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My Take on the News

Another Police Failure

We have been contending with a pervasive atmosphere of sadness. The wave of terror attacks has not abated. Before we can recover from one attack, we are suddenly informed of another. The recent attack at a gas station in Givat Zeev, where Mendy Rivkind, a Lubavitcher avreich, was stabbed, has greatly increased the gloom that seems to be growing around us.

MK Chaim Yellin of the Yesh Atid party recently paid a shivah call to the family of terror victim Shlomit Krigman Hy”d in Shadmot Mecholah. On the drive back to his home in southern Israel, Yellin’s car was stoned by an Arab. Bechasdei Shomayim, Yellin was uninjured, although the windshield of his car was shattered. Thus, the parliamentarian had an unfortunate personal taste of what local residents are enduring.

The general sense now is that the terrorists have developed a new modus operandi – namely, entering the settlements to perpetrate attacks – which has raised the anxiety levels in the country considerably, especially among those who live in the settlements. The recent terror attacks in Otniel, Tekoa, and Beit Choron (which is actually off Route 443, not in the “territories”) have been a different sort of terror than the stabbing and vehicular attacks. The members of those communities themselves are unsure how to react: While there is a clear necessity to surround their communities with protective fences, they feel that such a move will be taken as a sign of weakness.

We had another reason to be saddened as well, when the learned that the police had missed yet another opportunity to capture Nashat Milhem, the Tel Aviv terrorist. Two girls reported that they had been seated near him on a bus in Tel Aviv, and they had even heard him ask the driver for directions to Wadi Ara, where he was ultimately captured. The girls claim that they called the police immediately, yet their tip was ignored. In all likelihood, this is yet another failure of the police force, reminiscent of its bungled handling of the June 2014 abduction of Gilad Shear, Yaakov Naftali Frankel, and Eyal Yifrach. As we all remember, Shear managed to call the police from the car in which he and his two companions were abducted. In the recording, the murderer can be clearly heard screaming at him to turn off his phone. The operator who answered the call, though, did not grasp what was taking place.

Of course, the police claim that the allegations are nothing but a tempest in a teapot and that they handled the matter perfectly, but it seems that this episode will remain in the public consciousness for a long time to come.

Anti-Semitism in Israel and the World

Another major topic this past week was the subject of anti-Semitism. As part of an international day devoted to the subject, Education Minister Naftali Bennett – in the context of his concurrent role as Minister of Diaspora Affairs – presented to the government a report on anti-Semitic incidents and trends in the year 2015. The report revealed that there was a 53-percent rise in anti-Semitic crime in London. The statistics from France were particularly worrying, as they showed an increase of 84 percent in the number of anti-Semitic incidents between the months of January and May. The phenomenon is also on the rise in the United States. In America, Jews have been assaulted simply for being Jewish, but the main sites of anti-Semitic incidents seem to be the college campuses around the country. Jewish students have described very unpleasant feelings. According to the report, 75 percent of the Jewish students in the United States have reported witnessing anti-Semitic incidents. The report also indicated an increase of over 30 percent in the anti-Israel study programs held on campuses throughout the country.

“Along with Muslim attacks, anti-Semitism against Jews in Europe is becoming more severe and constantly taking on new forms,” Bennett reported in a cabinet session. “Anti-Semitism has been quietly finding safe places for itself in academic institutions and under the roofs of organizations ostensibly dedicated to the protection of human rights. From those places, it has increased the incitement and hatred.”

One of the chareidi Knesset members remarked at the Knesset podium, “If the police here in the State of Israel are indifferent when shuls are desecrated, why are you surprised when there is anti-Semitism in the Diaspora?”

The Crime and Punishment of a Foreign Minister

In general, it takes a long time for a circle to close. Years can pass before we are able to appreciate the workings of Hashgachah and how sinners do not gain from their misdeeds. But sometimes, the results come much sooner.

Two weeks ago, in an interview with a Swedish news station, the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallstrom, astonished Israel in particular and the world as a whole when she laid the blame for the terror attacks in Paris on the State of Israel. We will not repeat her exact words, but the basic message was that the terror attacks perpetrated by the madmen of ISIS were prompted by the State of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. The fury her comments evoked in Israel was so severe that the Swedish ambassador to Israel was summoned for an urgent meeting to discuss the subject.

Just two days later, Wallstrom’s name was back in the headlines again, this time with no connection to Israel. Several weeks ago, Sweden was in an uproar when Wallstrom’s name was linked with a corruption scandal in the country. The Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet revealed that Kommunal, the largest professional union in Sweden, had rented luxury apartments in Stockholm to Wallstrom and other politicians at cheap prices, although the apartments were supposed to be designated for public housing. The details of the affair are still unclear, but the Swedish people have already begun pointing an accusing finger at Wallstrom, claiming that she and the other senior politicians received the apartments at low prices as a form of bribery. Calls have been heard for a thorough investigation to be conducted.

Wallstrom herself was quick to denounce the accusations against her, claiming that she was deceived. “The declaration that they presented to me was forged, and this is totally unacceptable,” she asserted, adding that she would be moving out of the apartment immediately. “The public allegations have pained and harmed me,” added the woman who has pained and harmed the State of Israel.

Speaking of Sweden, the Swedish government announced that it will deport 80,000 immigrants who have applied for Swedish citizenship, most of them Syrian refugees who fled their home country out of fear of ISIS. That, too, is a sort of closing of a circle.

Yehuda Rasler’s Just Desserts

While Margot Wallstrom received her comeuppance almost immediately, there are other cases in which it takes many years for the circle to be closed. One such case involves Yehuda Rasler, one of the State of Israel’s most prominent attorneys. Rasler is known mainly for his unyielding struggle against the arrangement that allows yeshiva students to defer their army service as long as they are learning. For years, Rasler has been filing appeals on the subject with the Supreme Court. Each time, he has earned a certain amount of support. In fact, the court decisions that have thrown the country into turmoil in recent years were the direct result of his appeals. Rasler filed his first appeal against the arrangement in 1981, thus opening the floodgates for future challenges to the status quo.

Another of Rasler’s efforts that wrought sweeping changes in the country, to our chagrin, was his challenge to the policy of Israeli television stations to broadcast programs only during the week. This situation began when Israeli national television was first established during Golda Meir’s tenure as prime minister. Rasler submitted an appeal to the Supreme Court, demanding that it order the television station to broadcast programs on Shabbos as well. Rasler made a special trip on a Friday to the home of the judge on duty at the time, who accepted his argument. One can only imagine how much chillul Shabbos has resulted from his intervention.

If his life had taken a slightly different course, Rasler could easily have been part of our community. He was born in Galicia and came to Israel with the Yaldei Teheran. Unfortunately, he was taught nonreligious values and became an antireligious activist. As you have undoubtedly discerned, he has become one of the bitterest enemies of the chareidi public and of Jewish values in general in the State of Israel.

Two years ago, Rasler fell into debt and was forced to leave his office. Naturally, his public standing suffered a serious blow. Just two weeks ago, he was convicted in the disciplinary court of the Israel Bar Association of misconduct corresponding to theft. The association’s judges wrote in their decision that “Attorney Rasler has brutally trampled on all of the values of his profession.” It is almost definite that he will soon be disbarred, and there is a good chance that criminal charges will be filed against him as well. If he is convicted in criminal court, the likelihood is that he will be sent to prison.

No Snow

There was no snow last week.

This is a newsworthy fact, because it opens a window into the way the State of Israel is run. One recent winter was marked by a string of oversights that caused half the country to be paralyzed. Roads were not closed in time, leading to cars becoming stuck in the middle of the road. Even when the snow stopped falling, it took two days before the roads were reopened to traffic. The entire affair was a source of shame to the country.

What happened as a result? Everyone veered to the opposite extreme. Last week, the weather forecasters predicted snow, and the police announced that the two main roads leading to Yerushalayim would be closed to traffic: Route 443, from the direction of Modiin, and Highway 1, which is the main artery of the State of Israel. These closures were to take place before the snow would even begin to fall. And how would the police know when the snow was about to begin falling? Perhaps the authorities took their cue from the Gemara in Maseches Shabbos: “Rabi Eliezer says: ‘Repent one day before your death.’ Rabi Eliezer’s talmidim asked him, ‘Does a person know on what day he will die?’ He said to them, ‘All the more so, let him repent today in case he dies tomorrow. Thus, he will spend his entire life in repentance.’”

So the roads were closed, and even the Knesset finished its work early. The entire city of Yerushalayim was filled with tractors and plows. The police and security services entered a state of high alert. And…the snow didn’t fall. Does that mean that all the feverish preparations and the disruptions of everyone’s routine were in vain? It is difficult for me to say.

Contempt in the Knesset

It happened last Wednesday, at 11:00, in the Knesset plenum. The Knesset sitting was supposed to begin, and the secretary of the Knesset entered the plenum and took her seat, followed by Knesset Speaker Yoel “Yuli” Edelstein. I stood on the side and waited for the explosion that was sure to come. Why? Because almost all the individuals who were supposed to participate in the beginning of the sitting were not present.

Let me explain. Every Wednesday, the Knesset sitting begins at 11:00 with urgent parliamentary queries. For every one of those queries, there is a specific member of the Knesset who is supposed to present the question at the podium and a specific minister who is supposed to respond to it. Dozens of Knesset members submit urgent queries every week, but the Knesset speaker approves only four or five each week. The queries that are approved are publicized on Wednesday morning through the Knesset email system, and a copy of the queries is placed on the Knesset members’ table in the plenum.

Last Wednesday, MK Mickey Zohar was scheduled to present a query on the subject of “the dismissals of the individuals who exposed the corruption in the Zichron Yaakov local council,” and Deputy Minister of the Interior Mazuz was scheduled to respond. The next person on the list was Itzik Shmuli, whose query dealt with the fact that one-fifth of the soldiers in the IDF are in need of economic aid. Eli Ben-Dahan, the deputy minister of defense, was scheduled to respond to that query. The third query, this one submitted by Ksenia Svetlova, dealt with the placement of armed guards at educational institutions, preschools, and recreational facilities. The response was to be delivered by Gilad Erdan, the Minister of Internal Security. Ayman Oudeh was next, with a query on the subject of “the entry of police troops into the student clubs of Tel Aviv University.” Again, Erdan was scheduled to respond. Erdan was also supposed to respond to the fifth query, on the subject of the return of confiscated weapons, which was submitted by Hamad Amar.

I was in the Knesset plenum at exactly 11:00, and the government table was empty. Minister Yuval Steinitz was standing on the side, but only as the minister on duty at this Knesset sitting; he wasn’t scheduled to respond to any questions. The only people present from that list were Ayman Oudeh and Hamad Amar, but Gilad Erdan was not present to respond to them. Eli Ben-Dahan and Yaron Mazuz also weren’t there, but neither were Itzik Shmuli and Mickey Zohar, who were supposed to present the questions to which they were to respond. I knew that Edelstein would be enraged – and rightly so – and I predicted that he would close the sitting, for lack of an alternative. It wouldn’t even have helped matters for him to skip to the legislative business of the day, since the Knesset members who were supposed to present their proposals were also absent. But why should they have anticipated that the debates on new laws would begin at 11:00, when that portion of the Knesset’s Wednesday schedule usually doesn’t start until 12:00, after the urgent queries have been handled?

Edelstein said, “Members of the Knesset, I am honored to open the Knesset sitting. We will begin with urgent parliamentary queries. Actually, I should say that we would have liked to begin with the urgent queries, but we cannot. Madame Secretary, I once had a professor in university who always used to say, in situations when someone came late, ‘Don’t you have a watch, my friend? I will buy you a watch.’ In this case, I am afraid that I will not be able to afford 119 watches.”

Chaim Yellin of Yesh Atid called out, “No, it’s only the ministers. The members of the Knesset are here.”

“No,” Edelstein said. “The members of the Knesset are also absent. Very well. We will do the following. Knesset members Ayman Oudeh, Hamad Amar, and Itzik Shmuli [who had just managed to enter the plenum], who are present now, will be able to present their queries during the course of the day, if and when the ministers arrive. The queries of Knesset members Mickey Zohar and Ksenia Svetlova will be permanently removed from the agenda. If they wish, they can receive their answers in writing. Right now, there will be a recess of ten minutes, which will be followed by legislative business.”

Eli Ben-Dahan arrived at 11:06, followed by Gilad Erdan at 11:10. They were both duly chagrined to learn that a recess had been called on their account.

Will this incident make any practical difference in the future? Almost certainly not – until Yuli Edelstein buys wristwatches for all the tardy government officials.

When the Lions Didn’t Dance

The seforim of the Lekach Tov series can probably be found in every home today, at least in Eretz Yisroel. Even those who don’t own the volumes on the parshiyos undoubtedly have at least one of the other volumes – Lekach Tov on “Pirkei Nechomah,” or on the Haggadah, or the volumes on the Yomim Tovim. These are seforim that are treasured by anyone who values mussar or seeks self-improvement, and are acclaimed among the gedolei Yisroel. Rav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg declared that the seforim are “of great benefit to Torah scholars who seek truth and wish to learn the parshiyos in a manner that is not superficial.” Rav Shlomo Wolbe hailed the seforim as containing “not vertlach, but yesodos in emunah and avodah.” Rav Gedaliah Eisemann declared, “These seforim are truly very important for the purveyors of mussar and machshavah.”

The creators of Lekach Tov have been greatly encouraged by the public reaction to their work and the many letters they have received. One yeshiva student attested that a certain piece on Parshas Chukas had a transformative effect on his life. This particular piece cites a suggestion of the Steipler Gaon regarding using one’s time properly. When the bochur read this, it was so far removed from his own concept of using time wisely that he became deeply distressed. That feeling of desolation ultimately spurred him to grow, and he later asserted that it changed him completely. In fact, the boy’s roshei yeshiva soon informed his father that he was no longer suited to the institution where he was learning, which was intended for weaker bochurim, and that he should transfer to a different yeshiva. The bochur had a response to their suggestion from the very same passage from the Steipler, which he shared with the roshei yeshiva: “The Steipler says that it doesn’t matter what yeshiva a bochur is learning in. All that matters is that he has the right chavrusah and that he should sit and learn for a whole day, using his time to the maximum.” The bochur therefore asserted that he could succeed exactly where he was. “The name of the yeshiva has no bearing on my success,” he insisted. “All that matters is hasmadah! I can be successful anywhere.”

Another letter came from an avreich who had grown up in a Conservative family in Tehran and attended a “Jewish” school there – albeit one that did not teach even the Hebrew language – attesting that he was brought up as a “lukewarm Jew.” Divine Providence led him to discover a group of men who attended a weekly shiur delivered by a talmid chochom who traveled to Tehran for that purpose every week from Shiraz, a distance of ten hours by car. That individual was one of the 13 Iranian Jews who were sentenced to death and then miraculously saved. The shiur was based on a copy of Lekach Tov that was smuggled into Iran, and the young man desired a copy for his own use. In response to his pleas, the maggid shiur photocopied the entire sefer for his benefit.

“At a certain point,” the avreich’s letter continues, “I used the knowledge I had gained from the sefer and began to substitute for the rov of our shul. I would deliver drashos between Minchah and Maariv, and sometimes even on Friday nights. All of my knowledge came from Lekach Tov. Today, I have a family in Eretz Yisroel and my sons learn in yeshiva, and I credit it all to the pages of Lekach Tov that were smuggled into Iran and to the copy that I was fortunate enough to receive.” Today, this man is himself a maggid shiur in a yeshiva in southern Israel.

The creators of Lekach Tov have now begun a new series, titled Yosif Lekach, and have just released a volume on Shemos. This new series has also earned enthusiastic accolades. Rav Uri Weissblum, the well-known mashgiach, commented on the first volume, on Sefer Bereishis, “These are writings from which one can learn proper behavior and moral lessons, and they will certainly be of great benefit to those who study them.”

Rav Yaakov Yisroel Baifus, the man who launched the project and has been executing it to perfection, was encouraged by Rav Dov Yoffe, the elder mashgiach, who wrote to him, “You have earned a tremendous zechus by granting Klal Yisroel the wondrous seforim of the Lekach Tov series, which are filled with wonderful words of mussar in every area of avodas Hashem and have already been disseminated around the world. Many have benefited from them, and they have even reached the royal tables of the gedolei Yisroel, who have been particularly pleased with them. My heart rejoiced when I learned that you are now going from strength to strength, and I have no doubt that just as in your first series, these works will also bring much brachah and benefit to all those who strive for perfection, who will be inspired through them to make a great effort to reach that ultimate purpose. Especially at this time, in this generation of increased nisyonos, your writings contain principles of fundamental importance.”

Let us conclude with a vort from this past week’s parshah, Parshas Yisro. The parshah begins with the statement that “Yisro heard.” Rav Shlomo Wolbe, the legendary mashgiach, in his sefer, Shiurei Chumash, derives from this that there is a prerequisite for receiving the Torah: the ability to “hear,” in the most meaningful sense. Rav Wolbe illustrates this further: What would a non-Jew think if he read in the newspaper about a major event such as Krias Yam Suf or Mattan Torah? Would the report make any difference to him? Would he be inspired to change, or even to contemplate its significance? Not at all. And the reason is simple: He lacks the ability to “hear.”

Yisro, on the other hand, was capable of “hearing” in the highest sense, and the things that he heard led him to take action and to come to Moshe Rabbeinu. It is only that type of “hearing” that can bear fruit.

Yosif Lekach quotes a story told by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach on the subject of those who fail to “hear”: “At the entrance to the police station in Machaneh Yehuda near Eitz Chaim, there were two stone pillars carved in the form of lions. One day, our melamed in Eitz Chaim told us that if those lions heard the sound of music, they would immediately begin dancing. We, the children, naively brought our musical instruments the next day and played in front of the lions, but they didn’t move at all. We went back to our melamed and complained, ‘We played music, but the lions stayed absolutely still. They certainly didn’t dance at all!’

“The melamed replied, ‘Did I tell you that they would dance? I said explicitly that if they heard music, they would dance. Did they hear the music? You may have played it, but they didn’t hear a thing.’”