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Passover in Vietnam
By Joseph Rabino
It may not seem a place to celebrate Passover, but I was there and Passover had come. I remember many a thing, but this was special for me. Rabbi David Del Sol was my mentor back in La Sinagoga on 125th Street on Lexington Ave. in The Bronx. He had taught me many things since I was his student on my way to becoming a "Rabino" before I had gone to Vietnam. I remember something that would affect my life ... yet it was one of those things you learn but truly do not understand until it happens in your life.
Rabbi David had once taught me; "A G-dly Light is found in The Righteous, like a seed planted in their souls, ready to expand and multiply when it is watered, tended to and cared for. For those who guard their souls, and perform their service to G-d, the Light increases sevenfold, until the great Light of prophecy breaks upon them. Thus, 'For The upright in heart, Joy.' They will delight in a spiritual joy, by means of which G-d's Light shines in their souls. (Malbim, Psalms 97(Psalms 96)) 'Light is sown for The Righteous, and for the upright in heart, joy.'"
Company awaited orders to move out for a mission behind enemy lines and Passover was only a day away. I was hoping that the orders would not come until after Passover. At this point in my life, I was looking for answers that filled my soul. Questions that questioned my very own beliefs in what I had learned in the Yeshiva and from my mentor Rabbi David Del Sol.
I remember that my own father had left the community years before I had reached the age of 8. He wanted to see what the rest of America was like and live the life that many non-Jewish people lived. So, you see, I was taken away from a world that I had began to grow in, to a world that was not like anything I had known.
It was my grandfathers who had kept me in touch with my people and our beliefs. Yes, I did run away as I grew older, just like my father. I did keep studying but it was to show my love for my grandfathers. They were the Kabbalists, who wanted to make sure I knew who I was and to prepare me like they were prepared by their fathers.
Yet in The World that my father lived in, it seemed that who you were was not important as long as you melted in the pot of America. I was foolish enough to believe this. In my being there was a strange "feeling" that also kept me wanting to know more about what I was taught and who I was.
Orders came down and we were to leave that afternoon to an unknown destination. Being a Green Beret and serving with the 7th Airborne Special Forces was something that I had wanted to do to show off my uniform back home. We loaded up into the choppers and began our mission. I had not prepared anything even though I knew that most likely I would spend Passover in the jungle on patrol. As we downloaded in the drop zone, all I could think of was to make it out alive and hopefully go downtown to enjoy the night life.
We were divided into four platoons. Two were to go North and the other two to the Northeast and meet up at the Mission Point. My platoon was to go northeast. The jungle was humid, since it had rained all the day before and night and the mud heavy. We had gone at least 30 miles and the captain wanted to call it a day.
We encamped in a huge cave that was near. Some of the guys had to keep watch as the rest of us unloaded ourselves and found a spot to lie down in. I had chosen a spot deeper in the cave than the others did. We could light up fires to warm up our K-rations that we had in our packs. Like always I made sure that I had peaches and pound cake and some turkey in a can.
I had just begun to make some coffee, when the sound of bullets rang out from the west of our position. One of our guys had seen the Vietcong-Charlie and opened fire upon them. Charlie returned fire and began to pin us down in the cave, in which we had chosen to rest. Several of us made it out of the cave and opened fire on them. We knew that we had to kill them and not let one of them escape otherwise our position would be in danger.
One of the guys had been hit in the leg and was crying out for the medic to help him. But the primary medic was dead and could not hear him. As secondary medic, I had to rush to his side and it took me several minutes or more to make it to him. I was scared and tried to keep myself calm. I reached him in time to hear him cry out his last words that were "I'm going Home, little Jew" ... he died in my arms. I tried to awaken him and to let him know that he was not to give up, yet my words fell onto a dead man's ears.
Someone else cried out for a medic, and I had to grab the dog tags and go to the one who was still alive. This one was badly wounded and all I could do was to give him some painkillers, since the bullets were still flying over our heads and at us. Someone else cried out and I was off again.
As I reached the other wounded man, I myself was hit. All it was, was a bullet that had passed by my right eye and slightly touched my face. Blood came out as if I had been hit directly into my body. The wounded man cried out and all I could think of was him. The rest of the guys had done their jobs the best that they could, BUT several Charlies had made their escape.
The Captain ordered us to regroup. The count was one dead and seven wounded, not including me. The captain knew we had to move on or Charlie would be back and would bring more of his cousins with him. Our pickup point was at least 33 miles behind and the Mission Point at least 50 miles ahead of us.
We divided up into two squads. One to return to the pickup point; and the other was to continue with the mission. I was to return with the wounded and the dead man. We made our plans to return to pickup point by using a different route because Charlie would most likely be waiting for us along that route. We could not wait and lick our wounds but had to go forward before it got any darker than it was to be in an hour or two.
The blood was dry on my face and slightly obscured my vision. I tried to wash it off but I could not waste water for it was all that I had. The pace was slow and cautious. Besides me, there were only four others who were not wounded and between us we had to make sure the wounded could go on. It was not more than ten miles when we had to find a place to rest and camp. Many of us had lost our K-rations and extra ammo.
We could not waste a thing or start a fire to warm our food or keep warm ourselves. I tried to keep an eye on the wounded and also do my turn at watch. Two guys had taken the first watch, the other guys lay down to sleep for a couple of hours before our watch. I tried to calm down the wounded and to sleep a little myself. The time went very fast and it was my turn at watch. I sat down near a rock that would let me see the area behind us without putting myself in direct line of fire.
As I sat there, my mind began to wonder and I remembered that Passover had begun. All I had was some pound cake (two cans) and water and two candy bars. I prayed for a safe escape from the enemy and started to recall the flight of my people, "the Jews".
I was longing for freedom that was denied to me in this time of my life and the freedom denied to my fellow wounded friends. We were not slaves, but we were soldiers who just could not get up and go home but had to, at this time, try to make it to the pickup point. In other words, to our Red Sea, to escape the enemy, who most likely were behind us, looking for us to kill us.
I could wish that we had a light by night to guide us but I knew that there was none. My thoughts ran though my head and my heart kept hoping like a little child who was lost. I remembered Psalm 23 and said it, repeated it many times. It was a prayer for courage that seemed to fly away from me.
I was afraid, afraid that maybe this time was my last time to be alive. My eyes were heavy and sleep kept trying to overcome me. I believe that I did fall asleep several times for seconds at a time. I remember thinking or dreaming that I was with my departed grandfathers, at the Seder.
How I used to enjoy finding the hidden Matzo and getting a prize for its redemption. All I could think of was the Seder - that special time were my people gathered together to celebrate an event that had happened long ago. Not only that but to make it an event that they had been at or part of. For they always said "us" and not them.
They made Passover an event that was personal all the way. I had stopped doing that after Hebrew school, even through Yeshiva. Yet here I was and all I could think of was the Seder and what it had meant to my grandfathers.
My heart began to talk to me and its desire was to hold my own Seder, right there by myself. I found myself, wishing to know what it really meant to be a free man. One of the more badly wounded began to go into shock. I rushed to him and tried to help him as much as I could. Jones, one of the other not so badly wounded guys gave me a hand with this.
I used my poncho as a blanket to keep him warm while stopping the blood from flowing from his wound in his Leg. I had never really been afraid but on this night I started to be afraid. My reality was not what I wanted - but the safety of the warm Seder service that I was recalling in my heart as I remembered the past that was not important then but now was. I tried thinking of some of the prayers as best as I could remember them.
I had been giving the honor of leading my first Seder service, the year of my bar mitzvah. Here I was, among my family. Grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, my own people.
Leading was meant to be an honor that in my family meant the highest blessing that could be given.
I began with the Kiddesh (Sanctification of The day):
"Now in The presence of loved ones, before us the emblems of festive rejoicing, we gather for our sacred celebration. With the household of Israel, our Elders, and our young ones, linking and bonding the past with the future, we heed once again the divine call to service.
Living our story that is told for all peoples, whose shining conclusion is yet to unfold, we gather to observe The Passover, as it is written, so shall we do.
"You shall keep the feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of Egpyt. You shall observe this day throughout the generations as a practice for all times." (Exodus 12:17)
So, we assemble in fulfillment of the mitzvah. "Remember the day on which you went from Egypt, from the house of bondage, and how The LORD freed you with a mighty hand." (Exodus 13:13)
I said the prayer to sanctify this day even though I kept my senses ready for I knew that my enemy would kill me and my buddies without a second though. How was I to fulfill the mitzvah when I was the only one from the house of Israel here in this jungle and could not pay full attention, as I knew I should?
Now I wished that I had taken the honor given to me more to heart then what I had done. How could a boy who had just become a man in the eyes of my family, even think that I would one day be here and wanting to celebrate the Passover, even though the reality of the present would seem to indicate it was not the proper time or place. Yet the hunger within me said that now was the time and place.
Jones saw that I had things on my mind that took me away from this hellhole. He wanted to talk about it, yet I pushed him away and returned to my watch. Jones took to the other side to keep his watch. Sleep was trying to overtake me, as I sat there without thought, looking into the jungle. For a second as I looked into the sky, I believed I saw the menorah which I had lighted that night so long ago. The prayer or meditation overtook my heart as I repeated it within myself.
"May the festival lights we now kindle, inspire us to use our powers, to heal, and not harm, to help, and not to hinder, to bless, and not to curse, to serve YOU, O G-d of freedom. Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam Asher kidshanu b'mitzvo-tav v'tzivanu L'hadlik ner shel yom tov."
Here was I, ready to take life away from another in order to save those of my buddies, who like myself, were soldiers and would have killed the enemy without a second thought. How could I say this prayer and mean it?
To heal? To help? To Bless? When I was ready to do harm, and curse them! Yet I knew that the lights of the candle could and would lead me to my G-d, even if the candles were in my heart and not real, where I could touch them.
I could see Jones acting funny as I saw him with the corner of my eye. He appeared to be getting ready to throw a grenade. I tried calling to him in a low voice but he kept still. Was Charlie there? And how many of them? Without knowing what he saw there, he began to fire. All of us assumed our positions, firing back in the direction in which Jones had fired. We did get an answer, as bullets were our answer from the enemy. How long were they there?
We tried to provide a shield for the badly wounded. Our dark space was lit up by all the fire that both of us were shooting at each other. Jones cried out that one of the enemies had gotten away, as the rest of our Enemies lay dead in the jungle. This meant only one thing, we had to move and move fast. The one that got away would return and not by himself. We had to count one dead among us. Granger, who had been wounded, now lay in his own blood by pieces that were left after the mortal shell hit him. A set of dog tags and a body bag, and who would carry him? Jones and The rest of us began to go deeper into the jungle, not knowing for sure how much time we could gain, as we now carried our brother and helped those who were still Alive But Wounded.
My thoughts once again ran away to a more Familiar time when we would pray; "Happy are Those of Steadfast faith, WHO still can bless The light of candles, Shining in The darkness. Rejoice, O Earth, in those who keep the way, for there is still song for them within you."
But Granger, would not, could not stand steadfast for his life was taken away, he was in darkness without any light. How would he, or could he hear the song within the earth. My tears fell as the river waters that run freely in the Hudson Bay. No time for sorrow or pain, as we kept going forward into a place which we had never known. The march we did lasted around an hour and a half. The wounded needed to rest; the rest of us needed it too. I took my canteen and was about to drink but I held off.
I remembered about The First cup - Kos Kiddush - The Cup of Sanctification.
All I had was water and wine was nowhere to be found in this jungle.
I prayed that ha-Shem would overlook this and permit me to drink it as if it was wine. I could hear my grandfather Rabino Mosheh say the words that now rang in my head:
"Our story tells that in diverse ways, with different words, G-d gave promises of Freedom to our people. With cups of wine we recall each one of them, as now, the First. We take up the Kiddush cup and proclaim the holiness of this day of deliverance!
We praise YOU, O G-d, King of the Universe, WHO creates the fruit of the vine! Baruch Attah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen.
We praise YOU, O G-d, Sovereign of Existence! YOU have called us for service from among the peoples, and have hallowed our Lives with commandments. In Love YOU have given us Festivals for rejoicing, seasons of celebration, this festival of matzoth, the time of our freedom, a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt. Praised are YOU, O LORD our G-d, WHO gave us this joyful heritage and WHO sanctifies Israel and the festivals.
We praise YOU, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, WHO has kept us in life, sustained us, and brought us to this festive season." Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam she-heh-heh-yanu v'ki-y'manu v'hig-anu lazman hazeh.
I lifted my canteen and drank the first cup.
Water ... water! One of the wounded cried. I turned and went to him. I offered him a drink to satisfy his thirst for water, one of the last things he ever did, before he closed his eyes as I held him in my arms.
Another lost one, who's dog tags and body bag would have to be carried, in order to take him home, somewhere in the USA.
How could I rejoice as men were leaving this life, unknown to me if they ever made the peace with Our G-d, WHO loved us all, even the enemy the Vietcong. Was I too to leave after making it to this festive season?
What was I doing here, so many miles away from the Home and loved one's I knew and now remembered. Though many were dead by now, they still lived in my mind. Was my life kept and sustained to meet my death here in this jungle where, instead of the land I knew? Where my family and friends were getting ready to celebrate the Passover, saving a chair for Elijah.
As my chair and place would be filled by someone else - why keep me alive on this day that marked the day of deliverance from slavery and bondage from Egypt - If I was to meet my death shortly?
I tried helping the others as these things ran through my mind. We tried to gather the little we had for k-rations, in order to provide for us all. The wounded were fed first and what remained was rationed among the rest of us, leaving rations for the day or days that lay ahead.
I could not eat, for the tears covered my eyes as my thoughts ran back and forth. I could see my grandfathers the rabinos, reading the Tanack as they passed the greens along with salted water.
"Arise my beloved, my fair one, and come away; For lo, the winter is past, flowers appear on the earth, The time of singing is here, The Song of the dove is heard in our Land. Let us go down to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded. There will I give you my love." (Song of Songs 2:10-12)
My hands reached out for some grass and I took it. Before I lifted it up, my tears fell on them and I ate the grass. I could taste the salt in them and knew that it was my tears that had salted the grass. My heart and mind remembered the prayer and without thought I said it:
"Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam borei p'ri ha-adamah. (Praised are YOU, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, WHO creates the fruit of the earth.)"
Here again, I knew that grass was not food, well - food for humans, yet it was the only "greens" that I could get where I was.
One of the other guys heard noise coming from our west side and we prepared once again to fight. The captain and the rest of the platoon that had carried out the mission were running back to our meeting spot.
We made contact and felt a lot more safer than before, yet the knowing that Vietcong Charlie could hit us made us know it would soon be time to move again. Out of four platoons, what remained were only two and half platoons and three dead bodies. The captain let us know that The Vietcong were waiting on them as they reached the mission point.
The other platoon had been trapped there and was almost finished off completely. The mission was completed yet the Vietcong had prepared for it and the damage was done only to the old, not the new site they had made for their ammo and other supplies.
Jones had a piece of bread and came over to me and offered me a small piece, as he ate the rest of it. He without knowing it sent me back to the Seder, where The Yachatz (breaking the Matzoh in half) would be next. One of my grandfathers would read the following:
"Now I break the middle matzoth and conceal one half as the afikoman. Later we will share it, as in the days of old the Passover offering itself was shared at this service in Jerusalem."
Among people everywhere, sharing of bread forms a bond of fellowship. For The sake of our redemption, we say together the ancient words, which join us with our people and with all who are in need, with the wrongly imprisoned and the beggar in the street. For our redemption is bound up with the deliverance from bondage of people everywhere.
Here instead of me, sharing my pound cake with Jones, he was sharing his small piece of bread with me and unknowingly bonding us together in a way that united us more then just the present.
I remembered a prayer that would be said before the afikoman was hidden, and that was a prayer that my mother would say to herself:
"This is the bread of affliction, The poor bread, which our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let ALL who are hungry come and eat. Let ALL who are in want share the Hope of Passover. As we celebrate here, we join with our people everywhere. This year we celebrate here. Next year in the land of Israel. Now we are all still bondmen. Next year may all be free".
My Mother would always give food to those in need, even when us three did not have much to eat. Here, I was bonding to Jones and trying to awake the bond of brotherhood between him - but the thought that maybe one of us or both would not make it out alive stopped me dead cold. Yet I did reach out to him, for all of us here were in the same boat and we entrusted our lives to one another. Each of us knew that each of us had to do what needed to be done, so that the other could make it back to safety. Here were men who were not all alike, white, black, Hispanic, Gentiles and a Jew, whose lives were in each other's hands.
Our escape from this jungle, meant life and a chance to fight another day in another place in Vietnam. The bond that held us together was life, and the hope to enjoy it for another day. We were beggars, in need, hungry and in want (wanting to make it out alive).
The captain sent out two scouts ahead, while the rest of us carried our dead and our wounded, as those who could and were free to surround us as a shield so that we could care for those in need of our care. Our pace was faster than before, yet not as fast as we wished or hoped.
We stopped to rest for half an hour or so, due to the wounded and those of us who were doing the carrying of others. I sat down and looked around me and kept an eye on the wounded. I opened up a can of peaches, and looked at them. I remembered the mix my grandmothers would make for the Seder, the Charoses.
How they would chop up apples, and nuts and mix in honey and maybe a couple of extra things into the mix. But All I had were peaches. Once again I had to ask for help since I could not get Motzi, Matzah or Maror here and right now. I held the green can of peaches and a pack of saltine crackers and said the prayers that one of my Uncles would say:
"BARUCH Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam ha-motzi lechem min ha-aretz. We praise YOU, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, WHO brings forth bread from the earth.
BARUCH Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam asher kidshanu b'mitzvo-tav v'tzivanu al ahilat matzah. We Praise YOU, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, WHO hallows our lives with commandments, WHO has commanded us regarding the eating of matzah.
BARUCH Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-oalm asher kidshanu b'mitzvo-tav v'tzivanu al ahilat maror. We Praise YOU, O Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, WHO hallows our lives through commandments, WHO has commanded us regarding the eating of maror."
I ate the crackers and peaches and I needed not horseradish because the bitter taste of bondage and fear of death was with me even as I ate the sweet heavy sugared peaches. I had done what Hillel did when the Temple stood and combined the crackers and peaches in a cracker sandwich, so that I too would observe the precept handed down to me like my Grandfathers before; "They shall eat the paschal lamb with matzah and maror together" (Numbers 9:11)
Sure I did not have any lamb and my crackers and peaches were far from being matzah and maror but I did the best I could with what I had.
The family would say together:
"Together they shall be; the matzah of freedom, the maror of slavery, For in time of freedom, there is knowledge of servitude. And in time of bondage, the hope of redemption."
I knew that the price of freedom could mean our lives for as soldiers we were to serve and give our all. And right now in bondage of fear, we only could hope for our lives. For we could not give up without the true fight for if we did, we were all dead and trying to escape would mean nothing, nothing at all.
I could not just give up, for life now seemed so precious to me and those of the men with me. As long as we had hope, I knew that we would fight and make it back.
One of the wounded began to cry, so I rushed over to him to keep him quiet. I tried to reassure him that all would be OK, even though fear would show its face to me, too! He began to ask many questions and the only answers I could give him only resulted in more questions.
Thoughts ran through my mind and the Four Questions overshadowed all other questions. I began to tell him of these questions and the answers that were given:
"Why is this night different from all the other nights?
On all other nights, we eat either Leavened bread or matzah; on this night-only matzah.
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs; on this night, we specially eat bitter herbs.
On all other nights, we do not dip herbs; on this night we dip them twice.
On all other nights, we eat in an ordinary manner; tonight we dine with special ceremony."
He seemed to understand but could not ask many more questions. yet I keep on going and said more:
"Four times the Torah tells us to tell our children of the Exodus of Egypt. Four times it repeats, "And you shall tell your child on that day...". From this we can infer that there are different kinds of people. To each we must respond in a different way, depending on their question, situation and need."(I remembered this being taught to me and now it was time to practice it.)
I heard myself telling him; The wise person asks, "What are the precepts, laws, and observances which the LORD our G-d commanded us?
To him we should explain the observances of the Passover thoroughly, The very last one of which is that after the Passover Seder, we do not turn to other kinds of entertainment.
The wicked person says, "What is this observance to you?" since he says "to you" and not "to us", he rejects essentials of our Faith: the unity of G-d and the community of Israel. To him we respond sharply: "It is because of what The LORD did for "me" when I went forward from Egypt-'for me', that is and not 'For you'! For had you been there, you would not have known redemption."
The simple person asks, "What is this?" To him we say, "With a mighty arm G-d freed us from Egypt, from the house of bondage." a straight forward is given to these; for "The Torah of Ha-Shem makes the wise the simple."
With the person unable to ask, you must begin yourself, as Torah says:
"You shall tell your child on that day, saying: "This is because of what the Lord did for me when I went free from Egypt." and why this, because with this child who has no need to know, no will to serve, "You must begin yourself "to awaken the need, to give the will!"
He smiled as he looked into my eyes and saw something that I only hoped I could be, he called out to me, "Rabbi, teach me some more!" as he passed from this Life with a little of Passover in his heart!
I cried for another one had gone the way of death. Leaving behind parents, loved ones and friends that would never see him laugh, cry, shout or anything else. Yet on his face was a joy from the words that I had said that surpassed anything he might have known in Life.
I held unto him, as I told myself, this one was one who could not ask yet heard what the Lord did for me, as I was freed from Egypt.
I took his dog tags from his neck and covered his eyes with my hand.
What else could I do for him that would not see the light of the sun or the moon and stars at night. I felt alone even though others were still with me in this despair of a place that could and would claim more of our lives. My thoughts turned to the "Maggid - The narration". My other grandfather Rabino Avraham, would begin and soberly look into our eyes, as to make sure that we were listing to what he was saying:
"There are many questions, now WE begin to answer.
Our history moves from slavery to freedom. Our narration begins with degradation and rises to dignity. Our service opens with the rule of evil and advances toward the Kingdom of G-d.
We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt and The Lord freed "us" from Egypt with a mighty hand. Had not The Holy ONE, praised be HE, delivered our people from Egypt, then WE, Our Children and our children's children would still be slaves."
Therefore, even if all of us were wise, all of us people of understanding, all of us learned in Torah - it would still be our obligation to tell the story of Exodus from Egypt.
Moreover, whoever searches deeply into its meaning is considered praiseworthy. For the redemption is NOT yet complete."
Was I to be freed from this land of Asians, where I was in bondage? Could my Faith stand the test that was running it's course right, now? Would I see The Seder being performed in times to come?
I wanted to scream for the chance that I took for granted so many years ago and whose lessons I did not understand! Would I ever see The Land of my Fathers, as a home, as a nation or walk unto the streets of Jerusalem? My mind asked these questions which appear to my eyes to be "NO" as the answer. Would I live to see my room back behind enemies' lines?
"For in the beginning our fathers were idolators. But afterward HaShem drew us nearer to His Service, as it is written: Of old your fathers dwelled beyond the river Euphrates...and they served other gods." (Joshua 24:2)
Was this me now, looking for hope that I would see tomorrow? Yet not even thinking or directing my thoughts to the Most High? How could I go the way that my father Avraham went and be called "G-d's friend."
My grandfather Rabino Avraham would continue;
"I was a Jew because, born of Israel and having lost her I have felt her live again in me, more loving than myself.
I am a Jew, because born of Israel and having regained her, I wish her to live after me, more living than myself.
I am a Jew, because the faith of Israel demands of me no abdication of my mind.
I am a Jew, because the faith of Israel requires of me all the devotion of my heart.
I am a Jew because, in every place where suffering weeps, the Jew weeps.
I am a Jew because every time when despair cries out, the Jew Hopes.
I am a Jew, because the promise of Israel is The Universal promise.
I am a Jew, because, for Israel, the world is not yet complete: Men are completing it.
My Grandfather's voice would be firm and strong as he recited;
"I took your father Avraham from across the river and I led him into the land of Canaan, and I increased his descendants; and I gave him Isaac and to Isaac I gave Jacob. When Jacob and his children went down into Egypt, Joseph was already there in Egypt. Joseph had emerged with power over the land of Egypt.
There was famine in all lands, but in the land of Egypt, there was bread. And Pharaoh said to the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph; whatever he tells you, you shall do". And all the world came to Joseph in Egypt. After Joseph died and all his brothers and all that generation, a new Pharaoh arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph.
And he said to his people, "Look, the Hebrews are much too numerous for us. Let us, then, deal shrewdly with them, lest they increase, and in the event of war, join our enemies in fighting against us and gain ascendancy over the country."
So they set taskmasters over them with forced labor and they built garrison cities for Pharaoh, Pithom and Raamses. The Egyptians embittered their lives with harsh labor at mortar and brick and in all sorts of work in the fields, but the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out, so that the Egyptians came to despise and dread the Hebrews. So Pharaoh charged all his people saying, every boy that is born shall be thrown in the Nile, but let every girl live." We cried unto the L-rd, the G-d of our Fathers, and The L-rd heeded our plight, our misery, and our oppression."
Was this what these people of Vietnam felt about the mighty Americans? Or was it lies that caused this to be the way they felt? All I could feel at this time was that we were the ones who in despair were crying out to G-d to deliver us out of this mission gone bad. Could some of our actions been like those of the taskmasters?
Did we do as the Egyptians had done to my people? Were we any better in the Vietnamese peoples' eyes? With death laughing in my face and my friends going the way of no return, I was starting to accept it as the only way that we would ever leave the land of the living. No one could help us unless we reached the LZ point and that was still ahead of us, minus one who had just died.
If only G-d knew, if only G-d knew, what was happening, maybe we would make it yet all I could do was moan inside of myself and try to fight the acceptance of death for us all.
My thoughts returned to my Grandfather's voice, as he would then recite;
"G-d heard our moaning, and G-d remembered HIS Covenant with Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob, And G-d looked upon the Hebrews, and G-d knew...
What did G-d know? My Grandfather would shout.
When we Hebrews had grown accustomed to our tasks, when we began to labor without complaint, then G-d knew it was time that WE be liberated.
For the worst slavery of Egypt is when we learn to endure it! As long as there was no prospect of freedom, G-d knew WE would not awaken to the bitterness of bondage.
First, Mosheh had to teach the taste of freedom's hope, and only then did servitude taste bitter. So bitter slavery is first, and then comes liberation, the Seder teaches us to taste the Matzah of freedom first and ONLY then the bitter herbs of bondage.
G-d knew, if our freedom had been given us by Pharaoh, we would have still been indebted to him, still subservient, within ourselves dependent, slavish still at heart. We had to free ourselves completely.
And because we freed ourselves, ever after, even when demeaned by others and suffering privation, within ourselves we always wanted to be free. And G-d knew...
The G-d inspired know that mankind must aspire to the Service of The Highest in order to be Free. And so we are taught that others can gain control of us so long as we have a will distinct from G-d's.
If G-d knew, then why was I here, like I was? I answered my own question, as I answered myself. I was here and now because I chose to be, because I believed in what America stood for. That men should be able to live their lives without the slavery being put upon them by others, who would change their nature to that of slaves and enemies that I would or might have to fight later in a different land.
It was because my will - choice - that I found myself here in a strange land and fighting. If G-d knew that I would be so weak that I would begin to accept death as the only way out, then could I cry out to HIM, and ask for hope, strength and courage? Or was this a time in which HE would deliver me, for my mortal time had not ran out?
If G-d knew it was me, who also ran away from my people, my faith, who I was, my responsibility to HIM, Would HE still hear my moaning? Would HE still love me? Would HE still light HIS Menorah on my path which was full of darkness now?
The answer came as memories of my grandfather returned to me.
"And G-d said, I will go through the land of Egypt on that night...
And I will mete out Justice against all the gods of Egypt, I, The L-RD. And The L-rd brought us out of Egypt by a mighty hand, by an outstretched arm and awesome power, and by signs and portents; not through a messenger, not through any intermediary or any supernatural being, BUT THE HOLY ONE, praised be HE - HE ALONE!!!!
So my answer came and my inner being had the hope, strength and courage that I needed to go on. I placed the remains of my fellow being, fellow soldier in a poncho and laid him in a dent in the ground among the trees.
Death spoke out loud, as I looked around and saw the wounded and saw the fear in the eyes of my buddies, some who had accepted death as a way out and those who were too afraid. So afraid that they were but slaves to death already. A soldier knows that death is always there looking at us, as we go forward and fight. It's either death, or being wounded and making it another day to face the same thing over again.
There is no shame in being killed, but who wants to die? We rather make it and face it over again, day in and day out. Knowing that one day death will claim us. Yet death can wait till the time in which we are called to meet our MAKER.
I remember my Grandfather saying that it was four hundred and thirty years that we were in Egypt, and every year since, we have remembered that day in renewed hopes that we would learn and remember, what G-d did for all of us!
That it was but less then 12 hours so far, to me it seemed like the time we spent in Egypt. How I wanted for this day to finish and be in a hot tub behind our lines. My weaknesses began to return and I was in despair again. Fighting bravely the thoughts that this was the end and no one cared for me, not even G-d.
My grandfather Avraham would say as he raised his cup of wine:
"We praise The G-d WHO kept HIS Faith with His people Yisrael (us). G-d's promise of redemption in ancient days sustain us NOW!!!"
For more than one enemy has risen against us to destroy us. In every generation, in every age, some rise up to plot our annihilation. BUT a Divine Power sustains and delivers us. Then he would place the cup down untasted."
Could I believe this and sustain my Hope? Because it would mean that others (the enemy) would have to die in order for me to go free.
Would I be willing to take that step as did my forefathers and go forward? Would I rejoice in that the fact that I would make it if I would have to kill others? Would I be so blind to be happy and want to sing as they died? Or could I keep silent and know that G-d was WHO deliver me at the cost of destroying HIS Other creatures HE had made.
Grandfather Mosheh would say:
"That we were taught by our Sages; When The Egyptian armies were drowning in the sea, the Heavenly Hosts broke out in songs of jubilation. G-d silenced them and said, "MY Creatures are perishing and you sing praises?".
Though we descend from those redeemed from brutal Egypt, and have ourselves rejoiced to see oppressors overcome, Yet our triumph is diminished by the Slaughter of the foe, as the wine within the cup of Joy is lessened when we pour ten drops for the plagues upon Egypt."
Our Sages taught us: "The Sword comes into the world because of justice delayed and justice denied."
AS I looked around and saw the wounded hurting and their wounds covered and in need of better treatment then what we could provide for them right then. I wondered if all of this would be still now, if mankind would have learned from the Egyptians when the plagues had come to them?
Grandfather Mosheh would take his finger and drop a drop on the outside of his cup as he named each plague that visited the Egyptians:
1. Daam - Blood
2. Tzfardeyah - Frogs
3. Kinim - Lice
4. Arov - Wild beasts
5. Dever - Blight
6. Sh'hin - Boils
7. Barad Hail
8. Arbeh - Locusts
9. Chosheh - Darkness
10. Makat B'horot - Slaying of the first born male (Human and animal).
The last one being the one that broke a nation as it's future was destroyed.
"WHO is like unto YOU, O G-d, among the Mighty! WHO is like unto YOU, awesome in praises, working wonders! The L-rd shall reign Forever and Ever!"
And Grandfather Mosheh would sing "Dayenu!"
I tried to sing it and saying "it would had been enough" and it began to move me in my inner being.
Was I being sorry for myself or my buddies?
Yes, I was. But it was the families and loved ones who would also have to sing "Dayeinu" - It would had been enough and mean it to accept whatever fate waited us, here in the jungle.
Who was I or who were my buddies not to sing and mean the song? It was enough that we had made it so far. And if we did not make it any further, was it not enough that we had lived though the other times that we walked away and returned knowing that a day like this could come?
Had we not learned that which we knew deep inside of our inner being? No warranty was ever given to us yet we went forward in what we believed to be true and knowing all the dangers involved we still went.
Our thoughts might have remembered our Families and loved One's yet we still went forward. We knew, we knew yet still we went forward.
The two scouts returned and informed the captain of what laid ahead of us. The LZ Zone for our pickup was in hands of the enemy. The captain had to decide if LZ point 2 or 3 would be a new site for us to reach out to and get ourselves back to our post. The Captain tried radioing to Base Post to choice a new LZ point (2 or 3) instead of 1 since the area was busy with enemy forces. Point 3 was chosen and that meant another 20 clicks to our West. For those who were not wounded it did not seem too far away, yet for those of us who still had to help the wounded it seemed like 200 miles away.
The order was given and we were on the march again, stopping only to change places with those who had not been carrying the wounded. The light of the day was gone completely and darkness surrounded us which slowed us down a bit. We stopped for a rest of half an hour and I was posted near the wounded. As I sat there looking into the jungle, tired and hungry, I let my thoughts take me back to when my grandfather Mosheh would say to us: "Our Sages have taught that 'Whoever does not know the meaning of these three, Passover, matzah, maror, has not fulfilled the purpose of the Seder.'"
The Seder, WoW. If I could only be there now, instead of here! And hear him as he would point to The Z'roah shankbone:
"What is the meaning of Passover?" Someone would answer; "In family-groups, our people ate the paschal lamb when the Temple was still standing. For them, the Passover was a reminder that G-d "passed over" (Passover) the houses of our fathers in Egypt during the redemption".
Someone else would answer; "In our day, too, we invoke G-d as The Guardian of the household of Israel, as in our dwellings we renew the family bond and strengthen our ties with the whole household of Israel."
"What is the meaning of this matzah?" He would ask.
Someone would answer; "Of old, matzah was meant to recall that dough prepared by our people had no time to rise before the final act of redemption. And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough since they had been driven out of Egypt and could not delay, nor had they prepared provisions for themselves."
Someone else would say; "To the driven of the earth we link ourselves today as we fulfil the mitzvah: For seven days shall you eat matzah, that you may remember your departure from Egypt as long as you live."
Pointing to the maror, he would ask; "What is the meaning of this maror?"
Someone would answer; "It was eaten, they said, because the Egyptians embittered the lives of our people, as it is written: "With hard labor at mortar and brick and in all sorts of work in the field, with all the tasks ruthlessly imposed upon them."
Today, as well, wherever slavery remains, we Hebrews taste its bitterness.
In every generation, each person should feel as though he himself had gone forth from Egypt, as it is written: "And you shall explain to your child on that day, it is because of what THE L-rd did for me and when I, Myself; went forth from Egypt."
You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger.
When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him - you shall love him as yourself.
You shall rejoice before THE L-rd with your son and daughter...
And The stranger, and the fatherless, and the widow in your midst.
You shall not subvert the rights of the stranger or the fatherless.
Not only our ancestors alone did the Holy One redeem but "US" as well, along with them, as it is written: "And HE freed "us" from Egypt so as to take us and give us the land which HE had sworn to our Fathers."
Was I the stranger, once again? In a different land, with different people? Was I the enslaver, or was a just someone who did not understand what was happening around me? Was I wrong to believe that I was there to stop others from enslaving their own people? Could I make a difference in this place where I was maybe not wanted?
Looking at my buddies, all I could think was to be home again and them with me around THE SEDER Table. Instead of where we were and half of them dead and the rest of us slaves to fear.
Closing my eyes, I could see my Grandpapa, rising his cup, as he would begin to say;
"Therefore, let us rejoice, at the wonder of our deliverance, from bondage to freedom, from agony to joy, from mourning to festivity, from darkness to light, from servitude to redemption.
Before G-d let us ever sing a new song."
He put his cup down and started to recite Psalm 113.
"Halleluyah, Praise, O servants of THE L-rd, Praise the name of THE L-rd! G-d's name is praised in every place.
From where the Sun rises to where it sets, G-d is exalted above all nations, His Glory is beyond all heavens, WHO is like THE L-rd Our G-d, WHO sets His throne on High?
But lowers His gaze to heaven and earth, raising the poor from the dust, lifting the destitute from the squalor, seating him among nobility. With the princes of His people, changing the barren woman, to a joyful mother of children... Halleluyah."
How could I sing a new song? How could I praise HIM? When what I saw was death around me, fear in the eyes of my buddies and could feel fear inside of myself. Would HE not lower His sight to see the spot that I had placed myself in? Would not my friends be worthy of mercy? Were we running from freedom into slavery? My head hurt now more then before because I could not understand completely, that which I should have.
It began to rain and heavy, the cold night chill embraced us. Some of the wounded need to be covered up and the best we could do was place our shirts upon them. Some of the wounded had to be given shots to take the pain away and our supply was very low. A scout who had gone in advance of us while we rested, had found a cave nearby. We gathered our strength and took our wounded and ourselves to the cave, where we could find cover and hopefully start a fire to keep ourselves warm. The cave was deep enough for us to place our wounded inside and to start a fire for light and heat.
There was not much we could do for our wounded but keep them as comfortable as possible. Jones had found some rice as we were going to the cave that appeared to be placed as a pickup point for supplies. He found some other things like c-rations (made in America) Peaches and 5 gallon cans of crackers and cheese, and regular c-ration packs with turkey meat.
Jones and Fernandez brought some with them. Jones almost got bitten by a two step snake, when he looked in the area that the goods were in. The Captain, Jones, Fernandez and two others went back to check that area out completely. I stayed with the medic and the wounded.
One of our wounded could not take it anymore and died on us. A 21 year old kid, who had plans after his tour, to return home and marry, as he would have stayed in the military as a career. He was to be stationed in Panama as a language instructor at the Institute of Language of The Americas. One more dog tag to turn in.
I began to drink from my canteen, as I remembered my Grandpapa, saying:
"This is the Kos G'ulah, the second cup - The Cup of Redemption. With this second cup of wine we recall the second promise of liberation: "As it is written; "I will deliver you from Bondage..."(Exodus 6:6) With cup in hand he would recite "Remember with gratitude the redemption of our fathers from Egypt, rejoicing in the fruits of our struggle for freedom, we look now with hope to the celebration of a Future redemption, the building of the City of Peace in which all men will rejoice in the service of G-d, singing together a new song. We praise YOU,O G-d, Redeemer of Israel!".
"Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen" (We praise YOU,O G-d,Sovereign of All existence, WHO creates the fruit of the wine!) As he would drink this second cup.
How could I remember with gratitude the redemption of my forefathers when I was facing death and fear now. As my struggle for freedom and those of my buddies was not complete. How could I even think of living with the enemy or even singing with him, in service to G-d? All I wanted to do was make sure that we could get out of there even if it meant killing the enemy to get it done. Yet one thing hit me in my face. I was not asked to do anything BUT commanded to do so. Yes, to rejoice and rejoice with those who would be in service to G-d!
How I had forgotten that it was not only my forefathers who left the land of slavery but many others, who, rather than stay behind chose to follow. Freedom was something that even though they could not see it, felt it as one feels a physical item but something that is in our inner being. They followed and shared the many things that my forefathers faced as they wander in the wilderness. They had Hope! Something that I was losing each minute that we were there. I had to trust that I too would be free. Hope was something that left before my eyes in the faces of my buddies and myself. Yet I had to accept that hope is never gone till we are put in the grave. As long as I had life I had to keep hope alive in me.
"Jew, Jew, Jew - help me, the pain is too much!" One of our wounded screamed. I went to him to see him lose hope and his life as I held him in my arms. Another one whose hope had left him completely along with his life. Another dog tag to hold on to till getting back to post.
Holding back the despair, the hopeless that I felt as I wanted to scream out loud, "Why have YOU forsaken us!" We're the good guys, here. Charlie is the bad guys here! Hope, how hard you are to gain and how easy you are to lose. The things that we see make us lose you (Hope) and to regain you is so hard. The pain takes us away from you and the grave seems like the answer to this madness, of being without Hope.
"Doc" pushed me aside and told me that if I lost the little Hope I had that we would lose each one of our wounded, who were hurting and bleeding. "Can't you see, I rather have just a little amber of hope in me, than to have none, still burning in my inner being."
"Don't give up or else we die here in this forsaken place, where no one will ever find us and return us to our loved ones. "My tears ran like a river, as I knew Doc was right and I had to let that small amber of hope relight itself in me.
"Dinner is served" Jones yelled as he and the others came into the Cave with more c-rations in hand along with other items in hand. I thought for a minute that Jones had said "Shulhan Orech" (The meal is served) as my Grandfathers would announce the meal of The Seder itself.
I wiped the tears from my face and forced a smile, since you had to be there to see the expression on Jones face as he had called out to us. Doc told me to go eat, that he would keep an eye on the guys.
I sat down right by Jones, who gave me a c-ration that had turkey and potatoes and pound cake, even a pack of Chesterfield cigarretes in it. Jones was acting like a kid, and kept saying, "I have a surprise and you don't know where it is". If you want it you will have to look for it.
We ate and relaxed a little in shalom (Peace). Jones kept bugging me about a surprise that I would have to find, if I wanted any. Jones reminded me of my cousins, who would have kept an eye on both Grandpapas since one of them would take great joy in hiding the "Afikoman", the piece of Matzah that was hidden before the meal and which had to be found before the Seder dinner could end. It was the last item of food allowed to be eaten for that day. It was the item that we all would seek since we got a prize if it was one of us who found it. Yes, in our case, chocolates in form of gold coins.
Jones bugged me again and he acted like a child, as he dared me to find the surprise. I went to the front of the cave and started back and kicked a 5-gallon can of "lemon drops". Yes I did find the surprise that Jones had bugged me about. Each of us took one and enjoyed them. Jones had put some in his shirt pocket for later use.
How I missed the days of my youth, when going to school was the most troublesome thing for me. When trying to be still was such a big job for little me. How I wished, now, I could still be there with the family around me and fighting with my cousins over anything and everything.
Where in the hell was I? Who was this young man I had become, Who knew things that were taken away yet always reminded within myself. Who was I? What was I? Why in this forsaken place, did I recall those days that I tried to hide as I grew up in the mainstream of America, so that I could be like everyone else even though I could see in the streets the many different faces of those around me. Keeping myself in line when in the streets "Jew" was a dirty word among my friends (if they only knew that I was a Jew). Why? Why? Why?
Was it my turn to find the "Afikoman" or rather said find myself? And not run and hide as I did for so long. Was it that special name that dwelled inside of me, the one that would scream; JEW, JEW. JEW! That kept repeating itself in my inner being as I kept it hidden? Or was it time for that part of me that helped my inner being scream, Jew, Jew, Jew to find me? Or was I going crazy because fear filled my mind?
I kicked the 5-gallon can again and moved away as the sound had awakened me from my thoughts. I bent down and got some lemon drops and put a handful in my shirt pocket and one in my mouth.
Jones, always the jokester, placed his hand on my shoulder and said; "Well, Rabbi, are you not going to give the blessing for this sustenance that we have received? We have shared the lemon drops and we will be moving on soon?"
His words were like a blast from the past that one of my Grandfather's would say and the look on my face, as I turned my head in his direction, could not be expressed. Why all these thoughts and memories and things if I was not to make it back?
"Well, Rabbi how about that prayer of thanks?" Jones asked me straight-faced. I remembered the songs of ascent and began to pray:
"When The LORD restores the exiled of Zion, we shall be as those who dream, Our Mouths will be full of laughter then, our tongues with song.
Then will they say among the nations; "The LORD has done great things for them." The LORD has done great things for us, and so we now rejoice. Restore us once again, O G-d!
Like sudden floodstreams in the desert. Then those who sow in tears, will reap in joy. Though he go weeping, as he carries the seed, He will return bearing the sheaves, with song and with laughter.
Friends, let us say Grace. The Name of the Eternal be blessed from now unto eternity. Let us praise G-d of whose bounty we have partaken. Let us praise HIM of whose bounty we have partaken and by whose goodness we live.
Through His kindness, mercy, and compassion, all existence is eternally sustained. He is forever faithful. His surpassing goodness fills all the time and space.
Sustenance there is for all. None need ever lack, no being ever want for food. We praise Our G-d, The ONE, sustaining all.
On this festival of Matzot, inspire us to goodness. On this day of liberation, make us a blessing. On this festival of Passover, perserve us in life. All merciful, rule over us forever. Sustain us with honorable work. All Merciful, may we inherit a Shabbath of eternal peace.
May HE who blessed Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob bless this house, this table, and all assembled here; and so may all our loved one's share our blessing. May HE who brings harmony into the spheres on high bring peace to earth for all mankind."
As I finished praying, I could see in the eyes of my buddies, a hope that maybe we were to return to our home base alive. I just wondered how words could give hope to others when in my own self; I was afraid and hope was but a word that I wanted to believe in myself. How could our loved ones share with us, this place or our feelings? How many were not to return to home base alive?
How about those who had died? How could their loved ones know what their last words were? Many loved ones who might be laughing and singing now, would surely cry and hide away, for their beloved had been taken away in a strange land so many miles away from them. And what if we could not take their bodies? Who would they bury? How many more of us, were to be killed before if and when we made it to the landing zone? Jones could see the fighting in me, as he put his arm on my shoulder and said; "Things will be okay little Jew", just take it one step at a time and you will see, how great HE really is!!!
Comforted by one who never in the time that I knew him, spoke of his belief in G-d! Or in anything else but his weapon. Fernandez came over and said to me; "Oye, Judio Your G-d will not forget you. HE has never forgotten your people even when that bastard tried to do away with all of yous."
He (Fernadez) held on to his gold colored cross and in his own way tried to assure me, that no matter what happened, if we made it back or not, we would never be forgotten by G-d. Just as HE did not forget or leave us Jews in the land of slavery, neither would HE forget to take us Home to that special place, which HE had for us.
Fernadez and Jones, both of them, took out their canteens and wanted to share a drink of water. As our sort of peace, could be over in a second or less. As I held my canteen, Jones said; "Say a blessing Rabbi" as he smiled. The third cup, Kos B'raha - the cup of blessing. I looked at them and began to say; "Together we take up the cup of wine, now recalling the third divine promise: As it is written; "I will redeem you with an outstretched arm."
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen. We praise YOU, O Lord our G-d, king of the universe, WHO has created the fruit of the vine." Asies, Rabino. Don't lose faith and as we try our best, there is no way that we won't make it back. Salud, amigos, Salud!
WE started to laugh and get back to the others, who probably thought we were nuts. The Captain wanted to send two scouts out again, to recheck the path that we were going to take toward the landing zone. Fernandez and I were chosen since we had not gone before. Doc said it was okay with him since he thought I should keep my mind on something else beside the wounded.
We headed out and began to reckon the area and assure ourselves that the path was safe. Fernandez noticed some trip wire ahead of me especially since I was not paying attention. He stopped me before I reached it. "Hey, man. What the hell are you doing? Can't you see that wire there?" I stared with opened eyed as I noticed it.
Fernadez began to check where the wire lead to and told me to get away from the path as he pulled the wire and a branch of the tree swang back and in its midst it held several pointed pieces of wood that were like knifes and would had taken me and pieced me like swiss cheese, as it hit another tree. "Hey, man what's up with you? Hombre don't lose hope otherwise you might as well as lay down and die. I am not thinking of being killed but of living and getting home to Puerto Rico. I am going to take my novia to Luquillo beach and enjoy the festival de Loiza with all the good food and dancing and drinking. And I want you to come with me, guy be cool and watch your step."
We reached the area for our landing zone and rechecked the area. There was even a little hill by the right side and it could be protected and used as a mini base. We sat down and took a break before trying to head back to the cave area, where our buddies were.
As we rested there, Fernadez spoke and I could see his hopes of the life he wanted for himself after leaving this hell that we found ourselves in. "Judio, one day our man will return and bring with him the answers that we do not know now, but until then we just got to wait. To him, let's drink some water."
Fernadez brought back the part of the Seder, where the Cup of Elijah was spoken about. My Grandpapa Rabino Mosheh would say;
"This man of mystery, that legend has it, was seen being carried to the skies in a chariot of fire by his disciple Elisha, would return to earth. He was associated with the end of times and the messianic hopes of our people. The prophet Malachi promised that Elijah would come to turn the hearts of parents to children, and the hearts of children to parents, and to announce the coming of the messiah when all mankind would celebrate freedom.
Hence, he (Elijah) has a plate in every Seder. We Open the door that he may enter, and set a cup of wine to represent the final messianic promise for us and for ALL Peoples:" I will bring You into the land."
"They devoured Jacob (Jacob) laid waste his habitation."(Psalm 79:17)
The injustice of this world still brings to mind Elijah who, in defense of justice, challenged power. In many tales from our people, he reappears to help the weak. Our people always prayed:
"May the ALL Merciful send us Elijah the prophet to comfort us with tidings of deliverance." For every undecided question, then, of pain and sorrow, of unrewarded worth and unrequited evil, Elijah wound someday provide the answer.
Elijah opens up for us the realm of mystery and wonder. Let us now open the door for Elijah."
Grandpapa Rabino Mosheh, would stop, as us boys would run to open the door for Elijah, so that he could come in. (and to peak outside to see if it was dark)
He would then say;
"behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet, and he will turn the hearts of the parents to the children and the hearts of the children to the parents before the coming of the great and awesome day of the L-rd!" (Malachi 3:23-24)
"May Elijah,once again enter this room and again taste with us the wine of Endless Promise."
He would finish by saying;
"I will bring You into the land, I, THE L-rd."(Exodus 6:8)
Grandpapa Rabino Mosheh would then look at whoever had opened the door, so that we would close it.
"Judio, Judio wake up! Whats the matter contigo? Where are you?" "Sorry, Fernadez, I was where I wish I could be right now," was my reply as the tears rolled down my face. I wanted so bad to be there and be pushing my cousins out of the way so I could be the one to open up the door for Elijah the prophet and then close the door. But I knew where I was and how much I wanted to see Elijah the prophet. To find the answers to the many questions, I had and to hopefully get out of where I was to the safety of that room where the Seder would be.
"Oye, niño Judio" you bring me down, come on and change your ways. Be happy that you are still alive and that we have hope. Sing a song or something like that, but do something other then just being afraid. "Judio" tell me a Salmo (Psalm)? Come on now, Bro.
My Grandpapa Rabino Avraham would begin
"The Hallel, Psalms of Praise": Halleluyah. We praise. Our song is the chants of the Levites in the days of the Temple. On this very festival, they sang their psalms of praise, The Hallel.
Our song is one with all the hymns of flesh and blood which sing of the triumph of men together over the powers of destruction.
One with the praise of songs of ALL People; Praise, for the earth restored to its goodness: Praise,for men restored to themselves; Praise, for life fulfilled in sacred celebration;
"Open up, O gates of Rightousness, that we may enter and sing your praise! TO YOU, O G-d, Does Israel's song arise, wonderous in our eyes.
This is the day which G-d has ordained for us, For we were destined of old. We lift our voice. Our souls within rejoice. His endless praise be told!
G-d, we beseech You, Redeem! G-d, we pray You, Deliver! G-d, we beseech You, Prevail! G-d, we beseech You, Truimph!"
"O give thanks unto G-d for HE is good,for His truthfulness is forever. As Israel shall bear witness; the truth of G-d is eternal. As the house of Aharon now proclaims; infinite is His Mercy. As all will declare who revere His NAME; Endless is His Loving kindness!"
"And we will praise The L-rd forever.
The Stone (Israel) which the builder's (Nations)rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
We will Not die, but live. Live to declare the works of the L-rd and we will praise The L-rd forever."
"I lift up the cup of deliverance and call upon the Name of The L-rd. we will praise the L-rd forever.
Out of the depths, I called upon The L-rd! He answered me with His deliverance. We will Not die, but live.
The dead praise not The L-rd, nor any that go down into silence. But we will praise The L-rd forever.
I shall walk before the L-rd in the land of the living. We will not die, but live.
G-d is my strength and my song, and HE has become my triunph. And we will praise The L-rd forever.
The Stone which the builders rejected, has become the chief cornerstone.
We will Not die, but live. Live to declare the works of The L-rd. And we will praise the L-rd forever."
"From the Holy mountains we see anew the mystery and glory of our past. In the new light which rises over Zion, and thoughout all our habitations, before us still we dimly glimpse our greatest tasks, our finest work, our most worthy hours:
To build, to plant, and to bless, wherever the people of Israel lives!
We praise You, O G-d, Sovereign of Existence, WHO has sanctified us with YOUR Commandments and commanded us to renew the Hope of Redemption!" GrandPapa Rabino Avraham would then place the cup of Elijah down untasted.
Time to move on, Judio. Let's get ourselves back so that we can all go home! Fernadez and I began our journey back to the cave where the others were. The path was marked so we could move without having to worry about surprises placed there by Charlie. Hopefully, with our wounded we could still make good time and not a lot of noise as the path was wide enough and had several other unmarked paths within two to five feet apart from each other.
Fernadez took the left as I took the right. We sought out any and all things on the paths to make sure we could walk without fear of surprises. If it wasn't Vietnam, I could be walking in the country back in the States, since the land was beautiful and the sounds so natural. The Words of the Hallel, resounded in me, as I looked around me and saw the works that G-d had made in the things that I saw. I shouted within myself,"I will Not die But live and declare The Mighty works of the L-rd!" Even though, fear still had a hold of me.
Hop was on guard duty as we reached the parameters of the cave. Fernadez and I reported to the Captain, and informed him of the LZ (Landing Zone) where we could wait for the helicopter to come for us. We told him about the little hill and that it could be used in case Charlie wanted to fight.
Both Fernadez and I were tired, so the Captain sent us to rest for 15 minutes. I went to see Doc and see if he needed more help with the wounded. We had lost two more during my absence. The toll was getting to Doc, yet his hope was alive in him for the other wounded we still had.
Jones, had made some coffee in the cave or something he called coffee but it was good. Hop came over and drank some too. He asked me how it looked and if maybe the Captain would go for it? I told Hop hopefully yes but that was up to the Captain to say yes or no. Hop said something that made me think of the songs that we would sing in the Seder. What did he say? "Well, the Captain has brought us so far so it is enough, even if we don't make it all the way, it is enough."
This simple sentence reminded me of that we should always praise G-d in song and poems with merriment as we celebrate the feast of Freedom. I heard my Family singing or trying to sing songs like "Dayenu" "V'HI SHEAMDAH", "AVADIM HAYINU","V'NOMAR L'FANAV","HAL'LUYAH-PSALM 113","HAD GADYA","L'SHAAH HABAAH","KAREIV YOM" and others.
Just thinking about it made me smile because you would have to hear what it sound like to understand the little smile on my face. The smile must have been deeper then I might have imagined because Fernadez came by to say "Hey, Bro. That's like I want to see you, full of hope and life in you!"
The Captain told us to get ready to move and that radio silence would be broken just for one message. Doc and I readied the wounded and gathered up the others who would be helping us. Each of our wounded had his weapon near his side, in case we had to fight. At least they would have the choice to fight back if they could.
The moment of truth came and on our way we went. The captain had sent out the message and gave the location for the pickup zone that we could safety reach and defend if needed.
As we began on our journey toward the pickup zone, the wounded man who I was helping to carry began to pray. All he could see was darkness, for he had been hit in the right side of his head. He was missig his right ear and most of his upper right side from his right eye to the hole which was once his right ear.
What I thought I heard, most likely was not what he said. Yet to my ears, the sounds were the same as in "And it came to Pass at midnight" (By Janai - Translated into English by Henry Berkowitz)
"Unto G-d let praise be brought for the wonders HE has wrought, at the solemn hour of midnight. All the earth was sunk in night, when G-d said, "Let there be light!"
Thus the day was formed from midnight. To the Patriarch, G-d revealed a true faith, so long concealed, by the darkness of the midnight. But this truth was long obscured by the slavery endured in the black Egyptian midnight.
Then the people G-d had freed, pledged themselves His law to heed, And this came to pass at midnight. O, YOU, Guardian of the Right, lead us onward to the light From the darkness of the midnight. When no longer shall the foe from oppressed wring cries of woe. In the darkness of the midnight.
A day will come, a day draws nigh. That is neither day or night. Make known the truth, G-d, from on high; To YOU belong both the day and night, A day will come, A day draws nigh. Make known the truth, G-d, from on high; To YOU belong both day and night."
His eyes were still open as he finished his prayer.
Only to (and I prayed as he did) step into the menorah's light and out of the darkness that he was seeing as he held onto life in pain.
I cried out to Henry in a low voice, "May your prayer be heard as you go from Egypt to the promised land, a land where we both know I our minds and hearts that the day and night, the mountains ad the valleys belong to our G-d".
I asked "Super Fly" (Pvt. Leroy Johnson) to stop so I could close Henry's eyes. Superfly was Henry's best friend. We used to call them "Salt and Pepper". Superfly was still talking to Henry, as if he was still alive.
Crying, mad, wanting to hit him, Superfly was hurt that Henry would leave without sayig a word to him. From one range of emotions to another, till he finally ended up hugging him and asking why Henry had broken his promise to him. Of the times that awaited them both after this tour of duty. Women, beers and who knows what they had promised each other to do together, because they were "Henry the 8th, the Salt and Superfly, the pepper team".
I tried to calm Superfly down but I couldn't. I closed Henry's left eyelid and placed my green arm sling from my first aid kit over his face. To cover his right eye which did not have an eye lid or skin.
Doc held Superfly in his arms as he tried to calm him down. The Old saying: "it doesn't mean a thing" was repeatlty said by both of them till Superfly was calmed down.
As I stood there, I could see that even though the words mean one thing, it did not reflect what was lost and maybe never to be found again. The friendship, brotherhood, caring that these two men had was one that did not see the color of their skin or the status which these me held in life.
Even in their differences (one a rock-and-roller, the other a Motown Man) neither ever demanded the other to change but accepted the other has he was.
Vinegar and oil do not mix well but together the flavor that they give is one that can not be beaten. Sour and Sweet, Yet neither changes its properties as they blend together and become the favorite of many. So were these two men and now, one was taken while the other was left behind, never to be the same again.
Knowing that this could happen, they still permitted themselves to become close, something that we ALL tried to avoid but hardly succeeded.
Rabbi David Del Sol, once taught me that even though a bird and a fish could not marry, for where would they place their nest? It did not mean that the bird and the fish did not love each other, but that they had to accept each other for what they were.
And knowing that one could not fly and the other could not swim under water. A childless union would be theirs and the many temptations would cloud their lifes.
Just as these two men who had become brothers and overcame the temptations that stood in their way due to their differences, so would the fish ad the bird do or go their own ways.
Now, I saw the sadness that one would have if the other were killed. Do not misunderstand my words. For these two were not brothers in the unnatural perverted way, but as two that came from the same seed, the same home and the same love.
Just as those who sought refuge in the homes of my forefathers in Egypt, when the Angel of death was to come and who later left with us to become part of us.
So were these two men. But now, one had left and the other remained. His pain I saw and his tears I understood, as I shared his tears, knowing anyone of us could be next.
Was this our Black Egyptian night? Would those of us who had made it this far, make it all the way back? Would our lifes be changed? Would we pledge ourselves to follow the Menorah's light that shines even in the valley of death? Would the Guardian of the Right lead us to safety?
These thoughts pierced my mind as again we went forward.
The tool was heavy on us all as we went to the LZ. Those who were wounded appeared to have lost hope of returning but several of them had the look of reaching out to unseen hands that would transport them to a place where there was no pain, no rejection, no sorrow, no tears and no war.
A place that lives in each of us which we hide deep down in the dungeons of our hearts. A place so well guarded, that even "we" forget what we have hidden there. The place that we reach out to return from when the Angel of death shows his face. A face that I have seen when the ambers of my life burnt near their end.
My Grandpapas would sing in a humble vioce a hymn called "D'OS De Power/G-d of Might". A melody that would rekindle the ambers and turn them back to Flames.
"G-d of Might, G-d of Right,
Thee we give all glory;
Thine all praise in these days
As in ages hoary,
When we hear, year by year,
Freedom's wondrous story.
Now as erst, when Thou first Mad'st the proclamation,
Warning loud ev'ry proud, Ev'ry tyrant nation,
We THY fame still proclam,
Bend in adoration.
Be with all who in thrall, to their task are driven
In THY power speed the hour
When their chains are riven;
Earth around will resound
Gleeful hymns to heaven."
The last verse I changed as a silent prayer my heart did say.
"Be with all who now see death face to face, As they were driven to their task; In THY power speed the hour, when their chains are riven from life to death. As Earth around will resound, their Soulful gleeful hymns to YOU!
Take them to the place which they have forgotten, the place that they hid in the dungeons of their hearts. A place where love, joy, happiness and laughter do reign.
To my secret place at Your feet! Where with the ends of your Robe that has Your seal covers me in death as it has in life. Marked by Your seal for All to know, for a Jew I am even in death.
Show us Your mercy and ease the pain. Rock us as babies in our Mothers' arms, sing us a lullaby to help us go to the sleep of death from this life.
Who we are and what we became might not have been what YOU wanted for us.
As perfect in life as we lived, Permit us to be perfect in YOU as the sleep of death we now enter.
Shine Your menorah to light the way, from life to death, for this path we do not know.
Help us to reach out to YOU, though fear's face clouds our minds. Teach us this new cycle that all must learn.
Help us to finish the cycle of life that we have lived. From birth to now (and in between) Now we face death as scared as we unknowingly faced birth.
What can we do, as we all call out to YOU, some in fear, some in hopes of ending the pain they have and others who call upon YOU though curses is what leaves their lips.
Light Our way with the shining of YOUR Menorah's light and show us the way, for we have Not been down this path before!"
The Scouts signaled things were clear, as we were near the little hill. Jones stopped and looked around specailly at the tree line. Jew, something is wrong. There's no birds, no sounds, no nothing. Something smells in Denmark and it's not Kosher. We all looked at each other and kept going forward but with a Caution as we looked toward the tree line.
The Scouts reached the little hill and stopped. The rest of us were still going forward. Some of the others came back to give us a hand, since we could now see the little hill. Just seeing that little hill, our hopes grew higher. For the baby Huey's were on their way to pick us up.
We lost another of our badly wounded. For him, no more pain or sorrow but sleep. The passing from life to death, the completion of the cycle of life as we knew it. Now what was left was for us to take the remains back to be bagged and then placed in the shining metal coffin.
The C-130's (Military cargo Planes) would then return them to American soil. Where family and friends would gather to place them in familiar ground. To big cities and one road main street towns, everywhere in the USA. Yet this was a promise that we could not always keep. For many never returned, either in life or death, and family and friends never were able to lay them in familiar ground. That's why they were called "Missing in Action".
Weither dead or alive, we most likely will never know. The graves of those who died could be the paths we walked, the streams we passed by or through, the jungle we patrolled in, and the rice paddy's we run, the villages or the bar in town. Unknown or unmarked are these graves or where they fell and died. For the battle field was where ever we saw the enemy or ambushed each other. Even the post camps we made and tried to hold on to. Everywhere and anywhere, that was the battle field.
And in all these places, we fell and died, never to be returned to familiar ground. For those who were or are still alive, death might have been sweeter then what they had to live. For neither did they return to familiar ground. Which is worse, to have died or still be alive and never to return to familiar ground?
Death or Honor were words inscribed in our minds, yet fever knew what those words really meant. It was something more than just words to some of us, it was a way of life. To others a way of death.
Our short distance to the landing zone seemed so far and the weight of our wounded also appeared to be hundred times more than what it was. We kept watch of the jungle line as we picked up our pace. I could remember my grandpapa's calling to me, when less than 12 feet I was from them. A short distance yet for a 5 year old, a distance so very long.
I could see myself running, trying my very best. But no matter how fast I felt my feet moving, I felt like I was staying in the same spot. Just as I felt right now, moving the fastest I could with one eye watching the jungle line. Afraid of having to drop my wounded, to fight and kill, so that my wounded buddies and the rest of us could live for another day.
How I wanted to reach my Grandpapa's Arms and be hugged because I would had reached my goal and I could feel safe. This same thought filled my mind and heart. To reach the landing zone, place my wounded down and be able to say "Yes, Yes, Yes" and smile.
The distance was short but I felt like a 5 year old running 12 feet to My Grandpapa's, who would hug me and make me feel safe. Would just the memories be enough? Why think of things like this when they were just memories? Or are our lifes built with these memories? And are these memories to be passed along from one generation to another?
My feet weren't doing badly either. A coward? No, just a person with a hope, an unseen reward that awaited me, as did my People, who did not know what else our G-d had for us.
Yet with each step, our hearts pounded the drums of hope, as to our goal we drew near.
Henry suddenly fell to the ground on his knees, as a shot was heard. He cried out, "Oh,My G-d" as I saw the left side of his head explode, as another shot was heard as I laid in the grass. The litter Henry helped carried drop to the ground along with the wounded man. This action brought a chain reaction that each of us performed in fear.
Henry had gone to reunite with "SuperFly", his brother in life and now in death. I could say I saw Leroy (SuperFly) there, helping Henry to get up and together walk away joking around as I had seen them before when they were alive.
Was I seeing things? Or was it The fear that filled me? Or was it a hidden hope that I had along with the vision of seeing My people after crossing The Sea of Reed and celebrating on the shore? Was I seeing things? Or was it a hope that someone near to us, who we remember with love, would be sent to help us go to the other side? As I thought I had seen Leroy (SuperFly) come to ease the way for his brother and friend Henry?
The fire fight begun. The volley of bullets ran back and forth. The Little Hill seemed so much farther as I lay in the grass.
Could this be our end? Outnumbered and running out of ammo? Without hope of resupply? The Huey's wouldn't land because the enemy would bring them down and it would be all of us stuck without Hope.
Someone yelled that this is the end! And all that I could think of was "Next Year in Jerusalem, Next year in Jerusalem!"
I gave up hope of ever leaving that place. Between the fighting, we made it to the Little Hill. Trying to help everyone make it there, we had to leave again and get all of our wounded. Some were dead, others just afraid. Charlie (Vietcong) made it to our tail end and we had to fight hand to hand.
With all of my training and past experience, I could not stop being afraid. The Coward inside of me would force me to fight, for I did not want to die or get hurt anymore.
I carry a scar upon my chest of that day, besides on my face. When the time of dying comes, one either fights or welcomes death to himself.
As I too carried of our wounded, I was struck down to the ground. He jumped on me and in his hands, he held his knife. He tried with all of might to push it though my chest. Even though I had given up my hope to live, faced with Death, the coward in me felt like a cornered wild animal.
I stopped him from pushing down but his knife for about 12 inches cut my skin on my chest. From below the base of the neck to my belly. Seeing his knife cutting me, made me fight even more than before.
From the grip of death, I pulled his knife in his hands and toward his chest I pushed with all of my might. My push was more than enough, for now I was on top of him.
I pushed even harder than before. The knife began to penetrate and I leaned forwarded as I looked into his eyes, as I twisted the knife in his chest. The same fear I had was now in his eyes.
He laid there with his own knife in his chest and dead.
I got my weapon and fired toward the enemy. My wounded buddy, whom I held in my arms laid motionless. I went back to fighting to make it back to the little hill. Hand to hand, firing of my weapon went on as we all tried to reach the little hill. One of our men was able to use the little hill as a fire base and keep the enemy from advancing from the jungle line to help their buddies, who we were fighting.
Those who were not wounded were wounded now. Our captain was dead and some more of our wounded too. We were nothing more than a band of wounded men fighting to stay alive. Fighting the odds that were stacked agaisnt us in this strange land.
"Next Year in Jerusalem", a hope that I prayed would come true. Huddled together, using the little hill as our fire base, we stood our ground. The enemy, "Old Charlie/Vietcong", attacked again with all they had, which later those of us who survived found out it was only a "company" that we had fought by the little hill.
We assumed positions that the little hill provided that covered us. They attacked and attacked, without letting up. We had to move back and forth as they fired mortar rounds at us. Time seemed to stand still yet every second was like a thousand years.
A mortar hit near me and the small bamboo trees flew like pieces of broken glass. Several pieces hit me and sunk into my right side, piercing my pancreas. Some of the dirt and rocks hit my face. The wound to my face was reopened. The blood ran down my left side of my face, as I cried out in pain.
Once again, I heard someone say, "This is the end". All that I could think about was: "Next Year in Jerusalem, Next Year in Jerusalem".
How many of my people had said that before even though they died and saw many others die? How could they keep the hope of returning and being in Jerusalem for Passover if death would over take them as it did? Or was this hope meant not only for those who would be still alive but also for those of us who had been over taken by death himself?
This hope, I knew had been one that We as Jews looked forward too. With this in my inner being, I advanced, not caring if Death over took me.
Our heavy weapons man laid dead by his weapon. I ran to replace him. I had to push him off and away from the weapon. Re-cocking it, I began to fire upon the enemy. The Huey's began to fly over us and also fired at the enemy.
I could not hear or see as I fired the weapon. All that I thought about was, making it to Jerusalem! Nothing else seemed important to me at the time. I did not care if death would overtake me because to Jerusalem I was going to.
NOTE: The following was told to me, as I laid in the Hospital ship called "Hope" in the China sea.
They say I got up and walked toward the enemy, firing and yelling "Next Year in Jerusalem, Next Year in Jerusalem!" When my ammo belts for the weapons were gone I fought hand to hand and kept on yelling the same thing over and over. "Next Year in Jerusalem, Next Year in Jerusalem!"
A hope that was a promise made by my ancestors helped me to go forward and live. I don't remember when they took me into the helicopter and held me in. Or when we landed aboard the ship called Hope.
All I know is that only 11 brave men besides me made it out and we left behind many of our buddies. Before I lost my senses I recall remembering what My grandpapa's would say as the end of the Seder was at hand.
"As our Seder comes to an end, we take up our cups of wine. The Redemption is NOT Yet Complete. The Fourth cup recalls us to our Covenant with the Eternal One, to the task that still awaits us as a People called to the service of G-d/G-d, to a great purpose for which the people of Israel live: The Preservation and Affirmation of Hope".
As it is written: "And I will take you to be my people". Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheim Meleh ha-olam borei p'ri ha-gafen. We praise You, O LORD our G-d, King of the Universe,WHO has created the fruit of the vine.
The Seder service now concludes: Its rites observed in full, its purposes revealed. This privilege We share will ever be renewed, until G-d's plan is known in full, His highest blessing sealed!
Shalom, Shalom for Everyone! Shalom for Us! For all people, this is our hope: "Next year in Jerusalem!" "Next year, may all be there! L'shanah Haba-ah Birrushala-Yim!"
May we teach our sons and daughters that which G-d has taught us. For if we do, our sons and daughters will never depart from our people. They may stray but the road of return will be easy for them.
This was written so that all may know that G-d never leaves us alone as we walk the paths we choose. HE will always have another path for us to walk, should we depart from the path that we choose.
It has taken 5 Passovers before this was finally completed and the story is not complete, for I still live and walk the path that G-d chose for me.
May it please Our G-d, that you read this story and understand that no matter where you choose to go or what you choose to do, G-d in His mercy will always be by you giving you opportunity to live for another day, so that You may return to His teachings.
Your servant, Rabino Joseph/Mosheh
from the April Passover 2005 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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