# 454 (s5766-44/7 Menachem Av 5766)
During the Previous War in Lebanon
During the closing days of Israel's 1982 war in Lebanon, I was one of a small group who got permission from the army to enter Beirut to cheer up the soldiers.
During the Previous War in Lebanon
[This story is also timely because the mitzvah of tefillin is in this week's Reading. -ed.]
During the closing days of Israel's 1982 "Peace in Galilee" campaign in Lebanon, I was one of a group of ten Chabad Chassidim who got permission from the army to enter Beirut to cheer up the soldiers.
The soldiers welcomed us as though we were announcing the end of the war. The entire night we went from group to group, singing, dancing, talking, laughing, and of course making L'Chaims.
There was no time to sleep. At the crack of dawn we got our tefillin out of our bags and began asking soldiers if they wanted to do a mitzvah and put them on for a minute.
At that hour of the morning most of the soldiers were still asleep. I walked around looking for "customers" and happened upon a line of about ten open jeeps with two soldiers seated in each. Their motors were running and they were waiting in the chilly morning to go out on a mission. It must have been some sort of combat foray, because they were armed to the teeth and were wearing bulky bulletproof vests and steel helmets.
I approached the first jeep and asked them if they wanted to put on tefillin and one soldier agreed. When he finished, I moved on to the next one and asked the driver the same question, but was in for an unpleasant surprise.
He just listened, looking straight ahead, and didn't even react to my question. So I just stood there and waited for a reply. After a few seconds of silence, he turned to me and said (loose translation): "Get out of my sight, you parasite religious scum! If you don't get out of my face I'll tear you to pieces! I hate you vermin!"
I understood that the answer was no. I tried to force a smile and figure out something to say, when suddenly the driver of the next jeep in line called out to me in a desperate tone of voice: "Rabbi, Rabbi! Come here. I want to put on tefillin." I turned, happy to get away, and began to walk toward the third jeep in the line. "Tell me Rabbi," he called out distance from him. "If... if I put on tefillin will G-d protect me?"
It was obvious that the man was very worried. Yesterday he was probably sitting in his hardware store selling pipes and tools when they called him up to reserve duty, and suddenly here he was about to enter the front lines.
"Listen, my friend," I assured him, "G-d will protect you whether
you put on the tefillin or not. Don't worry. He loves you because you are a
Jew. But if G-d protects you for free, so why not do something for Him for free,
and put on tefillin?"
I turned around to see him rolling up his sleeve like he wanted to put on the
tefillin and motioning me to come over.
"Listen!" he replied "What do you care? I want to put on the tefillin, too."
I gave him a look and an Israeli hand motion as if to say, "Are you for real?" And he replied:
"Listen, my friend. To put on tefillin in order to go to heaven or to be religious, that's not for me. But to put on tefillin for no reason... That I'm willing to do!"
This is the essence of the Jewish soul in action. A Jew may reject all reasons,
all explanations, including mystical explanations, for doing a mitzvah, but
will embrace the deed itself. Because a Jew inherently wants to do what G-d
wants; s/he is one with G-d not only spiritually, but also -- and even more
so -- through his or her everyday physical life.
Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent
Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds
of published stories to his credit.