My Take on the News

Nail-Biting Suspense in Israel

The top news story this week, of course, is the round of meetings taking place in the White House. I don’t know the terms of the “deal of the century,” but I certainly know that this is a dramatic week. Mike Pence invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to the White House on Tuesday, and Netanyahu suggested that Benny Gantz should be invited as well.

While this is happening, the Knesset is expected to vote on Tuesday in favor of establishing a Knesset Committee to discuss Netanyahu’s request for parliamentary immunity, which is almost certain to be rejected. That is, the Knesset will probably give its approval to the process of pressing charges against the prime minister. The Likud party has already decided to boycott the discussions in the Knesset. On Sunday a document was circulated among the party members calling on them not to come to the Knesset at all, neither for the discussions in the Knesset as a whole nor for the subsequent committee sessions. Instead, they have been instructed to allow Blue and White, the Arabs, and the left to fight Netanyahu unilaterally.

President Trump’s “deal of the century” was presented Tuesday. The Arabs are vehemently opposed to it. It seems poised to be the best possible diplomatic plan that has ever been presented to Israel. A senior official in the settlements has dubbed it a unique historic opportunity and has expressed his intent to support the process.

Vice President Mike Pence of the United States met with Netanyahu on Thursday at the American embassy in Yerushalayim. Netanyahu heard his invitation and listened as he spoke about the plan, and then he announced publicly, “I think that President Trump wants to give Israel the peace and security that it deserves. I am happy to accept the invitation to come to Washington and to speak with President Trump about his ideas for advancing peace. I suggested that Gantz should also come, because I feel that it is important for us not to lose this historic opportunity with friends like these in the White House and with the backing of the United States. We must achieve as broad a consensus as possible in order to attain peace and security for Israel.”

It is impossible to know what Netanyahu is actually thinking. One thing is clear: If the State of Israel had hands and fingernails, I would say that the country would be biting its nails in anticipation. And if it had a head with hair, I would imagine that it would be tearing the hair out of its national scalp.

Too Much Boasting Is Not a Good Thing

I reported on this event before it happened last week, but I cannot fail to mention it again today. Last Thursday, a major event was held at Yad Vashem. Between 2:00 and 3:00 in the afternoon, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke in the institution’s auditorium. “There will not be another Holocaust,” he proclaimed. “That is my pledge as prime minister.”

Personally, I despise such grandiose proclamations. Experience has shown that boasting by senior figures in the government or the IDF (who hail the “long arm of the IDF,” brag about Israel’s superior technology, claim that the country is prepared for any eventuality, or announce that “anyone who harms us will suffer at our hand, wherever they are”) is often followed by disastrous events. Or perhaps I should put it differently: Most of the calamities that have befallen Israel—the helicopter crash, the tragedy in Tzeelim, the death of Madhat Yosef, and so forth—were preceded by unnecessary displays of conceit on the part of government officials who boasted about the power and superiority of Israel and its army.

I would ask Prime Minister Netanyahu to explain how, exactly, he believes that he can avert another Holocaust when he cannot even guarantee that his party will not be defeated at the polls. Who is to say that Netanyahu will even be the prime minister of Israel 34 days from now? And how can he prevent a Holocaust? If America decides to withhold aid from Israel, what will become of us? If Henry Kissinger, a nearly apostate Jew, had managed to continue promoting his policy during the Yom Kippur War that called for Israel to be strangled so that it would collapse and “learn a lesson” (in fact, the United States president at the time adopted his approach until he came to his senses), then, at least according to the rules of nature, all would have been lost. Yet Netanyahu declared at Yad Vashem, “As the prime minister, I promise that ‘Never Again’ will not be an empty slogan; it will be a call to action.” Really? Let him first prevent the murders of Jews in shuls in Europe and America. Netanyahu plays with words such as “power” and “independence,” but is this country really independent? Isn’t it at the mercy of the nations of the world?

Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was once told that there was serious concern that a drought was beginning. “Where?” he asked.

“Here, in Israel,” his advisors told him.

“In that case, it isn’t so bad,” he replied, “as long as it doesn’t happen in America.”

Imagine if all the world leaders who gathered at Yad Vashem last week decided to unite against Israel. What would Netanyahu do then?

A Medley of Motorcades

The visits of leaders from all over the world brought prestige to the city of Yerushalayim and Prime Minister Netanyahu, but it also turned Yerushalayim into a veritable city under siege, where it was almost impossible to move. The drive from the Knesset to my home in Givat Shaul takes about 11 minutes on an average day. Last Thursday, it took me over an hour, and that was even after I tried to bypass the main areas of congestion.

I was scheduled to pay a shiva call in Beer Yaakov that day, and since we were told that several main roads in Yerushalayim would be closed immediately after the ceremony at Yad Vashem (for the sake of Putin and Mike Pence), and that Route One would also be closed (since most of the visiting presidents, kings, and prime ministers would be driving back to the airport to return to their home countries), it took some guesswork to determine when it was a good time to leave the city. What made it easier for me is the fact that, as I have mentioned in the past, my home overlooks the main highway, so that I was able to look out my window and to see if the road was open or closed, and if the motorcades of the visiting VIPs were zipping down the highway in the direction of the airport.

In fact, while all the visitors were arriving, I could have stood on my balcony and watch the motorcades heading into the city. I could even have spent the time counting the number of cars in each convoy. I wasn’t certain if I could recite the appropriate brachos, though, since I could not see the visiting heads of state themselves, nor could I even tell which of the cars in their respective motorcades was carrying Pence or Putin. I can observe Netanyahu’s motorcade every time he enters or leaves the city, but I do not even entertain the thought of reciting a brocha upon seeing him.

German Guilt

There were many fascinating and moving speeches at Yad Vashem. I found it difficult to follow all of them. Mike Pence spoke very nicely; after the ceremony at Yad Vashem, he hurried to the Kosel and then to the United States embassy in Yerushalayim. Putin also delivered a nice speech, although he could not hold himself back from taking a jab at Ukraine for its collaboration with the Nazis. The president of Ukraine came to Yerushalayim but did not attend the event at Yad Vashem; he explained that he had heard that there were Holocaust survivors who wished to attend the event and were denied an invitation, so he gave up his own seat for them. He did, however, visit the Kosel. Many of the speakers recited a few sentences in Hebrew during their addresses.

The president of Germany declared, “The abominable mass murder of six million Jews is the most heinous crime against humanity in the modern era. This crime was perpetrated by my nation…. The horrific war that took the lives of over 50 million people emerged from my country. Today, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, I stand here before you as the president of Germany, and the immense historical burden of guilt rests on me. I wish I could say that we have learned our lesson, but I cannot. Hatred is continuing to spread.”

There was a good deal of squabbling over credit for the event itself and over the question of whether Netanyahu, President Rivlin, or Yad Vashem deserved the praise. I will ignore that aspect of the event. I believe that there was a consensus of approval surrounding the speech delivered by Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, who is both a famous Holocaust survivor and the chairman of Yad Vashem. Rav Lau delivered one of his most excellent speeches, and everyone knows that he is an incredibly gifted orator.

We Have Our Own “Shimon Brodskys

I must add a few words about the Siyum HaShas that was held last Monday. It was incredible to observe the Belzer Rebbe, Rav Berel Povarsky, the Boyaner Rebbe, and Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein sitting together on the dais. It was also remarkable to see all the members of the Knesset from the various communities seated together in the front row, watching the proceedings with great emotion—and in silence! Just two weeks ago, I noted enviously in this column that the Israeli community did not benefit from the same type of massive event that united the religious community in America, but that lapse has now been rectified, and the event was perfect.

In the same column two weeks ago, I mentioned Shimon Yehuda Brodsky, the sweet child contending with illness who was present at the Siyum HaShas in America. Here in Israel, we had other precious children at the event who are in need of a refuah sheleimah.

When Rav Chaim Kanievsky entered the hall, electrifying the crowd with his presence, there was an eruption of enthusiastic dancing. I noticed a yungerman who sat at the far end of the front row, which afforded him a large space in which to dance. He took hold of his two sons, one on each side of him, and danced vigorously, as the children reveled along with their father. I have no doubt that they will hold that experience in their hearts forever. I found my own eyes tearing at the sight.

This was the siyum organized for the entire religious populace of Eretz Yisroel. Without the intent of detracting from any of the other events, I will say that this one was perfect in every way. After the Sephardic and chassidish communities held their own siyumim at the Arena stadium, this event took place at Yad Eliyohu. There were some scoffers who joked that it was a belated siyum for those who decided to drop out of the new cycle in the middle of Brachos, but it was still worth the wait. Everyone felt connected to this event, which united our entire community.

Even a Young Person Can Finish Shas

Rav Gershon Edelstein declared that even a young man can master Shas, provided that he does not become distracted, especially during the election season. Rav Gershon has made the same comments at the weekly shiur he delivers in his home; it makes no difference to him if he is delivering his message to twelve people or to twelve thousand. This topic was discussed four weeks ago in Darkei Chizuk, the weekly publication drawn from the shiur in his home.

According to the publication, in Cheshvan 5768 Rav Gershon said, “All the talmidim in a yeshiva should complete the masechta that the yeshiva is learning, and more. I was recently told by some young talmidim that they have a plan to complete the masechta in the middle of the zman and then to complete another masechta, which they can do without much additional effort.” In Teves 5778, he repeated the idea: “Everyone wants to be a gadol baTorah. Everyone wants to master the full breadth of Shas. But how does a person achieve that? The solution is to make the best use of one’s time and not to waste time. If only a person would calculate the amount of time that he squanders on meaningless things…. A person must pay close attention to make sure that he is using all of his time to the fullest.”

In Iyar 5772, Rav Gershon told the talmidim of Yeshivas Ahavas Aharon, “When my grandfather, the author of the Chiddushei Ben Aryeh, became bar mitzvah, he finished learning in cheder and arranged a chavrusa with another young man of the same age. They learned seven blatt of Gemara every day. Half a year later, his chavrusa contracted a serious illness and was unable to continue learning, but my grandfather continued on his own and completed Shas at the age of thirteen. He later said that even though he reviewed Shas many more times over the course of his life, most of it remained with him from the first time.”

Young Meir of Maale Adumim has proven that the same accomplishment is possible today. In a notice released in honor of his siyum, one can see a picture of half of Meir’s radiant face (which was all his parents would permit, out of fear of an ayin hara), as Rav Boruch Shapira stands beside him, exuding emotion. To the boy’s left is Rav Avrohom Zaivald, the director-general of Lev L’Achim. This man, who has seen so much in his life and has witnessed dozens of youths abandoning the ballfields and becoming bnei yeshivos, was shedding tears of joy at the young man’s siyum. It was about Meir and others like him that Rav Gershon proclaimed that if they dedicate themselves to Torah learning, they can be capable of completing the entirety of Shas.

Finishing Shas in Three Years

As a postscript to the siyumim, I promised to publicize the following: In honor of the beginning of the new cycle of daf yomi, since many people have expressed interest in a cycle of review in order to solidify their grasp of the Gemara, a new program of weekly tests on the daf yomi, known as Ladaat, has been launched. The tests feature review questions on the main points of the week’s daf yomi, and there will be a weekly raffle of valuable prizes. For registration or to submit answers to the questions, one can call 073-728-9669. Further information can be requested by email at L0737289669@gmail.com.

The test questions can also be received by e-mail, along with summaries of the daf yomi that have been designed to enable those learning daf yomi to review each daf rapidly and to form a complete picture of the material they have learned. The organizers will also provide halachic synopses of the daf and general introductions to the material. The tests and other materials can be requested by e-mail at A0527692282@gmail.com.

I also gave my word that I would announce the initiative of Rabbi Yoel Sautes, who is introducing a program for the study of two blatt every day, an initiative that has many advantages and is rapidly gaining popularity. In Givat Shaul, for instance, Rav Avrohom Wachsberger delivers a shiur on two blatt of Gemara every day in the Pressburg shul. In order to join the program and launch a new shiur or to donate to the cause, one may call 054-842-2596.

1.5 Million Visitors at Meoras Hamachpeilah

According to the official statistics published on Thursday by the Border Guard, which is responsible for security at Meoras Hamachpeilah, the site was visited by a total of 1,456,953 people during the year 2019, representing an increase of 90.6 percent from the total number of visitors in 2018 and setting a new record in the pattern of growth that has continued over the past few years. A more specific breakdown shows that 711,428 Jewish visitors entered Meoras Hamachpeilah this year, in contrast to the total of 401,022 in the year 2018 and 307,068 in the year 2017. This represented a rise of 77 percent. The number of Muslim visitors in 2019 reached 617,077, in contrast to 287,693 visitors in the year 2018 and 237,643 in the year 2017, meaning that the volume of visitors in the Muslim sector was more than double.

It seems that the site is very important to Muslims as well. In case you are wondering how they were able to determine exactly which visitors were Jewish and which ones were Muslim, I believe it is because each group visits the meorah at different times. Another interesting statistic is that 126,459 tourists of other nationalities visited the site in the year 2019, in contrast to a total of 73,570 in 2018 and 60,101 in 2017, making for a rise of 71.8 percent. But the report does not explain how they were able to determine which visitors were non-Jewish tourists.

Shammai Glick, the director-general of the human rights organization B’Tsalmo, who has been fighting to improve accessibility at Meoras Hamachpeilah, cited this statistic to support his position. “More than half the visitors to Meoras Hamachpeilah are not Jewish or citizens of Israel,” he pointed out. “They are Muslims and tourists. And that shows us that accessibility at the meorah is a humanitarian issue, not a political one.”

The issue of accessibility at Meoras Hamachpeilah is one of the great disgraces to the Netanyahu government and to the national government overall. This subject has already been raised twice in the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Over a year ago, in Cheshvan 5779, Kobi Eliraz, the aide to the Minister of Defense, declared that the Israeli government would modify the site to make it accessible to visitors after receiving the agreement of the Palestinians, but that if they refused to permit the renovations, then the government would force the issue. He claimed that it would be done by the end of the year, and there was some debate as to whether he was referring to the year 5779 or the secular year 2019. Either way, both of those dates have passed. At a different committee session, on 9 Sivan 5779, the promise was made that the work would be completed by Pesach 5780. Well, Pesach is only three months away, but there is no sign of any work being done yet!

The Baba Sali’s Promise

I will conclude with a story that I heard this week concerning the Baba Sali, Rav Yisroel Abuchatzeirah.

On Thursday night, I visited a Talmud Torah in Romema where I found a group of youths listening to fascinating stories and divrei Torah shared by two remarkable men: Rav Tzion Gaz, the menahel of the school, and Rav Eliyohu Cohen, one of the rabbonim of Givat Shaul and a highly accomplished speaker who was a talmid of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Benzion Abba Shaul, and Rav Yehuda Tzadkah. Rav Cohen is also one of the founders of Ohr Leah, a chessed organization whose headquarters are located in Geulah near the Brisk yeshiva, and the head of a large kollel in the area. The following is a fascinating story that he related about the Baba Sali, whose yahrtzeit is this Wednesday.

After getting married, Rav Eliyohu, who lived in Migdal Ha’Emek in northern Israel, was not blessed with children for many years. He and his wife were both eldest children, and with every passing year the sense of gloom that enveloped them deepened. Finally, they decided to visit the Baba Sali in Netivot and to ask him to help them find relief from their suffering. Rav Eliyahu traveled to Netivot several times but each time was unable to meet with the Baba Sali. Finally, he decided that on his next trip, he would remain there until he received a brocha or even a promise of salvation from the tzaddik. At that time, the trip from Migdal Ha’Emek to Netivot was fraught with difficulty; it required him to travel first to Haifa, then to Tel Aviv, and finally to Netivot, spending more than half a day traveling to the south and the same amount of time on the return trip. Rav Eliyahu left his home at daybreak and arrived at the Baba Sali’s home before noon, and he was disappointed when he was told that the rov was not receiving visitors and that he should return in the afternoon. He spent several hours in Yeshivat Hanegev and returned to the rov’s home, only to be told, to his dismay, that the Baba Sali was not feeling well and his home was still closed to visitors.

Rav Eliyahu was certain that the satan was attempting to block him from his salvation. He decided to find a place to sleep in the yeshiva and to attempt to meet with the tzaddik on the following day. After Shacharis, he hurried to the Baba Sali’s home, but he was told that the rov had left and his family did not know where he had gone. Rav Eliyahu decided to remain in the town again until the afternoon, when the Baba Sali returned.

In the afternoon, the tzaddik was home. Rav Eliyohu had brought a pidyon, and on the instructions of the Baba Sali’s gabbai, Rav Eliyohu Elfassi, he kissed the tzaddik’s forehead and requested a brocha, tears glistening in his eyes as he spoke.

“Are you willing to refrain from touching your beard?” the Baba Sali asked.

(“Both the Baba Sali and the Baba Meir, whom I also visited frequently, were very emphatic about preserving one’s beard,” Rav Eliyahu told his listeners. “Perhaps it would be a good thing for you to grow your beard long as well.)

Rav Eliyahu indicated his acquiescence, and the Baba Sali declared, “In that case, your salvation will come at this time next year!”

“I agreed even to grow ten beards,” Rav Eliyohu related. Sure enough, exactly one year later, the Baba Sali and his wife celebrated the birth of their eldest daughter, who was followed by more than a minyan of other children, bli ayin hara. Their youngest son is Rav Yisroel Meir, a talmid chochom who is clearly destined for greatness and was named for the Baba Sali and his son, the Baba Meir.

“Come back next year to give me the good news,” the Baba Sali instructed Rav Eliyohu at the time. Sure enough, Rav Eliyohu made the trip to Netivot again a full year later, this time bearing a bottle of arak as a token of his appreciation for the tzaddik, to inform him of the birth of his daughter.