I just got off the phone with Rabbi Asaf Azriel, the rabbi of the Kfir Battalion.
On Wednesday they had a gathering of the chativa, the battalion, to which he is assigned. The commander of the chativa, Itai, spoke to the men about the operation, giving directions, instructions. What to do, what not to do. Training is over and everything they learned now goes into practice. This is the live thing, the real thing. There are no fake bullets. It is dangerous. We have to stay alert.
Rabbi Asaf has a little card, a prayer he wrote up to say before they go out to battle. When Itai was finished, Rabbi Asaf gave the card out to the soldiers. A Mem-Peh (מפגד פלוגה – a high ranked commanding officer, with 90 soldiers under his command) by the name of Ro’i Rosner came over to the rabbi as the gathering was finishing. He had heard the rabbi speak to the group 3 weeks earlier, a week before the war started. Ro’i holds the rabbi’s hands tightly and asks for the rabbi to come over to his פלוגה, to his company, his group of 90 boys. 90 men. And asks if he would mind saying the prayer with them, together. I want you to say the card and the words together with the boys before they go into battle, to give them strength. Ro’i is not a religious boy. 27 years old. But he asked the rabbi to please come and to say some words to strengthen his boys.
The rabbi came over to the company and he says over a few words to the group. They all say together with tremendous emotion the prayer from the little card the rabbi prepared for before battle. Rabbi Asaf doesn’t know what possessed him, but after reciting the prayers, he was moved to call out שמע ישראל ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One. He was met with an answering call. Ro’i, the commander, together with all the soldiers screamed back שמע ישראל ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד Hear O Israel, Hashem is our God, Hashem is One. The rabbi shouted, ה’ מלך ה’ מלך ה’ ימלוך לעולם ועד God reigned, God reigns, God will reign forever. The words echoed back from Ro’i and the soldiers, seven times, gaining power, gaining strength, gaining fervor ה’ מלך ה’ מלך ה’ ימלוך לעולם ועד God reigned, God reigns, God will reign forever. Rabbi Asaf then screamed אנא ה’ הושיע נא אנא ה’ הצליחה נא please God bring us salvation, please God bring us success and the resounding response of the company, אנא ה’ הושיע נא אנא ה’ הצליחה נא please God bring us salvation, please God bring us success. The soldiers put on their gear and walked into battle.
This morning Rabbi Asaf got a phone call telling him that he should get on a chopper and fly to Siroka hospital because there were a number of wounded soldiers. Shortly after his arrival he was told that Ro’i had just passed away.
Ro’i was married 10 months ago and two weeks ago he was given the keys to his new apartment.
Ro’i and his soldiers were shot at by an Arab anti-tank missile. He was hit with a piece of shrapnel in his neck. He died on the operating table.
The soldiers are thirsty. Thirsty for Torah, for a connection to God. Thirsty to develop a relationship with the One who decides who will live and who will die. Rabbi Asaf and other rabbis call me constantly asking for pairs of תפילין (phylacteries), for pairs of ציצית (fringes), ספרי תהילים (books of Psalms), ברכת המזון (Grace After Meals). As we have seen throughout history, the Jewish people cannot be defeated when we all stand together.
As I write these words, I have just been notified that two more soldiers were killed. May our prayers, unity and אהבת ישראל, love of our fellow Jew, make sure that these will be the last ones we have to say goodbye to.