by Rabbi Paysach Krohn
Rabbi Shammai Parnes is one of the principal rabbis of the Israeli army. He is a deeply religious man who descends from a long line of Jerusalem families.
This story took place during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, when the Israelis were caught by surprise and attacked by Arabs on all fronts. One of the critical points of battle was near the Suez Canal. For days after Yom Kippur and throughout Sukkos, Rabbi Shammai and his assistants traveled throughout the Sinai desert and southward towards Suez, where they cautiously and caringly gathered the bodies of those who had fallen in battle.
Throughout the days of Sukkos, Rabbi Shammai traveled in his jeep, taking with him his prayer book, Tehillim (Book of Psalms), tallis (prayer shawl), and lulav and esrog (used to celebrate the festival of Succos). In every army camp where he stopped, soldiers approached him, asking for permission to use his lulav and esrog.
Infantrymen who were otherwise irreligious would pick up his siddur and say, "Rabbi Shammai, let us pray from your siddur ... Rabbi Shammai, let us say the Shema ... Rabbi Shammai, could we say some Psalms." He would help as many as he could, and at times he was detained from his work for more than an hour. Much to his regret, though, he eventually had to say to the young men, "I can't stay any longer. I've been summoned elsewhere."
On Hoshana Rabbah (the last day of Sukkos), Rabbi Shammai and his assistants were near the Suez. It was late morning, and as he drove towards a newly constructed army base in the wide open desert, the thought occurred to him that because he had already used his lulav and esrog for the last time this Yom Tov, he could leave them in the army base.
Shortly after Rabbi Shammai's arrival at the base, a long line of soldiers began to form, waiting to use his lulav and esrog. As a crowd began to assemble, a young non-religious soldier, Arik Shuali, driving an ammunition truck, was making his way southward. Looking through his powerful binoculars he noticed a large crowd of fellow servicemen gathered in one area. Curious, he got out of his truck and made his way on foot to where the soldiers had assembled.
As he came closer, he asked someone, "What is all the commotion about?" They explained to him that Rabbi Shammai had come, and people were waiting for an opportunity to use his lulav and esrog. Arik was not interested in waiting around. However, when one of his friends mentioned that it was the last day to do this mitzvah, he agreed to wait his turn.
Eventually Arik's turn arrived. Just as he received the lulav and esrog, a bomb hit his truck. The vehicle exploded and set off multiple explosions of the ammunition on board. The blasts were so intense that a crater was formed in the ground where the truck had been parked. When they later examined the spot where the truck had been, the soldiers couldn't find even a shard of metal remaining from the shattered vehicle.
Three months later, Rabbi Shammai read a short notice in the Israeli army newspaper. It was an announcement stating that the wife of serviceman Arik Shuali had given birth to a little girl. The announcement included a statement by the new father. "I believe with every fiber of my being, that I am alive today and that I merited to see my new daughter only because of the mitzvah that I was doing at the time my truck was bombed."
To remember God's goodness, he named his daughter Lulava.
(Names have been changed by personal request.)
Reprinted with permission from InnerNet Magazine