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The Six Day War Doctrine

05/24/2017 09:43:23 AM

May24

It is most remarkable that in less than thirty years, the Jewish people suffered one of the most horrendous acts of destruction, as well as one of the most miraculous acts of salvation.

In the 1940’s it was the Holocaust. In 1967 it was Israel’s victory of the Six Day War.

It is unfortunate that in many curriculums and educational platforms, the atrocities of the Holocaust are presented as a defining event of modern Jewish history, whereas the Six Day War victory isn’t presented with equal footing.

Perhaps this is simply reflective of typical human behavior. Researchers have confirmed that most people generally recall negative things more than positive ones. Clifford Nass, a professor of communication at Stanford University, explains this as follows: “The brain handles positive and negative information in different hemispheres. Negative emotions generally involve more thinking, and the information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events — and use stronger words to describe them — than happy ones.”

(As an aside, Nass also offers another rather more upsetting explanation, that “we tend to see people who say negative things as smarter than those who are positive. Thus, we are more likely to give greater weight to critical reviews.” This concept is worthy of its own sermon.)

Whilst this may be considered natural human behavior, it is something we ought to overcome -both personally and collectively.

For purposes of our discussion, the Jewish attitude towards the events and the aftermath of the Six Day War should be treated with the same importance than with those of the Holocaust.

In most discussions about the Holocaust, people tend to take one of two sides. Some choose to blame the World War II genocide on humans, led by Hitler and Nazi Germany. But most choose to point to G-d in the conversation, which then causes the disturbing question of many, ‘How could G-d allow the Holocaust to happen?’

In the same spirit, it behooves us that when we discuss the Six Day War victory, we ought to similarly point to G-d and marvel how He miraculously caused a small nation called Israel to defeat three neighboring nations, each one on their own larger and seemingly stronger than Israel.

The story is told of a general of the US Military Academy at West Point who was once asked why their curriculum includes studies of many different wars throughout the world, but it doesn’t include any study of the Six Day War. The general explained, “At West Point we are concerned with studying military strategy and tactics, not miracles!”

It is simply awesome to read the stories and testimonies of soldiers and civilians during that time. In the months leading up to the war, we read about the terrible panic of the Israeli people, and of Jews all around the world. After all, the Arab leaders fervently and unitedly expressed their determination to drive the Jews into the Mediterranean Sea. The Israeli government feared that there will be thousands of deaths and even more injuries. Public parks were designated as burial grounds. Hospitals were busy freeing up as many beds and rooms as possible. People of all streams of Judaism lined up to donate blood, harvest crops, fill sandbags, and dig trenches. Schools assembled their students to recite prayers. Just two decades after the world promised ‘never again’, everyone feared that it might just happen again.

Many Rabbinic Jewish leaders around the world understood that the fate of the Jews was ultimately in the hands of G-d. True, it would be the IDF which would be the ones to fend for us, but we needed to make a stronger appeal to G-d for His assistance and protection. Most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe initiated a Tefillin campaign, and called out for people to visit army bases, and walk the streets, to encourage as many soldiers and civilians as possible to don Tefillin and make a special prayer to G-d.

The Jewish people were preparing to fortify themselves militarily and spiritually.

And then the miracles began. In the first three hours of the war, the Israeli Air Force successfully destroyed most of the Egyptian Air Force, by flying from base to base and bombing their planes and airstrips. Then IDF Director of Operations Major General Ezer Weizmann (who later became an Israeli President) was once asked for an explanation how it is that after the first and second Israeli bombings of Egyptian airstrips, that the Egyptians didn’t radio ahead to the other bases to prepare them for the oncoming attacks?  Mr. Weizmann was silent, then lifted his hand to the heavens and quoted from the Torah, “it was the finger of G-d.”

The Six-Day War was run by a special Security Committee, a highly classified committee whose transcripts have never been seen for 50 years. Just this year, these transcripts were released for the first time. They offer a fascinating insight into the tension and the debates before the war. One thing was very noticeable.

The committee met irregularly 36 times between January and July 1967. During the earlier meetings the tone of the conversations was whether war was a necessary or viable solution and was Israel prepared for a possibly very broad military campaign. Some were more hawkish, advocating for immediate war, whilst others were more dovish, calling for patience and caution.

But on May 21 the tone changed. Egyptian President Gamal Nasser had asked UN Secretary General U-Thant to remove the UN troops from Sinai, to which U-Thant astonishingly agreed. After this happened, all cabinet members understood the gravity of the situation, that war was imminent, and agreed that Israel needed to preempt a potential disaster. However, there was still debate in the room, only this time about a different concern: What will the UN, the US and the International Community think about us, and will they judge us as having wrongfully rushed into war?

Protecting Israel’s reputation among the international community is certainly important, but protecting her own citizens is even more important. This misguided dissonance has plagued the Israelis ever since the state was established, and sadly too many lives and opportunities were lost due to not prioritizing Israel’s protection over anything else.

Thankfully, the correct decision was made and Israel made the first moves against her enemies.

Amazingly, the prediction for such a war victory can be seen in our Torah portion this week. G-d tells the people: “If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments, I will grant peace in the Land, and you will lie down with no one to frighten you; I will remove wild beasts from the Land, and no army will pass through your land; You will pursue your enemies, and they will fall by the sword before you; Five of you will pursue a hundred, and a hundred of you will pursue ten thousand, and your enemies will fall by the sword before you. (Leviticus 26:3-8)”

How fortunate we were to witness these predictions come to life in front of our eyes.

We’ve all seen and heard the moving moment, when after recapturing Jerusalem, liberating the Old City and standing by the Western Wall, Rabbi Shlomo Goren, then the head of the IDF Military Rabbinate, surrounded by the weary and elated soldiers, made the shehecheyanu blessing and blew the shofar. The less known background story to this spectacle is equally moving:

The decision to recapture Jerusalem was made at an emergency meeting during the early hours of the morning. Upon learning of the decision, at 4:30 am, Rabbi Goren hurried to the home of his father-in-law, the renowned Rabbi Dovid Cohen, and woke him up. “Please lend me your shofar,” he told his father-in-law, “We are going to liberate the Kotel.” Rabbi Cohen became very emotional, began to cry, then climbed onto a table and reached for his shofar which was tucked away high up in a closet.

Rabbi Goren relates: “According to Jewish law, when Jews go out to battle, they blow trumpets or shofars to assure their victory, as the Torah states: “And if you go to war in your land, against the enemy that oppresses you, then you shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and you shall be remembered before the Lord, your God, and you shall be saved from your enemies.” It was for this reason that I had brought a shofar with me. The moment we drew close to the gate, I began blowing the shofar, sounding it loudly in this war for the liberation of Jerusalem. I began to utter a prayer in between shofar blasts and shouted to the soldiers, “In the name of God, take action and succeed. In the name of God, liberate Jerusalem, go up and be successful.” I kept shouting the entire time, until we were right on top of the Temple Mount. Then I recited a proclamation I had prepared. “Israeli soldiers, beloved of the nation, decorated with courage and victory, may God be with you, valiant heroes. I am speaking to you from the plaza of the Kotel, the remnant of our Holy Temple. “Comfort My people, comfort them, says your God (Isaiah 40:1). This is the day we have waited for. The city of God, the place of the Temple, the Temple Mount and the Kotel, the symbol of the messianic redemption of the nation, have been redeemed this day by you, heroes of the Israel Defense Forces. Today you have fulfilled the oath of the generations—“If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its cunning.” Indeed, we have not forgotten you, Jerusalem, our holy city, home of our glory, and your right hand, the right hand of God, has made this historic redemption.”

The victory of the Six Day War was both a result of, and a renewed cause for, Jewish pride. Jews of all stripes, no matter how secular they proclaimed themselves to be, stopped to marvel at the great kindness of G-d. They all flocked to the Western Wall, often times waiting for many hours, just to have the opportunity to stand at the holy site, touch the wall’s stones, make a prayer, and give thanks to G-d for His protection.

And now, 50 years later, we know that Israel’s challenges haven’t ended. Holding on to our Homeland has been a constant battle, and too many sacrifices have been made. But if we learn our lessons, we know that when the Jewish nation is strong both militarily and spiritually, in body and soul, then the Torah’s promises will come to life, even more and sooner than we could ever imagine.

May Hashem continue to protect our soldiers, and our people in Israel and all over the world. May we soon merit the ultimate prediction of the Torah, the coming of Moshiach, where we will witness the eternal rebuilding of ‘Yerusholayim Habenuyah’, Amen.

Fri, September 20 2019 20 Elul 5779