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Apr 21, 2024

Pesach at War

My cousin sent this to me, and I thought it was worth posting, people would learn and benefit from it.. the original article written by Rav Chaim Sabato was published in Yedit Acharonot in 2022. My cousin translated it for himself (ie it was not published in English)... I think it is a powerful article, especially with us at war now as the Pesach holiday enters, and some of our children, siblings, parents, spouses, may be off at war, celebrating the Pesach seder far away from home...

Well known author and founding Rosh Yeshiva of Ma’aleh Adumim, Rabbi Haim Sabato (b. 1952), Published in Yediot Ahronot 04.15.2022 [translated by HDS]

My first Passover Seder in the IDF

I was a young soldier. My first year in the army. A soldier in the Nahal parachute division. Since I had been in yeshiva, they sent me to a post at the canal [Suez] three days before the holiday, to prepare a Seder for the soldiers. I arrived at the outpost on the banks of the canal. There were veterans there, a month before their release, who had spent the entire War of Attrition there [1967-1970]. As soon as they saw me, they started to laugh and mock: “Here he comes, this kid, a rookie, a Mashgiach Kashrut. Finally there will be someone clean the dishes for us!” Everyone was laughing. I wanted to tell them, “No, no, I am a combat soldier just like you, a paratrooper!” But I knew I didn’t have a chance, I kept quiet. Immediately they sent me to the kitchen to wash all the dishes, a huge pile in a clogged sink, pots not washed for three weeks, and to peel a sack of potatoes. At night they chose me to stand guard in front of the canal for four hours from 2am to 6am. I tried to explain why I came but no one wanted to hear.

On the day before Erev Pesach, I went to the commander of the post and explained that the kitchen needed to be prepared. “No problem,” he says, “just know, we eat chametz until the last minute it is allowed. After dinner you will enter the kitchen and prepare it. As far as I’m concerned, you can work all night. At eight in the morning a kosher breakfast!” I went into the kitchen late at night. I was appalled. Everything was full of chametz. The stove was full of thick layers of grease. No one is around to help me. I immediately set a pot to boil water for kashering. I went to the stove and I scrubbed and scrubbed, with tremendous effort and kashered the entire night, until by morning the kitchen was clean. Kosher for Passover LaMehadrin. Tired but satisfied, I went to daven Shacharit at with the dawn, and to rest before leading the Seder. On my way to bed, I passed the bunker of the commander of the post. Suddenly, near the bed of the commander, I see a box with thirty loaves of bread. I stood stunned. I let out a bitter cry. Fatigue, tension and disappointment filled my eyes with tears. The commander asked, “What’s wrong with you, Soldier, why are you crying?” I pointed to the chametz box and could not say anything. “What’s the problem?” He asked, “it's not in the kitchen!” I mumbled in a strangled voice: “For three thousand years the people of Israel have eaten Matzah…” and again the tears choked my throat. The commander looked at me and suddenly his face softened and he says: “Soldier, take the crate and burn it with the chametz. I will not break three thousand years.”

In the afternoon I set the table for the twenty soldiers who did not go home. I spread out a white nylon tablecloth and placed white kippot and Haggadot sent by the Rabbinate at every place. I arranged the Seder plate with Matzah, Maror and Charoset.

At night we gathered for the Seder. One of the soldiers warned me: “We are in the army – no explanations and no Torah, we want to eat dinner.” The commander asked everyone to sit down and said: “For three thousand years the people of Israel have eaten Matzah. We will listen to the Rabbi's explanations.” I understood that he wanted to appease me.

I said, “We are all soldiers, guarding independence and freedom with our bodies. But when did we become free? Three thousand years ago in the Exodus from Egypt, we left the house of slavery. We left for eternal freedom. As Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” And since then, this call has been heard by enslaved and oppressed people the world over. We have become a symbol and a model for generations of slaves who have broken free of the yokes of their masters and are no longer willing to be enslaved. And in the Sinai desert we received Torah.

True, we were exiled and were in dire straits. Nations ruled over us. But in our souls we were always free. Only over our bodies did enemies rule, but never over our spirit. This is the spirit that brought us to this Land. Jews all over the world have always sought freedom, for themselves and for others, and have fought every oppressor. Today we eat Maror as a symbol of slavery, and Matzah as a symbol of freedom. This is the natural Matzah that has nothing but flour and water, it does not leaven and become prideful like the swelling Chametz that boasts of itself.”

I was astonished to find that the twenty soldiers who had not gone home for the holiday were sitting in silence. Listening. I raised the glass of wine to begin with Kiddush. The soldiers said: “Rabbi, tell us more.” I told them, “You are sitting on the banks of the canal bordering Egypt. I was five years old when I left Egypt after my father was arrested for Zionism. On the ship ‘Moledet’ I immigrated from Egypt to the Land of Israel like my ancient ancestors.” I told them of the Egyptian Jews, and the Passover Seders highlighted with the announcement: “L’Shana Haba’a B’Yerushalyaim! Next year in Jerusalem!” I told them of a family of forced converts in Portugal who held Seder Night in a basement, whispering for fear of the Inquisition. I told them of a Siberian prisoner, who recited sections of the Haggadah to himself with a single Matzah that the Jewish labor camp doctor had smuggled to him. And he opened by saying: “Tonight I am not a prisoner in Siberia, I am a free man.” And so, we read the Haggadah and explained more and more until Shulchan Orech. After the meal and two glasses of wine it was already impossible for me to read, let alone explain, but then everyone broke into song. Avadim Hayinu. Ma Nishtanah. Dayenu, and more songs that were remembered from childhood, and also songs of the Land of Israel.

At the end of the Seder, the commander approached me. He shook my hand in silence. Tears welled up in my eyes. And he said: “Three thousand years. We did not break. We continue. This is my first Seder, thanks to you.”

Rabbi Haim Sabato

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