What this war is really about

Hello world!
October 10, 2023
What this war is really about
October 16, 2023

Bestow upon us, O Lord, our God, the blessing of your appointed Festivals for Life and for Peace, for gladness and for joy, as You desire and promised to bless us.” – Jewish Festival liturgy

It was 8:45 a.m. and I was leading the worship in our synagogue in Bet Shemesh. Earlier in the service, an announcement was made that Israel was under attack and that air raid sirens were being sounded due to missiles being fired from Gaza all over the country and that we should be ready. He explained the protocols for the behavior of the congregation. Prior to this announcement, no one in the congregation knew what was happening. Because it was the Eighth Day Festival, the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, which was also a Sabbath, nobody had their phone on or had listened to any electronic media.

As the one leading the service, I read the prayer for the well-being of the Israel Defense Forces to the congregation with tears in my eyes. The mood was anything but festive. Towards the end of the service, just after I had sung the words of the liturgy quoted at the opening of this article, the kohanim – members of the community descended from the family of Aaron the High Priest – assembled at the front of the synagogue to bless the congregation with the Priestly Blessing (Numbers 6:24-26). At that moment, the local air raid sirens sounded. Our town of Bet Shemesh, rarely in range of the missiles from the Gaza Strip, was under fire. Multiple sirens in quick succession kept us all lying on the floor, hands on our heads, for a few minutes. Finally, the formal prayer service resumed. The kohanim returned to the front of the room.

“Yivarechecha Hashem ve’yishmerecha.” – May the Lord bless you and watch over you (Num. 6:24).

The opening words of the Priestly Blessing sounded different than usual. More relevant. More to the point.

The service ended at 9:15 and everyone quickly headed home without the usual fellowship and banter after services. Upon arrival home, my son-in-law, an officer in a combat unit, who together with my daughter is expecting their first child in 6 months, received a message that he was to gather his things and report for duty immediately. In moments he was packed up and had driven off on a shabbat-festival when it is otherwise forbidden to drive our cars.

My 19-year-old son, currently serving in a combat infantry unit, was home for the festival. He received his message a few minutes later, told to pack a bag and be prepared. He told me that at some point he would need me to drive him to where the bus would take him back to base. We waited. A few hours later, the call came. For the first time in my life, I drove my car on the Sabbath, usually considered a grave violation of the Biblical commandment to refrain from lighting any manner of fire on the Sabbath day. But for life-saving purposes, the Sabbath restrictions are superseded. 

While we were on the way, my son told me that the situation was far worse than anyone knew yet. Remember, we did not know the news. His messages from the army had informed him that many were killed, Israeli towns had fallen into the hands of Hamas murderers, and the Sderot police stations had been captured. I could not believe what I was hearing. 

When we arrived at the Bet Shemesh train station parking lot where he would be picked up, there were a few other soldiers there being dropped off. I wasn’t the only one in my festive clothes dropping off my son to go into combat.

Because there was no life-saving need for me to drive anywhere else after dropping him off, I stayed in the Bet Shemesh train station parking lot for a few hours until the end of the Sabbath. Bet Shemesh sits on the flight path for Israel’s fighter jets when they carry out air strikes on Gaza. For those two-plus hours, a steady stream of jets thundered across the sky. Back and forth, to Gaza and back.

When I arrived home in the evening, my 25-year-old son, a reservist in a combat infantry unit, had been called as well. He was packing up, to be picked up soon by a fellow reservist to head to base. Later that evening, my 24-year-old daughter, a combat medic in the Homefront Command, was told to be ready. Early the next morning her call came. I drove her to Kiryat Gat to meet her ride down to Gaza. My son-in-law, two of my sons, and my daughter were all now on their way into a combat zone.

Exactly 50 years ago, Israel’s enemies chose the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, to attack us. And now, here we were, once again reminded by our enemies that this is fundamentally a spiritual war. Do these Hamas terrorists think they will destroy the State of Israel with these attacks? Do they think they will improve the lives of their population this way? Of course not. That is not their goal.

When the nation of Israel left Egypt, after God had decimated the mighty Egyptian empire with the Ten Plagues and then drowned their army in the Red Sea, Amalek attacked. Did Amalek really think they would defeat the children of Israel? Did they not know what happened to Egypt? The answer is that they didn’t care. They wanted to kill Jews, plain and simple. More to the point, Amalek, and the other nations who stood in the way of the children of Israel during their journey, were trying to prevent the nation of Israel from possessing the land promised to us by God. 

For all the geopolitical analysis we will read in the coming days, the conflict is actually quite simple. Nothing has changed since Amalek after the Exodus. The Hamas charter calls for the murder of Jews and for the eradication of the entire Jewish state. This is not about any “occupied territory” or “two-state solution.” The enemies of Israel want to destroy us. And they seek to prevent us from building our nation in the land of Israel. 

If history is any guide, the coming days and weeks will find Israel increasingly criticized and pressured by governments and media around the world. It is a moment of truth for our leaders. May God grant them the courage to see this fight through to the end. But it is also a moment of truth for all people of faith. Those who would seek to prevent the Jewish people from living in the land of Israel stand opposed to God’s promises and plan for the world. To speak up for Israel at this time is to stand for the truth of God’s word when it matters most. 

And please pray for my children.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is Executive Director of Ohr Torah Stone’s Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation and is cohost of the Shoulder to Shoulder podcast.

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