Rabbi's Blog: Thoughts and Conversations With Rabbi Levi Shemtov

The Rebbe's Exceptional Soldiers

In just two weeks, we will be celebrating the holiday of Purim. Chabad of Riverdale's Purim Dinner this year will be "Purim in the Holy Land," where, dressed up Israeli-style, we will dine on Israeli cuisine, sip freshly-squeezed orange juice, and write cards to IDF soldiers who are in Israel without family.
Israel has always been beloved to Chabad. The profound connection between Chabad and Israel started as early as 1776 with the Chassidic Aliyah to Tiberias and Tzfat, and continues until this day. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory leader, always took an avid interest in Israel's affairs. He consistently expressed enormous recognition for the role of the Israel Defense Forces and stated that those who serve in the Israeli army perform a great Mitzva.

The following story highlights the Rebbe's special love, affinity, and admiration for Israel's defense soldiers:

Less than a year-and-a-half ago, Capt. Zev Shilon lay bleeding and wounded near the Israeli-Gaza border. Both of his hands were almost completely severed, and he says his thoughts turned to the world to come.

“My physical strength was gone, and it was only with G-d’s help that I was only able run back to base, dragging my right hand,” the former commander of an elite unit in the Givati Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces told a packed audience on Feb. 13 at the Binyanei Hauma International Convention Center in Jerusalem.

His talk was the high point of an evening celebrating the Chabad centers that serve hundreds of communities throughout Israel—from the Golan Heights and Metullah in the north to Eilat in the south.

During the weeks and months of his recovery at the end of 2012 and into 2013, Shilon connected with Rabbi Menachem Kutner of Chabad’s Terror Victims Project. “He gave me and my family strength during the most difficult times,” Shilon recalled emotionally. “He was with us all the way, helping us—and so many others—along the long road to recovery.”

Shilon eventually joined a Chabad-sponsored trip to New York, where he and others like him got the chance to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city that never sleeps. Through the warm welcome they received in many Chabad centers in the United States, Shilon says he was exposed to the Rebbe’s unique form of leadership, which “captured his heart.”


“The Rebbe [Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory] did not refer to us as ‘wounded soldiers,’ ” Shilon explained, “Rather, he insisted on referring to those who gave their very bodies for the safety of their fellow Jews as the ‘exceptional soldiers.’

“At the Rebbe’s Ohel [in Queens, N.Y.], I prayed that I regain use of my right hand. Just a few weeks later, on Chanukah, the Rebbe’s blessing came to fruition when Rabbi Kutner came into my hospital room to light the Chanukah candles with me, and I was able to do so with my right hand.” Shilon’s left lower arm and hand had been amputated, and he freely gestured with his prosthetic hand throughout his talk.

Looking ahead, Shilon expressed his personal goal of returning to his brigade and picking up where he left off, working to ensure that Israel and its citizens remain safe and secure.

Concurrently, with Purim just one month away, he spoke of Chabad’s plans to “flood the entire country with Purim gifts and joy, as only they know how.”


Beware of the Chabad Handshake!


A Handshake Links 70 Years! th (10).jpg

As recounted by Rebbitzen Chanie Lipskar of Bal Harbour, Florida, at the recent Shluchos Convention.

“Sitting at our Shabbos table, together with a group of guests, was a dear friend of my husband’s, a Holocaust survivor, scholar and businessman. We have a custom that each person either shares a dvar Torah, a Jewish experience or accepts upon himself to do a mitzvah.

My husband suggested to this gentleman that he take on the mitzvah of putting on tefillin every day, to which he responded, ‘Rabbi, I love you. But I cannot, and I’ll tell you why: The year was 1939 in Poland. The winds of war were already blowing and the situation for the Jewish community was dire.

In this state of chaos and uncertainty, just before my bar mitzvah, my father called me over and said in the most serious tone, “Meir’l, please commit to me that you will put on tefillin every day no matter what.” Then he stretched out his hand for me to shake it. As I was a cheder boy at the time this seemed to be an easy request, and I lifted my hand to commit myself.

My uncle, who was watching this saga unfold, took hold of my hand and said to my father, “Don’t make him swear to something he may be unable to fulfill.”

So there I was, looking at my father with his outstretched hand and mine halfway up to his but held back by my uncle. My father was murdered and I became a resourceful survivor against all odds. I never finished that handshake, Rabbi, and that is why I cannot accede to your request.’

“There was utter silence around our table. People were wiping away tears. Then my husband extended his hand and said, ‘Meir’l, let’s imagine that your father’s soul dressed itself in me for just a moment and let’s complete that handshake.’

“The room was electric as you felt all the history, pain and anguish of that period. After what seemed like an eternity, Reb Meir grasped my husband’s hand and sealed the handshake that had waited 70 years to be completed. His father’s request had finally been realized. There were tears, elation, singing and dancing. Reb Meir began to put on tefillin every day.”

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