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Facing Combat - Elliot Springer (FYHS '73)

Seeing the HTC Our Chayalim, I thought that I would add and relate something for those who have not been in the army. I graduated Skokie Yeshiva a while back, in the class of ’73. It was a class of about 36 students. Many of them I have some contact with until this day. Somewhere around 30% of them made Aliya.

My father עליו השלום grew up on the Old West Side and went to HTC. When WWII broke out, he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. I remember him relaying a story that he went to his Rav at HTC and asked what he should do about eating in the army. Of course back then, kosher food wasn’t really available in the U.S. army. The Rav told my Dad that he can eat anything needed to provide him strength. So my father then asked, “even pork?”. To that his Rav replied, even pork – just don’t lick your fingers after (do it because you have to, but don’t enjoy it).

Like many, after graduation, I spent what today is called a gap year in Israel. About a month and a half after our arrival, the Yom Kippur War broke out. It was a life changing experience to go through all of that. Immediately after graduating university in Chicago, I made Aliya. For about the next year and a half, I studied in a yeshiva. But then I made the decision to do my required army service. I decided to enlist in “Nachal” in an infantry combat unit. In preparation, I started to study from various sources, דיני צבא ומלחמה.

After a very long and grueling basic training of about 6 months, I went straight to the non-commissioned officer’s course. This course was at the time, known to be one of the most challenging courses, both physically and mentally. At the successful completion of the course, each person was asked as to what unit would he like to be assigned. Some of us responded that we wanted to go to the unit in the “hottest” area which was on the border with Lebanon and in Lebanon. I had already been on numerous patrols and ambushes in Lebanon, but what awaited me when I arrived was totally unexpected and I was not mentally prepared for it.

When we reported to and arrived at our new base in the evening, instead of a quiet and tranquil setting, everyone was running around and was busy organizing and preparing all of the combat gear. We reported to the Company Commander who welcomed us and then told us to also prepare all of our combat gear because tomorrow we were going to war in Lebanon. Even though this eventuality is what we had trained for, it was distant and in the back of my mind. While preparing my gear, the thoughts of war and the danger were racing through my mind. The realization that very soon I might be killed and be parting from עולם הזה  was causing me great fear and a type of panic attack. It is one thing to talk about    ביטחון ב ה" but is much different when you are being tested facing such a situation. But then I thought of all I had learned in preparation for the army and took out a piece of paper that I carried with me. And I read it:

מי האיש הירא ורך הלבב כמשמעו שאין בלבו כח לעמוד בקשרי המלחמה ומאחר שיכנס בקשרי המלחמה ישען על מקוה ישראל ומושיעו בעת צרה וידע שעל יחוד השם הוא עושה מלחמה וישים נפשו בכפו ולא יירא ולא יפחד ולא יחשוב לא באשתו ולא בבניו אלא ימחה זכרונם מלבו ויפנה מכל דבר למלחמה וכל המתחיל לחשוב ולהרהר במלחמה ומבהיל עצמו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר אל ירך לבבכם אל תיראו ואל תחפזו ואל תערצו מפניהם ולא עוד אלא שכל דמי ישראל תלויין בצוארו ואם לא נצח ולא עשה מלחמה בכל לבו ובכל נפשו הרי זה כמי ששפך דמי הכל שנאמר ולא ימס את לבב אחיו כלבבו והרי מפורש בקבלה ארור עושה מלאכת ה' רמיה וארור מונע חרבו מדם וכל הנלחם בכל לבו בלא פחד ותהיה כוונתו לקדש את השם בלבד מובטח לו שלא ימצא נזק ולא תגיעהו רעה ויבנה לו בית נכון בישראל ויזכה לו ולבניו עד עולם ויזכה לחיי העולם הבא שנאמר כי עשה יעשה ה' לאדוני בית נאמן כי מלחמות ה' אדוני נלחם ורעה לא תמצא בך וגו' והיתה נפש אדוני צרורה בצרור החיים את ה' אלהיך.

  ומעמידין מאחורי כל מערכה ומערכה, שוטרים חזקים ועזים, וכשילין של ברזל בידיהם; וכל המבקש לחזור מן המלחמה--הרשות בידו לחתוך את שוקיו, שתחילת נפילה ניסה.

Everyone deals with their combat fears in different ways. This is psychological because physically as well professionally, soldiers are well prepared. For me, rationally, all you can really do is realize that this is a מלחמת מצווה  and put your trust, בטחון in ה'.

Ironically, this war was actually called off on account of rain. It was pushed off for about four months and was called מבצע שלום הגליל  or the First Lebanon War.

May this present war finish soon, and be our last one בעז"ה. May all of the hostages and captive soldiers be released quickly, and all of the held bodies come to the deserved קבורה.  And may we always remember and appreciate the soldiers, both living and the fallen.

- Elliot Springer

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