Wednesday, Apr 17, 2024

My Take On The News

To Confuse the Satan

This week, I received a copy of Shiurei Rabbeinu (the compilation of the shiurim delivered by Rav Moshe Shapiro on Friday nights) on the subject of Rosh Hashanah. This is the third volume in the series and, like the previous two volumes, features a collection of the highly original and brilliant insights of Rav Moshe Shapiro, a giant in machshovah whose shiurim garnered worldwide acclaim and who was hailed for his unfathomably vast knowledge. This sefer faithfully mirrors his personality: It is at once sweet and penetrating, lofty and accessible.

Rav Moshe Shapiro’s style of expression was highly unique—rich, lofty, and profound. His concepts were incredibly subtle and complex. It takes a highly talented artist to preserve Rav Moshe’s unique style while making his teachings accessible to potential readers. It is Rav Yosef Bronstein’s talent that led this sefer to become a resounding success.

Rav Moshe Shapiro’s shiurim were renowned for their complexity and depth. Rav Moshe elevated his listeners to lofty heights, building stunning conceptual edifices with every word. Every shmuess would open a window into worlds of hidden meaning and depth. It required a tremendous amount of understanding and talent to adapt the shiurim for publication in a form that would enable the readers to absorb Rav Moshe’s approach, to appreciate his brilliance, and to grasp the entirety of his message. Just to give you a taste of the depth of his writings, here is a brief excerpt from a maamar dealing with the three books of judgment that are opened on Rosh Hashanah:

“Most people, or almost all people, do not think about the possibility that there is another being that implants ideas in us and provokes us, and that we are like toys in his hands. That is the power of the tzefoni [i.e., the yetzer hara, which is tzafun—hidden—within us]. The Gemara states that the beinonim [average people] are judged by both [the yetzer hatov and the yetzer hara]. Beinonim are not people who are neither tzaddikim nor reshaim; rather, they are both tzaddikim and reshaim...”

And the following is another excerpt: “Yom Kippur brings us back to ourselves. We can begin to strengthen ourselves on this day. Nothing more is necessary; all we need to do is begin … to remove ourselves from our falsified identities. A person who does this will be sealed for life on Yom Kippur. That is our obligation.”

The sefer consists of 37 shiurim, all of which were delivered in the final years of Rav Moshe’s life and deal with subjects related to Rosh Hashanah. And every chapter is like a world unto itself. I perused the maamar on the subject of “confusing the satan” on Rosh Hashanah, which is a topic that I have never understood. How exactly do we confuse or “mix up” the satan? What does the sound of the shofar do? In this maamar, I discovered an incredible new world of insight. Rav Moshe observes that the zechus of the shofar enables us to survive the judgment of Rosh Hashanah, the shofar accompanied us through Kabbalas HaTorah, and the shofar will be with us when Moshiach arrives. The shofar evokes fear and trembling, causing us to be tense and alert. The shofar thus awakens us, and the Hebrew word for wakefulness, “eir,” is related to the term “irur,” which denotes changing a situation. An “irur,” for example, is a challenge against a document such as a bill of debt, which may cause the bill to be canceled. Likewise, a person experiences a change when he is awakened: He makes the transition from sleep to alertness.

The greater a person’s fear, Rav Moshe continues, the greater is the awakening that it evokes. In fact, fear of sin is the quality that immediately precedes kedushah.

“Confusing the satan,” Rav Moshe explains, “means that a person takes hold of himself at a time before he has rectified his sins and positions himself in a place where the sins do not exist. That is an act of ‘mixing up’ two things.”

It Will Be Easy to Weep on Rosh Hashanah

The year 5781 is almost upon us. On motzoei Shabbos, we began reciting Selichos, declaring that we “quake and tremble before the day of Your arrival.” This year, it will not take much effort for us to feel fear. We need only take a good look around ourselves to find a basis for dread and terror. I didn’t check if the fish in the sea are trembling, but I know with certainty that people are trembling everywhere.

Last week, Rav Benayahu Nebenzahl passed away. Since he was my mechutan’s brother, I was monitoring his well-being closely. I even tried to visit him in Hadassah Hospital, but was not allowed to enter the intensive care unit in the corona ward.

Rav Benaya’s death was unmistakably a Heavenly decree. Until he contracted Covid, he did not suffer from any “background illnesses.” He did not smoke, maintained a healthy weight, and was otherwise very cautious. But then his life was abruptly curtailed.

In another tragic case, Rav Pinchos Eliyohu Valdstein passed away last Friday. A 35-year-old yungerman from Yerucham, he contracted Covid and was hospitalized for six weeks in the intensive care unit in Soroka Hospital in Beer Sheva. Rav Valdstein was survived by his wife and seven children, the oldest of whom is only 14 years old. During his hospitalization, his condition declined even though he had been attached to an ECMO machine. His passing left the Yerucham community in shock and cast a pall over the entire chareidi community of Israel. In this case, as well, it was reported that he had been extremely cautious. “Rav Pinchos was very responsible; he observed all the health guidelines and wore a mask all the time,” his family members related.

These are only two of the hundreds of niftarim whom the coronavirus pandemic has taken from us in Israel and around the world. There have been many heartrending tragedies; hundreds of new orphans and widows have been added to our ranks. It will certainly not be hard for anyone to cry from the depths of their heart on Rosh Hashanah. We are often advised to shed tears on Rosh Hashanah; this year, it will unquestionably be easy to do. On the other hand, I have one doubt: Is it permissible to cry on the first day of Rosh Hashanah when it falls on Shabbos?

To Be a Ben Olam Haba in Olam Hazeh

Another distinguished person who left the world these days at a relatively young age is Reb Yitzchok Zisman, who partnered with Rav Aviezer Piltz, yibadeil l’chaim, in managing the Tifrach yeshiva. Many incredible stories about Reb Yitzchok were shared by the visitors, all of which painted the picture of a man of exalted spiritual stature. He was an outstanding talmid chochom and a highly accomplished activist in many areas, including kiruv work.

Reb Yitzchok’s family recalled that he viewed every line in the Gemara as a source of practical guidance. The story of Rebbi and the mice (Bava Metzia 84) resonated with him on a profound level; Reb Yitzchok was always compassionate to mice, and never killed a rodent. Whenever he caught a mouse in a trap, he would take it somewhere outdoors and set it free. He once discovered a trapped mouse in the middle of the night and immediately took it to a distant location to free it. “Why should the mouse have to suffer until morning?” he asked rhetorically.

He was also heavily influenced by the story of Rabbah bar Bar Chanah and the barrels of wine in the third perek of Bava Metzia. Reb Yitzchok once asked a bochur in the Brisk yeshiva to bring him a tape recorder from America. After his return to Israel, the bochur left his dormitory room open and the tape recorder was stolen. Rav Yitzchok decided nonetheless to pay the bochur for the machine he had purchased and even to compensate him for his effort. He later shared the story in a shmuess, pretending that the protagonist had been an unnamed yungerman in Bnei Brak. “The yungerman was so excited by the opportunity to act lifnim mishuras hadin,” he related, “that he gave out candies to his children that day in order to celebrate the occasion.”

Rav Yitzchok’s brother-in-law is Rav Dovid Miller; Rebbetzin Zisman and Rav Dovid are the children of Rav Shmuel Yechiel Miller zt”l, a talmid of the yeshivos of Radin and Baranovich who served as the rov of Bat Yam. Rav Dovid, who was appointed by Rav Elazar Menachem Shach to serve as a maggid shiur in Ponovezh, made a fascinating comment in his hesped: “The Gemara discusses the concept of a ben olam haba. This isn’t referring to a person who lives in this world and is destined to have a place in Olam Haba in the future. Rather, it is the term for someone who is like a denizen of Olam Haba even during his life in this world. There are some people whose actions in this world—even activities such as eating, drinking, and ordinary conversation—are focused on Olam Haba. Even in this world, they are bnei olam haba. That is precisely what Rav Yitzchok was. He was a person who was connected to the World to Come even while he lived in this world.”

Davening Restricted, Protests Continue as Usual

Once again, one of the major questions facing all of us in Israel is how we will daven while dealing with the government restrictions. The government announced a total lockdown slated to begin on erev Rosh Hashanah and to continue through Sukkos. The coronavirus crisis has been growing progressively more severe, and there does not appear to be a solution on the horizon. The number of corona cases has been rising, and there has been an increase in both the number of patients on ventilators and the number of fatalities as well.

Netanyahu has been warning us all along that there might be no alternative to imposing a complete lockdown. Now, it seems, the time has come. On Sunday, the government approved the draconian measure, although some leniencies were introduced due to pressure from various ministers. The plan calls for a complete nationwide lockdown beginning erev Rosh Hashanah and continuing for three weeks! The ministers agreed to allow the country’s school system to remain open until Friday. Stringent limitations will be placed on the operation of businesses, hotels will be shut and citizens will not be permitted to leave their homes. The government originally planned to implement the lockdown at 6:00 a.m. on Friday, but it was postponed until the afternoon at the request of Aryeh Deri, who wished to ensure that the preparations for Yom Tov would not be disrupted.

According to some of the participants in the cabinet meeting, the lockdown that was actually passed was softened somewhat from the original proposal. For instance, it was originally intended to continue for a month, but was later shortened to a period of three weeks. On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the nation and explained that the lockdown was a last resort and that the decision had been made for lack of any alternative. Nevertheless, the general sense among the public is that, unlike when the first lockdown was announced before Pesach, this time it reflects a failure on the part of the government.

Severe restrictions were also imposed on davening. Indoor minyanim are to be limited to ten people, while a cap of 20 people has been imposed on outdoor minyanim. What is even more infuriating is that political demonstrations will be allowed to continue. At the cabinet meeting, the attorney general informed the ministers that the government does not have the power to limit the freedom of demonstration. This absurd decision is one of the reasons that the public has lost faith in the officials who are leading the fight against corona.

In his speech on Sunday evening, Netanyahu tried to project confidence. “I promise that we will get through this together,” he declared. He called on the entire nation to observe the Health Ministry’s instructions. Someone even taught him to recite the line, “Avinu Malkeinu, mena mageifah minachalasecha.”

Netanyahu took questions from the press at the end of his speech, and the reporters assailed him mercilessly. If the same thing had happened in the White House, Trump would certainly have thrown a couple of the journalists out of the room. The reporters later found a few inaccuracies in his remarks, but we will put that issue aside for the time being.

“We were the first ones to understand the danger,” Netanyahu boasted. “We were the first country to close our economy, and therefore we were among the first to open it.” According to Netanyahu’s speech, it was his own foresight and resourcefulness that kept the death rate down in Israel. But he added one frightening statement: “There were 30 red cities in the beginning, and now we have 70.” May Hashem protect us!

Netanyahu tried to convince the public that the country is safe and secure under his leadership. After his speech, he headed directly to the airport. “I am traveling to a historic event now,” he informed his listeners. Netanyahu flew to the United States to sign an historic peace deal. On his way to the airport, he was followed by the protestors from Rechov Balfour.

Torah and Chessed Will Protect Us

I feel compelled to quote a portion of a recent shmuess delivered by Rav Aharon Chodosh, the mashgiach of the Mir yeshiva. Every one of Rav Aharon’s shmuessen is a treasure trove of powerful insights and practical guidance. There is good reason that students of mussar tend to drink in his words with thirst.

Rav Aharon delivered a shmuess in the yeshiva, citing numerous passages in the Gemara, the Midrash, and the commentaries of Rashi, the, Ramban, and the Daas Zekeinim. His message was that the call of the hour is for all of us to increase our dedication to Torah learning and chessed. In fact, that may well be the message of the coronavirus itself. The mashgiach quoted the comment of the Baal HaTurim on the posuk at the beginning of Parshas Reeh, “See, I am placing before you today a blessing and a curse.” The Baal HaTurim points out that the word “reeh” (see) appears in the singular form, implying that every individual Jew will receive a brocha. Rav Aharon observed, however, that the word “lifneichem” (before you), which appears later in the posuk, is in the plural form. The message of this, he explained, is that every individual receives his brocha only when he is part of a larger community.

The mashgiach went on to quote the Gemara’s statement, “Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: What is the meaning of the posuk, ‘Our feet were standing within your gates, Yerushalayim’? What caused our feet to stand in battle and to be victorious? The gates of Yerushalayim, which would engage in Torah learning.” The mashgiach added, “During this period, we must increase our Torah learning, for the Torah protects and saves us.” He expressed his satisfaction with the intensive learning that was taking place in the yeshiva. “It is now the month of mercy and forgiveness,” he said. “We have been granted the siyata d’shmaya to begin the zman with tremendous intensity, in spite of all the disruptions and everything that we experienced in the summer. We have had the good fortune of witnessing bochurim come to the gates of Yerushalayim to learn in a yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel and to pursue Torah learning, which is the equivalent of all other mitzvos, and to fulfill the mandate of ‘b’chol meodecha’ in their Torah learning.

“In the brocha of ahavah Rabbah, which we recite over the Torah every morning, we recite the words, ‘v’solicheinu komemiyus l’artzeinu—and bring us upright to our land,’” the mashgiach continued. “What does that have to do with the Torah? This teaches us that Eretz Yisroel is the primary place for Torah learning; the air of Eretz Yisroel promotes wisdom, especially in the holy city of Yerushalayim….

“The Midrash states, ‘Hashem said to Yisroel: Is it not that you heard many voices?’ There are many voices in a yeshiva: the voices of gaonim, of lamdanim, and of people with prodigious knowledge, the voices of beginners and advanced talmidim alike. These voices speak of both Torah and yiras Shomayim. The talmidim who come must listen to these voices to the best of their ability, and over time they will come to hear voices that are even deeper. As the years go by, each of them will understand in accordance with his own abilities.”

On the subject of chessed, the mashgiach said, “The posuk states, ‘Behold, how good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together.’ We must first be brothers and then dwell together, and then we will see how good and pleasant it is for us to coexist. How will it be pleasant? When we cling to the attributes of Hashem and we behave lifnim mishuras hadin. In this merit, may our tefillos be accepted, and may this year and its curses come to an end, and a new year begin with its blessings.”

All I can say in response is: Amen!

Litzman’s Resignation and the Opposition’s Hypocrisy

I have two observations to make about the coronavirus crisis. One is that the Israeli public has lost faith in the decision makers in the government. The people have simply come to feel that there is no logic or intelligence behind any of the decisions the government has been making. The polls clearly show this growing lack of confidence. The government’s latest decision to close the country’s shuls, either completely or almost completely, prompted Yaakov Litzman to resign from his ministerial position—a drastic step, of course, although it is not clear how it accomplished anything. The following is a brief excerpt from Litzman’s much longer letter to the prime minister:

“For about a month already, as we have grappled with the statistics concerning the contagion in Israel, I have been repeatedly warning against the intent signaled in advance by coronavirus czar Professor Roni Gamzu to impose a full lockdown during the upcoming holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which would prevent hundreds of thousands of Jews from all communities and sectors from davening in shuls…. For some of them, this is the only time of the year when they come to daven in shul…. The coronavirus coordinator, Professor Gamzu, constantly denied that this was his intention. Unfortunately, it has been proven that I was correct and that the decision to implement a full lockdown during the holidays was made in advance, amid the taking of excessive risks that caused a rise in the infection rates…. As a result, I will not be able to continue in my position as a government minister. I have decided to resign from the government and to return to serving as a member of the Knesset, in accordance with the Norwegian Law.” As you may recall, Litzman resigned from the Knesset in order to allow Eliyohu Bruchi to take his place there. We will have to wait and see what will happen to Bruchi now.

In his address to the nation on Sunday evening, Netanyahu expressed his dismay over Litzman’s resignation. The prime minister claimed that he admires Litzman and that he hopes that the former minister will return to the government soon. Litzman’s colleagues in Agudas Yisroel, Degel HaTorah, and Shas also expressed their own hopes that his resignation would only be temporary.

My second observation concerns the oft-repeated refrain that “the chareidim are ignoring the Health Ministry’s guidelines.” The two most egregious purveyors of incitement against the chareidi public are Yair Lapid and Avigdor Lieberman; they, more than anyone else, have repeatedly accused the chareidi community of carelessness in this respect. Yet it has now been revealed that Lapid called upon the citizens at the beginning of the crisis to refrain from following the government’s instructions, which he considered irrational, and that Lieberman has now announced that it is unnecessary to follow the government’s instructions. This is hypocrisy at its best! Health Minister Yuli Edelstein was quite correct in excoriating the head of Yisroel Beiteinu: “Lieberman is playing with fire. We need people bearing the weight of the stretcher, not interfering with those who are carrying it. Lieberman is acting irresponsibly and without restraint, and is trying to exploit a situation that is extremely fragile both from the vantage point of health care and from an economic standpoint. For shame!”

Yeshiva Bochurim Hailed in the Knesset

The Knesset can be entertaining at times, and it also has its share of emotional moments. I was moved to hear MK Eliyohu Bruchi utilize his right to a one-minute speech to applaud the dedication of a yeshiva bochur, and thereby to provide the members of the Knesset with a modicum of insight into the world of yeshivos, which is completely foreign to them.

“Mr. Speaker,” Bruchi began, “Yossi Mandel is a 15 and a half years old talmid yeshiva. Last week, he proudly bade farewell to his parents and his four brothers, who live in Yesodot. Yossi joined a yeshiva in Petach Tikvah on erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, and he will remain there without interruption until Yom Kippur, for a period of forty days, along with the other 150 talmidim in the yeshiva. The yeshiva has begun learning Maseches Bava Kamma. The coronavirus has paralyzed countless industries and recreational centers, but it proved powerless against the determination and mesirus nefesh of talmidei yeshivos at the ages of 14, 15, and 16. I would like to take advantage of this podium in order to express my appreciation for the sacrifices made by Yossi and his peers—and, of course, by their supportive parents and the other members of their families. The world will be saved in the merit of the Torah and those who learn it. Thank you very much.”

In another incident in the Knesset, I found it amusing to listen to an exchange between MK Alex Kushnir, who has earned notoriety for his anti-Semitic video mocking the halachos of taharah, and Deputy Finance Minister Yitzchok Cohen, who had an opportunity to deliver some sound rebuke to the hostile MK.

It began with an urgent parliamentary query submitted by Kushnir, who decried the government expenditure of 100 million shekels on the purchase of cars in the middle of the greatest economic crisis in its history. Cohen responded to this question, and Kushnir then took advantage of his right to ask an additional question.

“How many such cars were purchased in the year 2019, how many are no longer in use, and what is your expectation regarding purchases in the year 2020?” Kushnir asked.

“I don’t have the data here,” Cohen replied. “I will be happy to send it to you if you wish.”

“I would be pleased to receive it in writing,” Kushnir said.

“Thank you very much,” Cohen said. “I will also find out if there is a car that belongs to a chareidi, or anything of the sort,” he added in a tone of biting sarcasm.

“Next time, I will address you without my Russian accent, so that you will find it easier to listen,” Kushnir said.

“You don’t have to do that; I see the prejudice in your videos,” Cohen replied evenly. “Anyone who sees your videos will observe it there.”

Deliberate Electric Outages in Chareidi Neighborhoods

If the following is actually true, then it is both a criminal act and a display of government-sanctioned audacity: During the record heat wave last week, when the use of electricity reached an all-time high, the electric company is alleged to have caused deliberate power outages specifically in areas populated by chareidim. The following parliamentary query, which was not approved as an urgent question, was submitted to the Knesset: “This week, the use of electricity soared to record heights. In many areas where the residents are religious, the electric company deliberately cut the supply of power. Some communities in Yehuda and the Shomron reported lengthy outages that lasted for hours. I would like to ask: Why does the electric company cause intentional outages, and why do they take place specifically in chareidi areas? And is there a fault in the supply of electricity to Yehuda and the Shomron?”

In an unrelated story, the court has fined the police force once again. This time, the police were required to pay a fine of 24,000 shekels to activists from Lehava, a right-wing organization that works to rescue Jewish girls from Arab villages. Once again, I must ask the same question that I have often raised in the past: Will this fine be paid by the police force as a whole or by the individual officers? If the fine is to be paid by the police force as a whole, then what will it accomplish? If a police officer isn’t personally penalized for his own misconduct, what will prevent him from repeating the same offense in the future?

On a similar note, I read the following brief news item this week: “The Police Internal Investigations Department has closed its investigation into an incident in which an eight-year-old girl in Meah Shearim was hit by a stun grenade. The lawyers representing the girl’s family will decide whether to appeal the decision.” There wasn’t a single person in this country who wasn’t horrified by the video of that incident. The footage showed a woman and a young girl passing by the scene of an altercation between police and local residents, when they were hit by a stun grenade hurled by a police officer. The policeman hadn’t even bothered to determine where the grenade would land; he simply threw it without paying the slightest attention to its trajectory. Yet the officer has not been brought to justice; instead, the case has been closed, perhaps because the incident happened in Meah Shearim rather than on Rechov Balfour. The entire chareidi community now feels as if they have been collectively hit by a much larger stun grenade, this one thrown by the Internal Investigations Department rather than a lone policeman. The message was clear: Chareidim are second class citizens who do not deserve to have their rights defended.

The Extra Blech

The following two incidents took place on the final Shabbos of the year, the day commonly known as Shabbos Slichos. If Rav Levi Yitzchok Berdichev, the great defender of Klal Yisroel, were still alive, he would surely have put these stories to good use.

The first incident involves a yungerman who lives on Rechov Breuer in Bayit Vegan in Yerushalayim. This particular street has earned a nickname: “Yirmiyohu,” which is typically slurred to produce the words “ir meow,” in an allusion to the proliferation of cats on the street. But that is not the subject of our story.

Reb Feivel, the father-in-law of this story’s protagonist, who lives in the vicinity, had invited his son-in-law to join his family on Shabbos. Reb Feivel had returned from a trip to Lakewood, where he had attended a wedding, not long before, and his return to Eretz Yisroel was certainly a reason in its own right for his family members to gather at his Shabbos table. It seemed to be an especially fitting occasion for a family get-together in light of the fact that one of Reb Feivel’s granddaughters was celebrating her birthday, which would certainly be made into a festive occasion at the home of her doting grandparents. Yet the son-in-law and his family respectfully declined the invitation.

“But why didn’t you go?” I asked the yungerman.

“Because of my daughter’s birthday,” he replied.

“Isn’t that a reason that you should go there?” I asked in puzzlement.

“I didn’t think it was appropriate to celebrate a birthday on Shabbos Slichos,” the pious young father replied, as I marveled at his display of sensitivity.

My second story took place on Rechov Grossman in Beit Shemesh, at the new development built by the Yesodot Tzur construction company. The development consists of several new buildings that were recently cleared for occupancy. The apartments quickly became home to hundreds of families of young kollel yungerleit. Shortly before the arrival of Shabbos, there was a power outage in the area, either because of the record usage of electricity or by a deliberate act of the electric company. Word spread through the neighborhood that the power would be restored after Shabbos began. In spite of the prohibition of benefiting from melachah performed on Shabbos, poskim permit the use of electricity that is restored after a blackout, since the electric company is required to restore the supply for the benefit of ill people for whom a blackout might create life-threatening danger.

Without electricity to power their hot plate, one of the families in the development was particularly desperate for an extra blech for that Shabbos. They went from one neighbor to the next, asking each if they had a blech to spare, but they could not find a single family with an extra blech to lend them. A few minutes before Shabbos, when they were about to despair, one of their neighbors appeared at their doorstep and handed them a blech. “Please, feel free to use this,” he said.

Over the course of that Shabbos, the couple could not help but wonder how the neighbor had suddenly produced an extra blech to lend them. The same family had told them earlier in the day that they did not have a spare; was it possible that they had loaned their own blech to their desperate neighbors? On motzoei Shabbos, they pressed their benefactors for an explanation. At first, the neighbors were reluctant to answer them, but then the wife admitted, “My husband gave you our Pesach blech.”

They would have to purchase a new blech for the following Pesach, but that did not concern them. The opportunity for a chessed was of far greater value to them than the cost of a new blech.

The Security Guard’s Question

I will conclude with one more story, which demonstrates that any Jew, regardless of his appearance, might have a connection to the Torah.

This Tuesday, I arrived at the Knesset building at my usual time. Tuesday tends to be a quiet day in the Knesset; the schedule is more relaxed, with little to occupy our attention other than the “one-minute speeches” delivered by various Knesset members. A security guard named Lior Mizrachi was stationed at the entrance to the building, where he examined the entry pass of every arriving employee and scanned their belongings with an X-ray machine. The security guards at the Knesset are extremely polite, but they are equally tough, and I became somewhat apprehensive when he looked directly at me and said, “May I ask you a question?”

Unsure of what challenge I was about to face, I quickly made sure that my Knesset pass was in my possession and that I wasn’t carrying a weapon. “Yes,” I replied warily.

Nothing had prepared me for the question he was about to ask: “What does ‘Sanhedrin’ mean?”

I explained, to the best of my ability, that the Sanhedrin was a type of bais din that existed in earlier generations. But Lior Mizrachi, who did not look much like a person who would have the slightest interest in the Sanhedrin, was still not satisfied. “What is the origin of the word ‘sanhedrin’?” he demanded.

I confessed that I did not know.

The security guard grinned. “Then I will tell you what Rav Akiva Bartenura says,” he replied triumphantly. “He explains that the dayanim are called ‘sanhedrin’ because they hate [sonei] favoritism [hadras panim] in judgment. Isn’t that a beautiful explanation? And you weren’t aware of it!”

“Very nice,” I said approvingly. “But his name was Rav Ovadiah Bartenura, not Rav Akiva.”

“All right; very well,” the uniformed security guard replied. “In any event, it is a Mishnah in the eighth perek of Maseches Sotah.”



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