My Take on the News

Election Day: The Battle Against Amalek

Someone recently remarked that when the government decided to hold this election on a Monday rather than a Tuesday, for the first time in Israeli history, the chareidi parties found themselves bereft of their usual slogan, this one also drawn from a pasuk, “Heyu nechonim layom hashlishi—Be prepared for the third day [i.e., Tuesday].” Then there was another humorous comment making the rounds: “Yvette Lieberman has committed many injustices and crimes in the course of this election season, but we can never forgive him for the fact that we are experiencing the third election campaign in a single year. Why is this so unforgivable? Because voting in an election used to be a very rare mitzvah, but he has caused it to become far too ordinary and commonplace.”

In a similar vein, someone quipped that a rov had been asked if a person who had to escort his father to a doctor’s appointment on Election Day should vote first or attend to the appointment first. The rov replied, “Of course he should vote first. When a person has two mitzvos to perform, he should give precedence to the one that is tadir—that occurs more frequently.”

Encouragement from Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky

The chareidi community in Israel received some encouragement from America. In addition to the advertisements reminding us of the admonitions of Rav Aharon Kotler and other gedolim of the previous generation to support the chareidi parties in Israeli elections, we received a contemporary message of daas Torah from Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky.

In an article published in the Israeli Yated Neeman on the day before the election, the following report appeared: “Hagaon Hagadol Rav Shmuel Kamenetzky shlita, the senior rosh yeshiva in America, has put out a special call after hearing from the rosh yeshiva about the importance of voting for Gimmel. He calls upon the public to heed the call of the gadol hador and thus fulfill two mitzvos: the mitzvah of voting and the mitzvah of fulfilling the wishes of the rosh yeshiva. Rav Shmuel emphasized that it is very important for every person to vote, and that everyone is obligated to go out and vote.”

Recent Blows to Blue and White

Over the past few days, some incredible events took place here, which might have led to a victory for the right-wing bloc. That victory would have to consist of two things: First, the Likud party would have to be the largest party in the Knesset, so that President Rivlin would be forced to give Netanyahu the first chance to form the next government. And second, Netanyahu would have to have 61 supporters in the Knesset; in other words, the right-wing bloc would have to reach the threshold of 61 mandates. Even if the bloc manages to garner only 59 or 60 mandates, though, there are two or three MKs who might defect from the left to the right, such as the right-wing members of the Blue and White party or Omer Yankelevich, the chareidi woman in the same party. Another potential defector is Orly Levi of the Gesher party, who began her political career in the Likud. Her father, David Levi, was a senior member of the Likud party and a deputy prime minister under Menachem Begin. Nevertheless, all of this will make a difference only if Rivlin chooses Netanyahu rather than Gantz to form the next coalition.

There were two major events in recent days that contributed to tip the scales in favor of the Likud and the right-wing bloc. First, Benny Gantz’s top advisor, a strategist named Yisroel Bachar who is widely credited with inventing the Blue and White party in the first place, was secretly recorded commenting that Gantz is not capable of leading the government. He remarked that Gantz simply lacked the talents necessary for leadership. Bachar was fired immediately after the recording came to light, but massive damage had already been done. Second, Yisroel HaYom reported on its front page that, in spite of the widespread belief that Benny Gantz had no connection to the corruption in Fifth Dimension, the hi-tech company that he led, it was revealed that Gantz had personally met with Roni Alshich, the police chief at the time, and that the two had agreed that the police would not issue a tender for the services for which it contracted Fifth Dimension. As a result, the Justice Ministry’s claim that the investigation into Fifth Dimension has nothing to do with Gantz could no longer be considered to be true. And if Gantz himself was guilty of corruption, then the Israeli voters may no longer be swayed by the criminal charges against Netanyahu.

In addition to these two damaging incidents, Benny Gantz himself has made embarrassing appearances in the media. The man simply humiliated himself. The latest joke about Gantz is that he can never claim that his words were taken out of context, since nothing he says has any context at all. He is constantly making mistakes and displaying confusion, and he has made himself subject to mockery.

The Brouhaha over the IDF’s Inflated Numbers

With everyone talking about Benny Gantz’s confusion and inarticulate way of speaking, this week I found my own contribution to make to the discussion. I have long been wondering how Gantz managed to conceal his oratorical clumsiness when he served as chief of staff of the IDF. In fact, I discovered that Gantz rarely granted interviews during his time in that position. But on account of certain recent events, I had occasion to examine a partially classified transcript of a session of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. When I found the protocols of that meeting, at which Gantz addressed the committee, I discovered that he was indeed completely unintelligible when he opened his mouth. Therefore, even though these issues must be discussed cautiously, it seems that there is no alternative to addressing the inability of the 20th chief of staff of the IDF, and potential fourteenth prime minister of Israel, to express himself coherently. It certainly appears to be a major flaw in his qualifications for the position.

At the beginning of the month of Kislev, the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee met to discuss the official figures concerning chareidi enlistment in the IDF. This followed the sensational revelation that the army had effectively spun a web of lies concerning the level of enlistment of chareidim. The media accused the army of publicizing falsely inflated figures concerning the chareidi draft, likely due to the pressure created by the quotas stipulated by the draft law. The news reports indicated that the army had lied to the Knesset, the cabinet, and the Supreme Court.

The urgent meeting of the committee was opened by Gabi Ashkenazi, the committee chairman, who presided over the session with an air of authority. Motti Almoz, the director of the IDF Manpower Directorate, admitted that there had been a mistake. “This was discovered even before it was exposed to the public,” he claimed, “and we decided, along with the chief of staff, to appoint an investigative commission. There was no deliberate coverup; it was all a mistake.” Most of the participants in the meeting maintained that the army was not attempting to mislead anyone; there was simply some confusion over the definition of a chareidi. The speakers claimed that it would be best for the army to expand its definition and thus resolve the controversy over the chareidi draft once and for all. If the legal definition is expanded, they claimed, then the numbers will genuinely increase, even if talmidei yeshivos do not join the army in larger numbers, since other chareidim will enlist and the quotas will be met.

At one point during the session, Ashkenazi invited Gantz to speak. I will allow you to examine his words (and I must ask for the forgiveness of the translator who renders my articles into English, since this passage will force him to break his teeth): “The second point is that we must encourage an escape from complex figures to simpler statistics with a correct starting point. That is the first step. When the starting point is incorrect, then everything else becomes disrupted as a result. You correctly pointed out the importance of maintaining the neutrality of the reporting body, and that is certainly important as well. I believe that for us, as legislators, it is important to receive feedback about the quality of our legislation and the quality of our definitions. This morning, we dealt with an amendment to the law concerning the sale of honey, but I believe that the way people are drafted to the IDF is more a pressing issue than the way honey is sold in the State of Israel. So it is important for us to receive your feedback about the quality of our legislation, so that there will be a common language between the legislators’ dictates and what is taking place in the field.”

When I read these lines, I find it impossible to divine what he is trying to say. Perhaps you can try to understand it for yourselves.

Daven for Us!

Over the past two weeks, the two chareidi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, worked hard not only to increase their voter bases (an area in which Shas tends to be more successful, since any traditional Sephardic Israeli is a potential Shas supporter) but to shake their existing voters out of any complacency or indifference they might feel. The Israeli Yated Neeman printed letters from Rav Chaim Kanievsky and Rav Gershon Edelstein on its front page, along with notices from the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the Litvish community and the parallel Moetzes in the chassidish community. Other chareidi newspapers carried similar appeals to the public.

The goal was to raise awareness of the pivotal importance of this election among any chareidim who were considering abstaining from voting, or even considering voting for the Likud or some other party. The community has been urged to recognize the importance of taking advantage of the opportunity presented by Election Day, a day that may have an enormous impact on many things to come. It is reminiscent of the famous story of Rav Shaul Wahl, who became a king for a single day until the identity of the heir to the throne could be decided. Throughout his one day as a monarch, Rav Wahl signed innumerable documents releasing Jews from imprisonment, canceling edicts against the Jewish people, benefiting Klal Yisroel in every way possible, and enacting laws to prohibit the persecution of Jews or opposition to their religious practices. A wise man anticipates the outcome of every day’s decisions, and the gedolei Yisroel view an election as a monumental event with a potential impact on the entire future. The Shas party repeatedly quoted Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s assertion that any person who votes for Shas will be considered a partner in all of the party’s accomplishments and will be richly rewarded in the World to Come.

Rav Chaim Kanievsky has written that anyone who abstains from voting is considered a partner with the enemies of Yiddishkeit in all of their sins. If an anti-religious government is elected, chas v’sholom, and follows through on the many threats against halacha, Yiddishkeit, Shabbos, and Torah, then anyone who neglected his duty to vote will be punished as if he had actively partnered with them. Anyone who votes for a chareidi party is credited for performing a major mitzvah, but a person who shirks his obligation to vote will likewise be condemned for his inaction.

Now that the election has come and gone, all of us in the chareidi community in Israel have done our part and can breathe easier. Now we daven that good will emerge from this election. And you in America can also daven for our success. We are always in need of tefillos.

A New Concept in Halacha

Let us now move on to other topics. First of all, I would like to share another story concerning Rav Shmuel Auerbach. Last week, I shared with you some anecdotes from a new book that has been published in honor of Rav Shmuel’s second yahrtzeit, after I received an advance copy of the sefer. This time, I would like to tell you about one of my own personal encounters with Rav Shmuel.

Rav Shmuel Auerbach once attended a bar mitzvah at a hall in Yerushalayim and took a seat at the dais. A yungerman sat down beside him and struck up a conversation with him, keeping him occupied throughout his stay at the simcha. The photographer at the bar mitzvah apparently presumed that the yungerman was another distinguished guest, and he snapped a picture of Rav Shmuel with the bar mitzvah boy beside him and the yungerman seated on his other side. The boy’s father and grandfather tried to insert themselves into the picture, but they were unable to position themselves within range of the camera, and they were visibly crestfallen. I am personally acquainted with the father, who is my neighbor in Givat Shaul, as well as with the grandfather, who is a noted rosh yeshiva, and I saw their disappointment at being excluded from the picture.

When Rav Shmuel left the hall, I hurried to tell him about the photographer’s failure to capture an image that the baalei simcha had so desired. Amused by the situation, he returned to the front of the hall and shook hands repeatedly with the father and grandfather, watching carefully to make sure that his actions were caught on camera. When he turned to leave again, I noticed him looking in my direction, and I hurried over to him.

“You were very wise,” Rav Shmuel said. “I would have been very distressed if the baalei simcha had remained disappointed.” Then he added, “I learned a new possible concept in halcha from Rav Elyashiv. There are various shiurim pertaining to spans of time, such as kedei achilas pras or kedei dibbur. In our generation, there is a new concept: kedei temunah—the amount of time required for a photograph to be taken.”

And here is one more anecdote: In lieu of mishloach manos, I once presented Rav Shmuel with a beautiful picture of his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman (whose 25th yahrtzeit will be marked next week). He did not conceal his enjoyment of the picture, which showed Rav Shlomo Zalman seated at a table in his home about 30 years ago. I was often told that Rav Shmuel hung the picture in his bedroom and often sat and gazed at it as he thought. He also placed the picture in his sukkah during the holiday of Sukkos. The image was later made available to the public, in honor of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s tenth yahrtzeit, but Rav Shmuel did not approve. Shortly after it was published, I met him at an event and he admonished me with a hint of resentment, “Since you placed that picture in the public domain, it has lost its special nature.”

At Michoel Roth’s Bris

This week, I was present when Michoel Roth was ushered into the bris of Avrohom Avinu. In honor of his father, Reb Moshe (“Moishy”) Roth, who is the “maestro” of the Menagnim orchestra and a prominent musician in Eretz Yisroel, the bris was attended by many other well-known musical masters including Ruvi Banet, Ahrele Samet, Naftoli Kampa, Shlomo Rosenstein, and Shulem Wagschal. It was a highly emotional simcha, and it was particularly heartwarming to listen to the others describe their admiration for Moishy’s kind disposition. When they felt the need to sing their friend’s praises, they understood that it was his outstanding character, rather than his musical brilliance, that was his most noteworthy trait.

The sandak at the bris was Moshe Roth’s grandfather, Reb Ephraim Roth, a resident of Haifa who was one of the founding members of Lev L’Achim.

I was impressed when someone remarked to the group of singers at the simcha, “Mitzvos require kavanah. Your performances at all the events in honor of the Siyum HaShas were a source of great encouragement to the people who learn daf yomi. You must internalize the fact that you are partners in a mitzvah. Your singing isn’t a form of work or parnossah; it is a mission.”

At one of the tables sat Rabbi Boruch Roth, Moishy’s brother and a former aide to MK Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz of Degel HaTorah. Since the election was on everyone’s minds, Reb Boruch shared a pertinent recollection.

“Reb Avrohom had a reputation for honesty,” he related. “He was meticulous about maintaining integrity. On a personal level, he lived off his salary, and one can certainly say that he lived modestly and on a meager budget.” Parenthetically, I can add that I once suggested to Rabbi Ravitz that he should consider undergoing an organ transplant abroad. I was surprised when he exclaimed, “Tzvika, you may not believe this, but I am destitute. Even if I knew that my life would depend on receiving a transplant overseas, I couldn’t afford it!”

“I once took advantage of an opportunity to ask him how he managed to maintain his integrity and to survive in the Knesset, where everything runs on bribery,” Reb Boruch continued. “How, I asked him, did he remain so pure? He thought for a moment and then told me the following story: ‘When I was elected to the Knesset, I went to visit Rav Shach and asked him that exact question: How could I maintain the same level of purity with which I had entered the government? How could I avoid being corrupted? I told the rosh yeshiva that I was deeply concerned about this issue, that any money I had made in the past was completely clean and that I had never taken money from the public. The rosh yeshiva opened a siddur and began to chant the words v’kol ha’oskim b’tzorchei tzibbur Hakadosh boruch Hu yeshaleim secharam. I told him that that was exactly what I had in mind, but I wanted to know how to achieve that. Then I was shocked to see that the rosh yeshiva had begun to cry. I asked him in surprise why he was crying, and he told me that he had been davening for me. He hadn’t been reading the words of the tefillah to me; he had been davening for me! That tefillah is the reason that I succeeded in maintaining my integrity.’”

When Haman’s Friends Became His Wise Men

Now let us move on to a comment on the megillah.

There is a pasuk in Megillas Esther (6:13) that states, “Haman told Zeresh his wife and all his friends about all that had happened to him, and his wise men and Zeresh his wife said to him….” There seems to be a glaring inconsistency in this pasuk: It begins by stating that Haman was speaking to his friends, yet the response is attributed to his “wise men.” What is the meaning of this discrepancy?

Years ago, I spent almost an entire year in Yeshivas Zichron Moshe of South Fallsburg. Almost every week, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Elya Ber, would share a remarkable insight at seudah shlishis. I am hardly qualified to evaluate his brilliance in any way, but I can attest that he shared many vertlach that were absolutely priceless. When I left the yeshiva to return to Eretz Yisroel, I presented him with a gift that moved him to tears: I had meticulously transcribed each of his weekly vertlach with an old-fashioned typewriter that I had brought with me to the yeshiva, and I presented him with a copy of the impressive kuntres that had emerged from my efforts.

One of the rosh yeshiva’s vertlach dealt with the question cited above. Rav Elya Ber explained that this is the nature of wicked people: When they discover that one of their friends is losing his stature (and, after all, that is precisely what they told Haman: “If Mordechai, before whom you have begun to fall, is from the offspring of the Jews, you will not overcome him; rather, you will certainly fall before him), their friendship immediately dissipates. From that moment on, they become “wise men”; they can no longer be considered his friends.

Years later, I heard the same explanation from Rav Asher Weiss, who attributed it to the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg.

Otzar Meforshei Hamegillah

Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Brazil, one of the roshei yeshiva of Mir, has authored a fascinating sefer on Megillas Esther, in which he addresses every conceivable question that can be raised on the megillah. The question that I have raised here is also included in his sefer.

Several years ago, I came up with another question concerning this posuk. It was the middle of Purim and I was inebriated, and I placed a telephone call to Rav Brazil at his home in Kiryat Sefer. We are slightly acquainted, since several of my sons learned under his tutelage, and I somehow found the temerity within myself to call him, likely because of my state. I complimented him on his sefer and pointed out another inconsistency: The posuk begins by stating that Haman spoke to “Zeresh his wife and all his friends,” but in their response to him, the order is inverted, as it states that “his wise men and Zeresh his wife” answered him. Strangely, in an earlier posuk (5:10), the opposite takes place: The megillah states that Haman called for “his friends and Zeresh, his wife,” but then inverts the order when it states that “Zeresh his wife and all his friends said to him….”

Rav Avrohom Yitzchok thought about the question for a fraction of a second and then said, “I have an answer for you.”

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted him drunkenly. “Has the rov heard this question before, or is this the first time?”

“What difference does it make?” he asked. “I will give you an answer that will satisfy you.”

I forgot his answer by the time Purim had ended. Therefore, I present this question to you as a sort of mishloach manos: In the fifth perek of the megillah, when Haman summons his wife and his confidants, his friends are mentioned first, but Zeresh is then named first when they respond to him. In the sixth perek, it is precisely the opposite: Zeresh is mentioned first when he summons them, but then when they respond to him, the order is inverted once again. What is the reason for this?

This week, I received a copy of Otzar Meforshei Hamegillah (the Avrohom Sheinberger edition, published by Machon Yerushalayim and edited by Rav Meir Hirschman and Rav Gershon Chanoch Rosenberg). This is a volume of the Otzar Meforshei HaTorah series, which, according to the introduction written by Rav Moshe Buchsbaum, has gained enormous popularity and a worldwide reputation. All of the questions that I have cited here are answered in several different ways in the sefer, which is certainly a treasury of commentaries on the megillah that is eminently deserving of its title.

The Incredulous Reaction of the KGB

Against the backdrop of the controversy surrounding the influx of non-Jewish immigrants into the State of Israel, we must remember that the immigrant population includes many Jews who fought valiantly for years to cling to their religion in the face of Soviet oppression. Rabbi Shimon Grillus of Yeshivas Shvut Ami, Arachim, and other kiruv organizations, a former Prisoner of Zion whom I interviewed several weeks ago, shared the following anecdote from his own personal experiences:

A group of refuseniks learned daf yomi in Moscow. Finding a Gemara was a difficult challenge in its own right, and the law prohibited gatherings of this nature; anyone who was caught involved in an activity connected to Yiddishkeit could expect to be punished severely. Therefore, every member of the group was essentially taking his life into his own hands. They all knew that if they were discovered learning Gemara, they could be imprisoned and punished; the best case scenario would be exile to the frigid land of Siberia. The windows of the room were covered and the door was locked with two locks; every member of the group had to use a password to be admitted to the room.

One day, KGB agents suddenly arrived in the middle of their learning session. I will spare you the description of the insistent knocking on the door and the corresponding pounding of the men’s hearts. Two of the members of the group, who had already been convicted of the “crime” of Zionism (which, in Russia, was conflated with Judaism) hid in a closet. The others remained in their seats, holding their Gemaras and silently mouthing prayers.

The KGB officers were gentler than expected, but they began a meticulous search of the room. They looked beneath the table, they searched the mens’ pockets, and they opened every closet. The two young men who had hidden in the closet were discovered, but the officers ignored them, to the surprise of the entire group. The maggid shiur decided to take charge of the situation and asked, “Are you looking for something specific?”

“Yes,” the commander replied. “We are looking for vodka.” They were members of a unit that seized contraband. The men breathed sighs of relief.

“There is no vodka here,” the maggid shiur informed them.

The KGB commander was perplexed. “Why not?” he asked.

“We don’t have any,” the man replied. “We don’t drink alcohol!”

The three KGB officers roared with laughter. “Don’t think you can trick us!” they exclaimed. “It is impossible for a group of young men to sit together around a table without drinking vodka!”