WW2 – El Alamein: rabbi’s speech

Seventy years ago when Erwin Rommel was defeated in the first Battle of El Alamein of 1942, Rav Zalman Sorotzkin delivered a drosha in honor of the occasion. He warned his audience that when Hashem saves us it is no time to rest on our laurels and take it easy. On the contrary, he said, just as Rosh Hashonoh is followed by Asseres Yemei Teshuvah, so when Hashem conquers our enemies we should examine our ways and return to Hashem, for who knows if it is not only a temporary respite.

Rav Zalman began by describing the tearful suspense a few weeks previously when Rommel seemed poised to enter Eretz Yisroel.

“Three weeks ago on the 17th of Tammuz, we all davened here and pleaded with Hashem that the enemy should not enter the gates of Yerushalayim,” he said. “Hashem heard our voices and the enemy suddenly stopped in his tracks. We must bless Hashem for all the chesed He gave us, and the Jews living in Eretz Yisroel and Egypt. However, together with thanks for the past we must also pray for the future and beg Hashem to guard us from all oppression. For everyone agrees that the danger has not passed at all. We remain in suspense, hoping for heaven’s mercies. I have come to explain why Hashem did this to us. Why has the enemy suddenly stopped for about a month? What does Hashem want from us during this respite?”

In answer to his question, Rav Zalman cited a drosha the Chasam Sofer delivered under similar circumstances. After Napoleon’s retreat from Pressburg, the Chasam Sofer instructed the kehillah to gather in shul and he told them the following dvar Torah.

A Hidden Snare

Soon after Dovid fled from Avshalom, he sent Chushai Ha’arki back to Avshalom to foil the plans of Avshalom’s brilliant advisor Achitophel. Achitophel advised Avshalom to pursue Dovid immediately that night before he had time to organize his forces, while Chushai advised him to wait until all the Jews gathered from Dan to Beer Sheva like sand on the seashore to attack Dovid and his followers.

The Chasam Sofer was puzzled. Surely, Chushai’s advice was better. By gathering many people together, Avshalom would have a better chance of defeating Dovid than by pursuing him with a tiny force Dovid might defeat.

Obviously, there was a negative side to Chushai’s plan or he would never have suggested it. The wise Achitophel realized this. That is why he hanged himself. The posuk also testifies that Avshalom was deluded into accepting Chushai’s plan, saying, Avshalom and all the men of Yisroel said, The counsel of Chushai the Arki is better than the counsel of Achithophel. For Hashem had appointed to defeat the good counsel of Achithophel, with the intent that Hashem might bring evil on Avshalom (II Shmuel ). What was the concealed snag in Chushai’s plan?

The Chasam Sofer explained that there is no suffering without sin. Avshalom’s rebellion had only begun. Dovid had not yet had opportunity to examine his deeds and repent. If Avshalom attacked now, he would certainly win. Therefore, Chushai advised Avshalom to gather all the Jews from Dan to Be’er Sheva, for while he was doing this Dovid would have time to repent. By then, even if Avshalom’s army was like the sand of the sea, there is no restraint to Hashem to save by many or by few (I Shmuel 14:6). The plan worked and Dovid vanquished Avshalom’s superior force.

“Hashem has influenced Napoleon’s army to leave our town in order to give us time to return to Hashem sincerely,” the Chasam Sofer concluded. “We must use the time for this purpose and when the enemy returns a second time we will be clean of sin.”

After finishing the story of the Chasam Sofer, Rav Zalman told his audience that the situation in Eretz Yisroel was the same.

“We are teluyim ve’omdim (suspended in judgment) as we are during Asseres Yemei Teshuvah,” he said. “Except that we have perhaps been given more time, ten times more time, for our day of judgment is harsher than that of Yom Kippur. The enemy has decreed absolute destruction upon us, chas v’sholom, on the Jewish people in general and the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel in particular. We must use these days of repentance far more than the Jews of Pressburg did. For their danger was caused by a king of chesed while over us hovers the danger of a king as harsh as Haman.”

A few months later, the British attacked Rommel’s forces in the Second Battle of El Alamein. In the intervening time, the British Navy had sent most of Rommel’s gasoline and ammunition supplies to the bottom of the Mediterranean and the battle was lost before it started. As Napoleon’s forces had fled through the frozen Russian plains 130 earlier, so Rommel’s army fled back to Tunisia through the burning desert sands. Almost all of them ended up in prisoner of war camps.

(Source: Beis Yaakov Magazine no. 221) 


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