6 Tishrei 5781 / Thursday, September 24, 2020 | Torah Reading: Ha'azinu
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Mighty Machlouf    

Mighty Machlouf

For Israel Memorial Day: The story of an unsung hero and true Chassid in every sense of the word, who paid the ultimate price to save the life of a comrade in arms...


Rebbe Nachman of Breslev teaches (Sefer HaMidot, “meriva”, 29) that a Chassid is one who suffers insult and humiliation without retaliating or without harboring any malice in his heart.
With this definition in mind, you’re about to hear a story of a true Chassid that not only fulfilled the Rebbe Nachman’s criteria, but even surpassed them.
Machlouf Cohen (name changed for obvious reasons) was my best buddy all through what's known in the IDF infantry as "maslul": basic training, advanced infantry school, and a number of other courses depending on the particular soldier's task until we became full-fledged members of the unit. We had a lot in common, even though our backgrounds were as different as night and day. I was from the USA while Machlouf was born in Morocco. I had grown up on the Washington Redskins and Elvis Presley and he had never heard of either. Yet, we were both the underdogs of a unit that was made up mostly of "sabras", native-born Israelis, 90% of whom were from kibbutz and moshav backgrounds. As such, Machlouf and I pulled together.
I couldn’t stomach Dotan Ram (name changed also for obvious reasons). He was a 6'2" blond-headed nose-in-the-air kibbutznik that wasn’t very tolerant of anyone different than him. He stereotyped Oriental Jews, and especially those of a Moroccan background. He thought they should all be cooks and dish-washers, and couldn’t stand the fact that one was actually in his unit.
Dotan did everything in his power to make Machlouf's life miserable. Machlouf, 5'4" and 125 pounds when soaking wet, was the littlest guy in the unit and easy prey for the blond bully. I never could understand how anyone could have such a terrible bully's character. Whenever Ram would pick on Machlouf, my blood would boil. Machlouf himself would calm me down. I was vindictive and cunning in those days, but Machlouf refused to let me set any kind of trap for the arrogant and obnoxious Ram.
Probably the dirtiest trick Ram ever played on Machlouf is when he poured water down the barrel of Machlouf's FN carbine the night before general inspection at the termination of advanced infantry school. Everybody went home that weekend on pre-graduation furlough, except Machlouf, who didn't succeed in cleaning the rust out of his rifle barrel before inspection and was confined to base for 14 days as a punishment. Machlouf made me swear to him that I wouldn’t do anything to settle the score with his tormentor.
In the summer of 1972, we finished "maslul". Ram, Mahlouf, and I served for the next three months in the same platoon that was assigned to counter-insurgence duty in the Southern Golan on the Syrian border, which sometimes involved operations to thwart terrorist attacks before they happened.
On June 20, 1972, 2 Israelis were killed and 3 were injured in a rocket attack on a bus in the Golan Heights. The rockets were apparently fired by Saika terrorists, the Syrian-based arm of the PLO. Israel wanted to retaliate, and fast. Our platoon was given the task of destroying a suspected Russian-assisted Syrian-supported Saika emplacement within Syrian territory a few miles over the Israeli border in the southern Golan, a few miles east of Moshav Ramat Magshimim.
Post-1967 Israeli intelligence was nearing the height of its smug complacency before it was exposed in the near-catastrophe of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. A mile over the border, which we succeeded to cross on a moonless night without being detected, we ran into a mine field that was totally uncharted on the intel maps. Four out of the 28 of us on the mission had various parts of feet and legs blown off. While we were trying to drag our wounded buddies to safety, 2 more were injured. Then the dogs woke up. Syrian artillery shells exploded all around us. There was no choice but to abort the mission and make a run back to the border. Meanwhile, another eight of us were injured with shrapnel wounds.
The fourteen of us who could still walk on our own two legs each had a wounded buddy on his back in a fireman's carry, running on pure adrenalin in the partial shelter of a dry wadi trying to make it back alive to our side of the border. We not only had the wounded comrade on our back, but all of his gear and our own gear as well. As it was, each of us was carrying much more than his body weight. How did we do it? Ask Hashem... He gives a Jew a powerful will to survive.
I happened to be carrying my platoon commander, Lieutenant “F”, who today is one of the top people in Israel's law-enforcement system. I looked to my right, and couldn't believe my eyes - little Machlouf had Dotan Ram on his back.
Dotan was moaning and groaning more than any of the other wounded. Machlouf, panting hard from the unbelievable strain, told him gently to calm down. Yet, Machlouf had every reason in the world to let Ram lie and rot inside Syria. Ram had made Machlouf's life miserable for months. I witnessed it with my own eyes. But Machlouf, a tzaddik that surpassed many of the tzaddikim you hear about in the stories, did not let any of this get in his way to save the life of a brother in arms.
Finally, a 155mm Israeli Howitzer battery emplaced east of Moshav Ramat Magshimim in the Golan awoke from its slumber to give us cover fire, and we succeeded in returning to the Israeli border. The score - 14 wounded, 4 of whom seriously, 5 moderately (which in Israel means losing an appendage, but not life-threatening), and 5 lightly. There were no fatalaties, that is, until Machlouf dropped to the ground 25 minutes later with a massive heart seizure from a strain that a body twice his size couldn't be expected to handle.
Machlouf should have received Israel's highest Medal of Valor. He didn't, because the brass did everything to put the lid on the botch mission. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that my valiant little buddy Machlouf Cohen is standing in the front of Hashem's Honor Guard, in a place where many self-righteous sermonizers that preach dedication to Judaism can't dream of reaching in a zillion years.
You can bet that there are hundreds of other "Machlouf Cohens" in the Israeli military cemetaries that we don't know about. Undoubtedly, their souls are all sitting in Hashem’s lap in The Heavenly Throne. May their sacred memories be blessed forever and ever, amen.

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