On the morning of Simchas Torah, hundreds of Hamas terrorists launched an attack against Israel. Hundreds of gunmen infiltrated the country, took control of Israeli towns, abducted soldiers and civilians, and carried out a terrible massacre. Battles erupted in cities and kibbutzim in the south, even in the city of Ofakim, and the terrorists mercilessly slaughtered the old and the young alike. Unfortunately, a “nature party” was being held on the night of Simchas Torah near Kibbutz Reim in the north, and the terrorists arrived in the morning and murdered about 300 of the participants, while others were taken captive. The citizens of Israel are waiting for answers as to what happened to the IDF surveillance, the air force, the guards at the border, and the intelligence services, all of whom should have known in advance about the massive operation being planned in Gaza. As of Sunday evening, there were still terrorists at large in Israel, and on Monday there were air raid sirens even in Yerushalayim, while IDF soldiers continued battling the terrorists.
These are difficult days in Israel. The State of Israel is living through a time of panic, fear, and unimaginable pain. The images streaming from all over the country leave searing pain in their wake: mothers and children being taken into captivity by Arab rabble, soldiers and officers cruelly murdered, and homes being invaded by armed terrorists. In one kibbutz in the south, all the residents were either murdered or abducted. As of this writing, it is said that over 1000 Israelis were murdered and thousands more were wounded, some seriously, while dozens were taken into captivity. There are also scores of people missing.
Many tough questions are being raised: How was the border fence breached without IDF lookouts being aware of it? How could thousands of terrorists have swooped into Israel without anyone noticing their presence? What happened to the Air Force? Where were the soldiers who are supposed to be monitoring the border at all times? And why did it take so much time for the IDF to take action? That loss of precious time caused a major loss of life. Of course, the biggest question of all is what will happen next. What will the government do? How will it respond to the tragedy and shame, and how will it ensure the safety and well-being of the captives?
Three Thousand Rockets
Let’s begin with the facts. At 6:32 a.m. on Shabbos morning, the Hamas terror organization launched an attack on Israel. It was a combined offensive, with terrorists attacking from the land, the sea, and the air at once. It began with an unprecedented hail of missiles that continued for four hours, with a total of 3000 rockets fired at an area spanning half of the territory of the State of Israel, ranging from the Gaza envelope to the northern Sharon.
Hundreds of terrorists infiltrated Israeli territory along the entire length of the border, traveling in vans, on motorcycles, on foot, in boats, and on paragliders. For several hours, they indiscriminately slaughtered hundreds of civilians and hauled away bodies, and they abducted men, women, and children. They invaded IDF bases, where they continued their murderous spree, killing soldiers and stealing their bodies as well as taking live hostages. Hamas is now in possession of several bodies of senior IDF officers whom they murdered. The IDF called up tens of thousands of reserve soldiers and began attacking Gaza, while fears began to mount that the fighting would spread to other areas as well.
The number of Israeli fatalities has been assessed at over 1000, with many more Israelis wounded to varying degrees. Hundreds of victims are in serious or critical condition. The epicenter of the slaughter was at the all-night “nature party” in the south, which was attended by 3000. In the early morning hours, the partygoers were helpless when confronted by armed, bloodthirsty terrorists. Many of them have now become kedoshim who were murdered al kiddush Hashem. It is reported that at least 300 of the participants in the festival were murdered!
The Cabinet Meets
The IDF battled terrorists in dozens of locations in the Gaza envelope. Thirty-five IDF battalions were rushed to the area and succeeded, b’chasdei Shomayim, in regaining control over most of the towns in the vicinity, including Sderot, Sufa, Kerem Shalom, Nirim, Netiv Ha’Asarah, Nir Oz, Nachal Oz, Cholit, Nir Am, Nir Yitzchak, Be’er Sheva, Sde Teiman, Magen, and Urim. At the time of this writing, the army is still combating Hamas terrorists in several locations. Of course, that is another part of the chain of failures on the part of Israel’s army.
IDF soldiers managed to eliminate many terrorists, but not before those terrorists sowed destruction and devastation. Even on Sunday night, at the end of the second day of the war, Hamas operatives were still on the prowl in many locations. The rocket fire is also continuing at the time of this writing. The army estimates that about 300 terrorists have been eliminated since the beginning of the fighting. Of course, hundreds of additional terrorists returned to Gaza and Jenin.
As part of the preparations for a prolonged period of warfare, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant decided to extend the special situation on the home front to the entire country. Extending the state of emergency makes it possible for the IDF to give special instructions to the public, placing limits on gatherings and closing various sites in the relevant locations. The political-security cabinet met in Tel Aviv over Shabbos and conducted a series of discussions. During the meeting, a fierce debate erupted among the ministers as to whether it was legitimate to demand explanations at this point from Israel’s intelligence services.
The IDF Offensive
Just four hours after the outbreak of the war, the Air Force conducted its first offensive. At the same time, Hamas began circulating videos throughout the Arab world containing images that are too painful to behold. Israeli soldiers and civilians young and old can be seen being dragged into captivity in Gaza. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari spoke with the army’s usual conceit: “We are prepared for any incident that might occur in the north,” he declared. “Anyone who attacks us will pay a heavy price. We are prepared for additional rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.” According to Hagari, the IDF was striking the Gaza Strip heavily and was working hard to eliminate all the terrorists and to close the breaches in the border fence. “The Central Command is reinforcing the battalions assigned to control rioting and protect the roads. The message to the north is that we are prepared and on high alert, but we do not have any information about any violence that is planned there.” The spokesman also promised that the events of the past couple of days would be thoroughly investigated. “We are at war now; this is not just an operation,” he added. “Some things are still uncertain.”
Eyewitness reports from the south left many Israelis reeling with shock and pain. “Fifty terrorists showed up in vans, dressed in military fatigues,” one survivor recounted. “They began spraying people with bullets; many wounded victims were lying on the ground. They left after an hour, seeing that the area had been purged. I saw some acquaintances of mine who were wounded, and suddenly I spotted a tank that I was sure would rescue me, but the driver said, ‘I can’t take you; I have a dead body in the tank.’ Many people began climbing onto the tank, as gunshots echoed all around us. I felt unsafe, and in the middle of the gunfire, I began running away. I crawled on the ground for two hours until I found a quiet area in an orchard. I was rescued after sending pictures of my location.”
One of the unexpected focal points of the violence was the police station in Sderot, which was invaded by terrorists who slaughtered the police officers there. This building remained under terrorist control for a day and a half. When the army decided to bulldoze the building with the terrorists inside it, it was discovered that they had already fled.
The residents of Sderot were ordered to remain in their homes and lock their doors. A helicopter conducted an aerial survey of the city, searching for the terrorists, but their whereabouts are unknown even at this time.
Another horrifying incident took place in Kibbutz Beeri. With the aid of modern technology, the atrocities committed by the terrorists were broadcast to the world almost in real-time, including the abductions of mothers and children. At this time, it appears that all the residents of the kibbutz were slaughtered. The terrorists went from home to home while the residents called for help, placing panicked phone calls from their hiding places, but there was no one to save them. They were eventually found by the terrorists and either murdered or abducted.
IDF Officers Slain
One of the many demoralizing aspects of the situation was the slaying of senior officials in the army and police force, as well as soldiers in some of the IDF’s elite units such as Sayeret Matkal and Maglan. One of the men murdered yesterday was Colonel Yehonasan Steinberg, the commander of the Nachal brigade, who was murdered near Kerem Shalom during a confrontation with a terrorist. The 42-year-old resident of Kibbutz Shomriah was on his way to assist the soldiers in his brigade, who were exchanging fire with other terrorists, when he was spotted by a terrorist and murdered. His family was informed of his death. Another victim was Ofir Liebstein, the head of the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, who was killed in an exchange of gunfire with terrorists. At least six children were among the fatalities, and hundreds more were wounded by rocket fire or terrorist shootings in other areas.
The firefighting service also reported that the commander of a fire department and one of the firefighters, both residents of Sderot, were killed yesterday. Sixty-year-old Shalom Tzaban, a father of two who has served in recent years as the commander of the Kiryat Gat Fire Station, was apparently killed by shrapnel from a missile. The second victim was Sergeant Yevgeny Golski, a 34-year-old firefighter who has been serving at the Netivot Fire Station for the past three years. Golski was killed on his way home at the end of a shift, under circumstances that are still unknown. A third fatality was Aharon Chaimov, an ambulance driver and paramedic, who was shot to death in his home city of Ofakim while rushing to the aid of the wounded. Chaimov, who was 25 years old, was married and a father of two.
Messages from the Murderers
While the exchanges of fire were continuing and the details of events in the south were still not fully clear, Ismail Haniyeh, the political leader of Hamas, was quick to pin the blame for the attack on the Israeli government, which he accused of “arrogant and condescending” behavior. Haniyeh attributed the attack to the Israeli government’s “prolonged attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which he claimed had intensified in recent days. He also accused Israel of committing crimes against Hamas and the Palestinians by “working to create demographic change in Judea and Samaria by accelerating the process of widespread construction,” and of completely blocking any possibility of discussing a deal for the release of the prisoners. “We warned them,” he said, referring to his claims of Israeli aggression against the Al-Aqsa Mosque. “We told them that we would not be able to make peace with it. We told them that we would not be able to accept their attempts to change the demographics in Judea and Samaria, but they continued to act in an arrogant and condescending fashion, and they did not listen to us. They thought that they could silence us with small crumbs while completely rejecting most of our demands.”
A spokesman for Hamas’s rival terror organization, Islamic Jihad, also released a statement yesterday, claiming that all the Israeli hostages taken into captivity by the “forces of the resistance” would continue to be held until all Palestinian prisoners were released from Israeli prisons. He claimed that Israel has recently placed Palestinian women and children under arrest, and the “resistance organizations,” meaning Hamas and Islamic Jihad, would respond in kind and would not show consideration for the fact that their captives included women and children. Yet another exultant statement was released by Hezbollah in the north, declaring that “the military operations of the factions in Gaza is a decisive response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation and its aggression against our holy places.” Hezbollah added that the operation sent a clear message to the entire Arab and Muslim worlds, especially those countries that were moving toward normalization with Israel.
It was only to be expected that the massacre in the South would draw reactions from countries throughout the world. While Israel’s allies firmly condemned the cruel acts of butchery, some countries chose, unsurprisingly, to remain “neutral” and to issue condemnations of both sides, equating Israel with the terrorist aggressors. There were also some countries that expressed unreserved support for “the Palestinians’ right to defend themselves against the Israeli occupation.”
Of course, the most noteworthy reaction was that of President Joe Biden of the United States. First, the White House released a statement claiming that the president had spoken with Prime Minister Netanyahu and had clarified to him that the United States is ready and willing to provide Israel with various means to defend itself against the horrific terror attack. This statement condemned the Hamas terrorists and included a warning to other countries in the region to refrain from trying to exploit the situation by launching their own attacks against Israel after the country was shown to be unprepared to defend itself against the surprise attack from Hamas.
A few hours later, Biden spoke publicly to the American press. “The United States stands with Israel. We will never fail to have her back,” he began. “We’ll make sure that the citizens of Israel have the defenses to which they are entitled. The entire world has seen appalling images: thousands of rockets raining into Israeli cities, Hamas terrorists crossing into Israel and killing not only Israeli soldiers but Israeli civilians, entire families taken as hostages by Hamas, terrorists shooting and killing and wounding innocent people in the streets and in their homes. It’s unconscionable…. I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu and told him that the United States stands with Israel. Israel has the right to defend itself; full stop. There is no justification for terror attacks.”
Biden also mentioned that he had been in touch with the king of Jordan and with other political leaders and had made sure that all the senior government officials and members of the defense establishment in Washington would be in contact with their Israeli counterparts, to ensure that the State of Israel would have everything it needs to protect its citizens in the best possible way. “Let no one make a mistake about this,” Biden said. “We stand with Israel completely, as we always have, since Israel’s founding 75 years ago and to this day.” The American president also pointed out that the attack had taken place on the holiday of Simchas Torah, “one of the holiest days on the Jewish calendar.” He added that he and his wife were praying wholeheartedly for the bereaved families to be comforted and for the wounded victims of the attack to have a full recovery. Other American officials released their own statements as well, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, who said that America would guarantee that Israel would receive all the resources it needs to defend itself.
The Issue of the Hostages
Much will be written about the events of the first three days of this war. Even after all the terrorists are eliminated or return to their hiding places, the Israeli military response will have to begin, and no one knows yet what that response will be. More to the point, no one knows what the correct response should be, especially since Hamas is holding dozens of Israeli hostages, and everyone is aware of their cruel brutality. When Gilad Shalit was held captive by Hamas, the entire country was paralyzed; one can only imagine the effect of Hamas holding dozens of captives, including elderly people and infants. For now, Prime Minister Netanyahu has tapped Brigadier General Gal Hirsch to serve as the coordinator for all issues concerning the missing or captured citizens.
The capture of these Israelis is undoubtedly one of the most traumatic events of this war. It looks and sounds as if the terrorists simply collected these people with very little effort. The families of the hostages are suffering from unimaginable pain due to the simple fact that they were unable to rescue them, and the army was also not there to protect them. There are recordings of mothers and children crying out for help; in some cases, their cries are punctuated by the sounds of gunfire, indicating that someone in the home was murdered. The images are heartrending. Many families learned from the videos posted by Hamas that their loved ones had been taken into captivity. And some of those videos show the Israeli captives being tormented and shamed.
One would certainly think that the issue of the hostages should be a major factor in the cabinet’s decision as to how to respond to the Hamas offensive. If Gaza is attacked, then there is a real concern that the terrorists might begin executing their prisoners. It is also quite feasible that the hostages might be harmed by the Israeli air strikes. This leaves the army with a horrendous moral quandary: Should they take the hostages into account when deciding on their reprisal?
Stories of Heroism
The past couple of days of fighting have also produced quite a few stories of heroism — on the part of soldiers, first responders, and even ordinary civilians. Lieutenant Colonel Roi Levi, one of the fatalities of this war, was a hero in Operation Protective Edge. This Sunday, when terrorists were seen in Kibbutz Reim, Levi led his unit to the area to confront them. Levi commanded his men with great courage and was the first to arrive at the battle in the kibbutz, where he fought hard to save the civilians who were barricaded in their homes. About ten terrorists were eliminated in the exchange of fire, and Levi managed to save the civilians; however, he was tragically killed in battle.
In another incident, terrorists invaded a home in the city of Ofakim, and the lady of the house managed to stall for time in a ploy that ultimately saved her and her family. She began playing hostess to the terrorists, persuading them to have some coffee and then to eat. A long time passed, and Yamam fighters ultimately freed the hostages and overpowered the terrorists, after she bought her family enough time to survive. There were also other stories of people who risked their own lives to save others. The time will yet come for all these stories to be told.
It is also important to mention the heroism of the ZAKA volunteers throughout the country, as well as the soldiers in the military rabbinate who specialize in taking care of the dead and who were called up or hurried to the scene of the hostilities on their own accord. Dozens of chareidi Jews were involved in handling the bodies of hundreds of victims of the terrorists. The published images of this process were unbearable, showing huge halls filled with bodies. But as painful as this is, it is also important to call attention to the heroic deeds of these religious Jews.
Is an Emergency Government in the Works?
As could be expected during wartime, negotiations for an emergency unity government were quick to get underway. The same thing occurred on the eve of the Six Day War when Prime Minister Levi Eshkol allowed his greatest political rival, Menachem Begin, to join the government as a minister without portfolio. This time, Benny Gantz is expected to join the government with the same title, possibly along with another former chief of staff, Gadi Eizenkot. It is believed that the two men will have a significant contribution to make if they are included in the cabinet (even though the events of the past week have shown us very clearly that even the most senior figures in the army and defense establishment are prone to failure). On the other hand, no one is talking about including Lapid in the government, both because he has little to contribute to a security crisis and because he has been sinking in the polls. Lapid did issue his own call for an emergency government, although he stipulated that Ben-Gvir and Smotrich would have to be ejected from the cabinet if he joined it. That demand only served to harm his cause.
Benny Gantz has already expressed willingness to join the government and to help establish an emergency cabinet to oversee the war effort. On Monday, officials from the Likud and the National Unity Party met to discuss the terms of this agreement. Gantz’s party suggested forming a small cabinet with no more than five members for the duration of the war, which would include Benny Gantz, Gadi Eizenkot, and the relevant ministers on Netanyahu’s behalf. The party explained that they were not making any personal stipulations and that they would not try to control the Likud’s choice of representatives; however, one can presume that they expect that Netanyahu will not give Smotrich or Ben-Gvir a seat in such a small cabinet.
Rocket Strike on Highway One
Air raid sirens continued to be heard on Monday as well, even in Yerushalayim, and there were a couple of rocket strikes, such as one in a town near Yerushalayim and another on Highway One, the main traffic artery of the State of Israel. A missile also fell in an empty field near Kfar Chabad. It is presumed that this rocket had been targeting the airport, and air traffic into and out of Israel was disrupted as a result. Rockets also landed in the vicinity of Ashkelon and Ashdod, causing injuries.
At the same time, even though two days have already passed since the incursion, terrorists have continued to surface and exchange fire with IDF soldiers. As of Monday, terrorists were reportedly still at large in the city of Sderot, where the residents — those who had not already left the city, despite the recommendations of the defense establishment — were asked not to leave their homes. I am personally acquainted with a resident of Sderot who is beside himself with worry over his family members who have remained there. He has no way of joining them, and he also has no way of getting them out of the city at this point.
There have also been further attempts by terrorists to enter Israel, both in the south and in the north, while the rocket fire and street battles have continued. It is also still unclear if all the settlements in the south have been fully cleared of terrorists. At this point, everyone is talking about the fact that only two communities out of the twelve on the southern border were not infiltrated by terrorists — because those communities observe Shabbos, and the gates were locked on Simchas Torah.
“With Hashem’s Help”
At the same time, the IDF launched a massive aerial offensive against Gaza. On Monday afternoon, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke with the heads of the local governments in the south and informed them that Israel’s campaign had only just begun. “We are in the middle of a campaign,” he told them. “I know that you have been through terrible things, but Hamas will suffer even more. We are already fighting this battle. Your leadership will have to be very strong during these difficult days. It will take time, and it will require a firm stand during the hard days to come. This country will leave no stone unturned in the effort to help all of you. I ask you to stand strong, because we are going to change the Middle East. I embrace you and the residents. We are all with you, and we will defeat them with force, with a great deal of strength.” It can at least be said to his credit that Netanyahu added the words “with Hashem’s help” in a few places in his speech.
So there you have it. Israel is in the final stages of quashing the attack of the terrorists who penetrated the country on Simchas Torah, and the big question is what will happen next. Are we all prepared for a long war, in which Hamas will likely fire thousands of rockets into Israel? And what if the murderers from Gaza are joined by allies who will open additional fronts, including Iran? Is crushing Gaza the right step to take now, and what will happen to the 130 hostages in captivity there? Moreover, what about the citizens on the home front? Surely they must also be taken into consideration.
Out of the darkness and uncertainty, one thing is becoming increasingly apparent: As the posuk tells us, if Hashem does not guard a city, then the watchman stands guard in vain.
Winter Zeman Begins Early, Tefillos in Shuls
The yeshiva world has been directly affected by rece
nt events. At the end of Yom Tov, hakafos shniyos events were canceled throughout the country at the behest of the gedolei Yisroel. It was then announced that even if the winter zeman did not begin early, yeshiva bochurim were asked to stay off the streets, to avoid drawing attention to their presence while their peers had been called up to serve in the army. The gedolim then decided to cancel the weeklong bein hazemanim vacation at the end of Tishrei in any event, and called for the zeman to begin this week.
“It is proper in every sense, in light of this serious and uncertain situation, for the winter zeman to be moved up to Sunday or Monday, the exact day to be determined in every yeshiva based on its abilities, and in compliance with the instructions of the local authorities,” the gedolei Torah wrote. This letter was signed by Rav Berel Povarsky, Rav Dov Landau, and Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch, and concluded, “May it be Hashem’s Will that we will be quickly saved from any harm or misfortunate in the merit of the learning of Torah.” The Moetzes Chachmei HaTorah of the Shas party issued similar instructions for the country’s Sephardic yeshivos.
The two chief rabbis also issued a statement: “These are difficult days for the citizens of Israel. Soldiers, police officers, and civilians have been murdered; lives have been cut short of people who rushed with great self-sacrifice to save Klal Yisroel. The murderous rampage of these terrorists has claimed many victims. The entire nation shares the pain and suffering of the bereaved families and is davening for the recovery of the wounded and for the well-being of those who were captured or have disappeared. This is the time for all of us to come together and unite, like one person with one heart. We call on everyone to daven to the Master of all wars to lead our soldiers to victory over our enemies. May Hashem cause them to fall before us. Let us increase the love and brotherhood among us, and let us hope for days when the Jewish people will live in security and will see the fulfillment of the posuk, ‘I will place peace in the land.’ All of us are obligated to assist our soldiers and the residents of the South. We are also bound by the requirement of hishtadlus to observe the instructions from the security forces. Let us daven together to awaken Hashem’s mercy.”
Many shuls held mass gatherings for davening and Tehillim, both on the night after Simchas Torah and on the following mornings and nights. This coming Tuesday has also been declared a special day of tefillah in yeshivos and botei medrash around the country.
The Terrorist Admits: The Protests Encouraged Them
There was no doubt about it: This calamity was bound to have political repercussions. First of all, it was the very same doomsday scenario that was predicted by the political right after the Disengagement from Gaza and the Oslo Accords. They accused the left-wing politicians of inviting disaster to strike the residents of the south, and they warned that the Arabs could not be trusted. Unfortunately, their dire predictions seem to have come true. At the same time, the opponents of Netanyahu and the current government have pointed to this disaster as a sign that the government is incompetent, blind, and irresponsible, and that it must be dissolved.
On the right side of the political map, another accusation was raised: The political demonstrations of the past half year, especially the mass refusals to serve in the army, gave encouragement to the terrorists in Gaza. At first, this sounded like a farfetched thesis, but a Hamas terrorist actually confirmed it when he was questioned after his capture. Amazingly, it was Channel 13, a station that is typically known for its anti-establishment position, that publicized this shocking revelation.
The terrorist informed his questioners that Hamas had been preparing for this offensive for over a year. “The demonstrations in Israel encouraged us,” he added, and then continued his account of the horrific day of the invasion. “Five hours went by before anyone fired on us. We were prepared with 1,000 fighters, and we made 15 breaches in the fence. We were shocked that the IDF wasn’t waiting for us.”
Every single word should be cause for a reckoning, but I am focusing on the dreadful implications of that one simple sentence: “The demonstrations in Israel encouraged us.” What a terrible thought!
Prelude to Moshiach?
No one wanted to speak about it at first, but everyone was thinking the same thing: This was the ultimate failure on the part of the Israeli defense establishment. The State of Israel is wallowing in degradation and shame. This entire chain of events is also a chain of oversights and blunders on the part of the IDF. There is no explanation for it, and no one has any answers. The questions themselves are horrendous, and while many pointed questions have been asked, they boil down to a very simple challenge: Where were the IDF and the Shin Bet? Why weren’t they prepared for this?
On Monday night, the media interviewed Avigdor Kahalani, a famous Israeli war hero who was decorated after both the Six Day War and the Yom Kippur War. Kahalani described the events of this week as a badge of shame for Israel. The interviewer asked him how it differed from the beginning of the Yom Kippur War, which was an embarrassing defeat for Israel until the tide turned, and he explained, “That was a war between two armies. This time, there is a sense of utter degradation.”
But there may be a bright side to this. I am reminded of something that I heard many times from Rav Uri Zohar. Rav Uri used to quote the Gemara’s comment about the era of Moshiach (Sanhedrin 98a): “Rabi Yehoshua said: Doesn’t the posuk already state, ‘I heard the man clad in linen, who was above the waters of the river, and he lifted his right and his left hand to heaven and swore by the life of the world that after two times and a half, and when they have finished shattering the strength of the holy people, all this will end’?” Rashi explains this passage as follows: “‘After two times’ — We see that there is an end to the matter. ‘When they finish shattering the strength of the holy people’ — When their power and the strength of their hands, which spreads out in every direction — comes to an end … and they are intensely debased.’ ‘[All this] will end’ — These troubles [will end] and Moshiach will come.”
Rav Uri used to remark, “Based on this, we see that Moshiach will come when the so-called leaders discover that their strength has been lost and their power is gone, when they reach a state of helplessness and feel that they are shamed and debased, when they recognize their own impotence and powerlessness. Only then will our troubles end, and Moshiach will come — may it be soon!”