By M. Samsonowitz
When the recent Lebanon War broke out in all its fury, Jews in Israel and around the world were unprepared. While soldiers poured to the front to fight the terrorists attacking Israel, Jews in Israel and around the world watched tensely from the sidelines, opening their hearts in prayer and looking to gain zchuyos.
Rav Simcha Kook, Chief Rabbi of Rechovot, was one of the rabbis who had a front view of the suffering and danger. Visiting soldiers in the north and the wounded in hospitals, he was searching for a way to help those in danger.
He met with the Bostoner Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok Horowitz to discuss what they could do. Their attention riveted on that week’s parsha — Matos. They realized that the answer they were seeking was right there in the parsha.
In the battle against the Midianites, Moshe Rabeinu picked 1,000 fighters from each tribe, and set aside another 1,000 to pray for their welfare. The prayers were effective and not one Jewish soldier fell in battle. Why couldn’t this same system be applied today? They asked Rav Chaim Kanievsky his opinion for such a program.
“This program has Moshe Rabeinu’s seal of approval,” he responded enthusiastically. “It is certainly minhag avoseinu.” He added that David Hamelech also instituted this arrangement when waging his wars.
That Thursday night, without delay, Rav Kook called up major Jewish organizations. He asked them to join him in launching the Elef L’Mateh program which pairs a soldier or resident of Israel’s north with a Jew somewhere in the world who will pray or get spiritual merits specifically for him.
All the groups responded with alacrity and sent notices to their affiliated shuls and institutions.
Rav Pesach Lerner, the Executive Vice President of the National Council of Young Israel, stayed up that night to prepare and send off a letter to the thousands of people on Young Israel’s e-mail list –rabbis, community leaders, shul members, as well as fax to all Young Israel shuls and affiliated shuls, so that news of the program would reach everywhere before Shabbos.
The results were electrifying. The next morning, the phones and faxes didn’t stop ringing, and thousands of emails flooded Rav Kook and Rav Lerner’s mailboxes wanting the name of a soldier to pray for. People had been looking for a way to express their love and solidarity for their brothers in danger in Eretz Yisroel. From Australia to Zambia, from South Africa to Toronto, from Brazil to Japan, everyone wanted to do their part.
They sent heartwarming and inspiring messages along with their requests to join the program. Kolels, schools and shuls wanted dozens of names to give out to all their members and students. People who weren’t shomer mitzvos and weren’t used to praying asked if their prayers would help. (The answer is every prayer counts!) One person undertook to keep Shabbos better as a zchus. A kallah asked for names to pray for on her wedding day. People expressed enthusiasm for the initiative, which gave them a concrete way to do something for a fellow Jew during these critical times.
Over the next few days, Rav Kook spoke on many radio stations about this program, and the word spread through many web sites.
When Rav Kook visited army bases, he clearly felt the tension pervading the soldiers. When he suggested that they take part in a Elef L’Mateh spiritual partnership, they welcomed the idea and told him that knowing someone was working to give them spiritual merits was a great relief. Soldiers gave him the names of soldiers in their battalion, parents sent in the names of their sons and nephews, and others sent in names of friends and neighbors.
“Our son is in the IDF somewhere in Lebanon. We would appreciate having his name sent to someone who doesn’t already know him. Perhaps it would help to keep him safe. We would like to be given the name of another soldier to daven and say tehillim for…” D. W. of New Hyde Park, New York.
“Thank you, Thank you for this wonderful initiative. I feel such hope to hear of fighting our war this way and fostering achdut among our communities who love and serve Hashem. May Hashem bless your efforts. Please daven and learn in the merit of these soldiers. They are all in serious danger, in combat, most of them deep in Lebanon…” C. Z. from Alon Shvut, Israel.
When Rav Kook was visiting wounded soldiers in Tel Hashomer hospital, he told soldiers about the new Elef L’Mateh program. Wounded soldiers begged him to have people pray for them.
In one ward, a critically wounded soldier was lying unconscious, surrounded by his distressed brothers who had heard from the doctors it was unlikely he would pull through. Rav Kook exclaimed, “He needs powerful merits working on his behalf.” and immediately organized not one person but a whole minyan to partner with him. In a few days, the youth began to improve and the doctors say he will now live.
Rav Kook is himself uplifted at the huge outpouring of ahavas Yisroel and mutual responsibility which Elef L’Mateh has engendered. “Jews everywhere feel as if it is their own children on the front. Is there another people who, on facing suffering and tragedy, unite to pray for each other? Knowing that there is a Jew on the other side of the world who is praying for you gives a soldier chizuk to carry on. Who doesn’t want someone to pray for him? At such a time, we all know there is only Hashem to turn to.”
Within 2-3 days, Elef L’Mateh had matched 7,000 people. Two weeks later, it has made 30,000 matches.
The tremendous flood of responses required reorganization. Rav Kook fielded emails and calls in Israel while Jewish organizations around the globe undertook to give out names in their areas.
Rav Lerner says about the program, “It combines brilliance and simplicity. People were saying Tehilim, but connecting to a specific person gives people something to focus on. It’s not just about the war but about a real person.”
The rabbonim say that the Elef L’Mateh program will continue as long as there are soldiers on the front.
They are already thinking of taking the program to the next level by creating a master list so whenever there is a sudden call-up, Klal Yisroel can immediately pull out its tefilla battalion. Since Chazal tell us that the real strength of the Jewish people is their voices — their prayers and Torah study — Elef L’Mateh’s initiative constitutes a weapon not less powerful than tanks and F-16s.
This is one weapon that the Jewish people cannot afford to be without.
Those interested in participating can contact Rabbi Kook in Israel at firstname.lastname@example.org or Rabbi Lerner in the U.S. at execvp@YoungIsrael.org or 212-929-1525 ext 100/101