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Beit Midrash Family and Society Army and War

At the Shabbat Table

Sharp Memory

2
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In some parts of Israel, hitchhiking is considered something of a national pastime. There are a number of factors contributing to the appeal of this mode of transportation. Of course, there are matters of practicality, such as limited public transportation in outlying areas, and desire to reduce travel costs. However, many Israelis view "tremping," as the locals call it, as a valuable social outlet. The kilometers of black asphalt seem to melt away as both driver and passenger delight in the opportunity to connect with a previously unknown member of a very large family.
As the boiling midday sun beat down on Daniel, he felt more than willing to forego the above pleasures, in exchange for a seat on his living room couch, under a blasting air conditioner. The sweat drenched palm that he placed above his eyes did little to provide relief to the overheated teenager. Nonetheless, he struggled to raise his eyes, in vain hope that some suitable vehicle would pass by before he would melt into a puddle.
He was just about to open his backpack to see whether his math or English textbook would provide better shade, when a screech of breaks caught his attention. Daniel eagerly pulled open the car door, sank into the seat, and closed his eyes. After he had caught his breath, he looked toward the driver’s seat, so he could thank the generous passerby. His thoughts of gratitude were quickly replaced with feelings of horror. Resting above the dashboard, not far from the driver’s amply etched bare arms, was shiny, sharp knife!
The long stretch of empty road did little to calm Daniel’s nerves, as he assessed his options. He eagerly looked for the nearest spot where he could ask to be let out. He took another look at the driver’s face, and noticed something somewhat reassuring, under the circumstances. The driver, far from appearing angry or menacing, actually seemed calm and happy! Overcome by curiosity, Daniel blurted out "just wondering, why do you have a knife in your car?"
"Oh, that," the driver casually replied. "I take that wherever I go. It’s a special story. It was during the Yom Kippur war. I was stationed on the Egyptian border. Suddenly, I found myself face to face with a Syrian soldier. I knew instantly from the raised gun in his hand that only one of us would make it out of this confrontation alive. It was a matter of seconds, and it was far from a sure thing, but I managed to be the one to shoot first. I looked at the enemy soldier, just seconds ago poised to take my life, now, himself, lying on the ground, and I knew that I needed to hold onto the memory of this miracle forever. I looked for something of his that I could take with me, to connect me to this moment. This knife, that you see lying here, seemed an obvious choice."
Daniel was both relieved and fascinated by the driver’s story. He and the driver carried on a pleasant conversation, for the rest of the ride.
(Note, Daniel, the protagonist in the story, is none other than the author of this column!)
Was the driver, in fact, fulfilling the mitzva of ‘pirsum ha-nes’ (publicizing a miracle) by keeping the Syrian soldier’s knife with him, wherever he went? Is there some precedent for this in Torah sources?
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
After King David killed Goliath, David took Goliath’s knife. Later on, David placed the knife in the Mishkan in order to commemorate the miracle. (Shmuel I, 21:10)
In another incident, David was shepherding his sheep, when a lion and bear approached, intending to attack the sheep. David miraculously succeeded in killing the lion and bear, before they could harm the sheep. David later took the skin of the sheep that he had saved, and made it into a garment, in order to remember this miracle. (Shmuel I, 17:34-36, see also Divrei Eliyahu, page 53)
We see from these stories that it is proper and valuable to remember and publicize a miracle.
However, it is important to note that, even though, according to Torah law, it is permitted to take spoils from war, according to the regulations of the IDF, it is forbidden to take the belongings of the enemy. Therefore, it would be proper for this man to ask permission to keep the knife, from someone in the IDF who is responsible for making such decisions. Because such a long time passed since this incident, it is likely that the man would receive permission.
Obviously, it is necessary for him to take precaution not to scare other people with the knife.
In summary:
If he receives permission from the IDF, carrying the knife with him is a fitting way to remember the miracles of the Yom Kippur war. However, he must be careful not to scare anyone with the knife.
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch
Rabbi Daniel Kirsch studied for many years at the famed Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem. He currently lives in Kedumim in the Shomron, where he studies at the yeshiva and teaches classes for adults. In addition, he teaches at an elementary school.
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