Monday, December 03, 2012

The Merkavah Tank - How it Got its Name

Many years ago (perhaps 18-20 years ago), I sat in 770 with a group of Jews surrounding an older Jew who told us this story. It was during a Shabbos farbrengen, in the "Moshiach corner", where every Shabbos we'd host an elder chassid or Jewish guest to speak to us. I've retold this story a score of times but never, until now, put it in writing. I have no reason to doubt its veracity.

It was well known the Rebbe was a superb engineer. That, I think, was his title when he worked at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, from the moment he came to the U.S. in 1941, either on a battleship project or, as I think told, the "Manhattan Project". But that is another story I have to write about as well, one I heard from Rabbi Dr. Naftali Berg, who was an ordinary-looking Chabad chassid with full beard and tzitzis, but held the extraordinary position of being the very highest ranked scientist at the Pentagon, before he passed away about one month after the 3rd of Tammuz.

For example, on another occasion, in 770, roughly in that same period, another chassid told us the Rebbe had been consulted by a team of bridge engineers from some state where they were having problems with a bridge whose struts or posts kept coming loose; No matter how often they tightened them, movements caused by the wind eventually always loosened them. The Rebbe solved their problem by instructing them to reverse the threading of the posts, in which case the wind could only tighten them.

Back to the story: The military engineers in the IDF, who drafted plans for a new tank, came to show the Rebbe their blueprints. The Rebbe looked them over and said, "It's all very fine. But there is one problem. Were it to receive a direct hit in the rear, the door in the rear would fail to open and the soldiers would be trapped inside.

The team then asked the Rebbe for advice how to correct the problem, which the Rebbe proceeded to do.

When the team finished their final draft they again showed up to the Rebbe and said, "Since you advised us how to correct our tank, we'd like for you to give the tank its name." The Rebbe chose the name "Merkavah" (in Hebrew, a chariot, a very frequent term used in Chassidus to indicate total submission to God's wishes, just as a chariot has no brain of its own and "submits" entirely to the wishes of its driver).

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