My Take on the News

The Shechinah’s Pain Is in the Air

Chazal tell us that when the month of Av arrives, we must decrease our joy. In Yerushalayim, this can be felt in the air. There is no natural explanation for it, but the pain of the Shechinah somehow becomes palpable every year during the Nine Days, as a keen awareness of the golus and the churban of the Beis Hamikdash spreads through the city. Then again, perhaps it is the same in every Jewish community; I have no way of knowing.

I will never forget one of the drashos I heard from MK Uri Maklev, who said, “I have no doubt that we, the people of Yerushalayim, feel the churban of the Beis Hamikdash more keenly than anyone else, because we live in the city of the Kosel.”

This week, Klal Yisroel mourned the passing of Rebbetzin Reichel Berenbaum, the wife of the Mirrer rosh yeshiva Rav Shmuel Berenbaum. The rebbetzin was brought to Israel for burial and was buried in the Sanhedria cemetery, alongside her illustrious husband. I also happened to hear a story this week with connections both to the Nine Days and to Rav Shmuel Berenbaum, and in light of the timing, I would like to share it with you.

The story is about a certain popular clothing store in Yerushalayim known as Junee. The ladies of my household recently informed me that the store was running a special sale, with steep discounts on its merchandise during the Three Weeks. (I am not writing this in order to advertise the sale, which will have ended by the time you read this article in any event; my purpose is simply to share this story, which is to their credit.) I was quite surprised by this; the Three Weeks hardly seems like an appropriate time for a blowout sale. But then I discovered the truth: The store is closed for business during the Nine Days, and the discounts are offered during the earlier part of the Three Weeks, since the owners of the store are concerned that it might be prohibited to buy new clothing during the Three Weeks. (Some poskim maintain that the prohibition applies only to wearing a new garment, but purchasing one is permitted; this is the subject of a dispute between Rav Elyashiv and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.) The owners therefore decided to accept the reduction in profits involved in offering discounts during this period, in order to create a situation of davar ha’avud, in which all poskim agree that one may buy new garments.

The store is managed by a couple who hailed originally from Flatbush, where the husband was a prominent yungerman in the Mir yeshiva in Brooklyn. After the couple decided to move to Eretz Yisroel, the second intifada erupted, and they hurried to consult with Rav Shmuel Berenbaum about whether they should follow through on their plans. “The same Hakadosh Baruch Hu Who protects you here will protect you in Yerushalayim,” Rav Shmuel told them. “Are there no dangers here?” he added. “Even when you leave my home and cross the street, it isn’t without risks…. Your motivation is spiritual,” he concluded. “Go to Eretz Yisroel, and you will be successful there.” Having received that endorsement of their plans, the couple moved to Yerushalayim, where they became the managers of the branch of Junee in the city.

That story is fascinating enough, but my main point is that the special sales offered during the Three Weeks are not intended to attract customers. The owners of the store willingly accept a loss of profits in order to prevent their customers from violating halacha. They are willing to reduce their own profits in order to render it completely permissible for their customers to make purchases during the Three Weeks. And that is quite remarkable.

As you read this, we will be at the onset of the Nine Days. We know that any generation in which the Beis Hamikdash is not rebuilt is viewed as if it was responsible for its destruction. It will be interesting to see how the Kosel will appear this year on Tisha B’Av, in the shadow of the coronavirus. It will probably be a more heartrending sight than ever. Let us daven for our geulah to arrive soon.

The Debate over Government Grants

Last week, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a plan to distribute funds to the citizens of Israel in light of the economic crisis that has resulted from the coronavirus. Many people have lost their jobs, and many businesses have been closed; there are over a million unemployed workers in Israel, and many Israelis cannot afford even the basic necessities. Netanyahu announced that the government had decided that every citizen of the country will receive a grant of 750 NIS, every family with a child will receive 2000 NIS, a family with two children will receive 2500 NIS, and a family with three or more children will receive 3000 NIS.

Netanyahu was in a proud and festive mood when he announced the grant. “This is not the end of the matter,” he added. “We will present another plan as well, and we will provide you with economic security as long as it is needed, for the duration of the corona crisis.” He also spoke about the battle against the virus itself. “I have given instructions for additional measures to be presented within 48 hours to help us flatten the curve of infection. The decisions that we made during the first wave brought us to an excellent situation. We must take determined steps in order to get back there, and to succeed even more. It is in all of our hands. I know that everyone is dealing with many problems—chilonim and chareidim, right and left, Arabs and Druse—and my heart is with all of you. We are doing everything possible to avoid a full closure, but in order to avoid it, I need your complete cooperation, so that we will all succeed together. We must turn the guidelines of the Ministry of Health into a way of life. Do you wear clothing when you leave your house? You must wear a mask as well. I am working with the government ministers and with experts on economics and health from Israel and throughout the world to prepare a safe plan for the reopening of the economy, which will enable us to contend with corona for as long as necessary. But our success depends on you. Don’t be enticed to flout the guidelines, because you will endanger your own lives and the lives of people who are dear to you.”

This was all very nice, but it sparked a major debate about the logic of Netanyahu’s guidelines. First of all, many people demanded, why should the grants be received by families with financial stability? Why should every citizen, even the wealthiest, receive a grant of 750 NIS? Why shouldn’t the government set criteria so that the grants will be received mainly by the poor, who will therefore be entitled to much larger benefits? Furthermore, why should there be a uniform grant for all families with three or more children? Why should a family with nine children receive no more aid than a family with three or four? Where is the logic in that?

Moshe Gafni was the first to point this out, and he announced that when the plan would be brought before the Finance Committee—and any financial plan must be brought before the committee for its approval—he will see to it that the terms are changed. At the same time, the plan was also denounced by various senior officials in the Treasury, led by Shaul Meridor (the son of Dan Meridor, a former Minister of Finance and rival of Netanyahu). Those same Treasury officials were quickly castigated by Netanyahu and Finance Minister Katz. In any event, by the end of the week we will know if there have been any changes in the criteria for the grants. Of course, the chareidi community would prefer to see the grants rising in accordance with the number of children in a family. And that, in any event, seems to be the logical decision as well.

A Call for Cooperation

During the course of his speech about the special grants to the public, Netanyahu digressed to discuss recent events in America. “I just heard about a 30-year-old American man who died of the coronavirus, which he contracted at a large ‘corona party.’ His last words were: ‘I thought it was a hoax, but I was wrong.’ The hoax theory exists in Israel as well, unbelievable as it may sound. I have heard that a public elected official has called for civil disobedience.” This was a reference to MK Idan Roll of Yesh Atid, who announced publicly that citizens are not required to obey the government when it orders a lockdown. Roll later recanted. “Israel is a free country, and every person has the right to protest,” Netanyahu continued. “But people do not take precautions at these protests, and they become infected. That is simply a tragedy.”

Netanyahu also invoked the churban of the Beis Hamikdosh. “We are in the middle of the bein hametzarim period,” he said, “but based on what we have seen in the streets in recent days, people are forgetting that. They are ignoring the boundaries of proper behavior and the need for responsibility. We have witnessed violence against police officers and against civilians, and that violence deserves to be fully condemned. Elected representatives of the people have no business calling for the regulations to be violated. It is forbidden for us to talk about civil disobedience and to progress from there to baseless hatred. We all remember what happened when hatred and infighting prevailed among us. We must protect our home and fight the coronavirus together. The area where we realized we made a mistake was the opening of event halls and permitting gatherings. We must all observe the regulations. When we permitted gatherings and there were attempts to soften the regulations, it led to tragedy. Anyone who does not comply with the regulations demonstrates a lack of responsibility. A person must protect himself and others. That is also the means of protecting our economy.

“We must deal with moving the economy forward and rehabilitating the sectors that require aid,” Netanyahu continued. “I have given instructions for the health system to receive the funds it needs, and the finance minister is making sure that this will happen. We will also deal with the needs of social workers. For the past 25 years, I have followed all the ordinary rules; no one can preach them to me. I developed the concepts of competition and fiscal responsibility, but we are living in a different reality today. This is a global crisis. We must make sure to move the economy forward. If we bicker and argue and expect the money to come on its own, we will never get out of this.”

The Governments Senseless Decisions

Netanyahu tried to use his speech to address all the unresolved issues of the day, especially the chareidi community’s sense that it has been subjected to unfair treatment, the steadily growing leftist demonstrations, and the widespread sense that there is something lacking in Israel’s strategy to fight the coronavirus. For example, consider the following: In the Health Ministry’s most recent announcement, it announced that no more than ten people can be permitted at once in a mikveh, shul, or yeshiva. This was downright peculiar. Why should all three be subject to the same cap on occupancy? Furthermore, the regulations do not even take the size of a shul into account, but what is the logic in imposing the same limit on a small shul and a large one? The regulations also do not permit establishing “capsules” in a shul by partitioning a large room into smaller sections. This, too, seems to have no basis in logic. If a large area is partitioned into smaller sections, then each one should be able to accommodate ten people at a time (as is the case at the Kosel Hamaarovi). Why does the Health Ministry insist on banning this? There is a general sense that these decisions are not being made with thought or common sense.

The same goes for the lockdown policies. Two weeks ago, the government imposed closures on several neighborhoods (all chareidi, of course) in Yerushalayim and in a few other cities, such as Ashdod, Kiryat Malachi, and Lod. An entire city (Beitar Illit) was also locked down. This is in spite of the fact that it has already been proven that lockdowns do not help, and they might even cause harm by leading to mass infections. Experience had already shown that it is preferable for coronavirus patients to be sent to quarantine hotels. (This was something that the government finally began to do at the end of last week, when new hotels were opened both for chareidi patients and for chilonim.) Now, if the government knew that the lockdowns were ineffective, why did it institute them? Once again, this seems to point to a pattern of irresponsible, senseless decision making.

Last week, I encountered one of the government ministers and asked him point blank, “Do you feel that Netanyahu has lost it? Do you agree that he is not in control, and that the government has completely lost control of this crisis?” After all, I pointed out, Professor Itamar Grotto of the Health Ministry has said publicly that Israel has one of the highest rates of positive test results for Covid out of all the countries in the world. The minister did not answer me, but I could tell from his eyes that I had identified his feelings precisely. The crisis is spinning out of the control, and the situation has become terrifying.

The number of coronavirus deaths is increasing, and that has created some very painful feelings.

The Preschool Teacher Who Fell Victim to Corona

There are some people in this country who must bear the burden of others’ deaths from the coronavirus on their respective consciences. Last Shabbos, a group of volunteers knocked on the door of a private home to inform the lady of the house that she had tested positive for Covid. This woman clearly knew that there was a chance that she had contracted the virus; after all, she was waiting for the results of a test she had undergone. Nevertheless, when the door was opened, they discovered the woman sitting at her Shabbos table with her husband—and seven guests! Where was her sense of responsibility?

On motzoei Shabbos, an elderly tzaddik from Yerushalayim succumbed to the virus. In this particular case, it was known exactly who had infected him. Now, how will that person ever be able to live with himself?

Meanwhile, the entire country is still shaken by a recent coronavirus death in Petach Tikvah. The victim was a beloved preschool teacher named Shalva Zalfreund, who had managed a preschool in the neighborhood of Ganei Hadar for 40 years. Mrs. Zalfreund herself had taken prodigious precautions to avoid infection, and she had pleaded with the parents not to send their children to the school if there was a possibility that they might be carrying the virus. Nevertheless, it was later revealed that some parents had sent children who were required to remain in isolation at the time. Two weeks ago, Mrs. Zalfreund penned the following impassioned letter to the parents of her charges:

“Dear Parents: First of all, I must thank you for taking the initiative to arrange testing for all the children in the school who are members of the Clalit health fund. Second, I received several telephone calls in recent days from authorities who informed me that I was probably infected in the school…. You certainly read my letters in the past, in which I asked everyone to act with responsibility, since I am in a high-risk group. Nevertheless, my fears have come true. The authorities are aware that there is a family that violated a quarantine order or did not comply with the city’s rule that children with a family member in quarantine should not attend school. That regulation was meant to protect people like myself…. Unfortunately, there were those who preferred to send their children to school with typical Israeli overconfidence, while seriously undermining the value of mutual responsibility and ignoring the commandment of ‘you shall not stand by your fellow man’s blood.’

“To me, it no longer makes a difference who infected me or who violated the required quarantine period. I have experienced overt miracles, and the mere fact that I am able to write to you now should not be taken for granted…. But I am begging and pleading with you for the sake of the grandfathers and grandmothers, the elderly neighbors and aunts and uncles who surround us and do not deserve to die, even if they have underlying medical conditions.… I am not accusing anyone, chollilah! You should not interpret my words in that way. Hashem’s Hand has brought about these circumstances, and it was He Who freed me from the difficult situation I was in…. True, keeping a small child in quarantine is not a pleasant experience, but it ends after a maximum of two weeks. It is possible to come up with many reasons and excuses as to why we are not obligated to observe quarantine. But in a single moment, you can be partners in truly saving lives. You must teach your children to have mutual responsibility, to respect others, and to save lives. The loss of a loved one, or even the knowledge that someone became sick because of you, is much worse than two weeks of quarantine….

“These words may be painful to read, but they have been written with my heart’s blood, and with a prayer that I will soon be freed from this journey of suffering, which I have accepted with love from Hashem. I wish the best of health to everyone, and only good news. Boruch Hashem, I am recovering, and the most difficult part of the illness is already behind me. If there is even one person who reads these words and understands the ramifications of the requirement for quarantine, that will be my reward. I truly love all of you. Send hugs to the children! Shalva (bas Rivka Rochel, for a refuah sheleimah).”

Unfortunately, Mrs. Zalfreund did not survive her illness as she had hoped, and passed away last Friday.

Corona Discoveries

After all is said and done, the corona period has yielded some interesting benefits. Many people became more acquainted with wonderful neighbors, discovered new friends, and were exposed to broad circles of good people. Even more than that, we had the opportunity to discover ourselves. We recognized our absolute dependence on the Master of the Universe, and at the same time we were able to uncover some of the tremendous powers that lie dormant within us. The corona crisis effectively held a mirror up before our eyes, leading us to recognize our individual strengths and weaknesses.

Then there was Pesach, and the Seder night with only our nuclear families for company. Entire families who had always flown abroad for Pesach were now forced to remain at home, learning exactly how to prepare charoses and to kasher various utensils. And now, during the weeks of bein hametzorim, we are no longer bombarded with images of luxurious vacation destinations in Italy and Switzerland. Many people who usually spend their vacations skiing down snow-coated slopes in Europe are instead trying to get past roadblocks in sealed-off Israeli cities. The coronavirus has forced us to trade in our getaways and vacation homes for facing ourselves in our own homes. It is painful and unfortunate for all of us, but at the same time, it has yielded much valuable growth for us.

Of course, there is another side of the coin. We cannot forget all the niftarim both in Eretz Yisroel and abroad, and the hundreds of newly orphaned children left in the wake of this disease. We cannot forget the people whose bodies and lungs were ravaged by Covid, nor can we forget those who were viciously beaten at public demonstrations, or who were imprisoned in their own cities or homes during senseless lockdowns. We also must not forget the youths who foolishly fought with police officers and brought endless trouble upon themselves. All of this is part of the Divine wrath from which we daven to be spared. And this crisis has given us plenty of reasons to beg for Hashem’s mercy. Benny Gantz has been speaking about operating the coronavirus hotels until December 2021, the city of Uman in Ukraine has returned to the control of communists, and it is doubtful that there will be any arba minim markets in Eretz Yisroel this year. Then again, in a single moment, Hashem can remove the destroyer from His world, and we can return to normal. If that happens, will we be intelligent enough to hold on to anything that we have learned? Will we begin living better lives, with a greater focus on our true goals? Let us hope that this experience has changed us in positive ways.

A Trial Date Is Set

One must pity Prime Minister Netanyahu for the unfathomably crushing burdens that weigh on his shoulders. Aside from the coronavirus itself, there is the economic crisis, which the country may not be able to handle at all. For now, it seems that all the diplomatic issues and the talk of annexing parts of Yehuda and the Shomron have fallen by the wayside, but those are certainly concerns for Netanyahu as well. The left is also continuing to stage demonstrations against Netanyahu, and that is certainly not pleasant for him. This week, the prime minister responded briefly when a PLO flag was waved during a protest outside his home. “The cat is out of the bag,” Netanyahu declared. “These protests are clearly the work of the radical left.” It is very likely that his assessment is correct.

Of course, on top of all these things, Netanyahu must also contend with his personal legal woes. He is still under indictment, and every passing day brings him closer to the date when his trial will begin in earnest. This week, the District Court in Yerushalayim announced a schedule for the trial; the judge presiding over the panel of justices ruled that both parties should be prepared to present their evidence three times a week—every Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday—beginning in January 2021. This leaves Netanyahu very little time, since the courts are in recess during the months of July and August, a period that is followed immediately by the yomim tovim. Essentially, the trial has been scheduled to begin in earnest at the earliest possible time.

Netanyahu, like the other defendants, was not required to attend this court session (although Shaul Elovich chose to appear in court) and thus was spared the minor indignity of being seen in a courtroom. Nevertheless, as far as he was concerned, it was yet another stage in an endless nightmare. And there was another complication as well: After the attorney general barred Netanyahu from accepting donations to cover his legal costs, two of his lawyers resigned from his team, which led the court to censure the remaining attorneys. During the proceedings, Justice Friedman-Feldman castigated Yossi Segev, who is representing Netanyahu along with Amit Hadad, regarding the changes in his legal team. Segev had taken over for Micha Fettman after the prime minister’s request for permission to receive a gift of ten million shekels from businessman Spencer Partridge was rejected. “It is not acceptable for a different lawyer to come every time and for us to have to wait and see who will be present at the next hearing,” the judge said sternly. “It won’t work this way. How do you envision the future of this trial? Is this going to keep happening?” She conveniently ignored the fact that Netanyahu’s team was not to blame.

An Answer to Every Charge

Perhaps this is the right time to review the criminal charges against Netanyahu and his defense for each.

In Case 1000, Netanyahu was accused of accepting benefits valued at about 700,000 NIS from two businessmen, Arnon Milchan and James Packer, during his tenure as prime minister. Most of the gifts consisted of cigars, champagne, and jewelry. The prosecution maintains that in exchange Netanyahu worked to benefit Milchan in three areas in which the businessman asked for his involvement: He interceded with Secretary of State John Kerry to have Milchan’s visa extended, he asked then-Finance Minister Yair Lapid to increase the period of tax exemption for returning Israeli residents, and he advanced the merger of Keshet and Reshet, two telecommunications companies, at Milchan’s request. The prosecution maintains that these actions impaired Netanyahu’s service of the Israeli people and the public’s trust in him to the point that he is considered to have been guilty of fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s defense is simply that it was permissible for him to accept gifts.

Case 2000 deals with Netanyahu’s conversations with Arnon “Nuni” Moses, the chief editor of the Israeli newspaper Yediot Acharonot. The two allegedly struck a deal whereby the Yediot group’s coverage of the prime minister (both in the newspaper and on its website) would be made more favorable, in exchange for which Netanyahu would place certain restrictions on Yediot Acharonot’s main competitor, Yisroel Hayom. The prosecution was convinced that the deal was proposed by Moses, who has been indicted on the charge of offering a bribe. The attorney general, meanwhile, was convinced that although Netanyahu had no intention of following through on the deal, he nevertheless continued his conversations with Moses in order to see to it that Yediot improved his coverage, and he even took certain steps in order to guarantee that that would take place. According to the prosecution, this qualifies to charge the prime minister with the crimes of fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu, for his part, claims that he was merely leading Moses on.

Finally, there is Case 4000, which entails the most serious charges faced by the prime minister. This case deals with certain regulatory benefits worth hundreds of millions of shekels that Netanyahu appears to have given to Shaul Elovich, in exchange for Elovich’s efforts to improve the coverage of Netanyahu on Walla, the website that he controlled. This is the only one of the cases in which Netanyahu is actually suspected of accepting bribes. The prime minister’s response to these charges is that they are contradicted by the facts: Walla’s coverage was the most heavily slanted against him, and he was not the one who made the important decisions concerning Bezeq, the company under Elovich’s control. The prosecution will try to use its state witnesses to disprove Netanyahu’s claims, but it is not clear if they will succeed.

Cameras Change Everything

Police brutality, which has been a major issue in recent weeks and a longtime scourge in Israel, may be about to decline, as the police are forced to restrain themselves. I have always wondered what causes police officers to act violently in the first place. Is it some aspect of the average policeman’s personality, or is something triggered by their encounters with citizens? Well, the answer seems simple: If we determined that the entire gamut of the Israeli populace suffers from police brutality—the left and right alike, the Ethiopians, the residents of the periphery, and the chareidim in particular—then we would know that the police themselves are the problem. Indeed, that seems to be the case. But then how will it change?

Once again, the answer is simple: It is the cameras that will make a difference.

Police officers have always been brutal and violent, and that is hardly likely to change. We have all seen how interactions between police officers and ordinary civilians quickly degenerate into conflict. Even if both the policeman and the civilian are guilty of the same act of violence, the police officer will always have the upper hand, both legally and practically. If a police officer becomes filled with egotistical rage, what can be done to prevent him from taking out his wrath on an innocent citizen? Nothing at all! It is frightening and sad, but that is and always has been the situation. Today, however, there are cameras that capture every detail of those interactions on video.

I cannot help but be reminded of the joke that was once told by Ahmed Tibi. “Once, a lira was a lira,” he once said, waxing nostalgic. “We could send a young boy to the corner grocery with ten lirot, and he would come home with two bulging baskets laden with wonderful foods—cheese, bread, yogurt, hot dogs, soda, sugar, rice, and all sorts of other things. But today…. Today there are cameras!”

Benny Gantz and the Meoras Hamachpeilah

The battle for wheelchair accessibility at Meoras Hamachpeilah has been going on for years. As I have mentioned several times in the past, the situation today is simply disgraceful. When the site is finally made accessible, we will have to give thanks to Shammai “Shai” Glick of Chevron, who has been pursuing the matter relentlessly and has enlisted the aid of members of the Knesset from many different parties. At the beginning of this week, Glick sent a letter to Brigadier General Rassan Elian, the head of the Civil Administration, in which he enclosed copies of countless documents attesting to the government’s repeated yet unfulfilled commitments to carry out the work. Glick described the hardships faced by disabled visitors to the site, as well as the recently expired injunction calling for the expropriation of land for this purpose. Glick concluded his letter with the threat that he would bring the matter to a court.

On Tuesday, he received an encouraging response from the defense minister, Benny Gantz: “Minister of Defense and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz has given instructions today (Tuesday), at the conclusion of a meeting with the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, the legal advisor of the defense network, the legal advisor of the Yehuda and Shomron Division, and representatives of the IDF, the National Security Council, and the Shin Bet, to advance the project of making Meoras Hamachpeilah accessible to the disabled, a project that has been stalled for the past 15 years. This project includes, among other things, the construction of an access path and an elevator that will enable worshipers to access the site.”

It is possible that Benny Gantz came to power precisely for this purpose: to put an end to the disgraceful situation at Meoras Hamachpeilah. Gantz himself served in Chevron and is familiar with the compound and its distressing situation. If Shai Glick’s efforts finally bear fruit and the government lives up to its commitments at long last, then he will certainly have earned the profound appreciation of Jews throughout this country.

A House Cleaner in the Ministry of Defense

After Ahmed Tibi presented an urgent parliamentary query about a Muslim cemetery in Yaffo, MK Yinon Azulai questioned Michoel Bitton, who holds a ministerial post in the Ministry of Defense, about the dismissal of thirteen contracted workers at Beit Hachayal, which he had visited on the previous day.

Bitton replied, “You are bringing up a painful issue…. I had a conversation with the chairman of the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, and I would like to make several points to you. First, I am the son of cleaners. My mother spent her mornings cleaning the apartments of the employees of Mekorot, and in the evenings she cleaned schools. At her morning job, she was an independent contractor, and it was degrading. I helped her clean. She received no pension from Mekorot; she has since passed away. At her evening job, in the schools, she worked for the local government, but because of the economic crisis of 1985, somehow no one gave her a pension. As a result, she was harmed twice. So I understand the issue of cleaning work, and I am always proud of an organization that manages to directly employ cleaners and to preserve their dignity…. There are two important and positive things that you should know,” he continued, returning to the specific topic of Azulai’s question. “First, the dismissals haven’t taken effect yet, and we are trying to prevent them. Second, even if they do take effect, we will try to employ those same workers completely until September, in order to provide them with some breathing space.”

It was good to see that in the Ministry of Defense, along with Benny Gantz, there is a government minister who understands the meaning of menial labor and can relate to the plight of the impoverished workers.

A Miracle in Rav Seraya Deblitzky’s Home

Call it a miracle or a mofes, but the following is a true story. This incident, which took place several months ago, seems to confirm the veracity of Chazal’s statement that tzaddikim are even greater in their deaths than during their lives. Rav Seraya Deblitzky was known during his lifetime for his ability to make pronouncements that would miraculously be realized; apparently, that ability was even more greatly enhanced in his death.

The story began when one of Rav Seraya’s talmidim began suffering from excruciating pains. From prior agonizing experience, he was immediately able to identify the source of his suffering: a stone that had settled into one of his kidneys.

Rav Seraya’s talmid was suffering from agonizing pain, and he consulted with doctors, took strong painkillers, and attempted to alleviate his suffering with various homemade concoctions as well. More than anything else, though, he davened fervently for the kidney stone, wherever it was, to be expelled from his body rapidly. Day and night began to melt into each other, as his entire daily schedule revolved around the painkilling medications, which were effective only some of the time. For two days, he remained immersed in his suffering. On the third day, his son said, “Abba, I am going to daven for a yeshuah for you at the kever of Rav Seraya Deblitzky zt”l.”

The father and son agreed on a kabbalah they could make in memory of Rav Seraya (who passed away two years ago, on the second of Av 5778/July 14, 2018). The son immediately set out for Rav Seraya’s kever, while the father began observing their shared kabbalah.

A short time later, after the son had poured out his heart at the kever of the illustrious tzaddik, his father’s pains subsided. Nevertheless, they could not be sure if his relief had come because Rav Seraya had interceded in Shomayim, or if it was simply that the painkillers had taken effect but that the excruciating agony of the kidney stone would return. The only way to be certain if he had been cured of the kidney stone was to perform an ultrasound examination.

Shortly before the examination, the talmid received a telephone call from another close confidant of Rav Seraya, who still visited his home on occasion.

“I haven’t seen you in a few days,” the caller said. “Are you not feeling well?”

The talmid described his own experiences.

“And the pain is gone now?” the other man pressed.

“I won’t know until tomorrow, based on the ultrasound,” the first talmid said.

“This morning, I opened a cabinet that was filled with papers,” the caller informed him. “Suddenly, a piece of paper fell on me from the cabinet, like a note from Shomayim. The letter contained a brief message written in the Rebbe’s handwriting, which stated, ‘The stone has probably come out, and the pain has stopped.’ You see,” he concluded jubilantly, “you have gotten your answer from Shomayim!’”

The ultrasound results were examined nonetheless by an actual doctor, who called the family directly in order to share the good news. The call was answered by the talmid himself, who listened to the doctor’s report and then said, “The rabbonim gave me the news before you.”

The caller continued his story, “I know what this note was all about. The last time that you were experiencing terrible pains, also because of a kidney stone, I hurried to the rov to ask him to daven for you. The rov did not want to break his silence, so he took a piece of paper and wrote these words: ‘The image is fine. There is no stone.’ I put that slip of paper away along with all my other papers, and then it was decreed min haShomayim for it to fall out now, since you were at the tziyun and were davening for a yeshuah. As a result, this note appeared again, to convey the answer to your tefillos.”

Sounds amazing? It is, but it is also absolutely true.