Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Rav Mordechai Eliyahu and the Netilat Yadayim Code

This week's Pahad David (p. 2) has a fascinating story about Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ZT"L that took place during the Yom Kippur War, told over by Rav Mordechai Nagari Shlit"a, Sepharadi chief rabbi of Ma'alei Adumim.  I will try to translate the story:

The war was very difficult for the Israeli soldiers who served over the Egyptian border to connect from the area of the Suez Canal inland.

One night, approaching early morning, the phone rang in the home of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu ZT"L.  On the line was the operator of troops of the South.  The female soldier/operator asked, "Are you Rav Mordechai Eliyahu?"  The rabbi answered in the affirmative and asked how he can help.  "On the line is a soldier at his post who wants to ask an emergency operational question," answered the operator.  She explained that every post has a half-hour every day to communicate, and the time for this post has arrived.  She asked if the rabbi would be able to take the call.

The rabbi, of course, answered positively and listened to the question.  The soldier started saying, "The water situation at the post is sparse and rationed out.  Due to this situation, what should I do regarding Netilat Yadayim?  Should I wash once in the morning or should I wash every time I eat and go to the bathroom?"

The rabbi answered, "You are exempt - you are in a time of war - it is Piku'ah Nefesh!"  The soldier continued and asked the rabbi, "How is it possible to refrain from Netilat Yadayim?  It is very difficult for me to think about doing so.  Is it possible to eat my sandwich with a napkin?  I don't want to be lenient - I want to know what the halacha is in the matter."

The advice of the rabbi was that in the morning, he should wash once and make a stipulation that he is not taking his mind off [the cleanliness of his hands] for the entire day.  As a result of this stipulation, he will not be required to wash before any meal.  After leaving the washroom, he should wipe his hands on anything that cleans, and this will be good enough.

During this halachic discourse, the operator who was listening in on the conversation interrupted and told the soldier, "Excuse me!  You told me that this is an operational conversation that is related to the war.  I hear that there is a regular conversation going on.  This is definitely not an operational conversation."

The soldier, without batting an eyelash, replied, "We are speaking in codes.  This is a conversation that is very important for the success of the battle..."

The rabbi, listening in on this conversation between the soldier and the operator, understood that the soldier went to great lengths in order to make this phone call to ask this halachic question, and couldn't bring himself to hang up the phone.  While the phone receiver was still in his hands, the rabbi looked upwards and said, "Master of the universe!  See what kind of soldiers You have!  In such conditions, they are careful in Mitzvot - even Rabbinic Mitzvot!  I beseech You, Hashem Yitbarach - save them from all evil!"

The operator, upon hearing the words of the rabbi, started to understand that they were speaking with a direct connection to HKB"H, and she asked the rabbi to bless her as well.  And indeed, the rabbi granted her request, and also blessed the operator who assisted with this communication with good life and peace.

Many years after this event, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was invited to a gathering in a school in Rishon LeTzion.  One of the students asked the rabbi a question in the laws of Netilat Yadayim.  The student's question was, "What do we do when there is no water in the area we are in?"  The rabbi explained to him the laws about this: that one must go 4 Mil ahead and 1 Mil back in order to find water, etc.  After discussing the halachot, the rabbi added the story about the soldier from that post in the Suez Canal who called him at night and asked what he was to do under war conditions.

Suddenly, one of the teachers of that school approached, with a lot of emotion and teary eyes, and told the rabbi, "I was that soldier that was there and spoke to you on the other end of the line."  Afterwards, the teacher continued and described in front of the rabbi and the students who were present in the hall what occurred from the moment that telephone conversation was over.  This is what the teacher said, "Immediately after the telephone conversation began heavy shelling of the post [by the Egyptians].  I was struck with amazement when opposite my eyes, an exciting vision was revealed that looked like it was a hallucination.  The image of Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was revealed in the battlefield and every shell that came from the Egyptian side was moved over to the side by way of the hand of the rabbi...

Was this connected to the insistence of carefulness about the laws of Netilat Yadayim?


At Thu Jan 12, 03:06:00 AM 2012, Blogger Eliyahu said...

What a beautiful story! I think Am Yisrael haven't yet fully appreciated who Rav Eliyahu was, and what a privilege it was to have him among us..

I also loved the fact that the answer he gives is explicitly mentioned in a mishna, Eruvin 1:10: ארבעה דברים פטרו במחנה--מביאין עצים מכל מקום, ופטורין מרחיצת ידיים, ומדמאי, ומלערב

At Fri Jan 13, 01:21:00 AM 2012, Blogger Milhouse said...

הא גופא קושיא. In a military camp one is exempt from netilat yadayim for bread, so why did R Eliyahu tell him about pikuach nefesh, which is only a leniency, not a complete heter? Furthermore, since they are patur, is it not a bracha levatala if they wash anyway, and even if there's plenty of water?

At Fri Jan 13, 02:00:00 AM 2012, Blogger yaak said...

On your first question, I believe that by saying it was Piku'ah Nefesh, it gufa was a complete exemption.

On your second question, first of all, who said he made a beracha? And secondly, even if he did, who says it's a beracha levatala? When someone is Osek Bamitzva, he's not patur so much so that he cannot fulfil his obligation if he has a moment to do the Mitzva he's patur from. See here under המצווה הנפטרת.


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