Yom Kippur 1973. Arab forces launched a sudden attack on Israel’s borders. Only by miracle did Israel repel her invaders; nevertheless, the war ended with many dead or wounded and, more sobering, a loss of morale. To mark the fortieth anniversary of this momentous event, the Avner Institute presents a gripping firsthand account by late Israeli journalist Menachem Barash about the special campaign by Chabad Chassidim who toured the IDF camps and offered to countless soldiers not only the Rebbe’s wine, coins, and words, but strength, comfort, and spirit.
“Path to the Hearts”
Chanoch Glitzenstein, who ran one of the Chabad divisions, relates:
It was a few days after the ceasefire. To be more precise, it was on Motzaei Shabbos Noach, October 27, 1973. Nine Lubavitchers from Eretz Yisroel were still in New York, having spent the High Holidays and Succoth with the Rebbe.
They were suddenly called into the Rebbe’s room. The Rebbe, seated at his desk, turned to them and said:
“Due to the events that transpired on Yom Kippur, I request that some action take place to encourage the soldiers on the front lines, to raise their spirits, and to infuse them with new hope. Take some bottles of liquor with you from kos shel bracha (considered on the level of the “wine preserved from the Six Days of Creation”) and some silver coins, and go to the Israeli soldiers in their camps and on their bases. Serve them the liquor and drink l’chaim. Give each soldier two coins, one for charity in my name and mission and the other for his personal use or to keep as a charm.”
The Rebbe held up copies of two letters that he had written during the battles to soldiers who asked him for a blessing. “Not one soldier should be overlooked. This operation needs to be done with the knowledge of the general staff of the IDF and with its explicit permission. In each of the units that will spread out to all the army bases, it would be desirable to include someone who spent the High Holidays with the Rebbe and who can explain the significance of the war and the results. Not a word should be publicized before carrying out this mission to its end.” That is what the Rebbe instructed, and he gave his emissaries his blessings.
When the emissaries went home and told the local leaders what the Rebbe had said, the Chassidim got enthusiastically to work. Within a few days, a headquarters was set up and “forces” were enlisted and divided into units. The army command accepted the idea enthusiastically, although for certain time-related reasons there was some delay in carrying out the activities.
In the end, full cooperation was secured. The IDF provided Chabad with vehicles, security, escorts, guidance, and even special flights to distant bases. Chabad prepared tens of thousands of booklets containing the following:
The Rebbe’s blessing to the Israeli soldiers;
Two letters of the Rebbe, along with commentary on the Bible and the Torah;
Some of the Rebbe’s views about the war, and the lessons learned on the holiness of the land and the obligation to protect it in its entirety and to keep it secure.
Tefillin, liquor, cups, pastries, and coins were loaded into boxes and placed into the cars and planes. The operation began.
Coin around the Neck
We first went to the bases located in the Central Region command. Chabad in Jerusalem took responsibility for this section of the front. A hundred of us went, for three days and nights, from base to base, camp to camp, outpost to outpost.
The home front command and the education officers did all they could to facilitate our arrival at our destinations and carrying out our mission. Vehicles, drivers, escorts, and security were provided. Wherever we went, the commanders already knew about our coming and were ready to greet us.
It went something like this: first we entered the command tent, where we offered tefillin to the commanders. Nobody refused. We gave them the booklets with the Rebbe’s message and blessings; we poured cups of liquor and drank l’chaim, a toast, to the life of the country, to the lives of the soldiers, and to a quick victory over all the enemies of Israel. We gave out the coins, one for charity in the Rebbe’s name and the second for personal use. Then we left.
The commanders gathered the soldiers. One of the group members addressed them and explained the purpose of our mission. We told them that throughout the war the Rebbe never stopped thinking of Israel and the battlefronts and that he prayed continually for them. We read portions from what the Rebbe said at the recent summer farbrengens, during which he hinted to the possibility of war and the need to prepare practically and spiritually.
In response to questions, the Rebbe’s position on current problems – i.e. war, settlements – was clarified. We drank l’chaim with each soldier and explained to them about charity and the coins the Rebbe sent them. The soldiers were particularly excited about keeping one as either a souvenir or talisman. They even asked to drill a hole in it so it could be worn around the neck. While drinking the liquor, the soldiers wanted to know about kos shel bracha and the significance of making a toast.
After inspiring words mixed with Torah thoughts and Chassidic tales, large circles formed. Hundreds of soldiers joined along with the Lubavitchers, who sang and danced. The revelry went on for hours – in certain instances, late into the night.
In the Jordan Valley, we were sixty men who broke up into fourteen units. For three days and three nights we combed through all the camps and positions. Soldiers grabbed up the coins, drank the liquor, and took in the Rebbe’s words. They sang and danced, and participated in evenings with Chabad. They totally enjoyed the experience.
In the booklets that were distributed, the Lubavitcher Rebbe wrote that the soldiers called up to war were on the level of tzaddikim gemurim (completely righteous), for the war began on Yom Kippur, which atones for all sins. In one of the discourses, the Rebbe stressed learning from the soldiers who put naaseh (we will do) before nishma (we will understand) and who staunchly carry out the orders of those appointed over them. The Rebbe repeated what he said earlier, about the special role of the Jews among the nations and of our victory over our enemies and in all wars until the coming of Moshiach.
Over 100,000 copies were distributed during the campaign. Tens of thousands of additional copies were left in camps and with the education officers to give out on other occasions. The amount of liquor consumed for toasts was enormous; it was mixed from bottles of liquor the Rebbe had sent. Tens of thousands were opened during the campaign in order to provide a small cup for every soldier.
Israeli soldiers were called upon to trust in G-d and not to fear. As an added measure, the Rebbe suggested that the soldiers lay tefillin every day, increase in charity, and, as much as possible, do these two mitzvoth together with Torah study, even the smallest amount, from the booklets they were given.
Days later, the signal was given to begin the campaign in the Golan Heights. Groups of Lubavitchers reached all the way to the Hermon and visited all the outposts and strongholds. Chabad songs and the Rebbe’s words echoed in Syria too, along the ceasefire line.
After the Valley and the Golan it was the turn of Sinai, the west bank of the Suez Canal, Sharm-el-Sheikh, and the navy. The Lubavitchers boarded missile boats and all the other naval ships, where they were joyfully received by commanders and soldiers alike.
In the Golan they met Moshe Dayan and offered him liquor. He smiled and said he was pleased with this campaign. “You drink the mashke (liquor),” he said. “I will drink grapefruit juice.”
Wounded Man Recovered
As is the way with Chassidim, there was no lack of miracle stories, performed with the Rebbe’s power.
A few days earlier, a letter arrived from a wounded soldier who was hospitalized in Beer Sheva:
I am severely wounded. The pains in my foot are terrible. Yesterday, Chabad came and visited and brought mashke from the Rebbe’s kos shel bracha, and they gave out coins to keep and for tzedaka (charity). I did not drink immediately. I left the mashke for the next day. This morning, I woke up and put on tefillin, as the Chabadnikim suggested. I gave the coin to tzedaka and drank l’chaim from the Rebbe’s mashke.
What can I tell you? It’s unbelievable. The pain in my foot went away and I have already asked the nurse to try and get me out of bed. I am sure that I will be able to walk on my two feet. Please, write thanks to the Rebbe . . . . he is amazing . . . . he is amazing . . . . he not only cheered me up; he healed my foot.
The council chairman Kfar Chabad, Mr. Davidowitz, said that when he was at 770 for the High Holidays, the Rebbe gave him a bottle of liquor to distribute to Kfar Chabad. On his return home, the chairman heard that one of the young residents had been severely injured by a missile during a tank battle, which left him hospitalized and unconscious.
Immediately Mr. Davidowitz thought, “Perhaps this is what the Rebbe had in mind,” and he went to the hospital. Hearing that the soldier’s watch had stopped in the attack, Mr. Davidowitz told the doctor attendant that it was precisely that day and time when the Rebbe had given him the bottle of liquor. The doctor agreed to place a drop of the liquor into the man’s mouth.
To the amazement of the doctor, the man opened his eyes and regained consciousness.
The commanders did not have enough words to praise Chabad for their remarkable work. The Chabadnikim do not hide their pride over the “bridgehead” that they managed to secure and the path they paved to the hearts of the Israeli soldiers.\
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