In the Throes of Grief, IDF Unit Finds Solace

In the Throes of Grief, IDF Unit Finds Solace

Meir Dahan /

Soldiers reach for the chance to kiss the Torah

by Baila Olidort - GOLAN HEIGHTS, ISRAEL

August 1, 2006

The elite combat unit that lost nine members in last week’s battle at Bint Jbail had only a few days to mourn their dead.

Yesterday, before returning to the battlefield, hundreds of soldiers of the IDF’s 51st battalion drew solace and strength from a unique event. This would be the second Torah that Chabad brings to the IDF, the first for this combat unit still reeling from the loss of their beloved comrades.

“And they shall be as a sign between your eyes . . .” Three hundred soldiers took turns laying tefillin and saying the Shema at an IDF base in the Golan Heights. “The emotional response to the event was intense,” says Noam, a retired serviceman who video taped the event.

The unit’s captain was gratified to receive the offer by Chabad’s Rabbi Menachem Ofen, and would dedicate an hour at the base, so that all his soldiers would have the opportunity to participate at a Torah completion ceremony. The  Major, followed by hundreds of soldiers, had a letter inscribed for them in the Torah. “We had to give each one half a letter so that there should be enough for everyone,” says Menachem.

A Torah reading service followed, as the kohanim and the leviim from among the soldiers were called up to receive an aliyah. Tears ran freely down the faces of these highly trained, intrepid fighters, and in an outpouring of grief and gratitude, they made the Birkhat haGomel, the blessing said after surviving a life-threatening event, many asking for help in reciting the blessing properly.

The soldiers danced with the Torah, singing Am Yisrael Chai, and other traditional melodies of encouragement and faith.

Before taking leave, Chabad’s Rabbi Itzchak Kogan, from Moscow, distributed 100 shekel to each soldier, making them shluchei mitzvah, or messengers of mitzvah. “Each of you will give this to charity upon your return from combat,” he told them, explaining the protective powers of tzedaka.

The event had a profound affect. The soldiers made pledges to dedicate their <i>tzedaka</i> to the memories of their fallen buddies. Many asked if Chabad would get them their own pair of tefillin. Others asked for mezuzot, and for tzitzit—the fringes traditionally worn by Jewish men.

"The soldiers expressed a sincere desire to do something of substance and meaning to honor their heroes," said Noam. "No matter how far removed from traditional observance, they all yearned to connect in this way."

What was meant to be an hour-long event lasted four hours instead. “The soldiers and the generals were overcome with emotion,” says Menachem.

And once again, they headed out to dangerous terrain, prepared to make the ultimate sacrfice for Am Yisrael.

Contributions earmarked to this cause can be made by contacting Menachem Ofen at 972-547612468 or by clicking here.

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