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לימוד תורה

From that Yom Kippur to this Yom Kippur

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald – The Parasha in our everyday life - Vayelech - Shabbat Teshuvah – Yom Kippur 5782

Since the Yom Kippur War, another aspect has been added to the atmosphere of repentance of the High Holidays בֵּין כֶּסֶה לֶעָשׂוֹר 'between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur'. To the personal, family and community introspection and correction, a dominant aspect of public introspection and collective national correction was added.

The war and the failures exposed, especially in its beginning, created a public ‘earthquake’ that undermined confidence and trust in the leadership. On the other hand, the great victory achieved in the war stands in the great 'transformation' from the opening state of the war to a great and unprecedented victory at the end. A war that began as a surprise that led to severe damage to the IDF in Sinai and the Golan Heights and to many casualties, and within days broke into the depths of the Syrian enclave, which reached forty kilometers from Damascus and threatened the Syrian capital, and the canal into Egyptian territory up to 101 km. from Cairo.

This 'sudden change' is unprecedented in military history. It contained manifestations of 'heavenly miracles' and manifestations of heroism and 'fighting spirit' of ordinary warriors and junior commanders. Warriors who found themselves in impossible situations of numerical inferiority in a ratio of more than one to ten between them and the mighty waves of the enemy. And they, in spite of everything, did not retreat but continued to fight, boldly and resourcefully, with great faith in the righteousness of the way and in a commitment to protect the country and its inhabitants, thus succeeding in inflicting heavy losses on the enemy, delaying and disrupting its plans.

In our Parasha, Moshe Rabbeinu now near his death, parted from the people of Israel before starting the war over the inheritance of the Land of Israel. Moshe Rabbeinu seeked to strengthen the awareness of his powers, his ability to stand in the face of difficult fighting situations, and to strengthen the spirit of the people, in the face of those who seek to diminish them:

חִזְק֣וּ וְאִמְצ֔וּ אַל־תִּֽירְא֥וּ וְאַל־תַּעַרְצ֖וּ מִפְּנֵיהֶ֑ם כִּ֣י ה' אֱלֹקיךָ ה֚וּא הַהֹלֵ֣ךְ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹ֥א יַרְפְּךָ֖ וְלֹ֥א יַעַזְבֶֽךָּ׃ 

"Be strong and resolute, be not in fear or in dread of them; for Hashem your G-d Himself marches with you: He will not fail you or forsake you". (Devarim 31:6)

"Do not be in dread: Onkelos translated, "and you shall not break." Likewise did Onklos translate (31:8), "do not be dismayed," "do not break." Nevertheless, there is certainly a difference in the meanings: "Dread" is the breaking of a platoon, such that they give themselves up to their enemies, whereas "dismay" is the breaking of the heart … (Haamek davar ibid)

This conduct took place, miraculously, even after more than three thousand years, among their descendants, the fighters of the Yom Kippur War.

The public self examination, that followed the Yom Kippur War identified the conscious infrastructure that allowed our enemies to deceive us and surprise us in an astonishing way.

It pointed to arrogance, the כֹּחִי֙ וְעֹ֣צֶם יָדִ֔י "My own power and the might of my own hand" (Devarim 8:17) or "I am, and there is none but me"    אֲנִ֖י וְאַפְסִ֣י ע֑וֹד

(Zephaniah 2:15), which has been our legacy since the miraculous victory of the Six Day War. It dazzled us and made us complacent, made us belittle our enemies and cling to a 'conception' that they would not 'dare' go out and fight against us. So much so, that despite all the 'signs' of preparing for war on the border in unprecedented force orders, we preferred to 'tell' ourselves that it was a preparation for an exercise. It even sought to mark the culprits for ‘failure’ among the leadership and after a number of years also removed them from office and created a political upheaval.

Since then, the days between 'Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur' have become days of weeping and wailing and public remorse. Every year, the media publishes 'new revelations' about the 'failures of the war' and its victims.

Days of public mournful mood, of public discourse, that slipped from a public 'self criticism' to a public 'self-flagellation' that had a dwarfing, letting and weakening trend, and a loss of confidence and self-confidence in the power and national resilience of the people of Israel. An atmosphere that did not allow society to give the due appreciation and recognition to the warriors who fought with supreme heroism.

But the 'public self examination' of the war should also have a second side. Very important. It reveals the great faith in the righteousness of the way that the warriors who were called at the time, had to defend the country, and were willing to give up their souls for that purpose. This is what made them willing to continue fighting rather than retreating, even in impossible situations that would have seemed hopeless. Thereby inflicting severe damage on the enemy and disrupting their plans. Many of them also paid the heaviest price of it all, with their bodies, their souls and their lives. The war revealed the tremendous strengths of the national 'ethos' hidden in the people of Israel, the 'heroism of the soul'. And the calling "Here I am", the response to a real mission to the point of losing it all. A trait that has characterized it since it took the stage of history to the present day. This feature has stood the test of time since wars and operational events, and the picture obtained has been similar.

For many years since the war there have been voices trying to balance the picture and present the other side of the coin, however they have been silenced.

We were privileged to be partners in leading the events of the Thirtieth Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War, in the Golan Heights, and in the IDF. One of the goals we set for ourselves was to expose the general public to the events of the war indirectly, in order to 'balance' the 'national self criticism', and to allow a balance to be given to the phenomenon of 'dramatic changes' in war alongside the 'default'. In this way we also hoped to correct a historical injustice that prevented the Yom Kippur War fighters who gave their lives with supreme heroism from being properly honored.

In these days, Ten Days of Repentance, and Shabbat Teshuvah, we seek to parallel this complexity of understanding the war, to the process of Teshuvah and the personal ‘introspection’ and self examination of each and every one.

Also in our personal 'soul-examination', we must, on the one hand, confess the 'failures' and 'thump a fist over our heart - 'for the sin we committed' עַל חֵטְא, but on the other hand we must also reveal the powers of the mind, heroism and self-confidence, which enable us to cope, correct, and advance.

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