Where Is the Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Last week, I wrote a lengthy article in which I sardonically noted that the State of Israel ought to be subjected to a psychiatric evaluation. But while I may have meant it humorously at the time, it has begun to seem that it is not even a joke. Take the story of the aides to the prime minister who were questioned and whose cell phones were confiscated. Do you think that the affair has ended? Well, it hasn’t; it has only just begun.
Then there is another, similar affair that has been unfolding: Nir Hefetz was the advisor to the prime minister who ostensibly tried to arrange for the coverage he received on the Walla news site to be improved. Walla is under the control of Shaul Elovich, who is also the owner of Bezeq, and according to the criminal allegations against Netanyahu, he used his government position to benefit Bezeq in exchange for more favorable coverage on the news site. Nir Hefetz is the central state witness in this case, which seems to be an open-and-shut case of actual bribery. But it has recently been revealed that Hefetz was pressured to become a state witness, and that the tactics that were used to induce him to testify against Netanyahu are illegal and are considered to have contaminated the investigation. As a result of this disclosure, the justice minister openly attacked the police in an address in the Knesset, speaking against them so harshly that the attorney general felt compelled to make a public statement against the minister once again. Netanyahu also released a video in which he directs blistering accusations at the police and prosecution. In light of the revelation of the pressure that was brought to bear on Hefetz, most experts believe that this case against Netanyahu will collapse completely.
Without a doubt, there is an atmosphere of chaos in the country. Not only do people feel that there is no resolution in sight to the political deadlock, but they are also concerned that it will lead to all sorts of bizarre and unnatural scenarios in the effort to form a coalition, which will harm the chareidi community more than anyone else. The major concern is that Netanyahu will ultimately turn his back on his bloc of 55 Knesset members and will join a national unity government on his own. But nothing is clear yet; we will simply have to wait and see.
Political Rancor at a Memorial Service for Rabin
But that is not all. It isn’t only that the country has been paralyzed by the lack of a government for almost a year. The insanity in this country pervades many other areas as well.
This week, for instance, marked the 24th anniversary of the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin. An official memorial ceremony on Mount Herzl was attended by President Rivlin, Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein, and Prime Minister Netanyahu. Rabin’s grandson, Yonatan Ben-Artzi, addressed the gathering and took the opportunity to commit an act of public character assassination directed at Netanyahu. He mentioned that his grandfather had resigned from the office of prime minister due to a scandal over a dollar account (although he had no choice in the matter; Aharon Barak, the attorney general at the time, forced him to resign), and he called upon Netanyahu to follow that example. “This is the time to take responsibility and to set a personal example,” Ben-Artzi proclaimed. “Many years of ruling the country have caused you to forget what it means to be a human being. You must be a human being; take responsibility for your actions. Since there is a stain attached to you, you must move aside. Resign from your post. Go home and deal with the personal accusations against you. If you are cleared, you can come back, just as Yitzchak Rabin did.”
Ben-Artzi also projected that the Israeli public would punish the political leaders who opted to favor their own personal interests over the good of the state. “If you continue clinging to your partisan agendas over unity, and dragging us deeper into another election campaign rife with hate, incitement, and the destruction of democracy, the citizens of Israel will punish you,” he declared. “If you favor your personal interests over Israeli unity, then the Jewish people will reject you and turn their backs on you.”
A discussion was also held in the Knesset in honor of the occasion on Sunday, rather than on one of the days when the Knesset usually conducts its business (Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday). There was a time in the past when people used to fight over the honor of being invited to this special Knesset session. In recent years, though, it has become increasingly unpopular. Personally, although I receive permission to attend the event in person, I prefer to sit in my office and listen to the speeches transmitted through the Knesset’s internal computer network. I can tell you exactly what each of the speakers said, and precisely how empty the room was. Anyone who is connected to the network has instant access to information on who is present in the building, and at 5:06 p.m., six minutes after the event was scheduled to begin, there were 59 members of the Knesset in the building—not even half the Knesset. I am not certain that all 59 of them were in the room where the event was held; it is quite possible that some were present in the building but did not bother putting in an appearance at the event.
Of course, I checked Yair Lapid’s name. The arrogant demagogue who preaches to the entire world, and who can generally be found on vacation in some foreign country, was not present for the memorial session!
In any event, Prime Minister Netanyahu used his speech in the Knesset to respond forcefully to Rabin’s grandson, noting that “a lie that is repeated over and over does not turn into the truth.”
One Hundred Thousand Visitors at Kever Rochel
From my standpoint, the 11th of Cheshvan is significant not as the commemoration of Yitzchak Rabin’s murder, but rather on account of two much more important aspects of the day: It is the yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu and Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel.
As soon as Shabbos ended this week, I hurriedly drove to the road leading to Kever Rochel, but the shuttles that would transport visitors to Kever Rochel took a long time to arrive. Eventually, I had to give up on waiting for them, since I was due to attend an event organized by the Mir yeshiva. Nevertheless, I was informed that over 100,000 people visited Kever Rochel over the course of the 24 hours from motzoei Shabbos through Sunday night, and that it was a pleasant and calm experience for everyone. That is certainly a miracle!
It is also a miracle that the day was not marred by tragedy. This week, Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman announced that the Shin Bet has thwarted over 450 significant terror attacks this year. Argaman, who spoke at the UVID 2019 conference on unmanned systems (and don’t ask me what that means) in Airport City, announced that advanced technology plays a major role in preventing terror attacks. “Technology is the story,” he said, “and it is what will enable us to continue protecting our relative advantage. In the final analysis, we are an organization of people above all else, excellent people with a worldview. There is synergy within the organization, with the Israeli security network and with its counterparts throughout the world, and that is what enables us to protect our relative advantage against our enemies and challenges, and has made it possible for us to thwart over 450 significant terror attacks.”
It is unfortunate that Argaman, like his colleagues, forgets to give credit to the Master of the Universe. In America, somehow, it is taken for granted that the country must appeal for protection from Above, but here in Israel that fact goes unnoticed.
I have mentioned in the past that the day of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s passing is etched into my memory not only because of my profound admiration for him (and I believe that he was also quite fond of me), and not only because almost all of my children have learned in the Mir yeshiva and kollel, but also because the wedding of one of my sons took place on the night following the 11th of Cheshvan. Rav Nosson Tzvi had told me that he would come to the wedding to serve as mesader kiddushin if he had sufficient strength to do so, but he passed away that morning. My son had learned in the Mir’s yeshiva l’tzeirim solely because Rav Nosson Tzvi had asked him to join the yeshiva. He went on to learn in the branch of Mir in Brachfeld, and after his wedding he continued learning in the Mir kollel. Today, he lives near the yeshiva in Brachfeld and davens there every Shabbos. As a yungerman, he also maintained a chavrusa every Thursday with Rav Aryeh Finkel.
Last motzoei Shabbos, a highly unusual and festive event was held in both sections of the Tamir reception hall in Yerushalayim: Sixty siyumim on Shas were conducted by bochurim and yungaleit from the Mir yeshiva, in memory of Rav Nosson Tzvi. It was a deeply moving event, attended by all the roshei yeshiva of Mir as well as many other rabbonim. The mizrach wall was lined with Torah dignitaries including Rav Aharon Chodosh, Rav Noam Alon, Rav Tzvi Partzovitz, and, of course, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. Hundreds of yungaleit and bochurim sat in the hall, their eyes sparkling with joy and pleasure as they relished giving something back, in a sense, to the revered rosh yeshiva on his yahrtzeit.
The main speeches were delivered by Rav Berel Povarsky and Rav Michel Zilber, as well as Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. I attended the event not only as an admirer and friend of the yeshiva and its rosh yeshiva, but also as the father of one of the participants in the siyumim. I heard Rav Binyomin Finkel (also known as Rav Binyomin Hatzaddik) apologizing for the fact that he was not one of the mesayemim. I also watched in awe as Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi and Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel danced together with all their might, as if there wasn’t a difference of decades between their respective ages.
The scene behind the scenes, where I was graciously permitted to stand, was no less fascinating. I saw Rav Menachem Zaretsky, the devoted right-hand man of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, conversing in hushed tones with Reb Avrohom “Bumi” David, who assisted the rosh yeshiva in America. I watched as Rav Yisroel Glustein (one of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel’s brothers-in-law) tried to sit inconspicuously in a corner, with a Gemara open in his hand. I saw a messenger approach Rav Shmaryohu Yosef Finkel, who is personally responsible for the success of the yeshiva in Brachfeld, to inform him that he had been designated to recite Kaddish after the siyumim. “That privilege belongs to my brother Reb Shaya,” Reb Shmerel demurred. I also watched as Rav Yosef Levi masterfully maintained a tranquil atmosphere and managed to resolve a variety of problems that arose at the last minute. And I learned that the word Mir is an acronym for rechavah mini yam, alluding to the fact that the Torah itself is vaster than the sea.
“Test Me on Shas”
I could easily write many pages about the siyum, but here are just a few more tidbits from the event.
This week Rebbetzin Sara Finkel, the mother of the late Rav Nosson Tzvi, shared her memories of bringing her son to learn in the Mir yeshiva when he was only 14 years old. “It wasn’t standard at all for an American bochur at the age of 14 to learn in a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel,” she recalled. “I remember that the parshah that week was Parshas Vayeira—and he passed away on the week of Parshas Vayeira.” Indeed, almost every year Rav Nosson Tzvi’s yahrtzeit coincides with that parshah; this year, however, it was on the Shabbos of Parshas Lech Lecha.
Reb Nosson Tzvi (“Nussi”), who served as the emcee of the evening and regaled the audience with divrei Torah and stories between speakers, called upon Rav Michel Zilber to deliver an address. Before Rav Zilber spoke, the host related that when Rav Michel, as a bochur, had approached the previous Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel to be tested, the rosh yeshiva asked him, “On what would you like to be tested? On one of the Bavas? On all three of them?”
The young Michel Zilber replied innocently, “On Shas!”
Standing beside me was a man named Rav Yechiel Levi, one of the precious yungaleit of the Mir yeshiva, who was among the most elite talmidim of the Brachfeld branch of the yeshiva during his time there. In recent years, he has been serving as the right-hand man of Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl. Upon hearing the story about Rav Michel Zilber, he was reminded of a personal account that Rav Avigdor had once shared with him. “I arrived in Ponovezh at the age of 14,” Rav Nebenzahl had related, “and I was told that I was too young to join the yeshiva; they accepted bochurim only at the age of 16, and only if they knew all of Shas. So I went somewhere else and learned all of Shas, and then I returned to Ponovezh two years later.” He said this as if it was the simplest, most natural thing in the world.
Rav Nebenzahl himself had actually been scheduled to be one of the main guests at this event. After all, he epitomizes the concept of learning Shas. He is also connected to the Finkel family, as a son-in-law of Rav Chaim Zev Finkel, the son of Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. His wife, Rebbetzin Shifra, who passed away several years ago, was the sister of Rav Aryeh Finkel and of the late rebbetzin of Rav Aharon Chodosh. However, Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl had to cancel his participation in the event due to a conflicting simcha that arose on the same night—the engagement of his grandson Yonasan Katzburg, one of the top talmidim in Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu, which was celebrated in Kiryat Sefer.
I was mesmerized by the sight of Rav Yitzchok Scheiner taking labored steps as he was supported by his grandson; in spite of his physical weakness, he had made a point of attending the event to show honor to the Torah and to Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. Rav Berel Povarsky also attended with tremendous effort, in spite of the fact that he is confined to a wheelchair. In fact, he came to the event twice: After delivering a phenomenal speech about the lofty spiritual stature of people who are involved in Torah learning, he left the event to pay a shiva call to his close friend Rav Pinchos Horowitz. When he left the shiva home, he suddenly realized that he hadn’t spoken about Rav Nosson Tzvi, and he immediately asked to be brought back to the hall to rectify that oversight.
Waiting for Progress at Meoras Hamachpeilah
With the threat of imminent war facing our country and dangers looming on every side, the politicians in Yerushalayim are still squabbling over who will hold the office of prime minister first in a rotation agreement. Forty years from now, if historians look back and try to study this era, they will undoubtedly be astonished by the myopia displayed by this generation. even as it hovers on the brink of disaster, the country has been fixated on the confiscated cell phones belonging to Golan and Urich, the cancellation of the Ezra Lamarpeh fundraising event, and the case involving Nir Hefetz. As I said, it is a clear sign that the country itself is mentally unbalanced.
Madness has overcome us. Lieberman is warning of dire consequences for anyone who drags the country into another election; is that not madness? And there is more: Positive coverage in a newspaper is considered bribery, and government ministers cannot do their jobs. Israel’s consulates abroad are paralyzed, and the prime minister cannot make decisions. Jordan has expelled the Israeli ambassador, and at the same time Israel has released two Jordanian prisoners. The entire country seems to be acting like a lame duck. What is most amazing is that it is somehow continuing to function. I cannot help but be reminded of the doctors’ strike, when the death rate in the country somehow fell.
Take the example of Meoras Hamachpeilah. For years, the government has been pledging to increase accessibility for the elderly and disabled at the site, in fulfillment of the bare minimum of its obligations. Yet in spite of that, the Palestinian Authority and the Chevron municipality—the true rulers of Chevron—have prevented any such accommodations from being made. I was present at a committee discussion in the Knesset last year when Avigdor Lieberman, who was serving as defense minister at the time, promised that the site would be made accessible within six months. The same promise was later made by Netanyahu. This week, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee announced that it was monitoring the work, which is due to be completed this coming Pesach. For the time being, it was left to the soldiers of the IDF to carry the elderly and disabled visitors to Meoras Hamachpeilah on their shoulders. Not long ago, the country was shaken by a picture that showed Rav Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron being carried up to the site. Once again, what a country this is!
Complaints from a Purveyor of Falsehood
Ron Kobi, the bizarre and unstable mayor of Teveria, has demanded that the police locate a vandal who scrawled the words “Kobi is a Nazi” on a wall in his city. Not long ago, an investigation into threats that were made against Kobi revealed that one of his followers was the perpetrator; the man apologized and claimed that he had meant it as a prank. Personally, I find it more likely that it was an effort to paint Kobi’s opponents in a negative light, portraying him as a victim of their harassment. I would not be surprised if that is also the motive behind the offending graffiti.
I would be curious to learn about the results of previous investigations conducted by the police in the north. After all, complaints have been filed against Kobi himself. He once stormed into the shul of the rov of Teveria, accompanied by a band of followers and a video camera, and proceeded to shout insults and to tear notices off the shul’s message board. Any other person in the country would have been arrested and charged with criminal behavior for such an action. Have the police simply closed the case against Kobi, or do they intend to bring him to justice?
In terms of the alleged threats against Kobi, there is little reason to put stock in Kobi’s own words or those of his supporters. During the recent election campaign, a short video was released that showed “chareidim” harassing a young woman in Teveria for dressing immodestly. Several months ago, a newspaper reported that the police had concluded that the video was faked. But who knows how many votes Kobi received in the election as a result of that blatant incitement?
Exactly one year ago, on November 1, 2018, MK Dani Saida of the 20th Knesset submitted a parliamentary query to the Minister of Internal Security. His query read: “About two months ago, videos were circulated showing a young woman being attacked by chareidim on account of her immodest dress. The chareidi community was vilified and slandered as a result, and the police announced that they were working to locate the suspects. Meanwhile, new information has surfaced that indicates that the videos were staged in order to deliberately and falsely defame the chareidi community. What were the results of the police investigation on this subject? Was the girl who was purportedly attacked by chareidim questioned by the police? Did she maintain her claims that she was attacked, and was her version of the story corroborated by anyone? Do the police believe that these videos were authentic or that they were staged? If it was falsified, will any steps be taken to penalize those who are responsible?”
The deadline for a response to this question was at the end of last November, but the Knesset dissolved in the interim and Minister Erdan was no longer required to answer it. This week, another member of the Knesset adopted the query and filed it once again. We will now wait for the response.
Fake Hechsherim in Nazareth
This week, the National Unit for the Enforcement of the Law Prohibiting Kashrus Fraud, a division of the Chief Rabbinate, released a special announcement that seemed to contain a startling revelation: “In the course of a raid conducted today by Rabbinate kashrus supervisors in the Jordan Valley industrial area, the Machrum sweets company in Nazareth was caught attaching labels to its products that bear the kashrus certifications of the Rabbinate and of various Badatzim, without the presence of any form of kashrus supervision…. In light of the evidence of deliberate fraud and concerns regarding the kashrus of all the products that are being marketed with falsified kashrus certification, the Rabbinate has decided to remove its kashrus certification from the Machrum sweets company of Nazareth. From this point on, it is forbidden for the products manufactured by this company and presented as kosher to be marketed in any place under kashrus supervision. All products should be returned to the manufacturer, due to the concern that their kashrus may have been falsified. Punitive measures will be implemented against the owners of the company in light of the severity of these actions. Let the public know and beware.” The notice is accompanied by a photograph of a peanut snack that is labeled kosher for Pesach, with a forged certification from Chug Chasam Sofer.
Unfortunately, kashrus fraud of this nature is fairly routine. In light of the relatively mild penalties imposed on offenders, there is little incentive for them not to forge kashrus certifications. The temptation and potential for gain is simply too great.
Several years ago, I waged a long and intense battle against the attorney general until he accepted my position that kashrus forgery should be considered as severe a crime as any other form of forgery. Until that time, the prosecutor’s office considered it nothing more than a type of procedural offense. My next step was to work to persuade the Rabbinate to prosecute the offenders in criminal court rather than merely fining them, which does little to offset the potential for monetary gain from their acts of fraud. Only criminal convictions, possibly accompanied by imprisonment, will deter potential offenders from forging kashrus certifications on their products. Fines imposed by the Rabbinate are viewed as nothing more than a business expense!
Two Bochurim Came to Ponovezh
This week, I heard a story about an incident that took place in the Yeshiva of Ponovezh many years ago.
Two bochurim from a somewhat modern yeshiva came to learn in Ponovezh. In their previous yeshiva, the talmidim habitually smoked in the bais medrash, but they did not know the policy in Ponovezh. Finally, they decided to ask the mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein. Trembling with trepidation, they approached the mashgiach and one of them asked, “Is it permissible to smoke in the bais medrash during seder?”
“No,” the mashgiach replied.
The two bochurim returned to their seats and accepted the mashgiach’s ruling. They had been hoping to be able to puff on cigarettes while they toiled over a sugya, but their plans seemed to have gone up in smoke. After a while, the second bochur said to the first, who had posed the original question, “Perhaps we simply didn’t phrase our question properly. I would have asked it differently: Are we allowed to learn while we are smoking?”
So it was that the two young men approached the mashgiach again, and this time the second bochur spoke on their behalf. “Is it permissible to learn in the bais medrash while we are smoking?” he asked.
“Yes,” the mashgiach replied.
That night, Rav Chatzkel commented to a member of his family, “Two new bochurim came to the yeshiva today. One of them came to learn, and the other came to smoke.”
Everything Hashem Does Is Good
This week marks the yahrtzeits of two illustrious gedolim, each of whom carried the weight of the entire Jewish community in Eretz Yisroel on his shoulders during his lifetime. One was the Chazon Ish, Rav Avrohom Yeshayahu Karelitz, who passed away on 15 Cheshvan 5714/1953. The other was Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach, who passed away on 16 Cheshvan 5762/2001. I will therefore conclude this column with a short item concerning each of them.
The Chazon Ish was once approached by a young bochur with whom he was acquainted, who suffered from anxiety that drove him to practice numerous chumros. “When I wake up in the morning and there are feathers from my pillow in my hair, does that create a chatzitzah for my tefillin?” the young man asked.
The Chazon Ish answered his question and then said, “Tell me, bochur’l, why do these questions occur only to you?” His message was clear: The bochur’s constant nervousness and uncertainty was not the proper way to serve Hashem.
The story was later recounted by the bochur himself, who related that he had come to the Chazon Ish several years earlier and had told him that he had the habit of repeating every word of Krias Shema multiple times, constantly fearing that he had not pronounced the words correctly, and that his habit was a source of major hardship for him. “Why do you do that?” the Chazon Ish asked him.
“Because Chazal say that if a person recites Krias Shema and enunciates every letter carefully, Gehinnom will be cooled off for him,” the young man replied earnestly.
“And do you want to freeze in Gehinnom?” the Chazon Ish replied.
Rav Shach shares the following thought, which appears in the introduction to one of the volumes of Avi Ezri: The Torah states (Devarim 31:17), “My wrath will be kindled against it [Klal Yisroel] on that day, and I will leave them and I will hide My Face from them, and they will be consumed and will be found by many evils and misfortunes. And it will say on that day, ‘Behold, it is because my G-d is not in my midst that these evils have befallen me.’” Rav Shach points out that the Torah warns us that Klal Yisroel will be beset by both raos and tzaros—“evils” and “misfortunes”—yet when the people describe their plight, they will invoke only the “evils.” Why is no mention made of the “misfortunes” that will afflict them as well?
The answer, Rav Shach explains, is that when Hashem is not with someone, he will feel that he is suffering from both raos and tzaros; however, once Hashem has returned to him, he will recognize that even if he is afflicted by “evils”—painful experiences that create a negative feeling—Hashem is the source of all good, and He never inflicts actual “misfortunes” on a person.