As Told by Rabbi Nosson Barkahn of blessed memory
On the first of Kislev 5734 (1973), I noticed a sign in my village of Kfar Chabad announcing that a group was going out to do Jewish outreach activities at army bases on the Egyptian border. This was two and a half months after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War, and the Sinai desert was teeming with thousands of soldiers.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity. I gathered some friends, and we went to Kfar Chabad to join the team. Our trip was uneventful, until our car broke down near an army base in the heart of the desert. The soldiers who were mechanics tried to help us, but to no avail.
The army agreed to give us a lift on an army truck, which took us to the edge of the asphalt desert road. From there we switched to armored vehicles and made our way to the main encampment on the Egyptian border, right near the enemy.
Upon entering the base, I approached the commander, Yitzchok Shoshanim. I saluted him like a soldier and said, "I am a Kohen, and the Torah gives me the privilege and obligation to bless the Jewish people. Since you are the commander, I will bless all the soldiers through you." The commander stood silently while I placed my hands on his head and blessed him with the priestly blessing. The soldiers watched in silence, and the officers who stood nearby were teary-eyed.
My colleague Berel Karasik spoke to the soldiers from the depths of his heart, followed by Peretz Barzin. The rest of us went from soldier to soldier putting t’fillin on with them, giving out coins for tzedaka, and saying l’chaim.
It was impossible to return home that evening; we were forced to stay at one of the bases in the area. At the base, they prepared the dining room in our honor, and after we ate, the officers and commanders came in and spent time with us.
During the festivities, I noticed an officer off to the side, obviously lost in thought. Suddenly he shouted, "Quiet!" We all fell silent to hear the deeply emotional story that he wanted to share.
"In the War of Attrition, I was a communications officer, and I served at the famous Mezach base. One Thursday, as I was about to leave for the weekend, some Chassidim came to the base to lay t’fillin with the soldiers.
"I didn’t feel like putting on t’fillin, but I didn’t want to argue with them either. I motioned to my arm, indicating that I had already put on t’fillin, and they left me alone.
"I left soon after for the center of the country. The trip was long and tedious. At some point, the car in front of ours veered from the road and blocked us. Since night had fallen and army patrols had closed the roads to prevent danger from infiltrators, they took us to a nearby base where we spent the night. That very same evening, I suddenly felt dizzy and my head felt heavy. I found an army bed and lay down. I felt sicker and sicker, and I realized I needed first aid. With my last strength, I crawled out of bed to get help and then lost consciousness.
"I don’t know how much time passed, but I woke up between white sheets at the Tel HaShomer hospital. I was told that a passing soldier had found me lying unconscious in the sand. He had called for help and a doctor examined me and got a helicopter, which transported me to Tel HaShomer, where I lay for weeks.
"The doctors could not explain what had happened to me, or what made me lose consciousness, and they didn’t let me get out of bed. While in bed I had plenty of time to think, and I remembered the Chassidim who had come to the base and had wanted to put t’fillin on with me, and that I had refused.
"Three weeks passed and one Friday some Chassidim came to lay t’fillin with the wounded soldiers. Here was my chance! They brought me water and I washed my hands, and I put on t’fillin. That very day I got out of bed. The doctors were amazed at my miraculous recovery, but I know it was due to the t'fillin."