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War and Peace

It was the height of Yom Kippur, 39 years ago. The invading Arab armies surprised Israel with a coordinated attack. All Israeli reserve units were called into action. Among those who were drafted was Elazar ben Yishai, a member of the Kineret kibbutz.

At first Elazar and his friends were euphoric, believing that the miracles of the Six-Day War would repeat themselves and Israel would experience a huge victory. However, the bitter truth soon stared them in the face. A significant portion of their comrades fell in battle, and their situation was very difficult.

Elazar served as a tankist in Division 18 and fought on the Northern front, against the Syrians.  Their division was located in front of a bridge and they were given the task of holding off the Syrian advance. The commander of the division intercepted a message sent by the Syrian captain to his headquarters in Syria, that “The historic moment has come to stampede into Tel Aviv.” But this stampede was never carried out. Apparently, the captain was given orders by Syria to remain in place. Why? Heaven only knows.

To their credit, the Israeli forces fought valiantly against the Syrian tanks, despite suffering heavy losses. Dozens of Israeli tanks went up in flames, with the soldiers inside, may G-d avenge their blood. When the Israeli soldiers heard about the losses in the south and the number of downed aircraft, they lost whatever morale remained. Nevertheless, they continued to battle the Syrians with all their might, together with a Golani brigade that fought alongside them.

One night, in a hastily erected camp, all the damaged tanks were gathered in one location. The Golani soldiers came and went, bringing more and more wounded soldiers. Some of the injured reported that their lives were saved when they played dead as the Syrian tanks approached. The losses were devastating. Out of a hundred Israeli tanks, only five were left, and even these were scratched and damaged, some without their tracks. The soldiers doubted they'd be able to fight further with them.

Elazar was placed in charge of a group of mechanics whose mission was to "revive" the damaged tanks. In the course of his work, a senior officer approached him and told him to remove all the mechanical equipment from his vehicle. “Right now we need you to transport injured soldiers to  Ziv [hospital in Safed].”

Obediently, Elazar cleared his armored personnel carrier (APC) to make room for injured soldiers. Since he did not know the way to Safed, an IDF Jeep led the way. After traveling a short distance, Elazar suddenly froze. The Jeep driver yelled, “A Syrian tank!” and quickly disappeared.

The tank approached and stopped only meters from the APC, which was alone on the road. It seemed to Elazar that he was only moments away from being blown to pieces...

“Bring me grenades!” Elazar called behind him. He wanted to launch a counter-attack against the Syrian tank. But it became clear that the healthy soldiers traveling with him had all bailed to find shelter. He was alone with the injured soldiers.

Elazar looked around and realized he was totally alone, defenseless. He did not even have a gun on him. During those moments, which seemed to last forever, Elazar remembered what his father had taught him -- during times of distress, scream the verse “Shma Yisrael,” and await G-d's salvation.

That was exactly what he chose to do now. He had no other option. He placed a hand over his eyes and cried out “Shma Yisrael.” He heard the sound of an explosion and was sure that these were his last moments.

A second passed, and then two. Elazar was not sure which world he was in... He opened his eyes and saw that the Syrian tank was off the road. The explosions he heard, apparently, were the sound of the track's impact with the asphalt. To Elazar's astonishment, the Syrian tank made a 180 degree turn, heading back to Syria.

Elazar's body was bathed in a cold sweat. Without a doubt, he had been saved from certain death. In his heart he expressed his thanks to G-d. The Syrian soldiers had apparently mistaken his vehicle for a Syrian APC. If he had succeeded in throwing a grenade, they would have realized that it was an Israeli vehicle and responded accordingly.

While Elazar caught his breath, he heard another tank approaching. The Syrian tank appeared in the horizon and raced past him, seemingly not noticing him at all.

Elazar proceeded on his mission, where he encountered no further surprises. On the way to Safed he met an ambulance, and asked the driver to please transport the wounded soldiers tot he hospital. The soldiers were transferred to capable medical care and Elazar returned to his base.

Elazar was to experience many more difficult moments during the war. However, he had already determined what he would do to thank G-d for saving his life. After the war, he would enroll in a yeshivah.

An additional impetus for his decision was the sight of Chabad chassidim, who visited his base at the height of the war, uplifting the spirit of the soldiers with their lively singing: “In You, G-d, I place my hope; I shall not be ashamed ever!”

Today Elazar ben Yishai is a Chabad chassid himself, living in Beitar Ilit.

 

 


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