrael is through standing strong, unabashedly declaring to the world that the Aibershter, Elokei Olam (the Eternal G-d), gave His land, Nachalas Olam (an eternal inheritance), to His nation, the Am Olam (the eternal people).
And then, through Shleimus Ha’aretz (the integrity of the Land of Israel), along with Shleimus Ha’am (the integrity of the Jewish Nation) and Shleimus Hatorah (the integrity of the Torah), we will bring about the geula ha’amitis vehashleima, may it be speedily in our days.