Photo Credit: Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani
Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani

Several weeks ago my student body was privileged to host a group of Israeli soldiers who had been wounded in various battles and operations in the ongoing war against our enemies. Although most of the soldiers were relatively young, the leader of the delegation was retired Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani, one of the heroes of the Yom Kippur War. Kahalani, who was in command of a tank battalion in the Golan Heights, fought off the Syrian tanks in the first few days of the war, at various times facing as many as ten enemies at once. Having studied and researched the Yom Kippur War, I was familiar with Kahalani and was eager to engage him in a discussion about the war and leadership.

I found him to be a very down to earth person and he quite readily responded to my questions. Some of the things he said seemed simple and obvious on the surface, but realizing that he was saying them from battlefield experience, and not merely theorizing from a comfortable office, they took on a deeper meaning.

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A commander, he told me, must view every soldier a as parent views a child. This means that every aspect of a soldier’s well being is the commander’s responsibility. This attitude helps the commander to clearly convey the purpose of every mission, so that the soldiers will give it their all. In addition, this relationship enables the commander to create unity in his unit, which in turn creates the cohesion necessary to win battles. Part of the commander’s effort in this regard is to inspire each soldier as to the importance and centrality of his contribution to the unit and the accomplishment of its mission. As he explained, in the most sophisticated of machines if one cheap screw doesn’t work properly, the entire apparatus will malfunction. Each soldier must understand the value of his part.

I then asked him what it was like in those first few days fighting the Syrian tanks. He told me that while he knew there was a chance he could win, he realized that there was a good chance he would be killed in action, but that he needed to keep fighting as long as possible so that the reinforcements could be brought in. Later in the war, when the Israeli positions in the Golan were stabilized, Kahalani was one of the first commanders to enter Syria proper with his tanks.

Upon reflection and further research, the unfolding of events in the Golan in 1973 followed a very necessary order that is instructive to us in all walks of life. Before the Israeli tanks and infantry could even consider entering Syria and bring the war the Syrians started “home” to them, they first had to interdict the Syrian invasion and the threat to Israel’s population centers. Only when phase one was achieved could phase two, the counter-invasion into Syria, be executed. This is true in all areas of life.

Brigadier General Avigdor Kahalani

 

This reality helps us understand two events in this week’s parsha. When Yosef approached his brothers, they conspired against him and planned his death. While commentators suggest various explanations for the brothers’ actions, it becomes clear from the narrative that not all the brothers were in total agreement. The Torah first describes Reuven’s effort to place Yosef in a pit instead of immediately killing him. This prevented Yosef’s immediate death. Yehuda subsequently suggests selling Yosef to a passing caravan.

At first glance, these seem to be two separate attempts. However, they are very much related. When the brothers first saw Yosef and decided to kill him, Reuven arguably understood that the best he could hope to accomplish was to prevent Yosef’s death at the moment, and pray that with the passage of time, emotions would subside and he could figure out a plan to save him. Without Reuven’s actions, Yehuda would never have been able to calm the brothers down and convince them to sell Yosef, which from their perspective would be a long-term solution. Yehuda’s idea without Reuven’s initial actions would have been premature and thus unsuccessful. Things need to follow a proper sequence.

Leaders need to have a clear vision of what they want to accomplish from the outset and know where they intend to go. They must map out very clear strategic and tactical plans and not jump ahead in a dangerous and potentially undermining way. Most importantly, leaders must bear in mind what Kahalani, who is not a religious man, answered one of our students who asked him how he and his soldiers won in the Yom Kippur War.

Before discussing some of the tactics they used, he answered with two very powerful words: “Bezrat Hashem.”

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Rabbi Dr. David Hertzberg is the principal of the Yeshivah of Flatbush Middle Division. He is also an adjunct assistant professor of History at Touro College. Comments can be emailed to him at mdrabbi@aol.com.