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A Metaphor Made Real: The Unforgettable Valley of Tears

Aug 17, 2023

A wrecked tank in the Valley of Tears (

עֹבְרֵ֤י ׀ בְּעֵ֣מֶק הַ֭בָּכָא מַעְיָ֣ן יְשִׁית֑וּהוּ גַּם־בְּ֝רָכ֗וֹת יַעְטֶ֥ה מוֹרֶֽה׃

They pass through the Valley of Baca, regarding it as a place of springs, as if the early rain had covered it with blessing.

o-v'-RAY b'-AY-mek ha-ba-KHA ma-YAN y'-shee-TU-hu gam b'-ra-KHOT ya-TEH mo-REH

Psalms 84:7

Many of the places described in the Bible are still identifiable today. One site, however, described in Psalm 84, did not physically exist in Biblical times but does exist in modern times; the Valley of Baca, or the Valley of Tears.

The Psalm begins by singing the praises of the Temple:

How lovely is Your dwelling-place, LORD of hosts. I long, I yearn for the courts of Hashem; my body and soul shout for joy to the living Hashem. Psalm 84:2-3

But in a confusing phrase, the psalmist describes the path to the Temple as passing through the mythical valley:

Happy is the man who finds refuge in You, whose mind is on the [pilgrim] highways. They pass through the Valley of Baca, regarding it as a place of springs, as if the early rain had covered it with blessing. Psalms 84:6-7

From all corners of the land, pilgrims make their way to the Holy City for the three pilgrimage festivals, bearing gifts to present in the Temple. Some traverse long distances, while others walk a short way to get to Jerusalem and the Temple. The psalmist writes how the pilgrims would pass through the Emek Habakha, literally ‘the valley of tears,’ struggling to make their way home.

The reference to the Valley of Tears appears only once in the Bible and is clearly intended as an allegory and not as a reference to an actual location. According to the medieval commentator known as Rashi, it refers to “those who transgress Your law. Behold, they are in the depth of Gehinnom with weeping and wailing.”

Yet in 1973, the allegorical Valley of Tears became a reality.

On Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement), October 6 to 25, 1973, Israel fought what was arguably its most painful war. A coalition of Arab states, led by Egypt and Syria, launched a coordinated surprise attack, invading Israel from the north and south. The goal of the Arabs was to inflict damage and restore their honor and territories lost in the 1967 Six-Day War. Egypt succeeded in crossing the Suez Canal and overwhelming the Israeli defenses in the Sinai.

The tank battalion defending the Golan from the Syrian forces was better prepared but hugely outnumbered. Syria had more than 1,260 tanks backed by at least 1,000 artillery pieces. The total force of the division was about 10,000 men, and 72 anti-aircraft guns and surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). Their infantry carried state-of-the-art anti-tank missiles which Israel did not know were part of the Arab arsenal.

The Israeli forces in the Golan had a mere 170 tanks and 60 artillery pieces divided between two brigades. Not only were the Israeli tanks grossly outnumbered, they lacked adequate optical equipment for night fighting which their enemies had, and had to gauge the position of the Syrian forces by their noise and artillery flares. The IDF found itself in unusual circumstances, with the air force proving ineffective in the face of the Syrian’s SAMs. The main assault of the Syrian armor was focused on a three-mile stretch of flat land, a preferred landscape for the armored attack.

Following a rapid advance into Israel, the Arabs stopped near Mitzpe Gadot, only five minutes from the Jordan River. After one day of fierce fighting, the Israeli brigade, with fewer than 40 tanks, was facing approximately 500 Syrian tanks. Due to the Israelis’ lack of night-fighting equipment, the Syrians reached within close range, and a battle commenced at ranges of 30–60 yards. At dawn of the second day, 130 Syrian tanks and many APCs were lying in the valley, many of them behind or between the Israeli positions. During the night, two Syrian infantry battalions attacked the position on Hermonit and were fought off by fewer than twenty Israeli infantry troops from the Golani Brigade.

On the fourth day, the Israeli 7th Brigade was left with seven tanks, and its officer, Avigdor Ben-Gal, told his commanding officer that he could no longer hold on as his forces were surrounded by Syrian forces. The Israeli forces were exhausted, and some were running out of ammunition, when the Syrian forces suddenly began to turn around and withdraw. Decades after the battle, analysts were still unsure what exactly led to the Syrian withdrawal.

Despite being significantly outnumbered, the Israeli forces successfully maintained their positions. When the Syrians withdrew on the 4th day of battle, as the Israeli defenses teetered on the brink of collapse, the IDF had lost 70 armored vehicles compared to the over 500 Syrian vehicles which were destroyed. The valley on which this major battle was fought from October 6th to October 9th was appropriately renamed the Valley of Tears.

The Valley of Tears, first mentioned metaphorically in Psalm 84, etched its name not just into ancient scripture, but into the fabric of modern Israel. As the words of the psalmist reverberated through the ages, their symbolism was transformed into stark reality during the tumultuous days of October 1973. The valley, once a mere figurative landscape traversed by pilgrims, transformed into the stage of one of Israel’s most harrowing battles, a true Valley of Tears. This historic landscape reverberates with stories of bravery, loss, and the unrelenting pursuit of peace.

Related Names and Places:

Relate Bible Verses: Chapter 84

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