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HASHEM PROTECTS ERETZ YISROELThis past Tuesday night the Jerusalem evening calm was suddenly and brashly interrupted by the wail of air-raid sirens. I've been through this before during the Yom Kippur War and the Gulf War when we had the Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, ztuk"l, living next door to protect us. He assured every one that nothing would happen to the frum neighborhoods of Yerushalayim where they learn Torah. Rav Chaim Kanievsky, shlita, has also recently reassured Bnei Brak.
But my daughter is young and emotional. Ahhh! Imalah! She screeched. I calmly ushered the family into the living room which is an inside room with no outside windows.
Boom! Boom! It was over. Where did they fall? No official word. You can't give the enemy the details so they can fine tune the next volley. But to our knowledge no one was hurt.
It is naturally unnerving to be in a missile attack. This is a real test of one's bitachon. If you're quietly saying Tehillim, sweating the whole time, then you have a lot of work to do.
As Torah Yidden we have to put our full trust in the Ribono Shel Olam that He will protect Klal Yisroel from harm. The best laid-out plans of the generals can be turned around in one split second.
15 Tamuz (Sunday) is the Yahrzeit of the holy Ohr HaChaim. There is a little known story how many almost 200 years after his petirah (1743) the Ohr HaChaim saved the entire populace of Eretz Yisroel from certain annihilation at the hands of the Nazi war machine. This story lands home the eternal lesson of the Jewish people. We have nowhere to look for help except to our Father in Heaven. I offer you a rendition of the story taken from my book Chizuk!
The Desert Fox
[As the young Haskel Besser was preparing for his wedding, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel was battling the British forces in Northern Africa.] A month before the wedding, in June 1942, Tobruk fell. Rommel's Panzer Corps suddenly broke through the British lines and drove on toward Cairo.
"I knew there were no defenses left," Rabbi Besser, who had been closely watching the advance, remembers. "At El Alamein the Germans were about sixty miles from Alexandria, where the British Mediterranean Fleet was docked, and just fifty miles from the Suez Canal. Rommel was going thirty to forty miles a day. At that rate, he could be at the canal in forty-eight hours and after that, Palestine."
Jews realized the seriousness of the situation and felt helpless. They knew there was no army to protect them and they had a very vivid idea of what to expect if the Germans came. Families like the Bessers who had escaped the Holocaust that was raging in Europe no longer felt safe. The murderous army had followed them to the Promised Land and now it truly seemed to be all over.
"All of Palestine was in a panic because we heard about the way the Germans were behaving. This time, there seemed to be no way out."
Various proclamations were posted on the street. The Haganah (the Jewish defense force that would later become the modern-day Israeli army) tried to reassure the population that it would protect them. The more extreme Irgun was less subtle, suggesting that everyone carry a knife and "take at least one German with them."
There was even a run on poison. Rabbi Besser recalls his next-door neighbor from Germany who told him he had three servings of cyanide: one for himself, one for his wife, and one for their little dog, Fifi.
Haskel witnessed something even more upsetting.
"The streets were filled with Arabs who were actually fighting among themselves over who was going to get which house. They said things like: 'I saw this house first, it is going to be mine.'"
Haskel and Liba did not know what would happen and, two weeks before the wedding, they secretly went off to have their photos taken.
"We didn't know if we'd be alive next week or where we'd be, so we thought, at least we'd have a picture of each other in case we were separated."
In the middle of all this chaos, Haskel's future father-in-law came to Tel Aviv to make plans for the wedding. People thought he was crazy. But Beryl Ludmir profoundly understood the gravity of the situation. Before he signed the contract with the hotel for the wedding reception, he went to the Husiatiner Rebbe to ask his advice. This was on a Sunday. The rebbe said he would have an answer for him in a day or two.
In the Chassidic world, the Husiatiner Rebbe is considered one of the great prophets of the twentieth century. He left Austria in 1936, two years before the Anschluss. He immigrated to Palestine and said openly that every Jew in Europe should do the same. Unlike most of the Chassidic rebbes, the Husiatiner saw it coming.
There was a reason the rebbe told Beryl to wait a few days. It is customary to visit the graves of great rabbis and sages on their yahrtzeit - the anniversary of their death. And that Tuesday was the yahrtzeit of one of the greatest rabbis in history, Chaim ben Atar, also known as the Ohr Hachaim (the light of life). Ben Atar lived during the eighteenth century and was renowned for perhaps the most brilliant commentary on the Bible - one that is studied to this day. He is buried in Har Hazeitim, the Mount of Olives, the famous cemetery in Jerusalem.
So, with Rommel poised at Palestine's doorstep and no conceivable protection for the population, thousands of religious Jews turned to the only power they knew. They turned to God and fervent prayer - one that poured from the deepest recesses of their souls.
A fast day on the yahrtzeit was declared by the rebbes. Upwards of twenty thousand people went to pray at this tzaddik's grave. Beryl Ludmir accompanied the Husiatiner Rebbe to the grave, and while the rebbe prayed, Beryl noticed that he seemed to fix his eyes on the words chiseled on the gravestone.
After a long while, the rebbe turned to Beryl and said simply: "It will be good. Make the wedding."
No one understood why the rebbe said this. But afterward Beryl went directly to the hotel and signed the contract for the celebration.
Much later, Rabbi Besser went to the grave to try to figure out how the rebbe came to his conclusion.
"I saw nothing special," the rabbi recalls. But the rebbe told Beryl that he had seen the Hebrew name of God written in gold letters, floating in the air, above the gravestone. And he saw it written in the correct way - with all four letters in a row. "For him, this was the sign."
On the yahrtzeit in 1942 began an amazing confluence of events that would change more than just Haskel and Liba's lives. The rebbe had not based his decision solely on what he saw over that grave. He had seen something else. While studying for that week's Torah parsha, the rebbe interpreted a commentary written hundreds of years before, that he claimed (correctly, it turns out) freed the Jews from their death sentence.
The commentary was written by the Ohr Hachaim in the eighteenth century on the Torah parsha. On the verse Numbers 24:17, he commented as following: In the Chumash, Yaakov is called by two names, Yaakov and Yisroel. When he is referred to as Yaakov, things do not work very well for the people of Israel. But after he wrestles with the angel and he becomes known by his new name, Yisroel, the nation prospers. In the commentary, it says that if he is called Yaakov, he will be killed by Rommel. The name Rommel was actually spelled out in Hebrew almost two hundred years before the war. The commentary goes on to say that if Yaakov is called Yisroel, Rommel will not destroy him and the nation will prevail.
It is more probable that the reference is to Romulus, one of the founders of Rome. But seeing the name Rommel spelled out phonetically, along with the lettering over the grave, was enough of a sign for the rebbe to declare that the Jews of Palestine would not be harmed.
At that moment, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel had advanced to the point that there were practically no British defenses in front of him. Had he continued, there would be nothing to stop him from capturing Palestine and then possibly Syria, Iraq, and Iran. With the capture of Iran, the entire underbelly of the Soviet Union would have been open to attack and the Russians would have had to divert troops to protect that border.
But that week, a huge sandstorm blew up out of the desert. It was impossible to go forward in those conditions. Rommel planned a tactical redeployment to a point where his tanks would be protected by hills. But Hitler had given his commanders strict orders that no German soldiers could retreat without his personal approval. Rommel sent Hitler a cable explaining his situation. Hitler cabled back saying absolutely not, no retreat.
Rommel sent another telegram trying to explain that this was not a retreat, it was only a temporary redeployment because of conditions. But Hitler would not okay it. Angry and frustrated, Rommel actually got on an airplane and flew back to Germany to see Hitler and explain the situation in person. Of course, it was not an easy trip. Rommel had to fly first to Tripoli, then to Sicily, and then on to Germany. The trip took close to twenty-four hours. When he arrived at Hitler's headquarters, he was kept waiting for another eight hours.
When Hitler finally saw Rommel, he asked why he had come. Again Rommel explained his request for the redeployment of his troops. One more time, Hitler, now agitated, said there would be no retreats. One more time Rommel tried to make his point that this was not a retreat but a redeployment to service the tanks and give them new tracks, which were badly needed.
Finally Hitler understood and he gave Rommel the green light. But the trip wasted three days and proved to be the undoing of the Germans' African campaign. When the Germans were ready for their next attack, they lost that month's full moon (attacks in the desert were made at night). So Rommel was forced to wait for the next month's full moon. The following month the weather did not cooperate. July is normally clear, but that year it rained and the skies were cloudy. So the attack was put off for another month. By this time, Churchill had placed a new commander in charge, Montgomery. It was Montgomery who stopped Rommel and his Mrika Korps in its tracks. The Germans never came any closer to Palestine.
After the war, Field Marshal Keitel, the commander of the German Army, wrote that June 30, 1942, was the moment Germany reached its zenith. After that point, it was all downhill. From that day forward, the Germans continuously gave up ground until Berlin was conquered and the Third Reich lay in ruins. June 30, 1942, coincided with the 15th of Tamuz, the Yahrzeit of the Ohr Hachaim, the same day that Beryl Ludmir stood with the Husiatiner Rebbe when he saw the name of G-d over the Ohr Hachaim's headstone.
The Jewish population settled down, life slowly went back to normal, and the Besser and Ludmir families planned their celebration.
In a lecture in the Jewish Community of Passaic, New Jersey, Rabbi Besser explained with great emphasis that all during World War II there was no one protecting Eretz Yisroel. The British had minimal forces there. "Mr. Uri Karten told me that he worked for the British in Haifa in 1942, during the events described in this chapter. As Rommel was menacing Israel, the British gave instructions to pack everything. They planned to evacuate to Syria. This proves that the few British troops that were in Israel would not have been kept there to provide any kind of a defense against Rommel."
Rabbi Besser continued, that it was absolutely remarkable that during the entire World War II, when all of European Jewry was being annihilated, Eretz Yisroel remained untouched except for one attack by a squadron of Italian airplanes which left approximately 200 people dead.
Wishing everyone a Gut Shabbos!
Shema Yisrael Torah Network