Posted on | January 17, 2008 | By Michael Gros | 6 Comments
Israel’s war in Lebanon in the summer of 2006 left behind many powerful stories, from courageous sacrifices to tragic destruction and numerous miracles. One of the most powerful stories is that of a young Naval sergeant who found G-d on a ship in the middle of a heated battle, as told by Rabbi Lazer Brody.
Rabbi Brody runs the Emunah Outreach Program which offers classes and a widely-read outreach blog. He grew up secular, served for many years in an elite special forces unit in the IDF and is a veteran of the first Lebanon War. During that war he himself had a miraculous experience in the streets of Beirut which helped him find his way back to Orthodoxy. He’s now known as Rabbi Rambo and speaks frequently to Israeli military units.
In mid-October 2006 Rabbi Brody was on a train in Tel Aviv on its way to Haifa. A young Israeli Naval sergeant entered the car and sat down in a nearby seat. Rabbi Brody smiled at him. The sergeant, whom we’ll call Moshe, sighed deeply and sheepishly asked, “Can I talk to you, Rav?”
“Of course,” Rabbi Brody said and asked him how he knew that he was a Rabbi. Moshe replied that he had heard Rabbi Brody eulogize a fallen friend during the war.
Moshe had the clear look of a fresh ba’al teshuva – a new beard was growing on his face, and the knitted kippa on his head was still stiff from being worn only a short time. After a few moments he began sharing the miraculous story which happened to him during the war.
Moshe had been onboard the Israeli missile ship Hanit on Friday night, July 14 when it was anchored off the coast of Beirut. The evening began as a typical quiet Friday night, but quickly turned into a rollercoaster as the sailors saw the miracles of Hashem’s hand again and again.
“Usually, the crew would eat Friday night dinner in two shifts,” Moshe told Rabbi Brody. “But this time, since we were in a war zone, our three religious crewmen went to Lieutenant Colonel A., the skipper, and begged that we all need Hashem’s help. The first miracle is that the skipper agreed to leave only four sailors on the bridge, and allowed the rest of the crew to pray together. The four sailors were non-Jews and volunteered to allow their crewmates to participate in a proper Sabbath meal. The rest of us piled into the synagogue and said a lengthy Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat.
“I was bored and wanted to eat quickly and then catch a few hours sleep because I had the midnight watch. But I stayed with the rest of the crew. Then all of us had a Shabbat meal together: 15 different sailors said Kiddush, each in the custom of his fathers. I’m talking about guys that aren’t even religious! The meal was drawn out. I had a headache and was dying to go to sleep.”
Just as the sailors began to bentch after the meal, a Hezbullah missile fired from the shore slammed into the rear of the boat. Flames shot skyward as the entire end of the boat was burned. First the missile, and then the blaze should have sunk the ship, but miraculously it stayed afloat. The missile missed every critical piece of the ship, and instead hit a crane above the chopper landing pad which absorbed the impact. In another astonishing miracle, the nearby helicopter-refueling tank, which was full of fuel, did not explode.
Only the four sailors on the bridge were killed. The rest of the crew should have died as well, but were saved by their Shabbat dinner in the galley.
Moshe had beads of sweat on his forehead and tears filled his eyes as he continued
with his story.
“The newspapers don’t write about the miracles that we all saw. I ran to my bunk on the deck right below the landing pad. It was charcoal; my metal bunk was completely melted down and all my possessions were ashes. If I hadn’t been detained in the chapel and in the dining hall for Shabbat meal, I would have been charcoal too. I haven’t stopped thanking Hashem since then. I’ve changed my life.”
Moshe reported that even more miracles happened aboard the ship that night. The engine room was burned to a crisp, but a pair of Tefillin in perfect condition was found nearby. And in the middle of the destruction the sailors found a Book of Psalms, also unscathed. It was found open to Psalm 124, which acknowledges the unceasing protection Hashem gives us. Among the words in Psalm 124 are these:
“Had not Hashem been with us when men rose up against us, then they would have swallowed us alive, when their anger was kindled against us. Then the waters would have inundated us; the current would have surged across our soul.”
Moshe saw Hashem’s hand repeatedly that night. He should have lost his life, but Hashem sent him miracle after miracle to save him.
The Israeli military never expected the Hanit to be hit. It assumed the boat was far enough offshore to be safe, and didn’t know that Hezbullah had missiles of the range to hit it. Within a few seconds, those security misconceptions were shattered. Within those few seconds, Moshe’s many misconceptions about life and Judaism were shattered as well. The many miracles opened his eyes to Hashem’s constant involvement in our lives. Hashem is always with us, usually below the surface, but sometimes He sends a miracle to remind us of His constant watchful presence. Sometimes it takes a whole series of miracles to bring someone to recognize Him.
As Rabbi Brody described it, the Hanit took a direct hit from a Hezbullah missile, but Moshe turned the navy’s military setback into a personal spiritual victory.
Michael Gros is the Chief Operating Officer of the kiruv organization The Atlanta Scholars’ Kollel. The Teshuva Journey is a monthly column chronicling amazing teshuva journeys and inspiring kiruv tales. To share a story or send other comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org To receive the column via email or see back issues, visit http://www.michaelgros.com
(published in The Jewish Press August, 2007)