My Take on the News

Elections and Incitement

So this is it. The Knesset is now in recess and we are officially in election season. The mood in the country is rather somber right now. According to the polls, Avigdor Lieberman will receive twice the number of mandates that he earned in the previous elections, if not more. That isn’t even the most important issue, though. The real question is whether it will be possible to form a right-wing government without him. If that turns out to be impossible, this entire process will have yielded no benefit. Lieberman will simply extort concessions once again and Netanyahu will submit to his demands. And that is a maddening prospect.

Meanwhile, the Blue and White party is continuing to sink in the polls. The gap between Blue and White and the Likud party is steadily growing, as many of its voters – especially the supporters of the anti-religious Yesh Atid party – have defected to Lieberman. There has also been some movement in the other parties, especially the Zionist Camp. Avi Gabbay, the leader of the Zionist Camp, has decided to retire from politics, along with his second in command, General Tal Rousso. This has left the party in shambles. Things have also been fairly lively on the right side of the political map: Naftali Bennett, who nearly won five mandates in the previous election but failed to make it into the Knesset, is still considering his next move. Within the Bayit Yehudi party, there is a difference of opinion as to whether it would be good or bad to take Bennett back into their ranks. I presume that the situation will become clearer very soon.

Lieberman and his party, Yisroel Beiteinu, are doing everything in their power to turn the election campaign into a conflict between them and the chareidi parties over the issue of whether Israel will be a “halachic state” or a “Jewish state.” Apparently, they feel that the election justifies making the most incendiary statements. We can only hope that the results of the election will serve as a solid rebuke to the purveyors of incitement.

The last day of the Twenty-First Knesset seemed to give us an indication of what is in store for us. Speaking at the Knesset podium, MK Oded Forer, who is a stalwart supporter of Avigdor Lieberman and has always been a man of integrity and propriety and has sided with the chareidim in the past, suddenly launched into a vicious diatribe against the chareidi sector, claiming that Netanyahu attempted to “sell” the country to the chareidim. Based on his invective, one might have thought that a coalition agreement had already been signed, and that it had called for extreme measures, such as gender segregation in the streets of chareidi areas.

I am saddened by Forer’s turnaround. He was always a pleasant and gentle MK, who carried a yarmulka in his pocket and joined us for minyanim on a regular basis. I was always fond of him, until Lieberman toppled the government. Over the past two weeks, Forer has begun singing a different tune, following the orders of his political master. Moreover, hateful signs have already appeared in the streets, bearing the inflammatory slogan, “Lieberman: Yes to a Jewish State, No to a State of Halacha!”

The chareidi MKs responded to Lieberman’s false claims that they are endeavoring to establish a “halachic state.” They argued that although Lieberman is attempting to frighten the public into thinking that Israel is poised to become a replica of Iran, the people are not gullible enough to accept that.

The People Are Not Fools

It is true that the Israeli people are not fools, and many people hope that the voters will be wise enough to give every party its due. It is virtually certain that the public will not be enticed to vote for the parties that failed to pass the electoral threshold during the previous election, or that barely managed to scrape by it. We all hope that this will prevent eccentric parties such as Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut from running in the election and drawing valuable votes away from the political right once again. We also hope that the voters will punish the man who prevented a government from being established, and plunged the country into an unnecessary and damaging second round of elections.

We also hope that the voters will reward those who have been good to them. I think that the chareidi leadership sometimes fails to publicize everything that it does in the halls of government, out of concern that it might generate animosity, but every citizen—even those in the general public—should be made aware of the hard work that UTJ and Shas invest on his or her behalf. The parties certainly work hard on issues of interest to the chareidi populace, such as protecting the sanctity of the Kosel, promoting Shabbos observance in the public sphere, and protecting the standards of giyur—issues that are also important to the majority of the general public. But there are more mundane issues that they also toil to address, such as the cost of water and public transportation, property tax discounts for large families, and the concerns of communities on the country’s periphery. Moshe Gafni in the Finance Committee, Yaakov Litzman in the Health Ministry, and Aryeh Deri, who heads both the Interior Ministry and the Ministry for the Negev, Galil, and Periphery, have all accomplished many things for the general public. For the chareidi politicians, working hard to benefit the citizens of the country is not a tactic for scoring political points. It is simply what they view as their mission.

Of course, that does not allow the parties to rest on their laurels during a campaign season. This week, the chareidi parties launched their election campaigns. The time has come once again to fight the same battle that drew to a close just a couple of months ago. The politicians and activists are suffused with a sense of mission: They will not accept anything less than the eight mandates that each party received in the previous election. If anything, their share of the seats in the Knesset must grow.

Lieberman’s Turnabout

Moshe Dayan once said that only a donkey—or a camel—never changes its mind. Nevertheless, it can sometimes be astonishing to witness certain changes of heart. For a long time, Avigdor Lieberman seemed to be a staunch ally of the chareidi community, yet he has now become its enemy. And when he changed, the chareidim’s attitude toward him changed as well. Instead of a friend, he is now a foe—and a dangerous one, at that. And no one has succeeded in deciphering his motivations.

Lieberman should have had no reason to bring down the government. After all, he received everything he asked for. Every one of his five MKs was granted a position as a government minister, deputy minister, or committee chairman. He demanded the Defense Ministry for himself, and he received it. Even if he receives nine mandates in the upcoming election, it is difficult to imagine that he will get more positions than what he has already received. But an examination of Lieberman’s track record of resignations shows that there isn’t always a logical explanation for his actions and that his choices do not always yield results. From the chareidim’s vantage point, Lieberman is certainly an enigma. What happened to him? What caused him to turn against his onetime political allies? Did he always harbor this antipathy toward the religious community and is he now simply revealing his true colors? Whatever the answer may be, it is a sad situation indeed.

There is one aspect of the story that has often been overlooked, but that might be the key to understanding Lieberman’s decisions. Netanyahu was always concerned that if he failed to put together a government, a plot might be hatched to tap Gideon Saar, a member of the Knesset whom Netanyahu considers one of his arch rivals, to make the attempt instead of him. When Netanyahu first raised the possibility, he was mocked for his paranoia and accused of concocting conspiracy theories. However, Minister Yisroel Katz has now revealed that someone in Avigdor Lieberman’s inner circle claims that Lieberman coordinated his actions with Saar. If that is true, then Lieberman may have been attempting to bring about a government headed by Gideon Saar in place of Binyamin Netanyahu. In other words, he wasn’t attempting to facilitate the rise of a left-wing government. Instead, he wanted to create a right-wing government that would be headed by Gideon Saar rather than Bibi. And that would mean that Netanyahu had accurately read not only the intentions of Avigdor Lieberman (whom he accused from the very outset of attempting to thwart his efforts to assemble a government), but also Saar’s plans. That would be truly incredible.

A Disingenuous Announcement

When the Knesset disbanded before the elections, it released the following official announcement: “The organizing committee, headed by MK Shlomo Karhi (Likud), has decided that the final day of the summer assembly will be Sunday, 13 Sivan 5779/June 16, 2019. The recess for the elections will begin on the following day, on Monday, and will continue until the establishment of the 22nd Knesset.”

This is the place for me to make my usual observation: The claim that the Knesset is ending its session on Sunday is completely disingenuous. The Knesset has only three working days every week: Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Last Wednesday – on June 12 – marked the final sitting of the 21st Knesset. It will not convene again, and the Knesset’s recess effectively began on that day. But for the sake of the Knesset’s public image, the official statement claims that its recess begins on Sunday. That way, the Knesset can create the appearance that its members invested several more days of work into their jobs.

In my opinion, misleading the public in this way is a most undignified thing to do.

Terror and Anti-Semitism

Let me move on to some other topics of interest from the past two weeks. First of all, two Jews who were stabbed three weeks ago in the Old City of Yerushalayim were released from the hospital, after fighting for their lives in the aftermath of their injuries. Ten days ago, one of the victims, a yeshiva bochur named Yisroel Meir Nochemberg, was released, followed several days later by a yungerman named Reb Gavriel Lavie. Both victims asserted that they had survived by a miracle. I don’t want to frighten you, but I will add that there was an attempted stabbing on Rechov Strauss this past week, as well.

Another terribly sad incident was the desecration of a shul in Bnei Brak. Last Wednesday morning, the gabbaim of the Tiferes Shimon shul on Rechov Rabbi Akiva arrived in the shul and were confronted by a horrific sight: Criminals had broken into the aron kodesh and stolen four Sifrei Torah. A fifth Sefer Torah had been thrown onto the floor in disgrace, along with an array of seforim. The aron kodesh itself had been damaged as well. Police officers and forensic investigators arrived at the shul to begin an investigation. The police released a statement asserting that they “view every incident of violence or brutality against a person or property with the utmost severity, and will act with all the means at our disposal against those who violate the law.” In response to the desecration, a massive tefillah gathering was held at Yeshivas Orchos Torah in Bnei Brak.

The police may claim that they will try to bring the perpetrators to justice, but we know that it is impossible to count on them. Last month, a shul in the city of Lod was vandalized. The shul suffered major damage, and while the perpetrators attempted to break into the aron kodesh, they succeeded in damaging it but were unable to open it. Several days earlier, a shul in the settlement of Bnei Ayash was torched. And half a year ago, the country was shocked by anti-Semitic vandalism at the Siach Yisroel shul in the neighborhood of Kiryat Yovel in Yerushalayim. In that case, the vandals destroyed the furniture and siddurim of the shul, opened the aron kodesh and spilled acid inside, and threw the Sifrei Torah on the floor. The police announced at the time that they were opening an investigation, but it yielded no results.

The Netanyahus Clash with the Criminal Justice System

Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, as usual, are embroiled in a fierce conflict with the police and the prosecution. The prime minister has been arguing with the attorney general over the date of his hearing. Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejected his request for the hearing to be postponed, so it will take place on October 2 and 3, two weeks after the elections for the 22nd Knesset. The hearing was originally supposed to take place in the middle of July, but Mandelblit had partially accepted a request from the defense and had allowed it to be postponed until October on account of the volume of material that must be studied in advance. The defense had asked a postponement until May 2020, but Mandelblit felt that there was no justification for such a lengthy delay. The defense now asked for an additional postponement, due to the unexpected scheduling of new elections, but that request was denied.

Sara Netanyahu, meanwhile, has objected to the phrasing of the criminal charges that were filed against her. Although she agreed to a plea bargain, she continued to dispute the phrasing of the specific charges to which she will confess, as well as the sum that she will be required to repay the state. This week, an emended version of the charge sheet was filed – to which Mrs. Netanyahu agreed – which states that the prime minister’s wife committed premeditated deception in order to receive government funding to order catered meals from outside the prime minister’s residence. Nevertheless, according to the terms of the agreement, she will be deemed guilty only of the crime of exploiting another person’s error without the intent of fraud. According to the agreement, Mrs. Netanyahu will confess to that charge and will pay the sum of 55,000 NIS—45,000 in restitution, and an additional fine of 10,000 NIS. The original charges accused her of breach of trust and receiving items fraudulently under severe circumstances. The state claimed that Mrs. Netanyahu demanded and received catered meals and hired private chefs to cook in the prime minister’s residence, despite of the fact that there is a full-time cook employed there, and that her actions cost the state a total of 393,000 NIS. Based on the agreement, she has confessed to a violation of clause 416 of the Penal Law – receiving something through deception or deliberately taking advantage of another person’s mistake in a manner that does not qualify as fraud. The maximum sentence for a violation of this law is two years’ imprisonment. Mrs. Netanyahu admitted only to exploiting another person’s error, but not to committing deception. The government has the option of suing her in civil court for the remainder of the sum that was specified in the original charge sheet.

Hachnosas Sefer Torah in Brisk

Last weekend, I attended an inspiring hachnosas Sefer Torah. Every hachnosas Sefer Torah is a meaningful event, but when the Sefer Torah is donated to Yeshivas Brisk, it is even more momentous. The final letters in the Sefer Torah were written at the home of the rosh yeshiva, Rav Avrohom Yehoshua Soloveitchik. The Sefer Torah was donated by Reb Yossel Tabak in memory of his father, Rav Eliyhu.

The procession began on Rechov Dovid Yellin and made its way along Rechov Yosef ben Mattisyahu to the yeshiva’s building on Rechov Press, where the participants danced and rejoiced, and the rosh yeshiva delivered a drosha. Later on, during the seudah, the rosh yeshiva spoke again, this time about Rav Eliyahu Tabak and about the accomplishments of his son, Reb Yossel.

It was 10:00 in the evening when I arrived at the seudah, which was held in the auditorium of Talmud Torah Chavas Daas. Reb Yossel was sitting on a ledge in the courtyard, where he greeted all of the arriving rabbonim. He spent a long time conversing with Rav Berel Povarsky, rosh yeshiva of Ponovezh, who arrived in a wheelchair, accompanied by Rav Chaim Peretz Berman, another of the roshei yeshiva. He also spoke at length with Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, the Mirrer rosh yeshiva. Rav Eliezer Yehuda arrived at the event accompanied by his mother, the rebbetzin of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Rabbi Menachem Zaretzky, who served as Rav Nosson Tzvi’s devoted right-hand man for many years. The head table at the seudah was filled by a number of roshei yeshivos, most of them close friends of Reb Yossel, including Rav Boruch Soloveitchik.

Perhaps I should add a few words about Rav Eliyohu Tabak, who passed away on Erev Rosh Hashanah two years ago. Reb Eliyahu was born in the Bronx and moved to Monsey after his marriage, where he and his wife raised 15 children. All of his children and grandchildren went on to become bnei Torah. Reb Eliyahu himself was both a man of Torah and a prodigious baal chesed. His home was always open to anyone in need. It was a place where many brokenhearted souls found a listening ear and a warm heart. Everyone who knew him could attest that he was suffused with love for the Torah, and that the only thing that could tear him away from his learning was the opportunity to offer a person in need some encouraging words, a few dollars or a bowl of hot soup. Most of his acts of chesed were performed secretly, and his children were not even aware of much of what he did until after his death. It was only then that he became known for his copious efforts on behalf of orphans. Yehi zichro boruch.

At the seudas mitzvah, Reb Yossel Tabak delivered a drosha in which he quoted the Rambam’s statement (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1), “Bnei Yisriel were crowned with three crowns—the crown of Torah, the crown of kehunah, and the crown of malchus.” The Rambam cites pesukim concerning the recipients of the latter two “crowns”—“It shall be for him and his descendants after him a covenant of eternal kehunah” and “His descendants will exist forever, and his throne like the sun before Me”—but with respect to the crown of Torah, he states, “The crown of Torah is open and available to everyone, as the posuk states, ‘It is an inheritance for the congregation of Yaakov.’ Anyone who wants it may come and take it.’” Reb Yossel added that it is not a coincidence that the pesukim that the Rambam quotes invoke the concept of eternity. The Torah, he explained, must be an immutable part of a person’s life; it must encompass his entire existence. He went on to quote another statement of the Rambam: “Perhaps you will say, ‘Let me first accumulate money and then I will go back and learn,’ or ‘Let me first acquire everything that I need and be free of my business dealings and then I will go back and learn.’ If this thought enters your heart, you will never attain the crown of Torah. Rather, make your Torah permanent and your work temporary, and do not say, ‘I will learn when I am available,’ for you may not become available.’”

Reb Yossel asserted that since the time he had spent as a talmid in Brisk, he had always felt rooted in the yeshiva. He added with a smile that he had indeed allowed himself to pursue a certain degree of monetary gain, but the Torah had always been the focus of his ambitions. He added that his righteous father had desired only for his children to learn Torah, and had always been dedicated to his own learning as well.

Rav Berel Povarsky, in his droshah, explained the purpose of donating a Sefer Torah to a bais medrash that seems to have enough Sifrei Torah already. Just as a tzaddik brings Gan Eden with him and a rasha is accompanied by Gehinnom (as we find with regard to Yaakov and Eisav), he explained, every Sefer Torah brings more kedusha into the world. “That is especially true in the Yeshiva of Brisk,” he added, “which is a holy place and the embodiment of Torah in its purest form in our generation.” He praised Reb Yossel for remaining a talmid chochom steeped in learning, and he revealed that they speak frequently by telephone. “Our conversations are never about money,” he added. “We always discuss new chiddushim that Reb Yossel has formulated.”

Naturally, everyone was eager to hear Rav Avrohom Yehoshua’s comments. He sat next to Reb Yossel during the seudah, and it was clear that he was in high spirits. He commented that “When Rav Eliyahu Tabak came to visit me, I saw a different breed of Jew. The greatest compliment that can be given to a Jewish person is to say that he did not deviate from what was expected of him. And that was the nature of the chinuch that he gave to his children as well.”

Inspiration at the Mir Dinner

Another event that I attended before Shavuos was the Mir Yeshiva’s dinner at the Avenue Hall near Ben Gurion Airport. It was a remarkable event that was exquisitely produced, and the spirit of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l seemed to hover over the entire affair. The guest of honor, Reb Mordechai (Motti) Zonnenfeld of Sao Paulo, spoke fondly about his encounters with Rav Nosson Tzvi in Brazil. The yeshiva’s patron, Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, delivered an address via live transmission from his home in Los Angeles.

Rechnitz’s speech was somewhat delayed on account of the drasha delivered by the mashgiach, Rav Aharon Chodosh, who was honored at the event. There was an atmosphere of expectation in advance of Rechnitz’s speech, which was, as usual, a masterpiece of oratory.

There were also distinguished visitors from abroad, including Ralph Herzka, the president of American Friends of the Mir Yeshiva, and Rabbi Yehoshua Ozer Halperin, the president of the organization of the yeshiva’s supporters in England. Other guests included Reb Shlomo Zalman Gutfreund, a philanthropist who is a close friend of the mashgiach, and Rav Simcha Bunim Berger, the mashgiach’s close talmid.

Two yungeleit shared anecdotes that the audience found deeply moving. One man related that he had once presented a shailah to Rav Nosson Tzvi: He felt that it was vital for his wife to go away for a vacation during bein hazemanim, but the expense would deplete the funds on which they were subsisting and would thus force them to return to America earlier than they had planned. He asked the rosh yeshiva if they should take the vacation under the circumstances. Rav Nosson Tzvi paskened that they should indeed go on vacation—and then he reached into his pocket, withdrew a wad of bills, and handed them to the surprised yungerman. “This is for you to stay in Mir as long as you had planned,” he explained.

The other speaker related that he had once visited Rav Nosson Tzvi in his sukkah and informed the rosh yeshiva that he had completed learning Yevamos. Rav Nosson Tzvi was duly excited and drank a lechayim together with his visitor. Later on, the yungerman came to the Simchas Bais Hashoeivah at the yeshiva, where Rav Nosson Tzvi always took the opportunity to show respect to the yeshiva’s supporters. “I was dancing in the outermost circle,” the yungerman related, “when I suddenly felt a hand on my shoulder. The rosh yeshiva pulled me into the center of the dancing as he exclaimed, ‘You are the guest of honor! After all, you have made a siyum!’”

At the reception, the guests were given virtual reality headsets through which they could experience the botei medrash of the yeshiva, thanks to the benefits of advanced technology. It was an incredible experience: I was able to “stand” among the talmidim of the yeshiva, to visit all the botei medrash and listen to the cacophony of excited voices that filled the rooms.

During Maariv, I watched Rav Aharon Chodosh, who was seated in a sophisticated wheelchair. He davened as if he was completely oblivious to his earthly surroundings, radiating such fervor that one might have thought that he was carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. That sight alone was enough, I felt, to make it worthwhile to attend the event.

Gan Eden on Earth

The Yeshivas Mir Yerushalayim knows how to reciprocate the love and respect that it receives from others. All of the roshei yeshiva were present at the event in order to honor the yeshiva’s close friends. The presentations showcased the glory of the yeshiva, to the point that one could not help but feel a powerful desire to join in supporting it. Reb Yisroel Adler sang a song about the yeshiva, which was interwoven with video images and testimonials from yungeleit. The song told the story of an American yungerman who attested that as soon as he arrives in the yeshiva every day, he becomes completely detached from the outside world. This was accompanied by video footage of the botei medrash, which served to substantiate his statement. The singer went on to assert that every talmid can find fulfillment and satisfaction in one of the 135 chaburos and hundreds of chavrusos in the yeshiva, and the camera went on to substantiate that, as well.

There were many sights and sounds at the dinner that left an indelible impression on me. Perhaps one of the most memorable statements was a remark made by one of the yungeleit, who paused during his learning long enough to attest, “I have been learning here for thirty years, and while I don’t know if I will receive Gan Eden for what I learned here, there is one thing that I can say with certainty: Right now, in this place, I am already in Gan Eden.”

The video presentation also made for an impressive illustration of the magnitude of the Torah of Mir. I was amazed by the images of the multitudes of talmidim of every stripe—Israelis and Anglos, Sephardim and Ashkenazim, Briskers and Yerushalmis, bochurim and yungeleit, young boys and elderly men. There were pictures of wizened men learning with yungeleit young enough to be their grandchildren, and married men learning together with bochurim.

The dinner journal featured hundreds of pages of good wishes for the mashgiach, all of them suffused with unmistakable love and admiration. I was reminded of my own experiences in the yeshiva: I was accepted to the Mir by Rav Beinush Finkel zt”l, and the mashgiach guided my spiritual growth. In later years, Rav Nosson Tzvi had an indelible impact on my life and the lives of my sons. Along with the kind wishes for Rav Aharon, there were many pages relating the story of Yeshivas Mir, with its nine botei medrash and 9,000 talmidim, accompanied by breathtaking pictures. The book also told the story of Reb Pinchos (Tibor) Rosenbaum, a courageous tzaddik who had risked his life during the war to save his Jewish brethren, whose family had dedicated the dinner in his memory, and spoke about Reb Yaakov Weinroth, who originated the idea of arranging dinners in Eretz Yisroel to benefit the yeshiva. Above all, there was a selection of teachings of the mashgiach, including guidelines for chinuch from his father, Rav Meir Chodosh zt”l. Scattered throughout the book are quotations from Rav Aharon, such as this one: “Every Shabbos, we say Nishmas and speak about how our eyes give off light… The purpose of our eyes is to create light by greeting others with pleasantness.” It was a comment that was fitting for Rav Aharon, a man who is always a source of illumination for those around him.

Once again, the dinner brought home to us the remarkable status of the Mir Yeshiva as a prolific empire of Torah.

Words of Gratitude

Speaking of dinners and fundraising events, I enjoyed the letter from the Vizhnitzer Rebbe that was published in newspapers several days after the highly successful fundraising campaign on behalf of his chassidus.

“From the depths of my heart,” the rebbe wrote, “I thank you for answering my call and girding yourselves with strength in order to join us in uplifting the House of G-d. In your merit, the bais medrash will be completed, with Hashem’s help, and it will be a place of wisdom for anyone who seeks Hashem. From the depths of my heart, I give you my thanks.”

The rebbe added several handwritten lines, giving further expression to his appreciation. It was such a noble and stirring letter, typical of Vizhnitz and filled with ahavas Yisroel. Even if I hadn’t been a scion of a Vizhnitzer family on my mother’s side, I would probably have been deeply moved by this letter.

In fact, the success of the Vizhnitz fundraising campaign lent credence to something that we have always known—that Vizhnitz is a chassidus whose appeal transcends all communal boundaries, a community suffused with ahavas Yisroel, whose love for its fellow Jews is reciprocated by Klal Yisroel.

The talmidim and former talmidim of Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu, who participated in the yeshiva’s fundraising appeal, likewise received a letter of thanks from their rosh yeshiva, Rav Boruch Weisbecker, which was also deeply moving. “After we give thanks to the Creator of the world, we must also give thanks to our wonderful alumni,” the rosh yeshiva wrote. “Thank you for the wonderful feeling that you, the talmidim and alumni, gave to me and to all the rabbeim, and to anyone associated with the yeshiva… ‘Unity’ and ‘harmony’ are not sufficient words to describe what was and what still is. Perhaps the correct term for it is a single family, with a shared goal of avodas Hashem and ameilus in the Torah.” It was a lengthy, inspiring letter, reflecting the heartfelt sentiments of a man whose entire life, for decades, has been dedicated to the welfare and growth of his talmidim.

A Transparent Excuse

He was always one of the first to arrive at the Daf Yomi shiur and one of its most dedicated participants. For a while, though, his attendance had been slipping. On Monday afternoon, the day after Shavuos, the maggid shiur happened to encounter him in the street and tried to strike up a conversation with him.

“You were such an important part of the shiur; your comments always added so much. It’s a shame that we don’t see you so often anymore. Would you like to have someone wake you up in the mornings so you can attend?”

“I actually get up early,” the other man replied, somewhat flustered.

“Then why haven’t you been coming to the shiur?” the maggid shiur asked gently.

“Well,” the man said hesitantly, “today I had guests who came for Yom Tov from America, and I had promised to take them to Nahariya to visit Rav Dovid Abuchatzeirah.”

“I see,” the maggid shiur replied, nodding his head sagely. “That is definitely an oneis. Well, let’s hope that we will see you tomorrow.”

He wisely refrained from pointing out the other man’s error: Although it was the day after Yom Tov in Israel, it was the second day of Yom Tov for visitors from abroad, and it should have been impossible for them to travel to Nahariya. Sometimes, it is important to know when to remain silent….

Rav Shlomo Amar in Moscow

The great shul of Moscow has been the site of many events and gatherings that were even more emotionally stirring, but I believe that this was the first time that Rav Shlomo Amar, the chief rabbi of Yerushalayim and Rishon Letzion, was present there. Rav Amar was present at the invitation of Mr. Gavriel German Zakharyaev, the patron of the Jewish community of the Caucasus, and his arrival was a source of great excitement.

Zakharyaev is responsible for the initiative to commemorate the Allied victory over the Nazis on its Hebrew anniversary, the 26th of Iyar, rather than the English date, May 9. This year, the two main events on the date were held in Moscow and in Yerushalayim, while other commemorative events took place in other cities.

Rav Amar spoke in Moscow about the ambivalence that plagues Jews. “On the one hand,” he said, “we lost one third of our nation to the Nazi murderers. On the other hand, we must always remember the miracles of our salvation and give thanks to Hashem for those who survived.”

Rav Amar expressed his gratitude to the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin (who also sent a special letter of recognition to Zakharyaev). “This is also an opportunity to give thanks on behalf of the Jewish nation to President Putin of Russia for his kind deeds and warm relations with the Jewish people and the Jewish community of Russia,” he said. Rav Amar mentioned Putin’s efforts to have the remains of Zechariah Baumel Hy”d brought back to Israel for a Jewish burial, and he thanked him publicly for his work in that respect.

An atzeres tefillah took place simultaneously at the Marina Roscha shul in Moscow, attended by the guest of honor, Rav Moshe Chaim Lau, as well as Rav Berel Lazar and Gadi Koren, the Israeli ambassador to Russia. All of the speakers praised Zakharyaev for his initiative to have the victory over the Nazis commemorated on its Hebrew anniversary.

Zakharyaev, a Russian businessman from a Caucasian family, also serves as the vice president of the Russian Jewish Congress and the president of the tzedakah fund known as STMEGI, which works to preserve the heritage of the Jews of the Caucasus and to assist Caucasian communities throughout the world.