My Take on the News

A Pardon for Netanyahu?

Just a week ago, I wrote that the submarine affair had spawned several indictments. But while it was a major news story at the time, it is far removed from anyone’s mind today, just a week later. The submarine affair does not affect Prime Minister Netanyahu himself, although it does involve several of his close associates, most notably an attorney by the name of David Shimron. Nevertheless, Netanyahu has enough personal troubles of his own, even without the added headache of his friends’ legal woes. This week, for instance, there was major discussion in the Knesset as to what will be done if Netanyahu tries to refuse to have his parliamentary immunity revoked, and whether it is possible to press criminal charges against him at all.

The parliamentary immunity of any member of the Knesset can be removed only by the Knesset Committee, and since the Knesset is in recess, there is no Knesset Committee at this time. There is a similar body, which is known as the Arrangements Committee and is headed by Avi Nissenkorn, a member of the Blue and White party. Nissenkorn is interested in establishing a Knesset Committee to discuss Netanyahu’s request—and to reject it.

Meanwhile, Benny Gantz has made a new proposal, although it is questionable if he has the mandate to offer it: If Netanyahu voluntarily resigns from political life, all the criminal proceedings against him will be frozen. In other words, if Netanyahu punishes himself by surrendering his position in politics, he can avert the possibility that the court will impose a much more severe punishment on him. The logic behind Gantz’s idea is that no one wants to see the prime minister of Israel behind bars (even though Ehud Olmert, a former prime minister, has already served a prison sentence. Olmert was a much different story plus he never had the respect that Netanyahu has.). Of course, Netanyahu has completely rejected the idea. In any event, it is not even clear that anyone has the right to make such a decision.

The Battle for Leadership of the Likud

Last week, I wrote that the Likud party is not in the habit of summarily dismissing its leaders. That, in fact, is the reason that no one understands why former minister and current MK Gideon Saar thinks that he can defeat Netanyahu in the upcoming Likud primaries. The real answer to this question is that Saar is not thinking—at all. Nevertheless, the mere fact that he is in competition with Netanyahu seems to have positioned him as the number two man in the Likud party, although it is not entirely certain that he can actually lay claim to that title. It is possible that there will be a large gap between Netanyahu and Saar in the primaries, and it is also likely that many other members of the Likud will be angered by the atmosphere of rivalry that he is creating within the party.

To make a long story short, Gideon Saar is taking a major political risk. On the other hand, Saar himself probably feels that he has nothing to lose. If Netanyahu wins the primaries, there will be little that he can do to punish the man who contested his leadership. And even if he comes up with some form of reprisal, Netanyahu will have to wait for more conducive times to strike back at his rival.

Meanwhile, there are a few other senior figures in the Likud who are straddling the fence, evidently reluctant to support Netanyahu because they consider themselves worthy of succeeding him. This category includes Yisroel Katz, Nir Barkat (the former mayor of Yerushalayim and newcomer to the party), and, above all, Yuli Edelstein, the Knesset speaker. Saar had hoped to receive support from senior Likud officials in his own battle against Netanyahu, but that has yet to happen.

The major question now is whether the competition within the ranks of the Likud will be for naught. If the right-wing bloc fails to reach 61 mandates, there is a major possibility that Benny Gantz will be the next prime minister. It seems almost definite that Yvette Lieberman will be the kingmaker once again. Within Gantz’s circle, there has been talk of the fact that there will be no more anti-religious propaganda this time, and that it would be proper for his party to court the chareidim after the election. But it is impossible to predict whether that will actually happen.

Of course, plenty of polls are being conducted in advance of the election. As of now, it appears that neither Netanyahu nor Gideon Saar will be capable of assembling a coalition of 61 mandates, although there is a possibility for Netanyahu to achieve it. It all depends on the right-wing parties (Bennett, Ben-Gvir, Smotrich, and their colleagues) and whether they will make any mistakes.

Hateful Invective in Russian

Meanwhile, someone has translated one of the videos filmed in Russian that are being circulated by Lieberman’s party, and the contents were revolting. Someone even commented that the Nazis’ propaganda was more refined than this! Personally, I don’t like when people are quick to draw comparisons to the Nazi era, but this incitement was far beyond the pale. It seems that when they speak in Russian, Lieberman’s party members feel comfortable expressing themselves without restraint of any sort. And the narrator on this video was none other than one of the Knesset members of Yisroel Beiteinu. The following is a translation of the narration:

“Imagine that there is an adult who depends on you. You provide him with food, drink, and clothing, and he doesn’t work, he doesn’t go to school, and he doesn’t serve in the army. He doesn’t know anything at all. Even more than that, he begins demanding privileges and telling you how to live.

“This is happening to every one of us. Over one million representatives of the Orthodox community exist here today at our expense. The state is subsidizing them with our tax money, at the expense of our work.

“It is enough.

“Only a strong Yisroel Beiteinu can promise a government without the Orthodox.

“Otherwise, Netanyahu will bend again to the demands of Deri and Litzman. And so will Gantz. Only we can stop the demands of the religious.

“If we don’t do it, then who will?”

Dragged into an Election

It should come as no surprise, then, that there is an atmosphere of gloom in the country.

I went to the Knesset on Tuesday, and the atmosphere was thick and heavy. At the turnoff to the Knesset, I noticed two men singing and dancing exuberantly. I could not understand the reason for their joy, so I pulled up next to them and asked them what had led to their ebullience.

“Rejoice, fellow Jew; the geulah will be here soon!” they cried, banging on drums excitedly. “Besides, you should give thanks to Hashem that you can see with both of your eyes!”

Perhaps they are correct. In any event, the religious community has at least one reason to be buoyed by the latest news: An election in the month of Adar is bound to be good for us. Adar, after all, is the month of the greatest mazel.

A couple of weeks ago, I observed that our country is in a state of depression. That is not to say that I am an expert on such diagnoses, but I live among the people of Israel, and I can attest to their state of mind. As I said, the atmosphere in the Knesset is gloomy; no one looks particularly cheerful. The light seems to have gone out in everyone’s eyes.

This week, my observations were confirmed by an expert: Minister of the Interior, Aryeh Deri. “People are dragging themselves around,” he said. “When I speak to people, I can feel their frustration. They feel helpless. There is no sense of initiative here; people are merely dragging their feet. There is a general feeling that we are lost, and we have unwittingly been dragged into an election.” Deri related that he had asked his colleagues in the government if anyone truly wants another election, and the answer was a resounding no.

It was a fascinating perspective to hear from a person who has seen many things and who remembers events that others do not even know about. Aryeh Deri was an advisor to Shamir; I once heard him remark that he respected Shamir because he respects people who are intelligent. He also argued with Shamir on many occasions. Rabin never made a move without hearing Deri’s opinion (although he didn’t always accept it). Peres respected him, and Deri’s friendship with Olmert is well-known. His connection to Netanyahu began when the latter was the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and the two still understand each other very well to this day. Deri’s friendship with Gantz, Yaalon, and Ashkenazi is also based on the security services’ appreciation of his situation analyses in the cabinet. In short, he has many friends in high places, and he understands people across the political spectrum.

It was very interesting to listen to Deri’s observations on Monday. He was able to analyze the precise reasons for every individual’s interest in the specific date on which the election has been called. He observed with amazement that the political pundits have made it sound as if the chareidi parties torpedoed every other date suggested for the election. It is true that one of the potential dates was rejected because it was Purim, and another date was scuttled because it coincides with the yahrtzeit of Rav Elimelech of Lizhensk. That is why the election was ultimately scheduled for a Monday. Until now, every election has been held on a Tuesday. And why? Because that is how things are done in America….

A Megalomaniac’s List of Demands

In the future, historians are bound to be baffled by the year 2019. They will not understand why the country allowed itself to be pulled into a new election. They will also find it impossible to understand how the people of Israel allowed themselves to be controlled by the madness of the criminal justice system. And they will be completely befuddled by the machinations of the Moldavian-born Avigdor Lieberman. What did he want? What was he trying to achieve? What was his goal, and why did he torment an entire country?

Lieberman has somehow managed to toy with the entire country, as well as the press. How is it that not a single newspaper has called him out? There can be only one possible explanation: Lieberman has set out to bring about Netanyahu’s political demise, and he has therefore been deemed immune to criticism in the media. In the future, this will certainly be regarded as a horrific injustice.

Today, I read a quote in the newspaper from “someone in the know,” who exposed Lieberman’s final list of demands before the decision was made to return to the polls: control of the Interior Ministry and the Immigrant Authority, the passage of his version of the draft law, lenient conversions, funding and pensions for immigrants, the defense portfolio, the Immigrant Absorption Ministry, and a brief stint as prime minister. These pretentious demands are nothing short of insane. But allow me to reveal something to you, as well as to this intrepid journalist: Lieberman had another demand, as well—the right to veto the appointment of the next Minister of Education. His objective was to prevent a right-wing politician from occupying the post. The man’s temerity has reached the point of absurdity!

Tragedy in Bnei Brak

As I was writing these lines, my son called me to inform me that his good friend, Yitzchok Meir Weiss, had passed away. And then he burst into tears.

“Abba, you know him,” he said. “Do you remember the bochur who used to attend Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel when he came to Brachfeld? That is who this was.”

Indeed, I visited the Mir yeshiva’s Brachfeld branch many times, and I always enjoyed watching Rav Nosson Tzvi when he visited the yeshiva to deliver a shiur kloli or to open the new zman. And it was always Yitzchok Meir Weiss who supported him as he walked across the bais medrash, and who later pushed him in his wheelchair. He was a wonderful young man.

Yitzchok Meir Weiss was an older bochur at the time. He married only recently, at a fairly late age, to a woman for whom it was her second marriage. His friends from his yeshiva years attended his wedding and rejoiced jubilantly with him. His firstborn son was born four months ago. My son, who was utterly shattered when he called me, lives near his home on Rechov Pinkas in Bnei Brak. He revealed that the baby passed away last week, and today, during the shiva, Yitzchok Meir collapsed. His death was later pronounced at the hospital. His wife has now been left alone, bereft of her only child and her second husband. Her pain must be unfathomable.

The widow’s grandfather is Rav Uri Weissblum, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Nachalas Haleviim in Haifa, who is one of the most renowned students of the Yeshiva of Beer Yaakov and a beloved talmid of its mashgiach, Rav Shlomo Wolbe. My father’s family and Rav Weissblum’s family are very close. And this tragedy is absolutely unfathomable.

Murder and Desecration

The world is small, and the pictures of the horrific terror attack in New Jersey reached us here in Israel. It makes no difference to me if the American authorities viewed it as an anti-Semitic or criminal incident; for us, it was painful to see Jews paralyzed with fear once again, taking refuge from enemies who threatened their lives. The incident in Indiana University also does little to add to our sense of joy, and the same can be said regarding the incident at the Iranian shul in Beverly Hills. Even if the police commander there is convinced that it was not an anti-Semitic attack, the sight of torn sifrei Torah should—and does—send a chill through every Jewish heart.

Yes, President Donald Trump signed an executive order permitting the reduction of federal funding for colleges and universities in America that do not combat anti-Semitism. Senior American officials claim that the order is expected to expand the definition of anti-Semitism to include criticism of Israel, and that it will prohibit discrimination based on anti-Semitism. The purpose of this process is to give the government additional tools, including budget cuts, that will enable it to fight the BDS movement in universities and on college campuses throughout the country, and to combat the anti-Israel slant in some of those institutions. Jared Kushner was standing next to his father-in-law when the order was signed, and his expression was buoyant.

I also listened to Trump’s speech at Sheldon Adelson’s IAC convention. He sounded more like an Israeli than any Israeli does, and more right-wing than our right. That was also very nice. It was truly encouraging. But at the same time, we are pained by the deaths, the beatings, and the desecration of sifrei Torah, and that does little to contribute to our health.

Be Thankful That You Can See

On a personal level, I experienced a medical trauma this week that threatens my vision in one of my eyes. Nevertheless, the news of all these tragedies serves to put things in proportion. I have learned to daven with greater intensity and to have special kavanah in the brachos of refoeinu and pokeiach ivrim, but I still give thanks to Hashem for what I possess and for what I have retained. This is especially true when I see (emphasis on “see”) the terrible suffering that has befallen many people.

During this period of time, I have had the opportunity to meet a number of highly regarded doctors in quite a few fields. And I have observed that it is very important indeed for medical experts to learn the trait of humility. Even if they have practiced their fields for many years, they must never allow themselves to succumb to pride, and certainly not to relate to others with haughtiness.

I am sorry to say this, but many senior physicians did not evoke much admiration in me. There were two doctors, however, who made a positive impression on me with their unusual admirable behavior. One was Professor Dimitri Karussis, director of the Multiple Sclerosis Center in Hadassah (which is universally hailed as one of the most magnificent medical centers in the country, alongside Sheba Medical Center). Karussis is a Greek Gentile who decided to give up a prestigious career in Greece in order to work in Yerushalayim. He is one of Israel’s leading neurologists. Another doctor is also an unusual professional: a religious doctor from Canada and one of the leading specialists in ophthalmology in the country, a man by the name of Dr. Joshua Kruger.

Many people wait over a year for appointments with these doctors, but someone managed to arrange for me to be seen by both of them within two days. I will never forget Dr. Kruger’s reaction at one point during our meeting. I apologized for taking far more time than he had planned for our appointment, and he replied nonchalantly, “At this moment, as far as I am concerned, you are the only person in the world.” I have never heard an Israeli doctor make such a statement.

The Depths of Machshovah

Let us return to some joyous subjects, since we will be lighting the first candle of Chanukah within a couple of days. Chanukah is one of the holidays that are most beloved to all of us (and not only because it is a mini-bein hazemanim of sorts). In Givat Shaul, for instance, we always enjoy hearing the talmidim of Yeshivas Ner Moshe singing and dancing alongside their menorahs. And every Chanukah comes with its own special holiday events. I predict that next week, or perhaps in another two weeks, I will have plenty of experiences from Chanukah to report to you.

But now let me present a riddle of sorts. Read the following passage and see if you can understand it: “Let us go back to the concepts of etzem and kavod with which we began. Light in the sense of etzem contains the thing itself. In the sense of kavod, it contains its outer trappings. That is the mystical message of our chachonim, who teach us that the words etzem and kavod have the combined gematria of 232, the same as the phrase ‘yehi ohr,’ since the entire system of light was created with the statement ‘yehi ohr’—both light in the sense of etzem and light in the sense of kavod. But the words ‘yehi ohr’ were immediately transformed into ‘vayehi ohr.’ The Vilna Gaon explains that this is the evidence that the primordial light was hidden away. The word yehi is in the future tense, and vayehi is in the past tense. There was yehi ohr, and then vayehi ohr. It was said that there should be light, and it immediately became part of the past. It was, and it will be again in the future.”

Does this sound complicated or cryptic to you? Well, it is an excerpt from the new sefer consisting of the shiurim of Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l. I have quoted a few lines from his maamar on the miracle of Chanukah, which deals with the question of which miracle Chanukah commemorates; after all, if it is the miracle of the long-burning oil, then it would be difficult to understand why we recite Hallel, which is generally linked with redemption from danger. This is one of the 42 chapters of the newly released sefer Shiurei Rabbeinu on Chanukah. Rav Moshe Shapiro certainly towered above all of us in every sense; his ideas could hardly be grasped by the average mind. Attending his shiurim was a mesmerizing experience; one would be constantly awed by his innovative explanations and sublime ideas, which would elevate their listeners to incredible spiritual heights. A listener would emerge from the shiur with a sense of unearthly delight, and with the clear understanding that he had not understood anything.

I will never forget a comment that he made during a shmuess on the subject of davening. “It is the toch—the inner essence—of a person that davens. That is, it is the pnimiyus of adam, which consists of the letters aleph, dalet, and mem. The inner part of the aleph is the letters lamed and peh; dalet is the letters lamed and tav, and the second letter of the word mem is another mem. If you combine these letters, which make up the pnimiyus of a human being, they form the word mispallel.”

I will also never forget his hesped for his beloved talmid Rav Yitzchok (Ika) Yisraeli in the Israeli division of Yeshivas Ohr Somayach. It was not easy to follow his presentation; in fact, it was almost impossible. But the hesped presented a lofty picture of Ika’s radiant personality. At the time, I tried to capture the contents of the hesped in an article. I listened to the recording many times, and after immense toil, I managed to convey almost all of it.

Rav Moshe Shapiro Rebukes Me for Taking Pictures

During the same hesped, Rav Moshe rebuked me for taking pictures. I had no doubt that he wouldn’t have said a word about it to a stranger; he objected only because we were friends. Nevertheless, it was embarrassing for me. But Rav Moshe eschewed chitzoniyus of any kind. His noble character refused to bend to the dictates of the modern era. When it came to choosing between listening to a shiur and taking pictures, between paying attention to a shiur as it was given or capturing images for the future, the correct decision was clear to him. As a rule, he would implore the listeners at his shiurim to pay careful attention and to try to understand his teachings. He would ask individuals not to write during the shiurim, and instead to focus their attention on trying to understand what was being said. “Aidi d’tarid l’miflat lo bala—That which is busy producing cannot absorb,” he would explain sagely.

The mechaber of the new sefer, Rav Yisroel Yosef Bronstein, presents a scintillating characterization of his rebbi’s Torah in his introduction to the sefer: “Amok amok mi yimtzaenu—It is profoundly deep; who can understand it?” The author is a member of the chaburah of men who spent many years attending Rav Moshe’s weekly shiurim on Thursdays. Rav Moshe eventually arranged for him to transcribe the shiurim for public consumption. Ever since then, a new shiur from Shiurei Rabbeinu has been sent every week to thousands of people across the globe.

Rav Bronstein has toiled to find the best way to communicate the teachings of his rebbi to our generation, granting the Jewish people access to the thinking and philosophy of this master of ideas, whose teachings were unmatched in their breadth, their depth, and, above all, their lofty level. Reading between the lines, one can practically hear the angel-like Rav Moshe adjuring all of us to grow. As his veteran talmidim attest, in Shiurei Rabbeinu, one can hear not only Rav Moshe’s voice, but his silences as well.

The sefer sheds enormous light on the holiday of Chanukah. Rav Moshe is famous for beginning his shiurim with incisive, thought-provoking questions. For example, the Al Hanissim prayer states that the Greeks attempted to cause the Jewish people to forget the Torah, but how is it possible to cause a person to forget something he knows? The tefillah also states, “And then Your children came to the Dvir of Your House.” Why does it state specifically that they entered the Dvir, which was located between the Heichal and the Kodesh? And when we state that we give thanks to Hashem for His “nissim and niflaos,” what are the exact parameters of these two terms? What is the definition of a neis, and what is a peleh?

The concepts of Yavan and Hellenism take on new meaning when viewed through Rav Moshe’s lens. Shiurei Rabbeinu opens a new window into the world of Chanukah and sheds light on the dangers of Yavan, the strategies it employs and the battle we are still fighting against it to this day, and, of course, the nature of our salvation when the wicked and impure were vanquished by purity. The sefer is a treasury of 42 shiurim drawn from 30 years of harbotzas Torah in Ohr Somayach, Sanhedria, and Ramat Shlomo. Every shiur is exquisitely constructed and solidly formed, progressing logically from one idea to the next, until the reader finally arrives at a complete understanding of the topic and a sense of spiritual elevation. The shiurim, which have been expertly adapted for publication by a loyal talmid of Rav Moshe Shapiro, are a source of enormous illumination. But just as it took immense effort to follow the shiurim that Rav Moshe delivered orally, the written versions of those shiurim also cannot be understood without copious toil.

Hateful Articles Against Chareidim

There has been a wave of hateful articles directed against chareidim in the Israeli media. Some of the writers have always been purveyors of hate, and there is nothing new about their recent screeds. Even comedian Shaike Levi is merely repeating things that he said in the past.

I decided to peruse a particular offering in one Israeli newspaper, and after plowing through it, I reached the conclusion that it was not actually a specimen of incitement, but rather a substandard piece that makes little sense. The article begins with the results of the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) and protests Naftoli Bennett’s silence on the subject. It goes on to criticize Bennett for his failure to respond to the “fabricated draft statistics.” The writer admits that the incident did not occur on Bennett’s watch, but rather under “the Minister of Defense who preceded him, a certain Binyomin Netanyahu.” But the writer notes sardonically that she expects nothing of Netanyahu himself, who was “too busy explaining that he isn’t at fault for the failure to form a government.” Quite the criticism, indeed.

But wait! Let us address the actual claims that the army lied about the number of chareidim who enlisted. In the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, General Almoz claimed that this took place during the years 2017 and 2018. At that time, the Minister of Defense was Avigdor Lieberman, who was appointed to the post in May 2016 and resigned in November 2018. There was no reason for the writer to fault Netanyahu for this. Moreover, the discrepancy is a matter of only 300 young men, and according to the director of the IDF’s Manpower Division, “their entire world is chareidi and their homes are chareidi.” Why, then, should they not be included in the tally of chareidim in the army? The fact that the committee chairman, Gabi Ashkenazi, instructed Almoz not to respond to Mickey Zohar’s question (“Does the IDF even need more soldiers to be drafted?”) was also improper.

I would offer a prize to anyone who can decipher the following passage: “While we talk day and night about the ‘invalidation of entire communities,’ it is actually the chareidi parties who disqualify those communities—from the workforce. While we chatter about messages, ignoring the things that we don’t like and waxing enthusiastic about the bloc, that same bloc is actually based on a political deal by which the chareidi activists will support the prime minister through his indictments due to the ‘presumption of innocence’ and will complain about the ‘invalidation of entire communities’ when they condemn the idea of a unity government that would stop bending to the dictates of the chareidi parties. That way, they hope, entire communities will indeed continue being ‘invalidated’ both from conscription in the IDF and from any possibility of being deprived of public funding. That simply violates the principles of Judaism.”

Did you understand this? Well, I didn’t. But it is not incitement; it is nothing but sophistry and word games.

Time to Stop Fasting

In conclusion, allow me to share a true story about a group of women who attended a knitting class together. Some of the women were teachers while others were retirees; three of them were students, a few were housewives, and then there were some who were simply bored with their regular routines and were in need of companionship. The class was more of an opportunity for recreation than for study. For each of the women, it was an excuse to get away from their homes, to make new friends, and to enjoy a respite from their ordinary activities. There weren’t many sweaters that were knitted in the course of the class, but many friendships were certainly woven between the participants.

One of the ladies in the class was an Ethiopian woman named Sarah, who was respected by the other members of the group, both for her intelligence and for her piety. Sarah quickly shattered all of the stigmas and stereotypes, earning the admiration and affection of her classmates.

The class was generally held on Wednesdays, but one week it was moved up to Tuesday instead. A flurry of phone calls took place to apprise each of the women of the development, and Sarah admitted that she wasn’t sure she would be able to come, but promised that she would try. Ultimately, she attended the class, but she appeared weak and exhausted. One of the other women in the class took notice and asked the hostess, who was also the instructor of the class, to find out if she had become ill.

The instructor made some inquiries. At the next meeting of the class, she quietly relayed her findings to the concerned participant. “Sarah looks that way every Tuesday,” she revealed. “She fasts every week on Tuesday.”

“Why is that?” the other woman asked.

“Five years ago, a yeshiva bochur was injured in a car accident,” the instructor explained, repeating what she had been told. “Sarah found out his name, and she has been fasting for him ever since. She doesn’t even know who he is, but she has been fasting as a zechus for his good health and success.”

The other woman paled and sank into a chair. Sarah herself took notice and hurried over to ask if she needed help.

“I don’t,” the woman replied, “but I wanted to ask you something: How much longer are you planning to fast for the bochur who was injured in a car accident?”

Sarah smiled. “You are touching on a problematic question,” she said. “I committed to fast for him until he regained his health and married, but I have no idea if he is even still alive.”

“You can stop fasting,” the other woman said. “He is married, and he has two children.”

“How do you know that?” her Ethiopian friend asked in surprise.

“Because I am his mother!” the other woman replied.