The following story took place during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. As told by a student of Mercaz HaRav at that time, it illustrates Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook’s guidance how we should conduct ourselves during troubled and difficult times.
That Yom Kippur I prayed in Beit HaRav, the original location of the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook also prayed there. During the chazan’s repetition of the Musaf prayer, we were startled to hear the civil defense alarms wailing throughout Jerusalem.
After Yom Kippur ended, I was called up to my unit. For over a month I was stationed in the Sinai Desert.
When I finally received a short leave from the army, I made my way to Jerusalem. First I went to the Kotel, where I poured out my heart over the terrible sights I had witnessed during the war. Then I visited my fiancee. Our wedding date had already arrived, but due to the war it had been postponed indefinitely.
My fiancee asked me, “What will be with our wedding?”
I told her that now, during this terrible war, with so many killed, wounded and missing, I didn’t think it was the right time to get married. The situation was still very tense. We were afraid the fighting would start up again. It was impossible to know when and in what condition we would return from the war. Therefore, I explained, we must postpone the wedding until the situation stabilizes.
Without a choice, my fiancee accepted my decision.
I returned to Sinai. We dug into our lines and kept a constant lookout for enemy forces. Tensions were high. Henry Kissinger, the American secretary of defense, had arrived in Israel, with his shuttle diplomacy between Jerusalem and the Arab capitals. But our worries and fears grew.
After a few weeks, I got a second leave. My fiancee asked me again — what will be with our wedding?
I told her that the situation was still difficult. We have no choice, we must wait.
“You have a rabbi,” she suggested. “Ask him. Listen to daat Torah — consult with a Torah scholar.“
I was pleased with her suggestion and immediately made my way to Mercaz HaRav. The yeshiva was almost empty, as many of the students had been called up to fight.
I met with Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook and explained my dilemma. I spoke about the terrible war, about the unfathomable number of casualties and soldiers missing in action, about the palpable dangers which we faced against the enemy armies. I concluded saying that I felt that, in this difficult time, it is not right to organize a wedding.
The rabbi listened to me with complete attention. He reflected on the matter. After a minute of silence, he said, “We act according to the rules of Halakha (Jewish law). In Halakha, one decides according to the principles of rov (the majority of cases) and chazakah (that pre-existing states will continue). Most of the soldiers who are injured heal. Most of those who go out to battle return.”
Usually, the rabbi would finish with a word of advice, but leave the final decision up to the one asking. This time, however, he finished his words with an unequivocal declaration: “Mazal tov! Congratulations!”
Smiling, he shook my hand warmly.
I went back to my fiancee and related the rabbi’s verdict. We set a new date for the wedding. I returned to the army, and the news that I was about to get married lifted the spirits of the entire battalion. They all rejoiced. Soldiers volunteered days of their army leave — it was called a ‘Day Bank’ — and proudly presented me with a gift of 13 vacation days.
The day before the wedding, I took a flight to the Lod airport. I prayed at the Kotel, immersed in a mikveh, and stood under the chupah. Rav Tzvi Yehudah Kook attended the wedding, as did a few fellow students from yeshiva and some soldiers on leave.
The wedding joy raised everyone’s spirits, giving them new strength. So it was that, during the very days of that blood-soaked war, when our enemies sought to destroy us, we built our home ke-dat Moshe veYisrael, “according to the laws of Moses and Israel.”
In another incident from the war, involving the burial of one of the rabbi’s beloved students, Rabbi Hanan Porat noted:
“It was clear that our rabbi, in his special way, wanted to teach us that the Yom Kippur War — despite the many sacrifices, despite the deep crisis that it created — will not break us. On the contrary, our job is to increase light and engage in matters of the ‘land of the living.'”
(Translated from Mashmia Yeshuah (Harbinger of Redemption) by Simcha Raz and Hilah Volbershtin, pp. 359-360, 363)