This Day In History – 24 Cheshvan 5703 – November 4, 1942.

Husyatiner Rebbe: How the Battle was Really Won

In the summer of 1942, General Erwin Rommel and his vaunted Afrika Korps had advanced through Northern Africa and were poised on the doorstep of the Holy Land. A huge armada, comprised of elite German and Italian infantry units, were located near El Alamein, eighty km. south of Alexandria and one-hundred-and-fifty km. west of Cairo, the Egyptian capital, The entire Jewish population of Palestine was overwhelmed with fear and dread, as Hitler himself had boasted of wiping out the Jewish presence in one day! German bombers had already strafed Tel Aviv, and the Yishuv (Jewish community in Israel) knew it was in mortal danger. If Rommel could break through the British defenses in Egypt, there was no stopping them from conquering Palestine. The Jewish Agency in Palestine began destroying sensitive documents and shipping other records out of its headquarters. The Orthodox communities declared days of public prayer and fasting.

On the fourteenth of Tammuz, 5702/1942, Rabbi Yaakov Landau, Chief Rabbi of Bnei Brak, and a close disciple of the Husyatiner Rebbe, R’ Yisroel Friedman zt”l, visited his mentor at his home in Tel Aviv, as he often did to seek guidance and advice. During the visit, the conversation centered on the great trepidation which had engulfed Eretz Yisrael, with the latest news of the advancing German armies stationed in neighboring Egypt.

The Rebbe was in obvious distress regarding the ongoing situation. Rav Landau urged him to do whatever he could to effect Divine mercy on behalf of the the Jews of the Holy Land, but the Husyatiner Rebbe kept shaking his head and murmuring to himself, “What can I do? Is there anything I can do?”

His disciple gathered up his courage and replied “Definitely! Of course! There is no question that the tzaddik must intervene.”

After a long pause, the Rebbe nodded his head. He accepted his disciple’s suggestion and announced that he will visit the tomb of the renowned Ohr HaChayim, Chacham Chayim ben Attar zt”l, the following day, the day of the great Tzaddik’s yahrzeit.

The next day, as the terrible threat hung over the Jews of the Holy Land, the Rebbe, in the company of a large group of chassidim, ascended to the Ohr HaChayim’s gravesite on the fifteenth of Tammuz, the day of the yahrzeit. He was also joined there by another great tzaddik, R’ Shlomka Zhviller zt”l. The atmosphere was most somber and spiritual. The Rebbe stood at the tomb for a lengthy period of time, engrossed in meditation. Tears streamed down his face as he prayed, even though they remained tightly shut all throughout. Behind him stood one of the Rebbe’s closest disciples, who felt the need to keep prodding the Rebbe to do something by saying, “Rebbe, the rasha (Rommel) is already at our doorstep. He is threatening us all....”

Suddenly, the Rebbe opened his eyes. He looked around at the expectant faces of the assemblage and his demeanor became more composed. Then, to the utter amazement of all, he said quietly, “Zurg zich nisht – Do not worry – he (Rommel) will not make it here!” He later explained that he was able to speak with such certainty about the German defeat because, “While engrossed in deep meditation, with my eyes closed, Hashem’s holy Name appeared to me with exceptional brilliance. I immediately realized that the rasha would not be successful in his drive to the Holy Land.”

The Husyatiner Rebbe then ordered that exactly a minyan of highly regarded people gather around the gravesite, along with a sefer Torah. The Rebbe personally chose the Torah scroll to be taken. He asked the special delegation to request from the Ohr HaChayim to “act in harmony with him.” The small group remained on Har Hazeisim for a few more hours before the oncoming dusk forced them to return home.

After several days the news was announced that Rommel’s army had suffered a great defeat at the hands of the British under General Montgomery. The Axis advance was halted in early July in the First Battle of El Alamein. By mid-July Rommel was still at El-Alamein, blocked, and had even been thrown on the defensive, thus ending the first battle. The British had stopped his drive to overrun Egypt and seize the canal.

On the night of October 23-24, a barrage from more than 800 guns heralded the Allied offensive. By November 2nd, Rommel knew that he was beaten. Hitler ordered the Afrika Korps to fight to the last but Rommel refused to carry out this order. On November 4, 24 Cheshvan, Rommel started his retreat. 25,000 Germans and Italians had been killed or wounded in the battle. This Allied victory turned the tide in the North African Campaign and ended the Axis threat to the entire Middle East. It also revived the morale of the Allies, being the first major offensive against the Germans, since the start of the war in 1939, in which the Western Allies achieved a decisive victory.

Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, famously summed up the crucial battle of El Alamein with the words, “Before Alamein we never had a victory; after Alamein we never had a defeat.”

They also never had an inkling of the mighty power of prayer that the Husyatiner Rebbe brought to bear on a previously hopeless situation.

Heroes of Faith,  Israel Book Shop Publications

Rav Yisroel Friedman zt”l, Husyatiner Rebbe