Parshat Matot – Masei תשע”ח 

In this week’s double portion, (depending on the year and on what days the holidays fall out, sometimes two weekly portions are read together) Hashem charges Moshe with his final task: retaliation against the Midianites for the catastrophe that they caused, the death of 24,000 people from the tribe of Shimon. Upon this mission’s completion, the Jewish people would go into Israel, but Moshe would have to die. 

The Midianites were a very numerous and strong nation. Their cities were fortified and protected, yet the avenging Jewish army would comprise only 12,000 men. 

This was Moshe’s command to the people (Numbers 31:3,4):

ספר במדבר פרק לא 

ג) וַיְדַבֵּר משֶׁה אֶל הָעָם לֵאמֹר הֵחָלְצוּ מֵאִתְּכֶם אֲנָשִׁים לַצָּבָא וְיִהְיוּ עַל מִדְיָן לָתֵת נִקְמַת יְדֹוָד בְּמִדְיָן

ד) אֶלֶף לַמַּטֶּה אֶלֶף לַמַּטֶּה לְכֹל מַטּוֹת יִשְׂרָאֵל תִּשְׁלְחוּ לַצָּבָא

3) Moshe spoke to the people saying. “Arm men from among yourselves for the army, that they may inflict Hashem’s vengeance against Midian. 4) A Thousand from a tribe, a thousand from a tribe, for all the tribes of Israel shall you send to the army.”

Why does the verse repeat a thousand for a tribe? Rabbi Yishmael in the Midrash explains that 1,000 men from each tribe went to fight, while a second 1,000 went along to help them with their weapons. The Midrash deduces from the next verse that a third 1000 also went to war, but in a different way. How so? They went to the shuls to pray for the soldiers’ success. Each tribe had thus designated one person per soldier to pray for his welfare and success. 

מדרש תנחומא מטות – פרק ג 

וי”ב אלף לתפלה. ומנין? שכך כתיב אלף למטה אלף למטה הרי שני אלפים וימסרו מאלפי ישראל מהו וימסרו? שהם נמסרין זוגות זה לזה

And 12,000 for prayer. What is the source of this? For it says, “1000 for each tribe, 1000 for each tribe,” that’s 2000 per tribe, and then it says (in the next verse) “and another thousand were given to the army.” What were these for? These were the other half of a pair with the ones who went to war. 

A second Midrash says: 

מדרש אגדה (בובר) פרשת מטות

אלף למטה. היו כולם ל”ו אלפים, שליש למלחמה, ושליש משמרים כליהם, ושליש לתפלה

All together there were 36,000. A third to fight, a third to guard their weapons, and a third for prayer. 

This seems odd. Here they were going to do a mitzvah- kill the evil nation that caused the such a tragedy; and for this they needed extra prayers? Not only that! We know that the only soldiers that ever went to war for the Jewish people were completely righteous people. Deuteronomy (20:1-10) describes how there was a special Cohen who spoke to the soldiers just before they went to battle. Among the matters that the Cohen would tell them is, “Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted, let him go and return to his house, let him not melt the heart of his fellows like his heart.”

Our Sages explain that this fellow is not afraid of the battle per se; rather, he is afraid that he may die in battle because he has a sin on his hands that will do him in. Because of his sin, he is vulnerable and should go home. What type of sin are we talking about? Murder? Or something else of a major magnitude? Not at all. We are talking about something seemingly very minor, like speaking between putting the tefillin on his hand and on his head.

The Vilna Gaon lists four criteria necessary for a soldier to be accepted into the Jewish army:

1) He had to have pure lineage so that the merit of his forefathers would support him. 

2) He had to be completely clean of sin – if he had sinned, he had to return home.

3) He had to be physically unblemished. 

4) He had to be able to resist the temptation to sin during the war, even to the degree of refraining from saying something inappropriate.  

Yes, even soldiers on such an exalted level needed a designated person to pray for them while they were at the front. There are two reasons for this. First, he must be aware at all times that his might and his prowess are the sources of his success; rather, it is Hashem’s mercy brought forth by the prayers being said for him.  Second, a person in danger needs extra merit. War is the most perilous of situations because the enemy is actively trying to kill him. 

The Torah tells us that every single soldier returned safely from this battle (Numbers 31:49):

ספר במדבר פרק לא 

מט) וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֶל משֶׁה, “עֲבָדֶיךָ נָּשְׂאוּ אֶת רֹאשׁ אַנְשֵׁי הַמִּלְחָמָה אֲשֶׁר בְּיָדֵנוּ וְלֹא נִפְקַד מִמֶּנּוּ אִיש.”

   49) They said to Moshe, “Your servants took a census of the soldiers under our command, and not a man of us is missing.”

This is why there needed to be one person per soldier at the front. In a Jewish war, the goal is not just to win the war at the expense of the lives of some of the soldiers. It is unacceptable that even one life be lost at war; every soul must return safely. And this is actually how it was in all the battles that the Jewish people fought in the desert, such as the war with Amalek and Sichon, and in all the battles that they fought to conquer the land of Israel from its inhabitants. They never lost a soldier, except once. 

That was in the battle for the city ofהעי – Ha-ay, where they lost 36 soldiers. Upon that occurrence, they stopped fighting immediately. Something was wrong – this is not supposed to happen. An investigation revealed that a soldier in battle had sinned by taking of the forbidden spoils. When the offender was dealt with, things returned to “normal,” and they captured the city with no further casualties. 

When the Jewish nation goes to war, factors different than those of other nations, determine success battle. Success does not depend on the might of the warriors or the generals’ strategy. The Jewish nation’s soldiers were not trained warriors and did not receive boot camp training. Indeed, they were the community’s most righteous members. The merit of their deeds and the prayers of their counterparts allowed each of them to fulfill their mission to win the war, and then to return safely home. 

In addition to prayer, the merit of Torah study is also a very powerful weapon against the Jewish people’s enemies. 

Kings II chapter 19 tells the story of סנחריב , Sancherev, who laid siege to Jerusalem with 185,000 men during the reign of חזקיהו – Chizkiyahu, king of Israel. The night before the attack, Sancherev’s entire army died in a plague. 

The verse tells us (Kings II 19:35):

מלכים ב פרק יט פסוק לה

וַיְהִי בַּלַּיְלָה הַהוּא וַיֵּצֵא מַלְאַךְ יְדֹוָד וַיַּךְ בְּמַחֲנֵה אַשּׁוּר מֵאָה שְׁמוֹנִים וַחֲמִשָּׁה אָלֶף וַיַּשְׁכִּימוּ בַבֹּקֶר וְהִנֵּה כֻלָּם פְּגָרִים מֵתִים 

 35) That night, an angel of Hashem went out and smote 185,000 in the camp of Ashur, and when they awoke early in the morning, they were all dead corpses. 

The Talmud in Sanhedrin 94b informs us of how Chizkiyahu killed his enemy without even a fight, using a very unusual strategy. 

מה עשה? נעץ חרב על פתח בית המדרש ואמר “כל מי שאינו עוסק בתורה ידקר בחרב זו” בדקו מדן ועד באר שבע ולא מצאו עם הארץ, מגבת ועד אנטיפרס ולא מצאו תינוק ותינוקת איש ואשה שלא היו בקיאין בהלכות טומאה וטהרה   

What did he do? He stuck a sword in the Beit Hamidrash and he said, “Whoever does not learn Torah will be stabbed with this sword!” They tested people from Dan until Beer Sheva and they did not find one person who was not learned, from Givat until Antifras, and they did not find a child or adult who was not completely erudite in all the laws of טומאה וטהרה  – what is ritually clean and unclean. (The most complicated laws in the Torah)

The verse in Isaiah (10:27) makes the connection. 

ישעיהו פרק י פסוק כז

וְהָיָה בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא יָסוּר סֻבֳּלוֹ מֵעַל שִׁכְמֶךָ וְעֻלּוֹ מֵעַל צַוָּארֶךָ וְחֻבַּל עֹל מִפְּנֵי שָׁמֶן

27) And it shall come to pass on that day, that his burden shall be taken off your shoulder, and his yoke from your neck and the yoke shall be destroyed because of the oil. 

Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha explains the meaning of this verse: 

אמר רבי יצחק נפחא חובל עול של סנחריב מפני שמנו של חזקיהו שהיה דולק בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות

The yoke of Sancherev was destroyed by the oil of Chizkiyahu that was burning in the Shuls and Torah study halls.

The Talmud also explains the verse (Isaiah 8:23): 

כִּי לֹא מוּעָף לַאֲשֶׁר מוּצָק לָהּ 

אמר רבי אלעזר בר ברכיה אין נמסר עם עייף בתורה ביד מי המציק לו

Rabbi Elazar the son of Brachia explained, “The nation that is weary from Torah learning will not be given into the hands of its oppressor.”    

This is what caused the miraculous death of Sancherev’s entire army in one night. The learning of Torah protected the Jewish people. 

Sancherev the king did not perish in the plague. (He instead ran home where his two sons ultimately killed him) He had nevertheless written his conquests on a prism, and this is what he says his conquest of Jerusalem.

From Wikipedia – Sennacherib’s Annals

Sennacherib writes as follows on the prism regarding King Hezekiah: As for Hezekiah, I shut him up like a caged bird in his royal city of Jerusalem. I then constructed a series of fortresses around him, and I did not allow anyone to come out of the city gates. His towns that I captured I gave to the kings of Ashdod, Ekron, and Gaza.” 

Notice that he says nothing of having captured the city of Jerusalem–– only besieging it.   

Torah study is the Jewish people’s secret weapon. When the voice of Yaakov is strong in the Shuls and Torah study halls, the hands of Esav are powerless against us. 

This powerful force operates in favor of our soldiers in Israel as well. There is no greater help and support that we can give to our brothers on the front lines in Israel than to study the Torah and to submit prayers on their behalf. 

Before his death, Yaakov told his son Yosef (Genesis 48:22):

ספר בראשית פרק מח 

כב) וַאֲנִי נָתַתִּי לְךָ שְׁכֶם אַחַד עַל אַחֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר לָקַחְתִּי מִיַּד הָאֱמֹרִי בְּחַרְבִּי וּבְקַשְׁתִּי

  22) Moreover, I have given you one portion more than your brothers that I took out of the hand of the Ammorites with my sword and with my bow.

The Talmud (Baba Batra 123a) questions, 

וכי בחרבו ובקשתו לקח והלא כבר נאמר כי לא בקשתי אבטח וחרבי לא תושיעני אלא חרבי זו תפלה קשתי זו בקשה

Was it with his sword and bow that he took it? How could that be? King David said, (Psalms 44:7) “I do not depend on my bow, and my sword won’t save me.” Rather, “my sword” means prayer, and “my bow” means supplication

Why two weapons, a bow and a sword? A sword is used in close combat whereas a bow can kill an enemy far away. In the same way, we can use prayer for someone close, but we can also use prayer for someone far away. We can use our power of prayer to save the soldiers in Israel from their enemies by keeping them in mind in our prayers. When it comes to a war, prayer is our secret weapon. 

On the verse in Psalms (122:2) the Talmud in Tractate Makot 10a says:

עֹמְדוֹת הָיוּ רַגְלֵינוּ בִּשְׁעָרַיִךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם

2) Our feet stood firm in the Gates of Jerusalem

מי גרם לרגלינו שיעמדו במלחמה שערי ירושלם שהיו עוסקים בתורה

What caused our feet to stand firm in war? Your gates Jerusalem that the inhabitants were learning the Torah. 

Once again, the correlation between success in war and Torah learning is emphasized. 

The Tchebiner Rov, Harav Dov Berish Weidenfeld  זצ”ל who lived in Jerusalem, was once visited by a delegation from the Israeli Government’s Security Department. After describing to him the dangerous situation in the state and the need to increase the number of troops in the defense forces, they asked if the young men from his yeshiva could join the effort. 

The Rebbe responded with the following parable. A horse-drawn wagon pulling a heavy load up a mountain side could proceed no further. The wagon driver emptied the wagon of its load, but the horses still could not pull the wagon. He had one more option: he could remove the heavy, steel wheels. That would surely sufficiently lighten the wagon’s load! This, said Rav Weidenfeld, would be the effect of sending the yeshiva students to the front. The success of the war is dependent on the Torah and prayer (the “wheels”) of the students. Without them, you would not be able to succeed at all. 

The following happened in the Second Lebanon War in Israel and is just one of the many stories that occurred when the Israeli soldiers placed their trust in Hashem. 

A Light in the Darkness of War

Original article written by Shula Weissfer

A year has passed but First Lieutenant M. has not forgotten about the activities of Migdal Ohr which had been discreetly accomplished. With minor changes, we publish here for the first time in English Lieutenant M’s written recording of his experience.

“I remember the two weeks of near face-to-face combat, the confused orders and insufficient combat gear, the intense hunger, physical and emotional exhaustion and toughest of all, the self-imposed silence and disassociation with our surroundings. “Now is not the right time to complain, but when it is over,” we thought to ourselves, “when the air raid sirens stop and we are out of these fatigues, we can talk and the truth will be known.”

When the news came that we were receiving a day off, our hearts soared. We suffered so much stress and hardship. Where would we go?  How should we take full advantage of this gift?

Rumors begin to circulate that we were going to some school in Migdal Ha’Emek. “This must be a joke! Who ordered ten buses to bring us to some yeshiva with some Rabbi who is just going to try and brainwash us?”

Then, a few of the guys remembered. “Rabbi Grossman, that’s the Disco Rabbi right? The guys all give him great respect.” But what do they know? He is still some rabbi.

Tired and emotionally drained, we got off the buses and stood face to face with an old-world looking Jew, complete with a white beard, side locks and long jacket. “So here it comes,” I thought, “the push to put on tefillin or to say prayers together. Some day off.”

“Boys,” the rabbi’s words thundered, “I suggest that first thing you do is take a dip in the pool and freshen up. In the meantime, we will make you something to eat.”

In amazing simplicity, Rabbi Grossman heard in passing that the brigade was looking for a home for a day, and he immediately volunteered his campus. “What’s the problem? 600 soldiers? They should all come, of course we have room!”

With the echoes of war from the battlefield still in our ears, it seemed like a mirage or hallucination. Soft music came from everywhere and flowing water and greenery surrounded us. Within minutes, the tables were set with cold refreshing watermelon, cakes, and beverages, followed by cheeses, fresh vegetables, and soft rolls.

Then we heard, “Out of the pool, get dressed and eat something.” We saw piles of new undergarments. 600 new undershirts and underwear appeared as if out of nowhere, laid out on tables for our choosing.

Rabbi Grossman sat with us and laughed, “Have a good time boys! Have a great time!  This evening, I will put on the most spectacular performance you have ever seen.”

I am not a religious person by any means, but I can’t help but envision the first Jew, Avraham, standing and personally serving his guests perfectly naturally and without the slightest hint of condescension. He respected each individual and cared for all their needs. Like Avraham, Rabbi Grossman saw in this an obvious act of kindness, a mission of a Mitzvah that had fallen into his hands. As the evening continued, we learned quickly that this was the essence of who Rabbi Grossman is and what he is all about. He loves everyone and accepts everyone as they are with all his heart and soul.

“Tell me friends,” Rabbi Grossman said, “I heard you are lacking different pieces of equipment. Do me a favor. Here is a pencil and paper, just write down everything you are missing and leave the paper on the table.” That night, we enjoyed the entertainment and afterwards, slept in soft beds and air-conditioned rooms.

Like in a fairytale, we awoke in the morning and could not believe our eyes. Mounds of gear which we so desperately needed had arrived at Migdal Ohr. Attached was a small note from Rabbi Grossman, “To my dear soldiers, from all my heart!”

Rabbi Grossman personally and immediately raised over $60,000 worth of equipment from friends literally overnight! The essential equipment included ceramic bulletproof vests, helmets, canteens, knee pads, backpack water canteens, night vision goggles, toothbrushes, socks and more.

Interestingly, a few months before the war broke out, a special friend of Rabbi Grossman from France was interested in donating a new Torah scroll to the main Migdal Ohr Beit Midrash (study hall). For some reason, Rabbi Grossman requested to postpone the event until an unspecified later date.

“Now is the right time!” Rabbi Grossman realized. He immediately made arrangements and in an early evening ceremony, we participated in the completion of writing the Torah. While the scroll was carefully laid on the table next to a special pen and ink, Rabbi Grossman addressed the soldiers.

“My holy ones! I am going to bestow upon you the merit of a holy mitzvah, which can be considered a once in a life time opportunity. Each one of you will complete a letter in the Torah scroll. While you are executing this holy task, each one of you should pray the prayer of his heart and request from G-d that the merit of the letter he has completed will protect him in battle. Holy sparks will emanate from these sacred letters and disperse around you, creating a protective shield which will keep you safe and bring you home safely.”

Those moments were the most exciting and emotional ones in my life. Shaking from the intensity of the immeasurable experience, still not believing, we held the edges of the Torah scroll while are hearts beat rapidly. There was complete silence all around. One after the other, we dipped the quill in the ink and completed a letter in the Torah scroll.

A bystander would have seen a breathtaking scene of incredible elation and spiritual exuberance. The world seemed as if shrouded in silence. The strings of our heart felt strummed and the tears flowed freely down our cheeks.

“Mother!” cried one of the soldiers into his cell phone, “you won’t believe what I have done! I have written a letter in a Torah scroll! Mother, are you there? Can you hear?! Me, a Shmutznik (a member of a non-religious Kibbutz), who can’t differentiate between Shabbat and the rest of the week, who has not seen tzizit (ritual garment) in my life. Me, I wrote a letter in a Torah scroll! I can’t believe it.  I can’t believe it.”

After the completion of the Torah, the ceremony continued. Leading the procession was a decorated car with multi-colored lights strung all over it and with a crown of lights spinning around on its roof. Following the car, bearers of a decorated canopy marched while people danced around it. Under the canopy, others held the Torah scroll, which was clothed in white and crimson with a silver crown at its top.

600 soldiers and thousands of the town residents marched and danced in the procession, a loud speaker accompanying them, playing traditional Jewish music.

As the ceremony came to a close, Rabbi Grossman approached every soldier and kissed him while placing a half-shekel coin in his hand and said “shliach mitzvah aino nezok,” messengers of a mitzvah are not harmed. Rabbi Grossman concluded, “When you return, G-d willing, healthy and unharmed, you will fulfill this mission I am placing upon you, and you will donate this money to charity.”

The night came. Twelve buses made their way atop the Galilee Mountains. Heavy darkness engulfed us, yet behind, in the growing distance, a bright flame pierced the night sky. In the midst of war and violence, we found love and unending human compassion at Migdal Ohr, the educational center established in Migdal Ha’Emek by Rabbi Yitzchak Dovid Grossman.

Rabbi Grossman speaks

“This was an immense “Kiddush Hashem.” For a long period of time, I cried and was very emotional.” Thus Rabbi Grossman recalled the moment when he first read the words above written by First Lieutenant M.

Rabbi Grossman has what to add to the end of this exciting memoir. “A moment before they returned to Lebanon, I told the soldiers, ‘in the merit that you said “shema” and put on tefillin, wrote a letter in the Torah, and are messengers of a mitzvah, I promise you, that you will all return safe and sound. None of you will be wounded or killed.'”

“Wasn’t the Rabbi scared to commit to 600 soldiers that they would return home safe and sound?” asked Shula Weissfer, a journalist. “That is what came out of my mouth word for word,” he replied. “This was a moment of exuberance.”

“I continued and told them,” Rabbi Grossman relates, “if this does actually happen that you come back safely, the first place you must come back to – before you go home – is Migdal Ohr. We will thank G-d together and from there we will say goodbye.” I told them, “think of this as an emergency call-up. Do you accept?” The commanding officer replied in the affirmative.

Two weeks later, around midnight, Rabbi Grossman received a phone call.  “Rabbi, your blessing has come true!” exclaimed the commander over the phone. “Everyone is safe and we are on our way to you.  We will be there by two o’clock in the morning”

Rabbi Grossman immediately contacted the kitchen staff and asked them to prepare a meal while he worked to organize a band. People asked him ‘You need a band at 2 a.m.? Is Moshiach here?'”

At 2:30 a.m. the soldiers disembarked from the buses, each one carrying 60 kilo of equipment on his back. The band started playing music and the soldiers approached Rabbi Grossman, each one lovingly received with a hug and a kiss. This continued for two hours. “I felt as I had never felt before,” recalls Rabbi Grossman. “Each one told me his personal miracle.”

One soldier, a kibbutznik and a lawyer in civilian life, relayed an incredible miracle. A group of soldiers were gathered in an empty house in a Lebanese village when one of them forgetfully lit a cigarette.

Hezbollah terrorists immediately noticed the light and fired an anti-tank missile at the house. Coincidentally, two horses from the village ran in front of the house and were hit and killed. The missile, deflected by the horses, veered away from the house, landing elsewhere. Incredibly, the horses miraculously saved the soldiers inside the house.

After the warm reception, the soldiers recited “birkat hagomel,” and together with Rabbi Grossman, sang and danced until daybreak. “To this day,” says Rabbi Grossman, “we maintain contact with each soldier and have thus become one family.”

Rabbi Grossman is a recipient of the “Award of Recognition for his Actions on Behalf of Soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces and the Second Lebanon War”


Print this article

Leave a Reply