Yom Kippur 5781
By far, the most solemn event on the Jewish calendar is the Day of Atonement. Commonly known as Yom Kippur, the sixth feast listed in Leviticus 23 is actually a fast day and observed by nearly all in the Jewish community.
“And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying: ‘Also the tenth day of this seventh month [Tishrei] shall be the Day of Atonement. It shall be a holy convocation for you; you shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire to the Lord. And you shall do no work on that same day, for it is the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for you before the Lord your God.
For any person who is not afflicted in soul on that same day shall be cut off from his people. And any person who does any work on that same day, that person I will destroy from among his people. You shall do no manner of work; it shall be a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.
It shall be to you a Sabbath of solemn rest, and you shall afflict your souls; on the ninth day of the month at evening, from evening to evening, you shall celebrate your Sabbath’” (Lev. 23:26-32).
Regardless of synagogue affiliation or personal conviction, most refrain from work and fast for 25 hours. Prayers at sundown on the eve of Yom Kippur known as Kol Nidre and full day of communal worship are also common. (1) This year will be different. With the nation experiencing another shutdown, Yom Kippur is none-the-less the one day where routine in Israel abruptly stops as the nation reflects on repentance.
YOM KIPPUR – OCTOBER 6, 1973
Yom Kippur also marks the anniversary of a multi-national plan to destroy the State of Israel. On that day in 1973, life in Israel was at a standstill. The Jewish community had not eaten since an hour before sundown the previous day in observance of God’s directive. Israel’s Jewish citizenry were attending High Holy Day services at their respective synagogues when Egypt and Syria simultaneously attacked in a joint strategy successfully kept hidden from the world.
A Calculated Prelude to War
Only a few Egyptian officers were aware that the “exercises” in which they participated were actually a calculated prelude to war when Israel was most vulnerable. An Egyptian strike force of 240 fighter planes suddenly attacked positions in the Sinai and returned to their bases with all airstrikes taking place within 15 minutes. At the same time, 2000 Egyptian guns opened fire in an artillery barrage hammering Israeli positions for almost an hour; 10,000 artillery rounds pummeled the Israelis during the first minute. Simultaneously, 8,000 Egyptian troops crossed the Suez Canal in a push toward Israel’s border.
Egyptian war architects had calculated that their coordinated attacks would ensure 10,000 Israeli deaths by the end of the first day. In all, 208 Israeli soldiers—2.08% of the enemy’s projected mortality—gave their lives in preservation of the nation of Israel during the heat of battle.
What these warmongers had not anticipated was the combined tenacity of the Israeli army and God’s watchcare. While Egypt strengthened a grip on the Sinai, 1,400 tanks advanced across the Golan Heights systematically pushing back the Israeli defense.
Prime Minister Golda Meir reported the stealth attack and addressed the nation even as mobilization orders were broadcast that evening. She concluded her remarks in a strong and resolute affirmation: “I have no doubt that no one will give in to panic. We must be prepared for any burden and sacrifice demanded for the defense of our very existence, our freedom and independence”. (2)
By midnight of October 6, 1973, a mere 200,000 Israeli soldiers had been mobilized to confront as many as 850,000 Egyptian and 300,000 Syrian soldiers. Israel was outnumbered six to one.
The Israeli army was fully mobilized on October 8. At that point, the conflict changed as Israel began a counter attack. Two days later, Israeli armored divisions had regained the Golan Heights leaving behind them a battlefield littered with the remnants of immobilized Syrian tanks.
On October 13, Egyptian reinforcements began crossing the Suez Canal and the following morning launched a principal attack. In some places, tanks battled at ranges closer than 100 yards. Israel lost 10 tanks that day, but destroyed 264 Egyptian tanks crippling Egypt’s fighting capabilities and demoralizing enemy troops.
To the north, an Iraqi tank brigade threatened the flank of the Israeli attack. Before the end of the day, all 80 tanks had been destroyed. A second Iraqi tank brigade was deterred when an Israeli commando unit destroyed the lead tank and blew up a bridge. While the war raged, Egypt and Syria received shipments of the latest arms and ammunition from the Soviet Union including surface-to-air missiles and anti-tank weaponry.
Golda Meir’s Plea for Help
On October 13, after an impassioned plea from Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir, President Richard Nixon ordered the airlift of United States military supplies. His help enabled Israel to continue fighting for survival in the face of overwhelming odds.
It has been often reported that as Golda Meir was pleading for help, President Nixon recalled a boyhood conversation with his Quaker mother who declared he would one day be in a position of influence to save Israel. Despite the fact that he was dealing with the Watergate Scandal, Nixon arranged to convey the arms that were so desperately needed to Prime Minister Meir.
Nixon prefaced his argument to supply aid to Israel, “We are going to get blamed just as much for three planes as for three hundred . . . Use every [plane] we have—everything that will fly.” (3) “Later in her life, Golda Meir would admit that upon hearing of the airlift during a cabinet meeting, she began to cry.” (4) The battle raged on for nine more days as Israel defended borders and held tenaciously to territory gained in the fighting.
On October 22 at 1:00 p.m., Israel radio announced that a cease-fire was in effect on all fronts. For the first time in eighteen days, the blackout imposed upon Israel was lifted. That night the lights came back on again in Israel.
Casualties were heavy. When the battle was over, Israel’s death toll had climbed to 2,522—three times that of the Six Day War.
The calculated attack on Yom Kippur 1973 endangered both Israel’s security and survival as a nation. There is no question the surprise assault caught Israel unprepared. The invading armies, however, were ignorant of not only God’s ability, but willingness to intervene on behalf of Israel whom He identifies as, “The apple of His eye” (Zech. 2:8). (5)
Although the intelligence agencies of the world either missed or ignored the red flag warnings leading up to the Yom Kippur attack, God sees all. The psalmist explains, “Behold, He who keeps Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep” (Ps. 121:4).
One Israeli Defense Force medic wrote, “For Jews who have lived through the Yom Kippur War, the holiest of the High Holy days will never be the same. For us, it stands not only as a day of atonement but as day of gratitude to God for the miracle of survival.” (6)
The State of Israel is a striking reminder that the calculated attacks of sneaky enemies failed because God intervened to protect His Chosen People on the very day they seek His atonement.
The outcome of the Yom Kippur War is an example of the reciprocal action implied in God’s words to Abraham,” I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you” (Gen. 12:3). May we, as people of faith, take heed in our reflection on repentance.
1) Prayer services associated with Yom Kippur are as follows:
Maariv with solemn Kol Nidrei (the actual prayer recited) at sundown,
Shacharit, the morning prayer, featuring a reading from the book of Leviticus,
Musaf that recounts the Yom Kippur Temple service,
Minchah with the reading of the book of Jonah and
the Neilah, “the closing of the gates,” service—at sundown 24 hours later.
2) Martin Gilbert, Israel: a History (New York: Harper Perennial, 2008) 435.
3) Roger Stone, “EXCLUSIVE: How Richard Nixon Helped Save Israel (EXCERPT), the algemeiner, August 11, 2014.
5) While Christians can draw an application from the much quoted phrase, The apple of His eye, the context leaves no doubt that God is referring to the Jewish people—Israel.
6) Itzhak Brook, “A Struggle for Survival Against All Odds: The Yom Kippur War”, The Israel Forever Foundation, Archives.
1) Prayers at the Western Wall. (All image formats used for illustrative purposes) (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
2) Golda Meir. (Photo credit: Pixabay/[Public domain]/Enhancement, MKM Portfolios)
Copyright © 2016 Charles E. McCracken, comments only. Repost/Reprint with permission from the author. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.