My Take on the News

A Country Under Fire

One of the motifs of this past week was political foot-dragging. Last week, I reported to you about two issues that have cast a shadow over the country: the Regulation Law and the Muezzin Law. The resolution of both of those issues was simply postponed from Wednesday to Monday. The Muezzin Law isn’t significant enough to threaten the future of the government, but it has created a good deal of tension and unpleasant feelings. Ironically, it is the chareidim who have been painted in a negative light as a result of this story. The reason for that is mainly because they originally said that they would not support the Muezzin Law, and now they have reneged on that intention. As a result, the political right decided to attack the chareidi parties, UTJ and Shas, as if they were the real problem, even though the purpose of the law is to end the disturbances caused by mosques.

Of course, a much more significant issue is the Regulation Law, whose goal is to resolve the legal status of the settlement of Amona and other Jewish communities in Yehuda and Shomron. Not only has the controversy over this law threatened to destabilize the government, but it has also touched some of the most sensitive nerves in Israeli society. I wrote about the controversy last week and I see no reason to discuss it any further now. The issue, though, is that December 25, the deadline for the evacuation of Amona, is rapidly approaching.

Another story I wrote about recently is the saga of the appointment of the new chief rabbi of the IDF. This past Thursday, he was finally instated in his new position. I also wrote about the massive fires in Haifa and in the vicinity of Yerushalayim last week, and that subject has not yet faded away. First of all, there has been major trauma, and it will take time for calm to be restored here in Israel. Second, there is the issue of compensation for the many victims, which has become a subject of major debate.

In this area, we are witnessing the zigzagging and lackadaisical performance that are so typical of the Israeli establishment. While the fires were blazing, plenty of people, including the prime minister, were quick to condemn the arson as acts of terror. There was some dispute as to how many of the fires were ignited by Palestinian arsonists and how many were due to other causes, whether natural causes or human error, but everyone blamed the fires on terror. But if it was terror, then there is a law in the State of Israel that calls for victims of terror to receive large amounts of money as compensation. The state budget includes huge sums that are earmarked for regular payments to disabled IDF veterans and other victims of terror.

So the people who lost their homes to the fires are now demanding that they, too, receive compensation due to terror victims. And it is not only the homeowners themselves. Their insurance companies are refusing to honor their claims, insisting that as victims of terror, they should be turning to the government for payment, rather than seeking to collect insurance money. After all, if a car is damaged by terrorists, for example, it is the government, not the insurance company, that pays for a repair or replacement. But the government is not able to pay the huge sums of money that are necessary to cover the costs of all the damage. And so, a new clamor of voices is now being heard, insisting that only a handful of the fires were actually caused by Palestinian terrorism.

A Country Haunted by Crimes of the Past

Let us move on to other subjects, for the sake of change. The next issue over which we will lose sleep – aside from the Reform movement’s threat to the sanctity of the Kosel, of course – is the saga of the Yemenite children. This ticking time bomb is currently in the hands of a man who is himself of Yemenite extraction, as well as a minister in the Israeli government: Tzachi Hanegbi.

Hanegbi was recently interviewed in a magazine associated with the Likud, Hakol Politika (Tishrei 5777). This publication is filled with self-promotion on the part of all the government ministers and Knesset members from the Likud party, as well as other party officials who aspire to become members of the Knesset, and even Yerushalayim Mayor Nir Barkat. Thus, Hanegbi’s “interview” might be considered more of an effort to boost his public image. In any event, he related, “In 2006, while I was serving as the Minister of Health, I received a request from the families of the missing Yemenite children to help solve the mystery of their disappearances. Since I am a member of the community on my mother’s side, I couldn’t turn down their impassioned appeal. I gave orders for the remains of ten Yemenite children to be exhumed from the graves where they were allegedly buried, and for DNA testing to be performed. The tests concluded that the individuals who were supposedly buried in the majority of the graves did not have DNA that matched their relatives. This led me to realize that we were still far from having uncovered the truth. As a result, I was happy to be given the privilege of making recommendations concerning the materials from the investigative commission.” This past week, Hanegbi submitted a recommendation, which was accepted by the government, for the classified files on the subject to be opened.

Now, when the documents are made available to the public, there may be a major uproar. Will we finally be exposed to firsthand accounts of actual kidnappings? Will the names of the victims and perpetrators be revealed? If not, there will be an outcry, and the deep wounds will remain unhealed. But if those facts are revealed, there may be a veritable earthquake. This is a scandal that will not simply fade away. It is a stain on the history of this country that will continue to haunt it for years to come.

Upheavals in the Soldier’s Trial

We are approaching the end of the trial of Elor Azariya, a soldier who shot a terrorist while he was still alive and capable of inflicting harm, and who was then placed on trial and accused of murder. In effect, the entire country has lynched Azariya, claiming that the terrorist was almost dead and that Elor sadistically shot him to confirm his death.

Slowly, but surely, bit by bit, it has become clear that that is not what happened. The Azariya trial has been heavily covered by the media. The entire country has been following it intently. There were several dramatic moments in the courtroom: Elor’s mother fainted, and his father suffered a stroke. This case can teach us just how subtle is the distinction between right and wrong, and how fickle the judicial system can be. When the trial first began, Moshe Yaalon was still the Minister of Defense, and he pontificated about moral values in the army and all sorts of other things, setting a tone that cast Azariya in a negative light not only in the public sphere, but in the courtroom itself. But then Yaalon was suddenly replaced by Avigdor Lieberman, who has been much more sympathetic to Azariya and has been communicating an entirely different message. As soon as he was appointed, Lieberman cautioned the public not to condemn Azariya until the trial ended.

Azariya’s commanding officer spoke harshly about his actions, but then Professor Yehuda Hiss, the former director of the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute, testified in his favor. There have been surprising twists and turns throughout the trial, as the expected outcome seems to be changing repeatedly. Azariya’s case was also bolstered by the testimony of Uzi Dayan, a respected official in the army, who claimed, “If a soldier at a checkpoint has the impression, in his subjective view, that someone is trying to run him over, he is allowed to shoot at the person even if he doesn’t know if it is a terrorist.”

Justice Sitbon asked him, “Do you mean to say that terrorists should be killed?”

Dayan replied, “A terrorist is responsible for his own death.”

After nearly having been convicted, Elor has now been offered a new deal by the prosecution. Meanwhile, the trial has almost reached its end, as the entire country waits with bated breath for the outcome. One thing, though, is clear: The story is now being presented in an entirely different light from the way it was portrayed when the trial began.

A Matter of Perspective

Not long ago, Rabbi Uri Zohar told us a story with an important lesson.

“I recently went into the shul across the street from my home,” he related. “The shul is located in a bomb shelter, and there was a man standing in the entrance davening Shemoneh Esrei. A small child was sitting next to him, and this man was davening a very lengthy tefillah. For some reason, I found myself reacting with distaste to his actions. Why was he davening in the doorway? Since he was standing there, everyone who entered the shul had to use the rear entrance instead. And why had he brought his son to shul, if he was spending so much time immersed in his davening? I didn’t have any particular reason to think poorly of him,” Rabbi Zohar admitted, “but that was simply the impression I had.”

When the man finished davening, he noticed Rabbi Zohar standing in the shul. Taking hold of his son’s hand, he hurried over to the rabbi and reverently asked him for a brocha for the child. Upon telling this story to us, Rabbi Zohar laughed and said, “Do you know what happened? All of a sudden, my perspective changed. Suddenly, I found him charming and delightful, whereas I had been highly critical of him just moments before. Now, why couldn’t I have had the same positive view of him from the start?” I must add that I am not sure I find this story entirely believable. I am certain that the man approached Reb Uri for a brocha, but I find it difficult to believe that Rabbi Zohar himself thought negatively of him at all. I imagine that he told us this story merely so that we would learn to think more positively of others.

But this leads me to a similar incident that occurred to me just this week, when I drove from Yerushalayim to Beit Shemesh to attend the wedding of a daughter of a distinguished fellow named Yisroel Ehrman. Reb Yisroel, who hails from America, was a resident of my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul until his recent move to Beit Shemesh. When he lived in our neighborhood, he was universally admired for his nobility and pleasant personality. I made the trip to Beit Shemesh both for his sake and out of respect for his mechutanim. The chosson is a member of the Yagelnik family and is an outstanding bochur from Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu in Bnei Brak, one of the leading yeshivos in Eretz Yisroel, which is headed by Rav Boruch Weisbecker. The chosson’s younger brother learned with my son at Yeshivas Ohr Elchonon. Today, both of them are learning at Bais Mattisyahu. The chosson’s grandfather is an attorney named Reb Refoel Stub, a distinguished figure in his own right who was very close to Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l.

When I arrived, I greeted the granddaughter of the kallah, a clean-shaven man from America. I knew his name from the invitation: Fred Ehrman from New York. I approached him to wish him mazel tov, assuming that none of the other guests would go out of their way to greet this stranger from America. Later in the simcha, I engaged him in conversation again; one could say that I have been blessed with a healthy dose of curiosity.

I will not write about him at great length, since he is a very modest person who prefers to remain out of the limelight, but I will note that he is a very learned individual, a person who loves learning and is filled with Jewish wisdom, and who is blessed with an impressive pedigree. He also respects Torah learning, and he does his best to assist the Torah scholars who sustain the world. He has a significant history of public service; he even hosted Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu in his office in 1995. When our conversation turned to the subject of Rav Yisroel Meir Lau and his son, the current chief rabbi of Israel, Fred revealed to me that he was a good friend of the senior Rav Lau’s older brother, Naftali Lau (otherwise known as Tulik Lavie), who served as the Israeli consul in New York from 1981 through 1985. Before we parted ways, Mr. Ehrman spoke with me about the important value of ahavas Yisroel, showing love and respect to every Jew.

There was something prescient about his choice of that subject. Once again, I had learned how important it is to view others in a positive light. I had seen this gentleman from America and been unaware of the rich degree of depth that lay beneath his unassuming surface. And, incidentally, “Fred” is actually named Asher Zelig…

On Yitzchok Avinu’s Eyes

I would like to share two vertlach with you this week. I guarantee that you will enjoy them, and you will want to remember them next year.

I will never forget the comment of my father, Rav Moshe Menachem Yaakovson zt”l, on the posuk which states, “Yitzchok loved Eisav, for prey was in his mouth, and Rivka loved Yaakov.” (My father served as the rov of the community of Be’er Yaakov for 50 years. For much of that time, he also held the position of rov of the Machzikei Hadas community in Copenhagen, Denmark.) He noted that while the posuk offers an explanation for Yitzchok’s love for Eisav (“for prey was in his mouth”), it does not present any reason for Rivka’s love for Yitzchok. The message: A mother’s love for her son needs no explanation. (I added another thought: When a father demonstrates love for an older child, that itself is a reason for the mother to love a younger child.)

I am also certain that I will never forget the ingenious insight of Rav Yosel Tabak on the reason for Yitzchok’s loss of his eyesight. Rashi offers two explanations for it: Either his eyes were weakened by the smoke produced when Eisav’s wives burned incense for avodah zarah or his vision was impaired because the tears of the malachim had fallen into his eyes when he was placed on the altar during the Akeidah. Rav Yosel brilliantly drew a connection between these ideas: Because Yitzchok’s eyes had absorbed the tears of the malachim, they were unable to tolerate the smoke produced by the worship of avodah zarah.

Pearls of Wisdom from the Children of Yerushalayim

Moishy has learned a good deal from his older brother, Yonah. The two are only a year and a half apart in age, but Yonah is already in first grade, while Moishy is still in preschool. He is eagerly awaiting the next school year, when he, too, will make his way to cheder every day, toting a large knapsack. In his eyes, the difference between the two of them is tremendous.

One day, Moishy asked his brother, “When I am in kittah alef next year, what class will you be in?”

“In kitah bais,” Yonah responded sagely.

“And what will happen the year after that?” Moishy asked. “When I am in kitah bais, what class will you be in?”

Yonah thought for a moment, then replied confidently, “After kitah bais, I will be in kitah vais!”

And here is another anecdote about the antics of these two young boys: One morning on Chol Hamoed Sukkos, Moishy and Yonah announced to their mother that they would prefer to forgo breakfast for the day. “We want to eat lunch now instead!” they declared.

“Why?” she asked, as she contemplated allowing them to refer to their breakfast of omelets and cucumbers as “lunch.” After all, when lunchtime arrived, she could simply call the meal “supper.”

“Because Abba said that after lunch, we get to jump on the trampolines!” they chorused excitedly.

No Harm Can Come from a Mitzvah

In conclusion, here is a story that happened not in Israel, but across the ocean, in America. Six weeks ago, Avremi Walkin’s parents were in New York. One day, Avremi had to pick up his father, the mashgiach Rav Chaim Walkin, and drive him to a meeting. Avremi’s home is a 50-minute drive from his brother’s home in Brooklyn, where his father was staying. That morning, his departure was delayed, and while he was on the road, he received word that his father was waiting for him. “I drove like a maniac,” Avremi told me. “I didn’t want my father to be late for his meeting because of me.”

On the expressway, Avremi drove at the maximum legal speed limit. As he was driving, he saw his brother’s phone number flash across his cell phone screen once again, and his foot automatically pressed on the gas pedal. After all, his father was waiting.

Suddenly, a pair of flashing lights appeared in his rearview mirror and a voice on a loudspeaker ordered him to pull over to the side of the road. The policeman, in his neatly pressed uniform, informed Avremi that he had exceeded the legal speed limit by ten miles an hour. While that may not have been a terrible offense in its own right, there was also a temporary sign that announced that the speed limit on that portion of the expressway had been lowered to 35 miles per hour, rather than 50, due to roadwork. Avremi also received a ticket for using his cell phone while driving. His pleas for compassion fell on deaf ears, and he continued on his way with two tickets in his pocket. He had been given a $380 fine for speeding and a $125 fine for using his cellular phone.

“I was terribly distressed,” Avremi relates. “I kept driving to Brooklyn, telling myself that I had done the right thing and that a person never loses out by performing the mitzvah of kibbud av. It was a kapparah. That was all.”

One week later, Avremi sat down at his computer to pay the fines. He entered all the details into the system, but the computer informed him stoically that the tickets did not exist. He waited a few days, in case the police officer hadn’t yet entered the tickets into the system, and then he tried again. Once again, the computer did not recognize the ticket number and other identifying details. Even after a month had passed, the result was the same. The New York State Police Department had no record of the tickets.

Avremi proceeded to inspect the tickets themselves. He was surprised to discover that they contained a number of inaccurate details. His residential address was recorded as a location in Atlanta, Georgia, a city that he has never even visited. The date was a bizarre set of numbers, and the space where the offense was supposed to be recorded contained an illegible scrawl. This was true of both tickets. Even the details of his license number were completely wrong. It was as if the police officer had taken leave of his senses while he was writing the tickets. And a traffic ticket that is not properly filled out is considered completely invalid.

It was true, after all: A person will never lose anything from observing the mitzvah of kibbud av.