A gust of wind swept across Masada, blowing from the south and sweeping northward. Yigael Yadin clenched his pipe in one hand and held his wide-brimmed hat with the other. Rather than turn his back to the swirling dust, the former chief of military operations during Israel's War of Independence leaned into it-an unconscious act, perhaps, but one that characterized his approach to life: Meet your challenges head-on.
It took people with an attitude like that to rebuild our state after 2,000 years, thought a young Israeli volunteer who happened to look up from sifting rubble and see the famous archaeologist at that moment. She and thousands of others had answered a newspaper ad seeking volunteers to join Professor Yadin's excavation of Masada, King Herod's (37 B.C.E. — 4 B.C.E.) mountain fortress, where Jewish rebels made their last stand against Roman oppression in 73 C.E.
When he accepted the challenge to uncover Masada's secrets, Yadin explained that scientific discovery wasn't his only motive. More importantly, he wanted to honor Israel's "great national figures, heroes who chose death over a life of physical and moral serfdom." On this windy afternoon, science and national pride would merge.
As Yadin worked near Herod's magnificent hanging palace, he heard excited shouts behind him. Within moments, he held the object of all the excitement-a fragile piece of parchment, tattered and black. Some writing, though, was visible, and Yadin easily identified the fragment as chapters 81 to 85 of the Book of Psalms. It's "almost exactly identical to the text we use today," he marveled, which is "a testament to the strength and faithfulness of the Jewish tradition."
Yigael Yadin served Israel as a soldier, statesman, and scholar.