This morning I learned of the background to Rebbe's meeting with Rav Chaim Kanievsky:
Rebbe went to daven at the Kotel, and ended up leading one of the minyanim as the ba'al koreh. Rebbe, of course, led his fellow Jews in prayer as he always does - with tremendous kavanah and intensity.
It so happened that Rav Chaim Kanievsky's shamash was davening at the the Wall that morning as well, and heard Rebbe's tefillah. He was so overwhelmed by the depth and sincerity of Rebbe's prayer, that he decided then and there, without knowing who Rebbe was, that Rebbe must meet Rav Chaim. And so he did.
I asked her: "why do you love Shabbos Kodesh?"
She answered, matter of factly: "Because Shabbos Kodesh loves me! (Duh, Abba!)"
Maybe the best way, or only way, to attain love of G-d is to realize that He loves us too.
Jan 6 2009
As many of you know we live in Beit Shemesh in Israel. The city is about 45 kilometers from Gaza as the crow flies. So far Hamas has only reached ~40 kilometers with their rockets which puts us out of their range. There are rumors that Hamas possesses Fajr 3 Iranian made missiles with longer ranges, but thank God that has not been the case so far. One of our children did an evacuation drill to the bomb shelter in school, but things have thank God been quiet in our area. In the early part of the war (including the original attack), we heard the sounds of the Israeli bombardment from our home. Early on, there were helicopter gun ships flying over nearly every 15 minutes and jet planes more sporadically. During Chanukah as we drove north on Highway 6, we saw tractor-trailer after tractor-trailer carrying tanks, APCs and artillery south to the Gazan front. Since the ground war began, we see little aerial activity overhead and almost never hear any of the sounds of the bombardment which is positive since it indicates that Israel is succeeding in pushing Hamas further south in the Gaza strip. Stefanie and I called Yad Eliezer (an organization near and dear to our hearts for many years) to see how we could help and to find out what they were doing to assist with the situation in the South. Our good friend Yossi Kaufman told me they were putting together 2,500+ packages to deliver to the soldiers the next day and offered me the opportunity to join a group traveling down to the Gaza front to distribute the packages. I quickly agreed to join them and below is a description of my experiences.
As we drove south towards the Gaza strip the traffic became lighter and we began to see police stationed at every corner. Our first stop brought us to a Givati (lossely translated as Marines) base outside of Be'er Sheva from where they control all the logistical aspects of the war. We were met there by the commanders of the base who were very moved by the generosity of the donors and the volunteers. They spoke in glowing terms of the assistance Yad Eliezer provided during the Second Lebanese War. After some formalities thanking us for the delivery, we went to work unloading ~2,400 packages into a gym from which the logistical engineers would ensure that the packages would reach the front lines. They explained that when they sent the food and supplies to the front lines, they would add our packages into the shipments to ensure they were being delivered to the soldiers who would most appreciate it. It was incredible to see the looks on the faces of the cadets who helped us unload the truck. They could not believe that anyone would ever care so much to bring what seemed to be an endless supply of packages. The commanders then told us that today had been relatively quiet with very few rockets fired by Hamas into Israel. They agreed to take us to Be'eri, the staging ground for Givati troops and supplies entering into Gaza. There we could distribute packages to the troops and load up some of the trucks reentering Gaza.
As we were driving out of the base I received a call from my wife. Almost simultaneously, everyone around us started screaming Tzeva Adom (Red Alert). Tzeva Adom is the Israeli early warning system which allows you ~30 seconds to take cover before an incoming missile strikes. We left our cars in the middle of the road and ran for cover behind a nearby concrete building. About 10 seconds later we heard the large boom of a rocket exploding. Thank God it wasn't near us. We naturally thought that all was clear then, but the army personnel told us that another Tzeva Adom had been issued. About 10 seconds later, we heard the second rocket's impact. We later learnt that there actually was a third warning issued though we never heard that rocket landing. When things calmed down I spoke to my wife who told me that the reason she had called was that she had heard on the radio the Tzeva Adom warning issued for Be'er Sheva and knew that last we had spoken I was in the Be'er Sheva area.
As we continued on our trip to Be'eri, we watched the civilian traffic diminish significantly and we saw signs for the Karnei crossing into Gaza. We finally reached Be'eri, which is about 2-3 kilometers from the Gaza strip, and quickly found out that this was actually a closed military zone. The military police were unwilling to let us enter the area despite our accompaniment by the commander of the Givati logistics base. After much discussion and haggling, we were finally allowed 10 minutes to enter the area to distribute our packages to the soldiers and on the condition that we took no pictures while we were there. We entered the area on foot as only the truck with the packages was allowed to drive closer to the troops. It was obvious we were in a war zone as there were constant booms in the background from the Israeli military's shelling, mortars and missiles. There was a helicopter circling above us which later hovered in place and fired a missile on its intended target in Gaza.
Upon first entering the area, we were treated to a scene that only could happen in Israel. There we saw some Breslover Chasidim with a van equipped with speakers on its roof blasting music. The Breslover's were dancing with the soldiers and handing out Na-Nach-Nachman yarmulkes. The military police quickly cleared them out and then we began our work. What became quickly obvious was that there was no one in the area over the age of 20. We began to distribute the packages to the soldiers or more appropriately young boys who were resting before they were called to reenter the war zone. One soldier asked me to help him load 20 packages into the back of his truck because he was heading back into Gaza and wanted to bring the packages into those stationed further into Gaza. We saw APC's coming out of Gaza with helmeted and sweating soldiers who were so excited to be greeted by our packages. The soldiers could not believe their eyes and kept asking us where we were from and why were we there. Every time we mentioned that we had come to thank them for their efforts on our behalf and boost their morale, they thanked us profusely. They said it meant so much to them that people were actually thinking of them and were willing to make the trip out to deliver packages. As the excitement in the area from our delivery began to build, the reluctance to our presence began to dissipate. We ended up staying in the area for nearly 40 minutes and the military police backed off allowing us to take pictures (as you can obviously see from the attachments). In public, the soldiers were uncomfortable discussing the war, but on the side, the soldiers were a little more open about the war where they discussed the army's current strategy and their reflections on the war's progress. They were very positive about the situation inside of Gaza. When I pressed them further on their assessment of the engagements they were encountering, they answered that Givati was doing very well, but Golani was having a more difficult time.
That answer was all too evident at our next stop, the Soroka Hospital in Be'er Sheva. Soroka is the largest regional hospital in the south of Israel and has the areas only trauma center. We came to the Hospital with another 50 packages to distribute to the wounded soldiers. It took a long time to enter the Hospital due to all the bureaucratic haggling, but in the end we were able to enter with a group of older women who were representatives of L'man Hachayal (a civilian volunteer organization that helps soldiers). These women are volunteers who were at the end of a long day helping the soldiers and their families nevertheless they agreed to help us access the soldiers' ward. We had to cross through the entire hospital lugging all the packages to reach the area where the soldiers were being treated. On the way, we passed the blood donor center where we were treated to an amazing scene of people lined up to donate blood to help all the wounded soldiers and civilians.
As we entered the 5th floor where the first set of soldiers was recovering, we bumped into a family wheeling out their son in a wheelchair. Everyone was upbeat as he had just been discharged from the hospital. The soldier was from the Golani brigade and his leg around the knee area was bandaged up. We never had a chance to hear more details about his injury, but the scene was very moving. One of the members of our group was a Rabbi from Atlantic Beach, New York. He had raised $100,000 in his community to fund Yad Eliezer providing packages and help to the soldiers and communities on the Southern front. He had flown to Israel for a couple of days as an ambassador from his community to distribute the money they had raised. The Rabbi handed a package to this soldier and his family and wished the soldier a refuah shleimah (full recovery). The Rabbi explained explained that we had come to boost the morale of the soldiers and show them how much their efforts meant to us. I happened to be near one of the older women from L'man Hachayal as this scenario unfolded. I saw her begin to cry while explaining to another woman what was transpiring. She was not a religious woman, but she exclaimed over and over again, "Mi k'amcha Yisrael Hashem… (God, is there anyone like your nation Israel)." Her words are still reverberating through my head.
Our next stop was on the 3rd floor. As we got off the elevator we met another soldier sitting with his parents and family. The soldier was also from Golani and his arm was in a sling. He told us that his platoon had been hit by a Hamas mortar shell which had shattered the bones in his arm and currently left him with no ability to move his hand. The soldier had just undergone surgery and the prognosis was positive. He hoped to regain use of his hand, but in reality he faced a long recovery period including months, if not years, of therapy. His father mentioned to us that there were now so many religious boys in the army that they were able to have a minyan on the floor. We later davened mincha with the soldier and his family, hatzala members, doctors and other visitors. It was both incredible and painful to watch the soldier's brother help him put on and take off his Tefilin for davening. It really summed up all the different emotions – the hope and excitement of being able to daven in Tefilin with a minyan and the reality of the long path of recovery ahead of him. The soldier was very appreciative of the package. Someone asked him about his positive attitude and constant smile. He told us that he wasn't really worried about himself or his condition, but rather that of his colleagues and commander who had suffered more severe injuries -- "Mi k'amcha Yisrael Hashem…" There were others visiting the soldiers in the public areas and it was heartening to see two high-school girls too embarrassed to speak to the soldiers distributing small chocolate bars to the injured soldiers.
Our next stop landed us in a room with a number of Golani soldiers. One had shrapnel wounds to his leg, another had been hit by a bullet and another had suffered mortar injuries. Despite their discomfort and pain, each one of the soldiers and their families was thankful and appreciative of the visit and the packages. It all seemed surreal since all the thanks really go to these brave and courageous young men. One of the women from the L'man Hachayal told me that there were families on the other side of the floor that I should see. Though it was a little unclear, the first family seemed to be waiting for news back regarding their son's condition who I assume was in surgery. They reluctantly accepted the package on behalf of their son as they claimed to have everything they needed. The family was grateful for the visit and the good wishes, but the strain and pain was clear on their faces. Next I met a father of one of the injured soldiers. We shook hands and I explained that we had come to express our gratitude to his son and the other soldiers who were on the front lines protecting our country. He began to cry and asked me to give a bracha (blessing) for his son. In a choked voice, I wished him a refuah shleima me'et Hashem (God should send him a complete recovery). The father would not let go of my hand and asked me again to give a bracha to his son by name that he should regain consciousness. It took some time for me to get his son's exact name through his tears and broken voice, but he would not let go of my hand until I got it right. By the time I had gotten his son's name, Hoshea Li'el ben Miriam Hacohen, and was able to give him a bracha, we were both crying. He then insisted that b'ezrat Hashem the next time we would meet it would be to celebrate a simcha and the package would be a present, "Mi k'amcha Yisrael Hashem…" Later on, I had the opportunity to speak to this soldier's father once again where he explained to me that his son had just come out of surgery for a tracheostomy and was unconscious (I had earlier seen someone being wheeled post surgery into the ward which turned out to be his son). He then began to explain to me his son's incredible story. His son was a member of Sayeret Golani, the elite commando unit of Golani. The unit was one of the first to enter the Gaza Strip on motzei Shabbat (Saturday night) at the beginning of the ground war. The soldiers had fought for eleven hours straight in very difficult house to house warfare. They made slow and difficult progress managing to kill two or three terrorists here and there. The commandos had to back off numerous times because many of the Hamas terrorists were wearing explosive belts which made the soldiers scared to shoot in close proximity for fear of detonating the explosives. As they entered the twelfth hour of fighting, the soldiers had gained the upper hand killing numerous terrorists and sending the remaining terrorists fleeing. While retreating, one of the Hamas terrorists fired a rocket high in the air from about 500 meters away and the explosive landed 3 meters away from his son. The impact of the explosion sent his son flying in the air. His son was wearing a flap jacket, helmet and radio and was carrying a gun, bullets, grenade launcher and grenades. Despite all the protection, the explosion tore a cut through his son's head and left him unconscious. He said that miraculously none of his son's equipment detonated and that his son had landed eight meters from a doctor. The doctor was able to intubate him on the spot which likely saved his life, but he never regained consciousness. His son had just undergone surgery to drain the blood away from his brain and to reduce the pressure on his skull. Doctors had also given him a tracheal oxygen apparatus to ease his breathing. At this point, the only thing this father wanted to see was his son regaining consciousness to give them hope that he could recover despite the oxygen deprivation at the time of the injury. Before I left, he implored me again to pray for his son's recovery and insisted I meet the rest of his son's family. He then introduced me to his son's wife (they were married only 15 months ago), in-laws, mother and brother. Holding back tears, I wished each one of them B'ezrat Hashem good news and a refuah shleima me'et Hashem for their beloved son, husband and brother. As I sit to write this recounting of my day in the south, the emotions are still raw and I know I will never be the same again.
After we left the hospital, we received some good and uplifting news from our day. Each of the packages we had delivered during the day had a paper in them with a phone number and website address (www.yadeliezer.org) identifying the packages as coming from Yad Eliezer. Milka, who works in Yad Eliezer's offices called us to let us know that they were receiving numerous calls from soldiers in Gaza thanking us for the uplifting package delivery which had raised their spirits and was just what they needed, "Mi k'amcha Yisrael Hashem…" It all seems so ludicrous that they were thanking us when all the thanks really belongs to them.
Today we went to Yad Eliezer with our children to assemble the next 3,000+ packages for the next shipment down to the soldiers. Amazingly, every half an hour another school came by to help with the packing. One of the people in the warehouse asked me if I had heard the good news about our delivery from yesterday. In turns out that the cameraman who accompanied us the previous day has two sons literally on the front line in Gaza. In the night, he had gotten word from their platoons that they had already received our packages. We are heading back south tomorrow morning to once again say thanks to our soldiers and to deliver the next shipment which we packed today. B'ezrat Hashem we should only hear good news.
אחינו כל בית ישראל הנתונים בצרה ובשביה, העומדים בין בים ובין ביבשה, המקום ירחם עליהם ויוציאם מצרה לרווחה, ומאפילה לאורה, ומשעבוד לגאולה, השתא בעגלא ובזמן קריב, ונאמר אמן
Eight years ago, Rebbe discussed Ahavas Chinam in a video interview...
Rebbe's discussion of Reb Shlomo and the power of hugging starts at 11:30.
In these difficult times, may we merit to follow in Rebbe's path of Ahavas Chinam!
There is a famous story which occurred when I was at YU in the mid-70's. Rabbi Heshy Reichman was giving a talk to a number of students about these subjects (Negiah), and one of them claimed that this sort of hand-holding was indeed "pareve". The student asked something to the effect of "Do you really think I'm going to haveinappropriate thoughts just because I'm holding my girlfriend's handwhile we walk down the road?"
Rabbi Reichman's response was, "If you can walk down the road with your girlfriend, while you're holding hands, and not have inappropriate thoughts, then you need a new girlfriend!"
Just a little posting today.
This past erev shabbas was very meaningful for me. I have been thinking about the matzav in eretz yisrael a lot, but especially this past friday. I was thinking about my family members over there, I was thinking about what role I have with eretz yisrael, about how I view mitzvas yishuv eretz yisrael, etc.
i was at somewhat at a loss of what to feel or say about everything. All that thinking and just about nothin to show for it.
So what do we do when I am that point...call Rebbe.
So I call. Rebbe picks up. "Shalom Alichem Rebbe! How is Rebbe?" "Yoni, I am a shtickle in a rush, you see I am going to Eretz Yisrael very soon..."
BAM! got my answer to weeks if not years of questions. I got my answer in less than five seconds. All I needed was a shtickle Rebbe.
I bless us all to be able to make the great escape...