By Chiyya Smason
Chiyya Smason, son of Rabbi Ze’ev and Rebbetzin Smason of Nusach Hari of St. Louis, made an aliyah to Israel and now serves in Israeli Defence Forces. Chiyya is especially famous for the match made between him and Chagit Caspi, daughter of Yael and Hanan Caspi from Yokneam. The couple met at a Partnership sponsored Orthodox Shabbaton, where young people from St. Louis who are in Israel are invited on a regular basis to Yokneam for Shabbatons conducted by St. Louis rabbis.
Today marks two weeks to the day that I have been fighting here in Gaza, and a month since I stood under the chupa with my wonderful wife Chagit.
The war has been wearing on for quite some time now (at least by Israeli standards) and shows no sign of slowing down... at least to those on the front lines. I still have not changed my boxers and I try to change my socks once a week for Shabbos and at the same time to wash my feet. I sleep an average of an hour a night and that is on the cold metal floor of my cannon with my head on my helmet. I sleep with both handsets to both my tactical radios next to my head so I will be ready to answer at a seconds notice. I let my soldiers sleep in a tent on field beds with mattresses but I cannot allow my self that luxury as of yet - maybe if there will be a ceasefire. I need to be on the highest level of alert even while I am asleep - such is the life of a commander - according to the effort is the reward. I as a commander cannot spare any effort to make sure my team will fulfill our mission 110 percent.
Yesterday, my team and I reached a milestone: in this war we have fired over two hundred shells (and by the time you read this I am sure we will be well on our way to 300). Just to give you an idea of what that means I will explain a little more. We use two main types of shells: high explosive and smoke. The high explosive shell has a destructive radius of nearly 200 feet and the smoke shell provides a dense 800 foot wide smoke screen for almost ten minutes. Each shell costs about a thousand dollars. In commander school I fired four shells in four months. We have killed close to 100 militants, injured at least twice that much, destroyed hundreds of homes and hundreds of acres of land and a number of other different operations that I cant go into detail about. In addition to all the damage we have caused we have saved hundreds of lives on the Israeli side, both civilians and soldiers
Yesterday a D9 Bulldozer was hit by an anti-tank missile and the crew sustained heavy casualties and my team and a special engineering force worked together to help rescue them. We provided covering fire while they evacuated the wounded and extracted the D9. Just this morning we hit a rocket launching team as they were about to fire a volley of rockets on civilians. One terrorist was killed and three badly injured. One of the greatest challenges that I face as a team commander is to keep focused on the mission.
As the war wears on and the days turn into weeks, and the reality of war starts to set in - not the glamorous movie war - the real war: the sleepless nights, the lonesomeness, the injuries, the deaths, the nitty gritty of mans favorite pastime, it becomes easier and easier with every passing day to enter into robot mode. To forget who we are and what we are fighting for. This war like every single war that the Jewish people have ever fought is a war of survival. Survival of the Jewish people historically depends on its ability to make war. It is not coincidental that the war begun on Chanuka. We must remember that we are fighting for our country and our nation. For our identity as a Jewish nation in our Jewish homeland. We are not only fighting Hamas - we are fighting anybody and everybody who has ever wished for our destruction. We must be strong.
I have had a chance to fulfill a mitzvai which most people will never fulfill. The Rambam says that in a Milchemet Mitzvah (war by mitzvah) even a chatan m'chupato (groom in a midst of wedding) must go to battle. I am just thankful that I have such a wonderful wife who gives me support and is with me even when we are not together. I wish I could explain how I feel but it is impossible. How do I transmit the feeling after hearing that thanks to our timely and accurate fire an entire unit was saved from certain death? How do I explain what it feels like to fight in defense of Eretz Yisrael and Am Yisrael.
This weeks parsha is Shemot: the beginning of HaShem's bringing the Jewish people out of Egypt and into Eretz Yisrael. I am thankful that I am being given the chance to take part in what I see as the continuation of what began with our going out of Egypt - the Jewish nation. I am proud that I have been chosen to lead soldiers into battle to defend my people in their time of need. I am proud to have been chosen to lead soldiers into this holy battle. I am proud of my country, my wonderful country, that despite all its faults is willing to take on the entire world in order to protect its citizens. What started in Egypt so long ago will never disappear because we are Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael and we are here to stay. That I promise.
When my soldiers get tired I remind them that in this war our strength is not human. Iin this holiest of wars our strength is that of angels fighting in the name of God - in the name of God we will be victorious. I am proud of my soldiers and I am proud to be their commander. I am proud to be a commander in the army of God and I pray that HaShem truly will give me and my fellow soldiers the strength of angels in battle.
Miss you and love you all.