Since Simchat Torah morning, Major Ezzy Morgenstern has been doing his part to protect the Jewish people. As a chaplain to a brigade currently in Gaza, he brings little nuggets of resilience, faith, and miracles from the front.

Visiting Home

I’ve been home three times since the war broke out more than 40 days ago. Some visits were just 10 hours and others were a full day. I was once given off on Friday afternoon. As I drove, I worried I wouldn’t make it home before Shabbat.

Even as I got closer to home, I considered going back to base. You see, once the sun set, I would not be allowed to continue driving home, since it would be Shabbat. But I would have no problem driving to base, since I would be reporting to active duty, and saving lives overrides Shabbat.

It was a strange thing to think about.

Ultimately, I made it home in time. My niece was visiting and was Facetiming with my sister when I walked in.

It was such a beautiful surprise for her and for my kids, whom my wife had not told I’d be home for Shabbat.

Visits like those are the fuel that keeps me going.

Morale

Morale is high. Our troops are motivated to root out evil and are not afraid to do what it takes to secure the safety of their country, and really for the good of the world.

At the same time, when there’s talk of a ceasefire, they worry: Will their work be for nothing? I tell them not to read the news, since there is nothing we can do about it in any case. Instead, I tell them to pray that our leaders will make the right decisions. Which decision is right? Whatever Torah dictates. We do our part and let G‑d do His.

When our men first went in, they were all hoping to quickly free the hostages and bring them home. As time goes by, it hurts to know that we’ve not yet accomplished this, but the determination is as strong as ever.

Every day is different. There are times when we meet so little resistance we feel like Hamas has been completely washed out. At other times, there is stiff fighting, and we need to work as hard as ever.

Small Miracles

Each day that everyone comes “home” from the battlefield is a day of miracles. Sometimes, we get to see those miracles.

Many of our men—even those who do not consider themselves religious—have taken to wearing tzitzit.

One day, one of our men was hit by a large piece of shrapnel. It got tangled in his tzitzit, and he was unhurt. These stories are so commonplace that they go almost unnoticed.

Another such event on a larger scale:

Right when we were going in, it seemed that one of our tanks had been hit by Hamas. From our remote command center we could see that communication had been knocked out and a tremendous amount of heat was coming from it.

An hour later, they got on the radio and everything was just fine. What happened? It turned out that the rocket intended for the tank had hit a tree—and there are relatively few trees in Gaza—and the heat we sensed was actually from the burning tree.

The tree was burnt to a crisp, but our men were fine.

The Story of Our Torah

There is a Torah scroll that has become attached to our unit. The men read from it regularly. How did it get to Gaza? We got it from another unit, which had gone into Gaza before us.

Before the war broke out, the family of one of the men had commissioned a Torah scroll but were not sure which synagogue to give it to.

About a week before the war began, the man’s sister had a frightening dream that her brother had been called off to war.

She suggested that the Torah be given to his unit.

Then the Simchat Torah attack happened.

When the man went off to war, they put the Torah in the hummer and off it went.

When the men see that there is a Torah and that we use it for services, their eyes light up. They cannot get enough of the Torah scroll that’s now in Gaza.

Shabbat Shalom From Gaza

Every Friday afternoon, hundreds of guys gather for a giant Kabbalat Shabbat with singing and dancing, and everyone hears kiddush that night.

Even the guys who are not religious at home eat food that has been cooked before Shabbat and are so respectful of the Shabbat laws. They know that they are part of the Jewish nation and that we are in this together.

And, of course, all the food served is kosher. It’s simple food, rice and pasta, but everything is kosher and prepared according to the Shabbat laws.

Kosher Pots and Sheep

Most of the food we get is army rations. But there is only so much tuna or canned hummus one can eat, so the guys resort to preparing simple meals like pasta or rice using the stoves and pots that they find here in Gaza.

I find myself giving instructions over the radio on how to kosher pots and stovetops.

The soldiers also tell me that even if only one soldier in a group eats a higher standard of kosher, everyone with him will keep the same standards as well.

I can't tell you how many soldiers asked me, “Rabbi, how can I slaughter a sheep and it will be kosher?” I say, “Simple, you spend a year learning the laws and practicing and you are good to go!”

These are just a few samples of what’s going on—and perhaps one day I’ll be able to share it all. But for now, this snapshot will have to be enough.

Keep praying for me—Eliezer Schneur Zalman Halevi ben Sarah—and for the brave troops on the front line, as well as the captives and everyone else in harm’s way!