The call came from one of my old ba’alei battim, whose son was serving in the Israeli army. Several years earlier, his son had gone to learn in Eretz Yisrael after high school, like many of our children do, and had fallen in love with Eretz Yisrael. He joined a hesder yeshiva and promptly entered into the army.
Quickly advancing in the army ranks, after just three years, he became an officer in charge of a large group of men. Last summer, exactly one year ago, he was assigned to lead a group of soldiers to evacuate one of the settlements in Gush Katif. He begged to be released from that assignment, as he was totally opposed to the government’s decision to remove the settlers from their homes, but was ordered to do so anyway. On the morning of the evacuation, he entered into a small moshav and went directly to the shul, where everyone had gathered, including the rabbi of the moshav.
After davening and crying together, both the rav and the soldier spoke about the need to exit peacefully, so brother would not have to fight against brother. With tears, everyone exited the rear of the shul onto the buses, waiting to escort them from the only home that many of them had ever known. The Rav and the officer exited together at the end of the line.
Before the soldier got onto the bus, he stopped in his tracts, reached back into his knapsack, and withdrew his personal siddur from it, opened it up and wrote in that day’s date. He then got down on his knees, and with his bare hands started digging a hole in the ground. After a few minutes, he kissed the siddur, placed it into the ground, covered it up with the dirt, and then stood up.
The rav was watching him, and asked him why he was burying his siddur in the ground. He explained that he was confident that one day Jews will return to Gush Katif and to this moshav. He didn’t know when – maybe in ten years, or twenty or fifty – but one day maybe a Jew will find his siddur and realize that Jews were here and left their hearts behind. With that being said, the soldier and rabbi embraced and then together, arm in arm, got onto the bus and left.
Eleven Months Later
The story continues some eleven months later. This soldier, now an officer in the Engineers Corps, received an order to enter Gaza with his men under the cover of darkness and set up a headquarters from which the soldiers would be sent for missions deep into Gaza.
He entered Gaza, proceeded to the designated spot, and set up the headquarters tent. When it began to get light, he looked around, and all he saw was total destruction. Mountains of debris and devastation abounded; he had no idea exactly where he was. All of a sudden – he doesn’t know what compelled him to do so – he dropped to his knees and began to dig furiously at the dirt with his hands. After several moments, he felt something. As he reached in further, he pulled out his own siddur, the very siddur that he had buried just eleven months earlier.
He was in shock. After several moments, his entire body began to shake uncontrollably. He cried out loud, “Hashem, why? What are you trying to tell me? What is the message that I am to get from coming back to the very spot where I buried my siddur only eleven months ago and finding it again?”
He called his father in New York and told him the story. He requested, “Please call Rabbi Ginzberg, tell him what happened to me and ask him for an explanation.”
The call touched me to the core of my neshama. I explained to the father that I am not on the level required to even begin to understand the meaning of this incident and what Hakadosh Baruch Hu was telling His son. But I had a suggestion. “There is an adam gadol in Bnei Brak who lies in a world of kulo Torah. Maybe he can answer you.” I told him I would arrange a private visit for him on Motzaei Shabbos. He should go to Bnei Brak and tell his story to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita.
I called Rav Chaim’s son, explained the matter, and arranged for him to meet Rav Chaim on Motzaei Shabbat. He was received with the utmost seriousness. Rav Chaim responded to his question immediately.
He asked him what he did to prevent the expulsion from Gaza. The soldier said, “I davened constantly, and pleaded with my superiors to ignore the government’s directives, all to no avail.”
“And after the expulsion, what did you do?” asked Rav Chaim.
The soldier responded. “What could I do? It was all over.”
Rav Chaim said, “The power of tefilla is not to be underestimated. You should have taken your siddur in hand and continued davening. Who knows what Hakadosh Baruch Hu would have done, if we still stormed Shamayim with tefillot! You instead chose to bury your siddur in the ground. For you it was over. But Hashem says, ‘It’s not over. Here is your siddur. Pour your heart out again for Eretz Yisrael and for Klal Yisrael.’”
What an inspiring and powerful response: Through continued tefilla, through inspired tefilla, anything is possible and everything is possible. Things change so quickly in Eretz Yisrael. Not in months or weeks, but in days and in hours. Our tefillot can be crucial!