The First Lebanon War broke out in the year 5742 (1982). On Erev Rosh Hashanah of that year, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l delivered a powerful and uplifting speech which seems ever so appropriate for us as we near the Days of Awe.
“Many tragedies have befallen us this past year, especially regarding the First Lebanon War, a war resulting in much bloodshed in which over six hundred IDF forces were killed, among them many G-d-fearing individuals especially the forty Hesder Yeshiva students. This is besides the multitude of injured soldiers, many of whom will remain handicapped for the rest of their lives, some without hands, feet, or eyesight. All this is in addition to the many people killed in fatal car accidents throughout the course of the year, for not a day passes without a deadly car crash.
If we stop to think about this, all of these horrific incidents were decreed to befall us on Yom Kippur. If only we would be aware of the harsh Heavenly decrees hovering above our heads, we would certainly storm the gates of Heaven in prayer in order for the King of all kings to nullify these decrees and save us from our enemies.
Would all the individuals who are no longer with us have known that this would befall them this year, we can only imagine how much they would have awakened themselves to repent fully on Yom Kippur and to shed copious tears in order to nullify this harsh decree. Certainly, not only would they have acted accordingly, for the families of these individuals would likewise not rest until they succeeded in nullifying the harsh decree against their loved ones if they would only know what lay in store for them. However, Hashem’s secrets are not revealed to us.
Fortunate is the man who takes all of this into consideration ahead of Yom Kippur, for one who repents beforehand is forgiven. One should think that he is also numbered among those for whom this year will be their last and then pray, confess, and beg Hashem to grant us all a good and sweet new year.
Picture the following: One wakes up in the morning feeling healthy, invigorated, and full of smiles. The individual says goodbye to his family (not realizing that this will be his final farewell), gets in his car, and drives off to work contently in Tel Aviv or Haifa. Sometime along his journey, at a busy intersection, a truck speeds out of control, crosses the divider into the opposite lanes, and smashes head on with this individual’s car killing him instantly. Did this person realize that this would be his end? If he would have known that this was to be his end, he certainly would not even have left the doorway of his home and he would have locked the door with seven locks. However, this human being with eyes of flesh brought himself to his own death, as the Gemara (Sukkah 53a) states that one’s own feet carry one to his place of death.
On the other hand, if one has more of an intellectual outlook, one will understand and realize that we are all in harm’s way and the world is erupting all around us. Who knows what the next day will bring? We do not only do we require Heavenly mercy from a security standpoint; one requires Heavenly mercy and assistance in every aspect of life, including meriting to bring children into the world, raising and educating them, one’s livelihood, health, peace, tranquility, and the list goes on and on. Every individual must know that everything is in Hashem’s hands and what will befall a person throughout the course of the year is being decreed during these days. Any decree has the ability to be changed from one extreme to the other during this time through repentance, prayer, and charity. After the Days of Awe, this task becomes infinitely more difficult.
Fortunate is the individual who focuses on this idea and capitalizes on these awesome days by repenting fully, for Hashem shall accept and heal him.” (See Ma’or Yisrael-Derashot, page 4)