Saturday, May 8, 2021

My Take on the News

A Joyous Holiday for a Righteous Nation

Since the last issue of the Yated reached your homes, we have been through a highly eventful couple of weeks. The Yomim Tovim enveloped us in mitzvos, as our days revolved around the Torah. On Hoshana Rabbah, we learned throughout the night, while on Simchas Torah we danced until all our energy was spent.

I delighted in touring the Arba Minim markets before the Yom Tov began. While the rest of the world was preoccupied with Clinton and Trump, the wonderful Jews of Eretz Yisroel had other things on their minds: the tip of a lulav, the pitom of an esrog, and all the other details of the mitzvos.

Just before Yom Tov, my son asked me a question that brought me more pleasure than I had felt in a long time: “Is there an election in America?” Imagine the scene: He is a yeshiva bochur who had just returned home for bein hazemanim, whose thoughts revolved around the special mitzvos of the upcoming Yom Tov, but he happened to overhear a comment about an election taking place in America. Until Motzoei Yom Kippur, he had no idea that it was happening.

“Where was he until now?” asked a friend of mine who overheard his question.

“He was in Elul,” I replied proudly.

And then there was Sukkos itself. Who can spare a thought for Trump and UNESCO when there is a Simchas Bais Hashoeivah in Toldos Aharon and Hakafos Shniyos in Bais Mattisyahu? The Yom Tov of Sukkos envelops every Jew in its mitzvos and its joy, to the point that there is no place in his mind for any other concerns. On Yom Kippur, Sukkos and Simchas Torah alike, I watched as people with barely a cent to spare competed eagerly in the bidding for coveted kibbudim, such as Maftir Yonah, Pesichah, or Atah Hareisa. In our shul, Kol Hanearim was sold for a princely sum, and when the gabbai announced that there was a shortage of food for the Kiddush, the congregants raced to bring the requisite items from their homes, until the tables were piled high with delicacies.

The Jewish people are truly a righteous nation.

The Car Enters the Hall

The event that I found most inspiring took place before Sukkos, on Motzoei Shabbos, near Ben-Gurion Airport. It was an event marking the passage of thirteen years since the founding of Mosdos Tiferes Yisroel. For Rav Yisroel Meir Druk, the founder and leader of the network of institutions, it was a cause for celebration, and the same was true for the hundreds of talmidim in the kollelim, yeshivos and chadarim under his aegis in Yerushalayim, Kiryat Sefer and Rishon Letzion. At the event, Rav Druk shared his vision of building a huge edifice at the entrance to Yerushalayim that would house all of his institutions.

It was clear that the organizers had worked hard on the event, of which the highlight was undoubtedly the participation of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, the patron of Rav Druk and his mosdos. Like the other guests, I leapt out of my seat when Rav Chaim’s car, driven by Rav Shmuel Epstein, drove into the hall itself. We watched reverently as Rav Chaim made his way to the dais. A large screen at the front of the room displayed his movements in real time, capturing the radiant twinkling of his pure eyes.

In his address, Rav Druk quoted the Gemara’s account of how the Amora Rav Chiya ensured that the Torah would not be forgotten by planting flax, using the resultant linen to weave nets, trapping deer, and tanning their hides to produce parchment on which the text of the Torah was written. Rav Druk quoted the Maharsha, who explains that Rav Chiya personally performed the entire procedure, because “in order for the Torah not to be forgotten, everything must be done entirely lesheim Shomayim.” With that introduction, Rav Druk proclaimed, “The secret of the success of our institutions is our rebbi [Rav Chaim], the sar haTorah, who has no personal agenda or ulterior motives in anything he does. It was he who instructed me 13 years ago to establish these mosdos. Boruch Hashem, you can see what we have accomplished.”

A group of Rav Druk’s closest talmidim surprised him with a gift, which included an inscription from Rav Chaim: “I give my blessing to all those who participated in this holy gathering to benefit the institutions of my good friend, Rav Druk shlit”a, which include a cheder, yeshivos ketanos, yeshivos gedolos, kollelim for outstanding yungeleit, and other forms of harbotzas Torah of the most exceptional kind, all of which he manages with the greatest humility. I have known my friend, the rov, for many years, and I attest that he is a great talmid chochom who asks shailos before making any move. Therefore, anyone who aids in glorifying our miniature Bais Hamikdosh, establishing a building where Torah and yiras Shomayim can be taught, will be blessed with all the brachos bestowed on those who build the Torah.”

Another highlight of the evening was when Moshe Warhaftig, a bochur who learns in the yeshiva in Rishon Letzion, was called up to lead the siyum on Maseches Sukkah. One can only imagine the exhilaration he must have felt while conducting the siyum before a huge audience consisting of his rabbeim, his peers, a huge crowd of philanthropists and yungeleit, and Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Yet another exceptional part of the event was the performance of “Aneinu” by Mordechai Ben David. The famous singer came across as a striking figure as he stood onstage with a spodek on his head, singing to the accompaniment of a fantastic band.

When Rav Chaim Kanievsky left, I joined the crowd of people struggling to get a glimpse of him up close, and perhaps even to receive his brocha.

Mordechai Ben David was one of the fortunate few who managed to do just that. He lowered his head into Rav Chaim’s car and received the gadol’s blessing. That, too, was a deeply moving moment.

I should add that Rav Druk is known as a brilliant darshan and a highly gifted orator. Another occasion when I heard him speak was on Rosh Hashanah, at Yeshivas Acheinu in our neighborhood. One of the questions he asked was: “If Adam Harishon was created as the only human being in the world, why was he given a mouth? To whom was he supposed to speak?” To answer his own question, he declared, “To Hashem! Every human being is both entitled and obligated to speak with the Master of the Universe!”

The Judge from Tzefas Rules Against the Bus Company

This year, as on every Chol Hamoed, thousands of people converged on Yerushalayim to participate in the usual festive events – and found themselves waiting for hours for buses to take them home. It was as if no one knew that Yerushalayim receives thousands of visitors on Chol Hamoed, as if it came as a surprise to the bus companies that crowds of people arrived from out of town to attend the Simchos Bais Hashoeivas at Masmidim, Rachmastrivke, Belz, Ger, Karlin, and the like.

Once again, Egged seemed surprised by the developments, just as it is every year on Lag Ba’Omer. And so it was that hundreds of people once again waited for hours at the bus stops.

I personally witnessed this phenomenon when four young men who came to Yerushalayim from Bnei Brak and happened to be my guests left my home for the bus stop at the entrance to the city, where they waited a full 92 minutes for a 402 bus to arrive and take them home to Bnei Brak. Their wait began at 11:42 p.m.

On that note, allow me to share a remarkable story. Four days before Rosh Hashanah, Justice Mohannad Halaily, a senior judge in the small claims court in Tzefas, ruled in favor of a yungerman named Moshe Lieberman, who had filed a complaint against the Netiv Express bus company for repeated lapses in its service. Lieberman related that on the 13th of Adar Rishon, he had been waiting at a bus stop on Rechov Minchas Yitzchok in Yerushalayim for the 993 bus, which he was suppose to take to Tzefas. The bus simply passed the stop without allowing him to board, and he had to travel home on a different bus instead, resulting in a 50-minute delay. One week later, he boarded a 982 bus to return to Tzefas, which was blocked at the Binyanei Ha’umah bus stop by a crowd of angry passengers insisting that they be allowed to board the bus. The driver refused to let them on, claiming that there was insufficient room on the bus, and the passengers refused to allow him to continue on his way. After waiting for over an hour, the plaintiff decided to forgo the trip and disembarked from the bus.

In another incident this past Chol Hamoed Pesach, a 982 bus to Tzefas arrived at the designated bus stop a full hour behind schedule. In his complaint, Lieberman demanded compensation from the bus company for each of the three incidents.

Netiv Express did not bother summoning the bus drivers in question – or anyone else – to clarify the matter. Instead, they merely sent a batch of computer printouts to the court and claimed that the plaintiff had fabricated the stories. They even had the audacity to add that “people like the plaintiff” (and one can only imagine what they had in mind with that phrase) have made it a habit of seeking to enrich themselves by filing spurious claims in court.

The judge, however, accepted the plaintiff’s story. He also expressed indignation at the bus company’s attitude of disdain toward the court. Furthermore, he found that the plaintiff’s story was actually corroborated by the documents sent by the company. “From the list of arrival and departure times of the 993 bus on February 2, 2016,” he wrote, “it emerges that the bus arrived at station 4014 [the bus stop at the intersection of Yirmiyahu and Minchas Yitzchok] at 20:32:08, and it left the stop at 20:32:22, meaning that it was there for only 14 seconds.” This clearly indicates that the bus did not take on any passengers at that stop. The documents also substantiate his account of the incident at Binyanei Ha’umah. “The bus remained at the Binyanei Ha’umah station from 22:05:52 until 23:08:03, which supports the plaintiff’s version of the events.”

The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff and ordered the bus company to pay him the sum of 6,300 shekels. This is a substantial sum of money, especially for a yungerman from Tzefas.

I learned several things from this story that I did not know before. First of all, I discovered that the bus companies keep records not only of when the buses arrive at and depart from each stop, but also of the times when a bus’s doors open and close. Second, I learned that it is very important to complain about such lapses in service. And finally, I learned that there are judges in Tzefas, a fact that I certainly never knew before.

Rejoicing with the Torah

The days of Sukkos and Simchas Torah, of course, are a time marked by plenty of music, singing and dancing, particularly at the Simchos Bais Hashoeivah held in the various Chassidic courts: Toldos Aharon, Toldos Avrohom Yitzchok, Karlin, Masmidim, and numerous other kehillos. If you walk the streets on Chol Hamoed, Hoshana Rabbah, or Motzoei Simchas Torah, you will witness many Jews reveling in the simcha of the Yom Tov. It is a beautiful sight: Jewish men, women, and children luxuriating in the joy of the Torah’s festivals. Our people have no need for any physical aids to enhance their enjoyment; the Torah and the mitzvos alone are the source of their greatest pleasure.

The Yom Tov also featured a number of musical events, both in event halls and in the sukkos of prominent philanthropists. One event that I would like to speak about is unquestionably laudable. It was a musical evening arranged by Menagnim, and it was completely sold out. Hundreds of bnei yeshivos crowded the entrances, offering to pay double or triple the price for admission, but to no avail. All the tickets had already been sold. I was in the audience, and I thoroughly enjoyed the performances of Shmuelly Ungar and Moishy Roth. Ungar, who possesses a rare and powerful voice, sang a solo, along with performing with Ahrele Samet and Mordechai Ben David, to the delight of the enthusiastic audience. Shalom Wagschal gave an overview of the ten years since the inception of Menagnim, and I agreed wholeheartedly when he spoke about the “revolution” that the band has created: Menagnim has proven that it is possible to produce outstanding events without making the slightest compromise on the letter or spirit of the law.

On Hoshana Rabbah, I attended another event that I found deeply satisfying: a siyum held by my own Daf Yomi chaburah in the Pressburg shul. There, too, the typical pattern of Jewish generosity repeated itself: There were so many volunteers offering to contribute food for the siyum that many of them had to be turned down. A wonderful family from Givat Shaul donated their large sukkah for the occasion, contributing homemade delicacies as well. The learning and siyum in the sukkah were a fitting conclusion to the Yom Tov of Sukkos and a wonderful way to prepare for Simchas Torah. A large and diverse crowd – young men and old men alike, veterans and newcomers to the shiur, yeshiva bochurim alongside baalei teshuvah – sat in the sukkah, watching the maggid shiur with profound admiration and drinking in every word he spoke.

Winter Begins in the Knesset

It is difficult to return to our mundane routines after the uplifting days of the Yomim Tovim, but our lives leave us with little choice. For me, that means returning to the Knesset. The winter session of the Knesset began on Monday with a festive celebratory sitting. Let us hope that we will make it through the winter in peace.

At the very beginning of the winter session, the Knesset holds special sittings in memory of two government officials who were assassinated. On Tuesday of this week, the Knesset held a special sitting in memory of Rechavam Zeevi Hy”d, the former Minister of Tourism, who was murdered in the Laromme Hotel in Yerushalayim by two Arabs. Next Sunday, the 12th of Cheshvan, is the date of the annual ceremony commemorating the assassination of Yitzchok Rabin. This year marks the 21st anniversary of his death. The ceremony will be attended by President Reuven Rivlin and Chief Justice Miriam Naor of the Supreme Court. Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yitzchok Herzog will also speak. Invitations to the event were sent in Hebrew, English, and even Arabic.

Speaking of memorial events, the following is the text of an e-mail that was sent to all the members of the Knesset and the ministers of the cabinet: “Honored members of the Knesset past and present: On Friday, October 28, 2016 – the 26th of Tishrei, 5777 – there will be a memorial service marking the 30 [i.e., shloshim; just try explaining to them that a shloshim is not represented by the number 30!] of former President Shimon Peres on Har Herzl. The ceremony will be attended by the president of the state, the prime minister, the speaker of the Knesset, and the chief justice of the Supreme Court. Arrival should be scheduled for no later than 9:00. Parking arrangements have been made in the lots surrounding Har Herzl. Please confirm your attendance with the office of the ninth president by e-mail.” This ceremony was attended by far fewer people than the levayah.

And then there is another event scheduled to be held in the Knesset: a conference titled “Dorshei Tzion.” On the surface, there does not seem to be anything wrong with it, but closer analysis will reveal that it involves encouragement, at least indirectly, to violate the prohibition of trespassing on the Har Habyis. Visiting the Har Habayis is not only forbidden by halachah, but is also a potential source of danger to Jewish lives. Those who violate the prohibition may well be responsible for the spilling of innocent blood.

The Dorshei Tzion conference, which has adopted the phrase “Yerushalayim Shel Shalom” as its motto, will take place in the Knesset auditorium and will be attended by several government officials: Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein; Ze’ev Elkin, the Minister of Yerushalayim Affairs; Miri Regev, Minister of Culture; Eli Ben-Dahan, the Deputy Minister of Defense; and Moshe Feiglin, a former member of the Knesset who is known for promoting Jewish visits to the Har Habayis.

The invitation to this unprecedented event bears the Knesset logo, since every member of the Knesset is permitted to organize a large event, provided that he receives permission from the Knesset speaker. Evidently, Yuli Edelstein indeed gave his approval for this event. The invitation is signed by MK Yehuda Glick, as well as two organizations supporting Har Habayis activism.

The invitation quotes a number of “chareidim” and includes the following statement: “On the holiday founded by the Rambam and dedicated to ascending the Har Habayis, I invite you to join me at the annual Dorshei Tzion conference and to give thanks on the second anniversary of my salvation from death.”

According to the printed program, there will be speeches from the representatives of both organizations, and a video will be screened to provide an overview of the accomplishments of the past year. There will also be a display of original floor tiles from the Bais Hamikdosh, which will be brought to the hall by archaeologists, and Doresh Tzion certificates will be awarded.

The recipients, according to the program, will be “dedicated volunteers who work for the sake of the Har Habayis,” although it appears that the text originally read “for the sake of ascending Har Habayis.” The invitation adds that all weapons should be deposited at the entrance to the Knesset.

If this event is indeed held, it will take place on this coming Monday, the sixth of Cheshvan. Is it the responsibility of the chareidi Knesset members to speak up in order to protest the event? That question should be put to wiser men than I.

The Education Disparity

This week, the Ministry of Education was accused of discrimination against chareidim. These claims were made despite the fact that Naftali Bennett, who heads the ministry, is not stingy with funding for chareidi education. Still, the claims of discrimination were supported by the figures presented in the Knesset, and indeed, anyone who has been following the ministers’ answers to parliamentary queries has known this for a long time. There is no more powerful tool than a parliamentary query to extract simple, vital information that is difficult to obtain in any other way, such as whether there are any groups of students in the country who are the victims of discrimination. Not long ago, a chart depicting government funding for education was released in an effort to prove that a chareidi student in school receives less from the government than a chiloni student. This became the subject of a parliamentary query, and the education minister was responsible for gathering the statistics to formulate a response.

In his response, Bennett noted that the ministry’s funding for elementary school education varies according to the degree of government supervision over each school. The chadarim, which are exempt from government oversight, receive 55 percent of their budgets from the government, while schools classified as “recognized but unofficial” receive between 65 and 75 percent. Schools in the Chinuch Atzmai and Maayan HaChinuch HaTorani networks receive 100 percent funding from the government, as do official government-run schools. There are also additional factors that affect the level of funding, such as a school’s participation in the “New Horizons” program of educational reform, as well as the number of special education students and their needs, which cause the level of funding to vary between different municipalities.

Bennett then presented the statistics on government funding per student: In the year 5777, the funding for an average student in a Hebrew-speaking school under government supervision was 14,026 shekels for the year. In state religious schools, that figure rose to 16,646 shekels. An Arab student studying in a government-run school, on average, received funding to the tune of 15,373 shekels, while a student in the Chinuch Atzmai or Maayan HaChinuch HaTorani networks received 12,781 shekels. In the schools classified as “recognized but unofficial” – schools that are not part of an established network – the average funding per student stood at 5,548 shekels for the year. And in the schools that are exempt from government oversight, the average annual funding was 3,990 shekels for student.

I am not closely acquainted with the field, and I cannot offer much commentary on this subject. Nevertheless, it does seem that there is a major disparity between the funding for students in Torah schools and that which is allocated to the rest of the country’s children.

The Battle Over the Kosel Continues

The Reform Jews have been relentlessly pursuing their quest for recognition, and the Supreme Court of the State of Israel, as usual, is backing them in their efforts. This past week, the Supreme Court gave the government three weeks to explain why the compromise about the Kosel Hamaarovi hasn’t been implemented yet. This compromise is the agreement brokered by the current attorney general, during his prior tenure as cabinet secretary, that stipulates that the area of Robinson’s Arch is to be given to the Conservative and Reform movements as an egalitarian prayer area. The reason it hasn’t been carried out is that the chief rabbis of Israel, along with the representatives of the chareidi parties, informed the prime minister that they have retracted their support for the agreement.

Over Sukkos, tens of thousands of Jews flocked to the Kosel, hundreds of them also visiting the Robinson’s Arch area. This was an effort to respond both to UNESCO, which announced its “decision” that Yerushalayim does not belong to the Jews, and to the Reform organizations that have announced their own “decision” that the Kosel does not belong to the chareidim. A number of chareidim went to Robinson’s Arch to daven, erecting a temporary mechitzah for that purpose.

The agreement with the Reform movement is not in effect, and it will remain that way as long as Dovid Azulai, the Minister of Religious Affairs, has not signed the order to implement it. As we know, Azulai certainly will not sign that order. I have reported here in the past on his meeting with Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl, who has spearheaded the opposition to the agreement.

As for the Reform Jews, they seemed pleased by the fact that chareidim had davened in “their” area at the Kosel. One of them commented that since the chareidim had utilized the prayer area at Robinson’s Arch, he hoped that the Supreme Court would respond in kind by awarding them a portion of the Kosel plaza itself. That may sound bizarre and illogical, but it is exactly what we are afraid may happen. And we have yet to be pleasantly surprised by a decision of the Supreme Court.

The Goal: Closeness with the Creator

As we read on Simchas Torah, the Torah concludes with the words “l’einei kol Yisroel –before the eyes of all of Yisroel.” Rashi explains that this alludes to Moshe Rabbeinu’s decision to break the first Luchos, and the fact that Hashem approved of that decision. This is one of Rashi’s most famous comments on the Torah, and Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l, the recently departed rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld, once questioned why the Torah ends on this note. Why should the concluding words of the Torah refer to the destruction of the Luchos, which represent the Torah itself?

Rav Aryeh explained that the ultimate purpose of the Torah is for us to draw close to Hashem. The Torah is the force that connects man to his Creator. When Moshe Rabbeinu destroyed the Luchos, he shocked the entire Jewish people, who had just committed the sin of worshipping the Eigel. The result was that the entire nation burst into tears, recognizing the severity of their actions, and proceeded to repent and regain their closeness to Hashem – all of which undoubtedly would not have happened had he not broken the Luchos. Thus, the destruction of the Luchos created the same closeness to Hashem that we achieve by learning Torah.

It stands to reason – and this is my conclusion – that the acts of learning Torah and destroying the Luchos are essentially the same, since each act is a means to the same end: a relationship of closeness to Hashem. Thus, it is indeed fitting for the Torah to conclude with the destruction of the Luchos, for when Hashem expressed His approval of Moshe’s actions, it was because he had achieved the ultimate purpose of the Torah.

One Last Day with the Frock

I would like to share a humorous comment that I heard from an entertaining darshan on Simchas Torah. I don’t know what the prevalent custom is in America, but here in Eretz Yisroel, it is the accepted practice for any person who wore a frock at his wedding to wear it again on each of the shalosh regalim. That is why, on Sukkos, you will see thousands of young avreichim sporting rabbinic-looking frocks, as if they were roshei yeshivos. You can easily imagine the sense of elevation that the frock engenders in its wearer, and the sorrow that he feels when the time comes to take leave of that distinguished-looking garment.

And so, the darshan commented, Hashem saw the pain of the many yungeleit who wore their frocks throughout the days of Sukkos and then found themselves facing the prospect of putting away the garment after Hoshana Rabbah until the next Yom Tov. In order to ease their pain, he concluded, Hashem gave them one more day of Yom Tov – the holiday of Shemini Atzeres. This was his unconventional twist on the Midrashic treatment of Shemini Atzeres as a day when Hashem declares, “Kasheh alai preidaschem – Parting with you is difficult for Me.”

Following Eliyahu Hanovi

Simchas Torah of the year 5727 was the day when the great tzaddik, Rav Moshe Yaakov Ravikov, who was known as “The Shoemaker,” passed away. Rav Moshe Yaakov first came to Eretz Yisroel in Elul of 5673 and earned the admiration of the gedolim of his day. It was reported that the Chazon Ish and the Bais Yisroel of Ger both visited him in his home in Yaffo. He was known for his knowledge of Kabbolah and for his remarkable ability to divine things that no ordinary human being could perceive. During his lifetime, many people regularly sought his brachos. Five decades have now passed since his petirah.

Rav Yaakov Edelstein was close with “The Shoemaker.” Rav Yaakov once spoke at the bris of one of my grandsons and related that The Shoemaker had once attended a bris and had been offered the position of sandek, but he declined and left the bris. When he was asked the reason for his departure, he replied, “Eliyahu Hanovi wasn’t there.”

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