My Take on the News

A Fascinating Passage in the Zohar

“Listen to this,” said Rav Uri Zohar, his gaze firmly fixed on the text of the Zohar. “This is worth a million dollars!”

His choice of words immediately triggered a memory: Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro once remarked to me, “A daf of Gemara and a cup of tea is the same as a million dollars!” The rosh yeshiva would have been the happiest man in the world if he were given a daf of Gemara and the barest minimum of physical sustenance.

Speaking of a dvar Torah worth a million dollars, here is another story: Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro and Rav Chaim Kreiswirth, two world-class Torah geniuses who were also close friends, were once having a conversation. (I believe this took place at the convalescent home of the Vaad HaYeshivos in Netanya.) Rav Chaim said, “Rav Moshe Shmuel, listen to a dvar Torah that is worth a million dollars.” After he had shared the dvar Torah, Rav Moshe Shmuel agreed that it was indeed valued at a million dollars. “Now,” he said, “I will tell you a dvar Torah that is worth two million dollars.” Rav Moshe Shmuel proceeded to share his own dvar Torah, and Rav Chaim agreed with his assessment of its value. “In that case,” Rav Moshe Shmuel declared gleefully, “you owe me another vort, to make up for the difference….”

But let us return to my discussion with Rav Uri Zohar. Rav Uri had opened a copy of the Zohar to Parshas Tazria (p. 47a), and he proceeded to read it aloud: “Just as a person is punished for a bad word, he is also punished for a good word that occurred to him and that he did not say.” Today, against the backdrop of the corona crisis and the approach of Tisha B’Av—considering that sinas chinom was the sin that led to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh—there has been much talk about improvement in the realm of bein adam l’chaveiro. Especially in these trying times, when the middas hadin has made its presence especially evident, we must be particularly wary of offending others in any way. Yet for some reason, there is all too much verbal sparring taking place in our midst. The Zohar’s comment underscores the importance of suppressing any hurtful words we may be tempted to utter, and of using our power of speech to achieve a positive effect whenever possible.

The next day, when we visited Rav Uri once again, his eyes were shining. “Rav Chezi informed me that the Sfas Emes adds an explanation of the Zohar,” he announced. “Rav Chezi” is Rav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky. “The punishment for a bad word, according to the Sfas Emes, is a patch of tzaraas that causes a person to become tamei. And the punishment for failing to say a good word is a blemish that does not render a person tamei.”

We have always known that our words have an enormous impact; here, the Zohar teaches us that even the failure to speak can have severe consequences. A wise man must be careful with his words—to be silent when it is appropriate, and to speak when there is a need.

The Metaphor of the Motorcade

This week, my car was brought to a standstill at an intersection on Herzl Boulevard, en route to the Knesset.

When I drive from my home to the Knesset, I leave the neighborhood of Givat Shaul and head in the direction of the entrance to Yerushalayim. Instead of turning left on Rechov Yirmiyohu, I take the right turn toward Herzl Boulevard, the Ramada hotels, Ganei Yerushalayim, and Kiryat Hamemshalah. I was on the stretch of Herzl Boulevard just before the left turn that would have taken me to the Knesset and other government buildings, when the heavy traffic congestion forced me to stop. It was hot outside, and the road was packed with unmoving vehicles. Traffic was halted in all four lanes, and it did not take long for me to discover the reason: The familiar wailing of sirens made it clear that the prime minister’s motorcade was attempting to pass.

My first reaction was to wonder who had decided that the motorcade should take this route. After all, this was a recipe for disaster. The congestion was heavy in the area, and the motorcade was forced to stand still for a long time—an eternity by the standards of the prime minister’s security detail—with no viable route out of the tangle of traffic. There was a red light, and none of the motorists could move in order to make way for Netanyahu’s convoy. Of course, the security guards in the accompanying cars blasted their horns and shouted over their loudspeakers, but it made no difference; there was nowhere for any of the cars to move. Nor would any of the motorists have dared to risk driving through the red light, directly into a stream of cars coming from the direction of Kiryat Moshe.

Had there been anyone in a nearby vehicle who wished to harm the prime minister, it would have been very easy for him to do it at that moment. Netanyahu’s cars were trapped alongside us, with nowhere to move. I could practically sense his bodyguards’ fear. In fact, I was a bit surprised that his young guards didn’t emerge from the cars with their guns drawn. I believe that is the standard procedure in such a situation.

It occurred to me that the scene was an apt metaphor for our country’s current predicament. The government has been making hasty and unwise decisions that have led it into a quagmire from which there is no clear escape route. With the corona crisis spinning out of control, the only thing left for Israel to do is to wait for a miracle (or for a change in the traffic light) while davening quietly for salvation.

I have to admit that I feel pity for Netanyahu. He is waging a lonely battle against the coronavirus, while all of his onetime advisors and friends assail him in public rather than helping shoulder the burden. It is an appalling phenomenon; is this really the time to go on the offensive against the prime minister? Israelis have always known how to band together in times of war, and the country is certainly at war now. The real question, though, is whether Netanyahu still has the fortitude to deal with the many layers of adversity surrounding him. I asked a government minister this week if there is reason to believe that Netanyahu’s strength might be abandoning him. He did not respond, but I caught a glimmer of confirmation in his eyes.

Contradictions and Confusion

Having been backed into the dead end that is perhaps symbolized by the prime minister’s motorcade, Israel is struggling with the chaos and confusion resulting from the government’s ambiguous and often contradictory responses to the threat posed by the coronavirus. And this has led to a general air of resignation and despondence.

The atmosphere on the Israeli street today is one of melancholy. Perhaps the Nine Days have added to the general sense of misery produced by the coronavirus, or perhaps it is the virus that has added to the usual gloomy mood of this time of the year. Whatever the case may be, there is no question that sadness and pessimism have taken over in our streets. The fear of an uncertain future is accompanied by the sense that we are all unwilling passengers on a ship that is no longer under the control of its crew. The guidelines that have been handed down from the government are illogical and often contradictory: Why should a shul and a mikveh be subject to the same rules? For that matter, why should a tiny, cramped shul have the same maximum occupancy as a huge shul such as the Belz bais medrash? And why can’t the capsule plan be implemented in a shul? Are any of the government’s directives actually being produced by a logical mind?

I spotted the initial signs of these contradictions last week at the Sprinzak auditorium in the Knesset, which is adjacent to my office and is often used for large gatherings such as conventions or lectures. This auditorium was recently converted into a makeshift shtiebel of sorts, since the government decided to ban minyanim of more than ten people, which automatically displaced some of the mispallelim from the Knesset shul. The cap of ten men was indiscriminate; it made no difference if the minyan was held in the Knesset shul itself or in a much smaller room. At the same time, signs were posted on all the party offices announcing that gatherings of more than twenty people were forbidden. This was absurd: The Knesset shul has been expanded and is much larger than the size of any of the conference rooms in the party offices, yet it was limited to ten occupants at a time, while any conference room could hold twenty people. It was a rule that defied any attempt at logical explanation.

The absurdity was most evident in the juxtaposition of two signs on the door of the Sprinzak auditorium. One of the signs declared, “Gatherings of more than 15 people are forbidden in the shul at any time.” (This took place when the government was still permitting minyanim with 15 participants.) The adjacent sign read, “Occupancy is limited to 20 people.” When I pointed out the anomaly to one of the officers of the Knesset Guard, he explained, “If there is a political gathering in the auditorium, it can consist of 20 people. If it is for davening, then the limit is 15.” Do you understand that? I certainly don’t. In my view, it is the epitome of the absurd.

Ochana Rebukes the Police Chief

The protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu show no sign of letting up. It is clear that there is a broad swath of the Israeli populace that has had enough of Netanyahu and has no intention of giving up the battle against him. At the same time, the situation has fueled the determination of the prime minister’s supporters, who are outraged, among other things, by the blatant double standard of the police. Even in the secular media, one can find journalists wondering aloud or on paper, “If this were a chareidi protest, how would the police have responded?”

Amir Ochana, the Minister of Internal Security, was recently caught on camera asking the commissioner of the police force, “Can you honestly say that you would have acted the same way if it were a demonstration of chareidim, Arabs, or Ethiopians?” The commissioner began to speak, but Ohana interrupted him. “Don’t answer me,” he said. “Answer the question for yourself.” It was the type of exchange that has never been witnessed in the Israeli government before.

To be fair, Motti Cohen, whom Ochana was addressing, isn’t exactly the commissioner of the police force. He is holding that position only on a temporary basis. The Minister of Internal Security is required to assign the next permanent commissioner of the police force, and while we do not yet know whom he will choose, one thing is clear: It is not Motti Cohen.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu himself is brimming with outrage. It is highly unusual for the prime minister to attack the media, and if he does so, it means that the situation has become intolerable. But it seems that Netanyahu has had enough. This week, the prime minister declared, “Channel 12 News has become an arm of the shameless propaganda machine of the anarchist left, which is using it as a weapon to topple the right-wing government and its leader. Every evening, their propaganda broadcasts begin with ‘dramatic’ live reports containing inflated numbers of protestors. They make it appear as if tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people are taking part in the demonstrations. Channel 12 is also making every effort to fuel the political protests that are organized and funded by left-wing groups. This is fake news on steroids. Almost all the news programs, stories, and commentators have been drafted into the effort to spread unrestrained Bolshevik-style propaganda against the prime minister. At the same time, Channel 12 does not report about the explicit threats that have been made against the lives of the prime minister and his family.”

Even if Netanyahu’s descriptions are not 100 percent accurate, there is no question that he is incensed.

Returning to the subject of the police, I noticed a newspaper article this week that reported, “The police officer who acted violently during a chareidi protest has been suspended from his position until the investigation is concluded.” This refers to an incident at a demonstration in Romema on a motzoei Shabbos, when one of the protestors asked a police officer why he was not wearing a mask. In response to that question, the police officer delivered a powerful punch to the questioner’s face. Now the police have reacted, but they were a bit vague: What does it mean that the officer was “suspended from his position”? The same ambiguous phrase appeared in another article in the newspaper, this one about a police officer who was filmed assaulting a chareidi photographer during a protest. Once again, the police stated only that he was “suspended,” not that he was dismissed altogether. The latter article adds, “When the findings of the Internal Investigations Department are released, a disciplinary decision will be made. At this point, the officer was removed from all operational duties.” Once again, this seems like nothing but word games. What, exactly, is a “disciplinary decision,” and what does it mean for a police officer to be removed from “operational duties”? I have the distinct impression that these policemen are never going to face justice for their misdeeds.

Indirect Costs and Indirect Benefits of the Corona Crisis

There has been some talk about the psychological impact of the coronavirus situation, but I do not believe that the matter has been given sufficient attention. Over time, more and more people have grown weary and despondent due to this endless battle against the virus, which has no end in sight. The government is already talking about imposing severe restrictions during the yomim tovim of 5781 and even after. Many people have been unable to afford basic necessities for months, and many of them have no way to survive at this point. Entire families have been imprisoned in their own homes because one or more of the family members was quarantined or diagnosed with corona. Elderly people who have been completely isolated are suffering severely from the emotional impact. The abundance of misinformation and lack of clarity also have the capacity to drive people out of their minds.

In the Knesset this week, I met a group of social workers who deal with the chareidi sector, and I was saddened to hear their stories. One of the social workers, a man named Amnon Assaf from the city of Emanuel, told me that many of the chareidi youths and families in the city were suffering terribly on account of the social workers’ strike and their low salaries. With his understanding of the hardships faced by these families and the pivotal role played by social workers in their lives, he warned that providing the families with adequate services could be a matter of life or death.

In any other year, millions of Israelis would be planning their summer vacations at this time. Many of them would be traveling overseas, while others would settle for vacation homes elsewhere in the country. This year, no one is giving the slightest amount of thought to making any such plans. And while this is a sobering thought, there may be a bright side as well. We may well have been spared from numerous tragedies this summer on account of the corona-inspired shutdown. Every year, we enter bein hazemanim with a measure of apprehension about what mishaps or misfortunes await our community; it seems that this year will be different.

What Sort of Elul Awaits Us?

Everyone is already thinking about the upcoming month of Elul. Will the zman in our yeshivos be the same as in any other year? It is hard to believe that that will be the case. The general belief is that the coronavirus will be with us for a long time. We might find ourselves celebrating the holidays of Tishrei while confined to our homes once again. There are rumors that if the current trend persists, the entire country will be placed under lockdown beginning on August 6. Hashem yishmor. That being the case, no one can predict what will happen in Tishrei or in Elul. Certainly, the coming bein hazemanim will be unlike any other summer vacation. Of course, the summer zman that preceded it was also not like any other. There were thousands of bochurim who did not even go to their yeshivos during the zman, since the yeshivos were limited to accepting no more bochurim than their capsules could accommodate.

This issue will undoubtedly interest our readers in America as well. Thousands of yeshiva bochurim come to learn in Israel every year in Elul. Until recently, the State of Israel agreed to permit entry only to married students (i.e., kollel yungaleit) who had homes of their own and could observe the required quarantine period appropriately. For unmarried students, the situation was much more complicated. Who would be responsible for supervising bochurim who are supposed to be in quarantine? For that matter, where would they spend the period of isolation, and who would help provide for their needs? Even their roshei yeshivos did not want to take responsibility for them, and the government and Interior Ministry certainly had no interest in being saddled with that burden. The solution was to deny entry altogether to non-citizens who were not married.

There are some exceptions to the ban on non-citizens entering the country. If a bar mitzvah, a wedding, a birth, or, l’havdil, a funeral takes place in Israel, the parents and grandparents are permitted to enter the country even if they do not possess Israeli citizenship. When this rule was publicized by the government, many people in America and Europe rejoiced; however, many of them made a minor error and failed to read the fine print. The rule actually states that a bar mitzvah or wedding of an Israeli citizen can be attended by parents and grandparents from abroad. In most cases, though, the celebrants in Israel are not actually citizens of the country; they hold student visas, and their family members are not permitted to attend their simchos.

New Developments for Yeshivos and Seminaries

Last week, the Interior Ministry announced that unmarried students—i.e., yeshiva bochurim—will be permitted to enter the country in advance of the upcoming Elul zman. Visas will probably be issued through the yeshivos and seminaries, just as yungaleit received their visas through their kollelim. I am not familiar with all the regulations, but I will quote a memorandum that was publicized in the Knesset on Sunday, after a discussion in the Immigration and Absorption Committee that was held at the request of the rosh yeshiva of Yeshiva Toras Moshe. I haven’t been able to understand the rules completely, but perhaps you will be more successful in deciphering it:

“David Bittan (Likud), the chairman of the Immigration and Absorption Committee in the Knesset, reached an agreement with the Foreign Ministry today that minors from overseas who are talmidim in yeshivos will not be required to appear in person at the Israeli consulates in order to be permitted to study in Israel. The parents of these talmidim will sign confirmations of their sons’ studies in Israel in front of a public notary, and those documents will be transferred to the institutions where they will be enrolled, which will then relay the documents together to the Population and Immigration Authority. Bittan also asked the Population Authority to permit the parents of about 200 women who recently gave birth in Israel to enter the country. Bittan promised to procure funding from the Treasury for additional workers to supplement the staff of the Foreign Ministry over the next four months in order to help handle the increased workload. The committee also discussed the predicament of many yeshivos that cater to students from overseas, where the fear is that the talmidim will not be able to begin their studies in Israel at the beginning of Elul because of the lack of entry permits.

“The Minister of the Interior recently announced that all new students would be permitted to enter the country for the coming year. According to the guidelines issued to roshei yeshivos, responsibility for the students’ arrival in the country rests with their individual yeshivos or schools. The guidelines call for the students to be divided into capsules of up to six students apiece, with separate shower and lavatory facilities for each group. The committee’s earlier discussions had addressed the workloads facing the consulates and the extended waiting times required for all the applications to be handled. According to Dr. Asher Salmon, the director of the international relations department of the Ministry of Health, clear guidelines were released last Thursday for the arrival of talmidim in yeshivos. Applications are to be filed by the yeshivos, rather than the talmidim, and a school will receive approval if it is set up in accordance with the guidelines for quarantine and social distancing. He emphasized the requirement to maintain the capsule arrangements in yeshivos in order to prevent the spread of contagion. He added that it is impossible to rely on testing alone without quarantine, since the results of the tests would be received only after a patient infects others.

“According to Yisroel Eichler (UTJ), the Israeli consulates in other countries have been burdened with all the responsibilities that were previously handled by the Immigration Authority. Yosef Taib (Shas) claimed that none of the roshei yeshivos of yeshivos for foreign talmidim has been given an inkling about the new regulations or the schedule for their talmidim to arrive in the country. Michal Kotler-Wunsh (Blue and White) demanded transparency in the regulations of the Population Authority and the Foreign Ministry, as well as accessibility for the public. Eyal Sisso, the director of the consular affairs department of the Foreign Ministry, stated that talmidim of yeshivos are not required to appear in person at the consulates; the yeshivos can collect their details and transfer the information to the Immigration Authority. Only talmidim under the age of 18 must appear in person, since they require their parents’ approval in order to leave their countries of origin, but those students make up only 5 percent of the total number of applicants. Stella Rapp, the deputy director of the consular affairs department in the Foreign Ministry, emphasized that in some Israeli consulates, due to the corona situation, there are only one or two workers handling the applications. Talmidim in yeshivos, as well as other students, all require student permits. Bittan also asked Michal Yosepov of the Immigration Authority to adjust the criteria for permitting parents from overseas to visit girls who are performing national service in Israel. He asked for the requirements to be made identical for those governing the visits of parents of lone soldiers.”

This was the memorandum that was released in the Knesset on Sunday.

No Passports in Los Angeles

The confusion surrounding the legal requirements for entering Eretz Yisroel has kept me quite busy in recent weeks. I have been receiving a prodigious number of requests for assistance from people in America and Europe who wish to enter the country. This week, I was contacted by Rav Shlomo Wolbe’s grandson, a yungerman who was in Los Angeles with his wife and three children. Their youngest child (named Rivka, of course, after the late Rebbetzin Wolbe) is three months old, and the family wished to return to Eretz Yisroel. They are Israeli residents and possess Israeli citizenship (since both the husband and wife, despite having been born in New York, are children of Israeli citizens). What, then, is the problem? Simple: The infant does not have a passport. American passports are not being issued in California at this time, due to Covid, and the Israeli consulate claims that since the parents were born in America, even though they are Israeli and their daughter is, by extension, Israeli as well, the consulate cannot issue a passport for her. The reason for this is also unclear. The family sought my help with this issue, and I will try to assist them.

This was a serious and valid request for help, but some of the requests for intervention that come my way—or that are sent to various members of the Knesset—turn out to be ludicrous. This week, a man who was embroiled in a conflict with the electric company contacted a member of the Knesset and asked for his help. The caller claimed that his electricity had been turned off because his bills were unpaid, that he had already paid the whopping sum of 8300 NIS to the company to cover a portion of his debt, and that they were still pursuing him for the remaining balance. The Knesset member took his story to heart and immediately set out to assist the unfortunate citizen. It did not take long for him to discover that the man had paid only 200 NIS to the electric company, rather than the 8300 that he claimed to have paid, and that he had already taken his battle against the company to court and was causing them enormous aggravation. Nevertheless, the MK’s intervention had its effect, and the company decided to make an accommodation for the disgruntled customer, in spite of their annoyance with him. The Knesset member attempted to notify the man of the good news, but his calls went unanswered. When he finally managed to reach the man, he added a few words of gentle rebuke. “The details that you gave me weren’t exactly accurate, and that is a shame, because it only makes it more difficult for anyone who tries to help you,” the lawmaker said. “Still, the main thing is that the outcome was good.”

The man on the other end of the line sounded flustered. “Actually,” he stammered, “I forgot to be in touch with you. In the end, you don’t have to do anything; I resolved the issue already.”

Here is a similar story, this time involving my own efforts: I received a call from a yungerman in Kiryat Sefer who had contracted Covid and wished to be admitted to the Lavi coronavirus hotel. Naturally, I called Yehuda Avidan, whom you probably recall from my recent interview with him, and who supervises the corona hotel program. Avidan looked into the matter and then informed me that there was no need to pull strings on the yungerman’s behalf; the Lavi hotel was scheduled to open the following day, and all the new corona patients were being referred to it. I called the yungerman back to assuage his concerns, and he said, “Actually, I neglected to tell you that I had been offered a place in the Dan Panorama in Yerushalayim a few days ago, and I turned it down. I am listed as having refused placement in a hotel, so they won’t call to offer me a place in Lavi.” Well, what did he gain by hiding that piece of information? Had I been aware of it at the outset, I would have relayed it to Avidan, and he would certainly have been able to overcome that hurdle.

In a similar vein, I recently received a call from an individual who asked for his application for a passport to be expedited. He claimed that the matter was urgent. How could it possibly have been urgent when the country’s gates are locked to travelers? He didn’t volunteer that information, and I didn’t ask. When another Jew asks for help, I try to help. Even if he is a nuisance, he is still a Jew! But when I contacted the Immigration Authority, they informed me that he had applied for a replacement for a lost passport. The procedure in that case is different, and it takes more time for the replacement to be issued.

Again, what did this gentleman gain by concealing that information from me? Did he really think that I wouldn’t find out the truth? In the end, all that I was able to do was call him back and tell him, “You applied to replace a lost passport, and there is nothing I can do about it.” Had I known the circumstances at the outset, I could have told the officials that I was asking them to waive the usual procedures and expedite the process. Because the caller failed to mention the truth about his circumstances, I was unable to help him.

Danger in Yemen

This week, I read several news reports about the Jewish community in Yemen. All the reports were nearly identical, indicating that they had likely all originated in the same place (presumably an Egyptian newspaper). “Over the past half year, the Houthi rebels identified with Iran have arrested a number of Jews who live in the vicinity of the city of Raida in the Amran district,” the newspapers reported, “with the goal of forcing them to surrender their property and to leave the state. Some of the Jews gave in, and after selling their possessions for a price far lower than their actual value, they were smuggled into Egypt with the aid of American government officials.”

When I read an article of this nature, I become doubly apprehensive. I worry about the plight of the Jews in Yemen, but I also worry about the publicity itself. There have been many times when I wished to draw public attention to the plight of the Jews of Yemen, and I have always been told that the publicity will only be to their detriment.

I recently had a conversation with an Ethiopian Jew who came to Israel forty years ago. He told me that several of the men who had helped smuggle him out of his home country had been arrested at the time, and their fate remains unknown even today, four decades later. These men might still be alive and in captivity even now. I assured him that I would arrange for the subject to be discussed in the Knesset, but just before it was scheduled to be discussed, I received a panicked phone call from the man. “Please wait!” he insisted. “The publicity might make their situation much worse!” At times, it seems, it is better to act clandestinely and through indirect channels.

This is precisely my concern about the Jews of Yemen. It is not that I feel that we should ignore the suffering of our brethren in Yemen, chas v’sholom. We can never permit ourselves to turn our backs on them. But sometimes it is in their best interests for us to work quietly, through the Mossad or similar agencies, rather than bringing them to the world’s attention. Now that someone has reported that American officials helped some Yemenite Jews leave the country, who can guarantee that the revelation will not harm the Americans or the remaining Jews in Yemen? At the very least, these reports might inspire other Yemenites lusting for profit to coerce other Jews to part with their possessions in exchange for pitiful sums of money. A journalist must be selective about what he reports; he must not allow his efforts to cause harm!

The Mask Distributor

This week, I emerged from a building on Rechov Zichron Yaakov in Romema (where, as you may recall, I have the privilege of learning with Rav Uri Zohar, together with Rav Avrohom Zaivald and Rav Nosson Cheifetz of Lev L’Achim). In front of the building stood a benevolent young man who was holding a package of masks—simple, unpretentious face coverings that were at least adequate for protection against the coronavirus, or against police officers looking to dispense fines.

“Are you selling those masks?” I asked out of curiosity.

“No,” he replied. “I am giving them out.”

The young man revealed that he had decided to station himself in a heavily trafficked area, where the police patrol the streets and regularly hand out fines, in order to preempt them by distributing masks to the potential recipients of the penalties. Before we could talk for long, he excused himself to hurry to the vicinity of the draft office, where he had been told that fines were being issued at a furious pace. Somehow, I managed to get him to reveal his name just before he left. “I am Yosef Shlomo Dahari,” he informed me.

“Are you named after the Ponovezher Rov?” I asked.

“After my grandfather and the Ponovezher Rov,” he replied.

When Rav Ovadiah Comforted a Distraught Kallah

Every week, I receive a large number of newsletters on the weekly parsha. As you may recall, there are three publications of which I am particularly fond. One is Divrei Siach, which is published by Rav Yitzchok Goldstoff and features the teachings and insights of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Another is Darkei Hachizuk, which quotes Rav Gershon Edelstein’s teachings. The third is Yabia Omer, a delightful publication that features the chiddushim of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, along with an assortment of anecdotes drawn from his life. This week, I was somewhat confused when I discovered that Yabia Omer, the publication that focuses on Rav Ovadiah, cited several shailos on the subject of shidduchim that had been presented to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. One of those questions came from a chosson who had consulted a rov who analyzed the names of potential brides and grooms to determine whether they were compatible. The chosson asked whether he should listen to the rov, and Rav Chaim replied, “Do not pay any attention to this. My father [the Steipler] felt that ruach hakodesh is required to make such a determination.”

I was reminded of an anecdote that I quoted here in Yated Neeman a couple of weeks ago: A baalas teshuvah had been told by a graphologist that she was not compatible with a young man who had been suggested for her, and she asked Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein if she should cancel the shidduch. The rov’s response was a masterpiece of reasoning and insight. “The graphologist is correct,” he said. “You are not compatible, but that is because no man and woman are fully compatible.”  Compatibility in a marriage, the rov explained, is created only when the husband and wife work to improve their respective middos.

And then I recalled another incident that took place many years ago, when I worked in the Ministry of the Interior. My job at the time was to field complaints or requests for assistance from the public, and I received occasional halachic or personal questions that were within the purview of Rav Ovadiah Yosef. One day, a letter arrived from a seminary student who requested an urgent meeting with the rov. The girl revealed that she was about to get married, and she had consulted with a certain mekubal (who was a fairly well-known rov) who had advised her not to marry her chosson, since the names were “not compatible.” The young woman was distraught and sought Rav Ovadiah’s advice. In light of the urgency of the matter, I hurried to Rav Ovadiah’s home and showed him the letter.

Rav Ovadiah perused the letter and then declared firmly, “I don’t know what Kabbalah is, but I know what halacha is, and there is no such concept in halacha! The only question is whether their home will be built on a foundation of Torah, mitzvos, and kedusha!” Rav Ovadiah asked me to call the young lady so that he could personally reassure her. Over the telephone, he repeated the same statement that he had made to me. After inquiring about the chosson’s yeshiva and various other details of the shidduch, he gave the young lady his blessing and adjured her to put the mekubal’s advice out of her mind. And in order to cement her decision, the rov added, “If you are still concerned, let me know. Perhaps I will come to serve as mesader kiddushin.”