Protests Increase with Media Backing
The protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu have become a major issue this week, as they grow in size and in number. There have been demonstrations outside the prime minister’s official residence on Rechov Balfour in Yerushalayim, outside his private home in Caesaria, and in Tel Aviv and other cities as well. The political right has tried to organize demonstrations of its own, but they do not even begin to compare to the left-wing protests. The crowds of a few hundred right-wing demonstrators are dwarfed by the much larger left-wing presence of thousands or even tens of thousands of protestors. The right has tried to make a show of its presence in Yerushalayim or outside the home of the chief justice of the Supreme Court, but there is simply no comparison. In truth, that is probably because it is easier to protest against someone than to demonstrate for him. Yediot Acharonot has its own explanation: that Netanyahu has fallen out of favor even with his erstwhile supporters (the “million people [who] voted for him”). But this is not true, and the polls prove it.
Nevertheless, the demonstrations are having a depressing effect, certainly on the prime minister himself. There is no question that Netanyahu and his family are tired of being targeted and vilified. And the police have been treating the protestors with kid gloves. They used water cannons to disperse a protest only once—a tactic that is used regularly against chareidi demonstrators—and received ringing condemnations from the media in response. The move was also met with an outcry in the Knesset.
As for Netanyahu’s family, rumors have been spreading that Mrs. Netanyahu has been suffering from depression or something of that nature. There have even been reports that she has left the country. In response, the prime minister’s office published two official pictures of Sara Netanyahu, one of which showed her with the family dog, along with a video purporting to demonstrate that everything is normal. In truth, Mrs. Netanyahu does not appear to be at her best. A video shows her railing against the abuse that has been heaped on her husband and sons. Yair Netanyahu, who plays the part of a political activist, was dragged into court after publishing the telephone numbers of the organizers of the left-wing protests and calling on the public to harass them. The court ordered him to refrain from doing so in the future.
In its coverage of the demonstrations, the Israeli media has shown a clear bias. Instead of reporting on the protests, the press has been actively encouraging them. And instead of providing impartial reports on current events, the media has taken on the role of persuading the public to adopt its viewpoints. They have completely departed from the bounds of acceptable journalistic behavior. In one case, a news broadcaster came to her studio directly from the demonstrations on Rechov Balfour. Even if she had tried, she could never have been impartial. This is yet another of the many forms of adversity with which Prime Minister Netanyahu must cope.
Netanyahu’s Angry Reaction
The prime minister’s outrage made itself apparent in the cabinet meeting on Sunday. He was perturbed by the media’s response just as much as by the protests themselves. The issue of the demonstrations, which was not officially on the agenda for the cabinet meeting (since Netanyahu had refused to allow it, even though Gantz had asked for it to be included on the schedule) was brought up by Defense Minister Benny Gantz. “Yesterday, there were demonstrations throughout the country,” Gantz said. “As a government, we must listen to the people. As the ruling regime, we are responsible to make it possible for the demonstrations to continue and to protect the protestors, who were attacked yesterday in several locations. The right to protest is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and violence erodes the foundations of democracy. All of us have a tremendous responsibility. I would like to ask everyone here not to take an extreme position and not to attack purely for the sake of attacking. Leadership begins with our personal examples and the messages we convey to the public. If we demonstrate dignity and mutual respect, the people will follow our example.”
Netanyahu was enraged but reacted with restraint. “Benny,” he said, “I wasn’t planning to discuss the protests, but since you have brought up the issue, I will tell you a few things. What I see is an attempt to trample on democracy in the name of democracy itself. In these demonstrations, all the rules have been twisted. When the demonstrators are leftists, everything goes. I deplore the one-sided nature of the coverage of most of the media. They do not report on the protests; they actually participate in the protests. It isn’t just that the media has been recruited for their cause; the media itself is doing the recruiting. They are fueling protests that sometimes turn violent, and no one has objected at all. I haven’t heard a single word of condemnation from the media for the violence against a police officer in Yerushalayim, who said that he was practically lynched. The media has even implied that the policeman was to blame, and that even if he was personally not to blame, yours truly is at fault, since I allegedly sent the police officers to the scene—which is completely untrue. When the protestors come with torches and threaten to throw Molotov cocktails at the prime minister’s residence, somehow that becomes the fault of yours truly as well. When there is vicious, unrestrained incitement, including daily calls to murder the prime minister and his family members, the media ignores it or whitewashes it, and the politicians remain silent. I respected the fact that the president of the state spoke against this the other day. I would like to see what would happen if people were calling every day for the president and his family to be murdered, what sort of outcry would result and how the newscasters and pundits would speak about it. There has never been such a deplorable campaign of incitement. I would call it Soviet-style, but it is actually more along the lines of North Korean behavior.”
Netanyahu also had some words of criticism about the protests themselves. “How can there be thousands of people demonstrating without masks, as if there were no corona?” he demanded, giving voice to the question that has been on everyone’s minds. “These protests are coronavirus incubators,” Netanyahu added. “There are rules that are not being enforced. No one has restricted or even tried to restrict the protests in any way. On the contrary, these demonstrations have been fueled with backing from the media to an extent that I have never seen. The media is encouraging them and enabling them to paralyze entire neighborhoods, blocking streets in complete opposition to the accepted standards of behavior.”
Bein Hazemanim: Physical and Spiritual Dangers
Speaking of the demonstrations, I would like to cautiously make an observation: There are too many yeshiva bochurim at the protests. True, it is bein hazemanim now and their yeshivos are in recess, but yeshiva bochurim should not be in these places even during bein hazemanim. A fear has taken hold about the spiritual dangers accompanying the coronavirus period. The country’s roshei yeshiva have been speaking about this at length and have been working to come up with strategies to deal with this problem.
The issue is that many bochurim lack a yeshiva framework. Even in the yeshivos that opened with capsule programs, there were bochurim who were unable to enter the capsules. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of bochurim remained at home during this z’man, but it was impossible for them to be confined to their homes. Some of them did not have any structure at all. So while it is true that various arrangements were made, in which bochurim were paired with chavrusos and learned over the telephone, it is clear that major damage was done. Now that bein hazemanim has arrived, gedolei Yisroel have called for redoubled caution.
Incidentally, Israel now has a project manager for the fight against corona; in the next section, I will explain who he is and the nature of his position. This week, he made a public announcement directed at yeshiva bochurim throughout the country: “I know that it is bein hazemanim now, and I know that you like to take trips during this time. I implore you to prevent the virus from spreading. We want the entire country to be ‘green’ in time for davening on the Yomim Noraim.”
Where Will We Daven on Rosh Hashanah?
And that is precisely the issue of concern to all of us: the upcoming Yomim Noraim and the holidays of Tishrei. Until this week, we were allowed to daven in our shuls with no more than ten people in a minyan. Obviously, many people did not abide by this particular rule, nor was it enforced with much vigor, since it was clearly ludicrous. Why should a restaurant be allowed to seat 50 people, when a shul is only allowed 10? Of course, even if they exceeded the cap of ten men, mispallelim did wear masks (and anyone who did not comply was roundly rebuked and ejected from shul), and also kept their distance from each other. Beginning this week, gatherings of up to 30 people will be permitted in shuls, and that makes a major difference.
The person who is supposed to deal with these issues now is Professor Roni Gamzu, who served most recently as the CEO of Ichilov Hospital since the year 2015, a position in which he earned major accolades. During the years 2010 through 2014, Gamzu served as the director-general of the Ministry of Health, where he was also highly respected. Last week, he was appointed to lead the national battle against the coronavirus in Israel. He is supposed to work alongside Health Minister Yuli Edelstein and Chezi Levi, the director-general of the Ministry of Health. The latter is fairly new in his position; until a month ago, he was the CEO of Barzilai Hospital in Ashkelon. Edelstein and Levi both welcomed Gamzu’s appointment; both men agreed that the country needed a project manager who would dedicate all his time to the battle against corona. All three—Gamzu and the two top figures in the Health Ministry—will report to the prime minister. Let us wish Roni Gamzu all the success in the world.
Roni Gamzu has cultivated many positive relationships with rabbonim and medical askanim. On the night of Tisha B’Av, he toured the shuls of Bnei Brak and visited the home of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, where a minyan is held. Gamzu spoke with Rav Shraga Shteinman, Rav Aharon Leib’s son, about the upcoming Elul z’man, which is another issue of great concern to the religious community. At this time, no one knows exactly what form the z’man will take during Elul, the most powerful and pivotal time of year in a yeshiva.
An Unprecedented Rift in the Government
In addition to all of his other problems, Netanyahu constantly finds himself entangled in conflict with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit over every imaginable issue. Their most recent dispute revolved around who may determine what represents a conflict of interest for the prime minister. Mandelblit has barred Netanyahu from making any decisions concerning the Ministry of Justice, the courts, the police system, and any other official body that has any connection to the criminal cases against him. Netanyahu responded, “You are also biased, since you are also involved in my trial. So why should you have the authority to decide what I am permitted to do?”
This time around, Netanyahu did not hide behind his spokesmen or associates. Instead, he wrote a letter himself to Mandelblit, arguing that the attorney general does not have the authority to determine what is considered a conflict of interest for him. Netanyahu accused Mandelblit of working to prevent a certain member of the Knesset from being appointed to the Judicial Selection Committee. (The Knesset selected its delegates to the committee three weeks ago.) “The legal opinion you drafted concerning conflicts of interest asks for the prime minister to refrain from involvement in any processes concerning the selection of judges or any other proceedings that might affect the standing of the courts,” Netanyahu wrote. “At the same time, to my astonishment, it was recently reported that senior officials in your office have attempted to influence the Knesset’s selection of its members of the committee for the appointment of justices. The materials from the investigation also indicate that with your approval or with your knowledge, certain investigative actions were undertaken, apparently to the point of criminal misconduct, with the goal of attempting to incriminate the prime minister at any cost.”
Netanyahu did not stop there. “In addition to that, there is the timing of the indictment, which took place mere hours after the prime minister informed the Knesset speaker that he was withdrawing his request for immunity, and while he was traveling to address the president of the United States and the leading officials of that country. In the eyes of those who signed the indictment, the goal of convicting the prime minister apparently justifies the use of any means imaginable. Your opinion concerning conflicts of interest is an attempt to prevent these serious allegations from being investigated. It is difficult to believe that when you drafted this opinion, you did not take into account the potential impact on an examination of the abovementioned charges, as well as other claims, and that this legal opinion isn’t another part of your effort to prevent the matter from being probed. In fact, that supposition is more sensible in light of your baffling decision to prevent the prime minister from funding his legal defense, based on the flimsy pretext that you were not aware of the scope of funding required for that purpose.”
The rift between Netanyahu and his own attorney general, a man whom Netanyahu himself appointed and praised before this fiasco began, has reached an unprecedented nadir. Nothing of this nature has ever happened before. The prime minister, along with the Minister of Internal Security (who served until recently as the Minister of Justice), is accusing the attorney general of criminal misconduct!
Discovering the Light in the COVID Crisis
No one can deny that we are living through a period of Divine concealment. If the era of coronavirus has resulted in the loss of minyanim, a Seder night when elderly parents and grandparents were separated from their families, yeshivos divided into capsules with some bochurim unable to join their peers, and telephone chavrusos to replace the usual vibrant routine of learning in botei medrash, then we are certainly experiencing hester ponim We must daven for Hashem to take pity on our impoverished nation. But even in the midst of the darkness of this period, we must also give thanks to Hashem, for His kindness and compassion are still visible all around us.
I can report only on my own personal observations from Givat Shaul, the neighborhood in Yerushalayim where I reside. There is a certain family with whom I am acquainted, in which half the members of the family have been confirmed to have contracted Covid, while the other half of the family tested negative for the virus. As a result, the family has split into two groups: Those who are confirmed corona patients occupy the living room and adjacent balcony, while the other family members have confined themselves to the kitchen and adjoining bedroom, in order to avoid contracting the disease. This family prepared a list of all the positive things that they discovered or received during their period of home confinement, and that were made possible only by these unusual circumstances. The list is very long: “Moshe Menachem Levi of United Hatzalah sent us coloring books for the children. Gila Shifra managed to fashion a trampoline out of a blanket. Abba is able to learn anything he pleases [i.e., he is not bound by the sedorim of his kollel]. The children are excited to be allowed to tape their artwork to the wall. We received care packages from the municipality of Yerushalayim, and the community center sent us toys. Mrs. Goldberg sent worksheets to do, and Moshe Menachem [the “tzaddik” of the family] can listen to his shiurim in yeshiva on the phone while enjoying a popsicle. And Chasdei Yehuda made sure that we would receive pizza….”
The family added that they have discovered that they have many wonderful, kindhearted neighbors. They have also been exposed to some altruistic askonim, as well as the kind staff of the local community center. They also received assistance from people who live outside the community, such as Rav Moshe Kalafon Bukobza, a yungerman in Yerushalayim (and a onetime talmid of Yeshivas Mir Brachfeld) who is generally immersed in Torah learning, and has taken it upon himself to become a one-man chessed enterprise during the corona crisis. During the past few months, he has been collecting and distributing various products to corona patients and others in isolation, both in their homes and in hotels, especially families with children. He has also been organizing events and arranging financial aid for those in need. Let us daven that his efforts will soon become unnecessary!
On a related note, here is a fantastic story about the community center in Givat Shaul: A reporter from the secular newspaper Haaretz recently visited the municipal command center in Yerushalayim and voiced his skepticism about the reports of the center’s efforts to assist the public. “Why don’t you put them to the test?” someone suggested. “Call them and tell them that you need something; you will see how they respond.” The reporter accepted the challenge and proceeded to dial the community center’s number. His call was answered immediately, without the interminable hold music that he had been expecting. Even more surprisingly, his request was accepted without a moment’s hesitation. He turned to the man who had challenged him to make the phone call and held up his hands in a gesture of surrender. “You win; you were right,” he said.
A Child Receives Her Wish
Over the course of the dozen days that this family spent in quarantine, they had plenty of opportunity for reflection. The children enjoyed scratch art from the local shekel store, along with activity pages produced by the remarkable mechaneich and artist Reb Chaim Katz. But more than anything else, they talked to each other. This seemed to have been something that they hadn’t done for many years.
They also experienced a remarkable stroke of hashgochah pratis. One evening, young Efrat began to sob, and her mother attempted to calm her from the opposite side of the plastic partition separating the two halves of the family. It is not easy for anyone, especially a small child, to be confined to their home for a prolonged period of time. “This is too hard for me!” Efrat wailed. “I want to go to the park already! And how much longer can I go on serving my older brothers, who keep asking me to bring things for them?”
Her mother, who is a teacher by profession and a veritable angel by nature, managed to lift Efrat’s spirits. She explained to the young girl that every good deed she performed would remove another obstacle from Moshiach’s path. Efrat was gradually mollified and regained her usual good cheer.
“Tell me,” her mother said, “what would make you happy right now?”
Efrat thought for a few minutes and then decided. “A chocolate pudding with whipped cream!” she announced.
Ten minutes later, the telephone rang, and a neighbor informed them that yet another bag of goodies had been left outside their door. The bag contained a collection of coloring pages … and a package of chocolate puddings topped with whipped cream.
And then there was the letter that young Shimshon received from his rebbi: “We must mourn another loss: the Chumash party for the five-year-old boys entering first grade. Where are the proud faces of these boys as they wear their crowns and elegant ties, and as they announce for all to hear, ‘I am a big boy today’? Where is the sparkling of pride in the eyes of their fathers, their mothers, their grandfathers and grandmothers? Who can compensate us for the loss of that sacred dance of the celebrants as they are raised on their fathers’ shoulders, whose hearts swell with pride as their tefillos pierce the heavens? May our pain and suffering take the place of korbanos of appeasement before the Master of All.”
Corona Torpedoes Annual Vacations
Every year, the beginning of the month of Av finds us mourning the Churban, as a sense of despair and sadness hovers in the air. Then, with the departure of Tisha B’Av, we are thrust into bein hazemanim, and the prevalent mood changes almost instantly. The preparations for bein hazemanim actually begin shortly before Tisha B’Av. There might be a last-minute telephone call to the owner of the vacation cottage to make sure that the jacuzzi is filled, or to the hotel to make sure that they have reserved the same room as usual; either way, it is a marked contrast to the atmosphere of the days of mourning. There are some people who even leave the country for their vacations. With everyone’s attention fixed on their dream vacations, the days before Tisha B’Av find many families busy packing their suitcases and reviewing their answers to the standard questions asked by the security officers at the airport: “Did you pack your suitcases on your own? (Yes.) Did anyone give you a package to take? (Chas v’sholom!) Were these suitcases with you the whole time? (Of course!)”
Every year, legions of yeshiva bochurim descend upon Meron, Teveria, and the surrounding areas during the summer vacation. What will happen this year? On the one hand, everyone in the country has been chafing under confinement since Purim, and everyone needs a respite of sorts. At the same time, who can enjoy bein hazemanim when the zman itself was fractured?
It is said that the name of the month of Av is an acronym for the words “Elul ba.” Let us hope that Elul will bring good tidings when it arrives.
A Security Incident in the North
It is amazing how things have a way of being put into perspective. There is plenty to worry about: the fragile coalition, the ongoing demonstrations, the alternate prime minister and his former allies, the blazing heat, the coronavirus, and the general sense of distress that has settled over the country. The Knesset is busy debating motions of no confidence in the government, which is actually quite strange. It has always been accepted that no-confidence motions are not submitted during wartime, and we are certainly in the middle of a war—against the coronavirus. The opposition, though, has been behaving as if corona did not exist. They see the government struggling under the burden of the virus and its medical, psychological, and economic impact, yet instead of adding their own support, they have made that burden even more onerous.
This week, there was a major conflict in the Knesset over the “Overrule Clause” proposed by Ayelet Shaked. This was another ploy similar to the one recently perpetrated by Betzalel Smotrich, who proposed establishing an investigative commission to examine cases of police brutality against chareidim. The opposition is doing everything in its power to undermine the integrity of the coalition, proposing bills that should be embraced by some of its members but will elicit the opposition of others.
But last week, in the middle of all the political chaos, a security incident took place in the north. As soon as the announcement was made, everything else suddenly seemed trivial in comparison. Suddenly, the opposition members could pontificate in the Knesset as much as they desired; they seemed so small and ridiculous that their words made no difference. No one could think about any of the other issues that had been plaguing the country; suddenly, everyone was focused on the northern border and davening that the residents of the north and the soldiers of the IDF would not come to harm. With just a few words, with the revelation of some sort of hostile incident or incursion, everything else had been placed in perspective.
Another Accident on a Perilous Road
There is something enjoyable about working alongside the members of the Knesset, partly because I am privy to certain cases in which they work behind the scenes and their efforts remain unknown to the public. For instance, a member of the Knesset submitted an urgent parliamentary query concerning the fact that Magen David Adom had been hiding information from the volunteers of United Hatzalah. The query was approved for urgent discussion, which is not a frequent occurrence. Every member of the Knesset is entitled to only two or three urgent queries every year. This one, considering the potential life-or-death repercussions of the issue, certainly qualified. Yet on Wednesday, when the query was supposed to be presented for discussion, it was removed from the agenda. What had happened? Well, the Knesset member received word from both MDA and Hatzalah that they were in the process of resolving the matter on their own, and that any publicity would be harmful at that point. Since his sole interest was in resolving the problem, and he had no desire to create further tensions, he withdrew the query—albeit only after he had informed the Knesset speaker of the reason for his about-face.
There are also some episodes of hashgochah pratis. For instance, a motion for the agenda was filed last Wednesday on the subject of Golda Meir Boulevard in Yerushalayim, which continues to be plagued by accidents and is considered one of the two deadliest roads in the country. Several other MKs challenged the member of the Knesset who had submitted the motion to explain why he had raised the subject again. “It is a deadly road, and we cannot rest until we come up with solutions,” he replied. Amazingly, just two hours before he delivered his address, another devastating car accident took place on the same road.
Naturally, this became the opening point of his speech. “Just this morning,” the Knesset member announced, “someone said to me, ‘Why are you discussing the same road again? You bring up this topic every few months!’ While I was pondering how to answer him, I received a message that four people had been wounded in a car accident on Golda Meir Boulevard in Yerushalayim, and one was in serious condition. I was a resident of the area; I was born there,” he continued. “I grew up in that area, and I can attest that there is an accident there every few weeks. Children have lost their lives on that road. It is a main artery in Yerushalayim, but there is something unhealthy about the road. I don’t mean that in the sense that many people are injured there; I mean that the planning was not healthy.”
The issue was transferred to the Economy Committee for further discussion.
A Lawmaker Still Pursuing Kiruv
When I left my office in the Knesset late one night last week, I found two visitors wandering the corridors, clearly struggling to find their way. When they caught sight of me, they hurried over and asked for directions to the building’s exit. Naturally, I answered their question, but I also asked them to tell me a bit about themselves. One of them appeared to be barely chareidi, while the other was dressed in typical Yerushalmi attire. The latter was a resident of Beit Shemesh; his companion was his nephew, who had strayed somewhat from the path of Torah observance. This only piqued my curiosity further, and I asked what had brought them to the Knesset. As it turned out, they had been meeting with MK Moshe Abutbul, a resident of Beit Shemesh (and the former mayor of the city). Abutbul, they revealed, is involved in kiruv work and endeavors to assist struggling youths. He had spent a long time in conversation with the young man.
When I encountered Abutbul and revealed that I had met his visitors, he was surprised. “I never imagined that the news would get out,” he admitted. “I began my career in chinuch and kiruv, and I have no intention of abandoning that world. In this case, the family asked me to get involved, since I had been successful with other young men in similar situations. I have managed to motivate others to make some changes in their lives … and to get married. That is the solution for our generation.”
I don’t know if Abutbul is correct about the solution, but I cannot fail to admire his dedication to these young men.
Choice Excerpts from the Shabbos Newsletters
This week, I came across the following story, attributed to one of our generation’s maggidim, in a newsletter on the weekly parshah:
“There was an elderly Jew who was about 98 years old. One day, the man became ill and they were about to summon the doctors, but the man refused to allow it. ‘I don’t need a doctor or a hospital,’ he insisted, and he proceeded to describe an incident from his childhood. The Vilna Gaon used to wear his tallis and tefillin throughout the day, and on one particular day he had been pacing back and forth in the shul…. The child, who was not paying attention, inadvertently stepped on the Gaon’s tzitzis strings. The Gaon was suddenly unable to move, and he looked at the child and said, ‘Mein kind, you should live for a hundred years, but what do you want with the tzitzis?’ Since he was only 98 years old, even though he had become bedridden with illness, the man insisted, ‘There is no reason for fear and no need for a doctor. The Gaon said that I would live for a hundred years; I have another two years remaining!’”
A different version of the story appeared in another newsletter, attributed to a different maggid: “There is a well-known story about the great gaon Rav Eliyohu of Vilna, who was once walking in the bais medrash of Vilna, immersed in his sacred ruminations, when the tzitzis strings of his tallis were caught under the foot of a small child. ‘Mein kind,’ the Gaon said with a smile, ‘you should live until the age of 120, but would you please release my tzitzis?’ That child indeed lived until the age of 120.”
Here is another incredible story: “The Vilna Gaon did not consult with doctors. He was once suffering from a severe ear infection, and since he did not go to doctors, his family members told him that there was a woman who healed illnesses using some kind of incantation. The woman was brought to the Gaon’s house, but since he feared that she used the forces of impurity, he demanded that she reveal her secret. The woman explained that she had once been in a shul and had heard a bas kol instructing her, ‘Take a cup of water and recite shehakol nihyeh b’dvaro for people to recover from their ailments. This will be your parnossah.’ When the Gaon heard this story, he burst into laughter, his body shaking so hard that the infection was dislodged from his ear. The woman asked, ‘Why did the Gaon laugh?’ He replied, ‘I was that bas kol! I was in the bais medrash, and there was a woman weeping there. She was wailing so loudly that I was unable to learn, and I heard her shouting about parnossah, so I told her that if she wants to have parnossah, she should recite shehakol and it would help her.’”
This story appeared in a slightly different form in another publication this week, although that version of the story attributed the incident to the Rebbe Reb Heshel, who was described as suffering from an infection in his throat. The remainder of the story, however, was the same.
Tears for Another Jew
Last week marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l, a man who attained superhuman levels of perfection in his caring and concern for other human beings. One talmid who attended his shiur recalled that a bochur had once asked a question that was irrelevant, and another talmid responded derisively to him. Rav Aryeh’s head suddenly began to droop, and he appeared to be immersed in thought. When he finally raised his head, the bochurim were astounded to see that the pages of his sefer were wet with tears. He was so profoundly sensitive that he could be moved to tears by an insult to another person. It was rare to hear him uttering a word of rebuke, but it was quite common for him to be moved to tears.
I had the good fortune of meeting him often, since often stayed at the home of his son-in-law, Rav Saar Meizel, in Givat Shaul. I often joined his minyan, along with my sons, when he visited our neighborhood. He also came to Givat Shaul every year on Hoshana Rabbah, when he addressed the community in the Beer Avrohom shul in our neighborhood. Three of my sons were his talmidim in Mir Brachfeld; one of them, Reb Aharon Yeshaya, along with his friend Reb Asher Chaim Waldman, had the privilege of learning with Rav Aryeh every Thursday night. During those sessions, Rav Aryeh prepared the shmuessen he delivered in the yeshiva on Friday night, as well as his weekly shiur on Mishlei, which was delivered in his home on motzoei Shabbos. This was a privilege that they enjoyed for over five years, taking the place of Rav Shlomo Zalman Zelaznik zt”l, one of the foremost talmidim of the yeshiva. They began substituting for Rav Shlomo Zalman when he became ill and was hospitalized intermittently; after his passing, they took over for him permanently.
“The rov was kind to us when he allowed us to join him,” my son recalled. “It appeared at first that Rav Aryeh needed someone to help him prepare his shmuessen because of his poor eyesight. He would tell us which seforim to bring for him, and we would read aloud where he indicated to us. He always thanked us profusely, and we felt that we were doing him a great favor. Sometimes he would even make it seem as if he was seeking our advice. ‘I am thinking of speaking about the meraglim’s error,’ he would say. ‘What do you think we should learn?’ We would make various suggestions, but he already knew exactly what he wanted, and he would ‘recommend’ different seforim. There were times when we brought up an idea and we would read an entire paragraph about it, and he would allow us to finish it even though it was clear to him that it wasn’t relevant. He had superhuman patience, along with an incredible ability to give others a good feeling.
“We realized this only at the end of his life,” my son continued. “He was very weak at the time, and he would occasionally doze off. When this happened, he would rest his head on the table, and we would sit in silence until he lifted it again. And then we would hear him continuing to recite the passages we had been reading, picking up exactly where we had left off. We discovered that he had never needed us to read the texts to him; he knew it all by heart. We would have been overjoyed by the mere fact that he allowed us to join him, but that wasn’t enough for him; he wanted us to feel that we were doing a favor for him.”
When Rav Aryeh delivered a shiur, he would inspire his listeners with his tears. Even when he quoted a well-known midrash, it would come alive when he read it, as his pure tears blazed a path into his listeners’ hearts. Rav Aryeh was once reading aloud Rashi’s comment, “Who could see his enemy performing an act of kindness for him and not be moved to embrace and kiss him?” In the middle of the passage, he became so emotional that he was unable to continue.
Rav Aryeh Finkel epitomized the concept of loving other Jews. If we all emulate his example, our world will certainly become a better place.