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Wednesday
Mar072018

PROPHETIC SPIRIT

By Refael Cheruti

This story happened at the end of the Yom Kippur War. In this war, the Arabs had great success at the beginning, when they caught the Israeli army by surprise and unprepared for war. It was only after several days of fighting that our soldiers managed to rout the enemy and enter deeply into their territory. The reserve unit that I served in as a sapper was camped facing Ismalia, on the other side of the Suez Canal. We were in Egypt.

One day, we got credible intelligence information about an Egyptian plan to perpetrate a gas attack against our forces. The commander’s orders were that all those with beards had to shave so they could put the protective mask on their faces when necessary. Every soldier soon received his individual defensive kit. The soldiers kept the kit tied to their waists, ready for immediate use.

I felt this was a terrible decree, as though I had been asked to cut off an important limb from my body. The pressure intensified especially after a number of religious soldiers shaved their beards and even tried to convince me that this was necessary for pikuach nefesh.

According to the information we received, the attack was imminent, but I could not obey the order to shave my beard. Just the thought of it turned into a nightmare. I decided that I had to ask the Rebbe whether I needed to do it. I shared my hesitation with Kuti, the leader of my unit. I explained to him the importance of a beard to Chassidim and asked him to agree to whatever answer I got from the Rebbe.

To my delight, and the delight of another two soldiers, Kuti agreed to do whatever the Rebbe said.

It wasn’t at all easy to make contact with the Rebbe under the circumstances, and it was two days later that my wife told me the Rebbe’s answer: The Egyptians won’t attack and it is unnecessary to touch the beard.

When I reported this to the commanders, they were skeptical. “How could he know when he isn’t an officer in intelligence?” And “All the reports point with certainty at a gas attack?!” And “That takes great responsibility to say such a thing!” And “What, is he a prophet?”

“Yes! The Rebbe is a prophet!” I stated firmly. “If he says there won’t be a gas attack, that’s that.”

They were all stunned. It was the religious one among the officers, who was cleanshaven to begin with, who said, “There are no prophets today. It says in the Gemara that since the time of the latter prophets, ruach ha’kodesh departed from Israel.”

Of course, I had plenty to say about the Rebbe’s prophecies about the Six Day War, about his global prophecies and specific prophecies for individuals. While I considered how to respond, Avner intervened. Avner was one of the officers who did not refuse to put on tefillin when I asked, but it seemed that was his only connection to religious matters.

Avner, a journalist in civilian life, told everyone how throughout the summer he had followed the information coming into his paper’s newsroom about the things the Rebbe said to do with children: Torah study, getting them to attend day camps, assembling them at the Kosel during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva for Torah-t’filla-tz’daka, and all this, in order to “stop the enemy and avenger,” as the Rebbe put it.

Nobody at that time had spoken about enemies. There was a ceasefire between us and the Egyptians and there was quiet on all borders. A week before the war, intelligence was only about the low likelihood of war, and yet, the Rebbe spent months promoting activities with children.

“Just like Mordechai.” One of my bearded friends couldn’t hold himself back from saying. “In order to annul Haman’s decree, he gathered thousands of children to learn Torah!”

“If the Rebbe isn’t a prophet, how did he know?” Avner concluded with his hands outstretched questioningly.

The cleanshaven religious fellow said, “The Rebbe wasn’t successful like Mordechai. He did not manage to stop the Syrians and Egyptians.”

This time, I kept quiet no longer.

“Didn’t succeed? The Syrians and Egyptians, after breaking through our lines without much effort, were on their way to Tel Aviv and Teveria when suddenly, they stopped, as though waiting until we got our reserves together and organized our tanks. Thanks to that, the annihilation of millions of Jews was prevented – an enormous miracle!”

“What did the Rebbe say when the war began?” asked Kuti.

“The Rebbe said that for Jews, the main thing is quality and not quantity, and the quality would vanquish the great numbers of the enemy. When the enemy was succeeding at the start of the war, the Rebbe asked for ‘simcha poretz geder,’ to burst through all the Syrian and Egyptian lines and win the war. Indeed, the Chassidim increased in simcha.”

We stood at the command tent. Near me stood two bearded friends. We waited for the commander’s response about our beards. Kuti was quiet for a few seconds and then said, “Okay, you can keep your beards.”

The joy that burst forth in that tent at that moment was expressed in dance. This simcha no doubt made an impact and needless to say, there was no gas attack.

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