The Embodiment of Kavod HaTorah
I must make note of the tremendous sadness that enveloped the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel this past week in the wake of the passing of Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l. It was known for a while that he was ill, and in recent weeks we were all aware that his condition had deteriorated drastically. Tefillos for his recovery were recited in many places throughout the country, but the decree had been passed, and he was taken from our midst.
Thousands of people came to pay their respects during the week of shivah, and hespeidim were held in many locations. The visitors included prominent public figures and gedolei Torah, but above all, many of them were Rav Moshe’s talmidim. Suddenly, we learned just how many people considered themselves his talmidim. Rav Moshe was eulogized by many gedolim, some of whom had known him personally, while others had never been acquainted with him but were aware of his greatness.
One of the hespeidim took place in Midreshet Ziv in the neighborhood of Shaarei Chessed, where many baalei teshuvah gather to learn. This program is part of the kiruv enterprise of the Wolfson family and, like many other programs of the same sort, operated under Rav Moshe Shapiro’s close supervision. Hespeidim were delivered by Rav Naftali Jaeger, rosh yeshiva of Sh’or Yoshuv in Lawrence, NY; Rav Moshe Frank, one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshiva Ohr Somayach; and Rav Uri Zohar.
Rav Zohar quoted the teaching of the Mishnah in Maseches Sotah which states, “After Rebbi Akiva died, there was no longer kavod haTorah.” Rashi explains that Rebbi Akiva embodied kavod haTorah because he meticulously expounded every tip of every letter in the Torah. In our generation, Rav Zohar asserted, it was Rav Moshe who identified the hidden meaning of every letter in the Torah. He was the living embodiment of kavod haTorah. Rav Zohar shared a number of anecdotes about Rav Moshe, including the revelation that he himself had learned bechavrusah with Rav Moshe at the beginning of his own personal journey. This was a distinction that Rav Uri shared with two other noted baalei teshuvah: Rabbi Ika Yisroeli (whom Rav Moshe later eulogized in a hesped that I quoted last week) and Rabbi Mordechai Arnon (another well-known baal teshuvah and former entertainer, who followed in Rabbi Ika Yisroeli’s footsteps and became religious around the same time). “Years later,” Rav Uri related, “I was pained when I remembered how I addressed Rav Moshe at the time as if I was speaking to an equal. I didn’t know what it meant to be a talmid chochom or what the Torah is, and I certainly did not understand who Rav Moshe Shapiro was.”
Rav Zohar concluded his hesped by asserting that Rav Moshe was “an incredible talmid chochom, a man who had mastered the entire Torah, and a gaon who had an outstanding talent with words.” With Rav Moshe’s passing, kavod haTorah has truly left us.
Love, Forbearance … and Respect
Now that I mentioned Rav Uri Zohar, let me share another interesting tidbit with you. Many people find their way to Rav Uri’s home to seek his advice on various issues. The flow of visitors is enormous, and Rav Uri has a right-hand man who screens the people arriving at his door: Rabbi Natan Chaifetz, one of the directors of Lev L’Achim, who is probably Rav Uri’s closest friend. The visitors are highly varied. There are chassidishe yungeleit, youths grappling with the temptation of the world outside Yiddishkeit, married couples seeking guidance, and, of course, an endless array of baalei teshuvah. Nevertheless, it can be said that many of the people seeking Rav Uri’s counsel are the parents of young men or boys who have some difficulty remaining on the beaten path. This is a very common phenomenon, and even a subtle error in handling these youths can cause irreversible, even life-altering damage. Rav Uri is one of the foremost experts in this area.
This past week, I was asked to arrange a visit with Rav Uri for a visiting couple from Boro Park. Knowing that I have a close friendship with Rav Uri and that I learn with him every day along with Rabbi Chaifetz and Rabbi Avrohom Zeibald, they asked me to arrange for Rav Uri to see them during their stay, and I was glad to help. I have a good deal of hakoras hatov toward this couple – or, to be more precise, toward the husband’s parents – and I even went so far as to drive them to the Zohar residence in my own car.
The couple told me, in general terms, about the issue that they planned to discuss with Rav Uri, and I predicted that he would give them two pieces of advice. “First of all,” I said, “he is going to tell you to bite your tongues and to withhold any comments you may wish to make. Be’ezras Hashem, he will say, the day will come when you will have much nachas from your son. Secondly, he will also tell you to love your son. Love is the key. A relationship that is fraught with friction and animosity is a certain ticket to destruction.” I brought the visiting couple into Rav Uri’s home and then I made a quick exit, leaving them to conduct their conversation alone.
I waited outside for them, and I was pleased to see that they were smiling when they emerged. That was a good sign in its own right; it was clear that they had begun to feel a measure of relief. When they reentered my car, they said, “You were right, but only partially.”
I was very surprised. After all these years, I can practically read Rav Uri Zohar’s mind. “What was I wrong about?” I asked.
“He gave us three instructions, not two,” they replied. “The first, as you said, was to show love to our son. You were right about the second, as well: He told us to exercise forbearance and not to speak our minds.”
“And what was the third thing?” I asked.
“To respect him,” they replied.
Once, during our daily chavrusashaft with Rav Uri, a woman called on the phone to speak to him about her son. Rav Uri’s home telephone number is unlisted, but it can still be obtained by a person who is determined enough. It was obvious that this woman had a very sad story to tell and that her son had already sunk very far. The pain suffered by parents in these situations is absolutely unfathomable, particularly if their wayward children live at home. These parents are forced to watch their children’s behavior with an awful sense of helplessness and despondence. Sometimes, the fear that other children may be influenced as well can rob them of sleep for months at a time.
We were able to hear only Rav Uri’s side of the conversation; we could not hear the mother’s voice, and in any event, we tried to continue learning while they spoke. After all, the situation had nothing to do with us, and there was no reason for us to pay much attention to the exchange. Nevertheless, we understood from his expression that it was a very sad situation. It was evident that the bochur’s name was Shlomo, since we heard Rav Uri use his name several times in the course of his discussion.
When he finally concluded the call, he was visibly shaken. As usual, though, he was completely immersed in the sugya within moments of hanging up the phone. We were the ones who found it difficult to move on even after hearing only half of the conversation, but as much as we tried to extract some details from him, Rav Uri remained adamantly silent on the subject. Of course, we had no interest in knowing the identity of the bochur in question, but we were very interested to know what the mother had asked and how he had advised her. Rav Uri, however, refused to divulge even those details of the conversation.
There was only one thing that he revealed to us: “Every time I called her son ‘Shlomo,’ the woman corrected me and told me to call him ‘Shloime.’ Do you see what is happening?” he said sadly. “She simply doesn’t understand what is happening under her very nose, in her own home. She has a son who is no longer connected to mitzvos, who is in a very sad situation, but she still feels that the problem is that people are calling him ‘Shlomo’ instead of ‘Shloime.’”
But Shlomo – excuse me, Shloime – will yet return, with Hashem’s help. He may not become a maggid shiur, and he may become a stockbroker instead, but he will certainly be a shomer mitzvos, with a connection to the Torah, and he will build a faithful Jewish family. How do I know this? Because that is what Rabbi Uri Zohar believes. Most of these youths return to their parents and their faith after a period of “golus,” after traveling through the dark tunnel. All that is necessary is for their elders to know how to relate to them.
And for that, Rav Uri has given us the keys: Love, forbearance, and respect. May we hear besuros tovos.
Tragedy in Armon Hanetziv
The investigations concerning the prime minister overshadowed even the terror attack that took place last week in Armon Hanetziv in Yerushalayim. Although the newspapers covered the incident for two days after it took place, it was forgotten immediately thereafter. It was a particularly horrendous attack: An Arab from the neighborhood of Jabel Mukhaber was driving a truck, and when he spotted a group of soldiers disembarking from a bus that had brought them to the neighborhood, he plowed directly into them. The results were devastating: Four soldiers were killed and others were wounded.
Interestingly, I wrote about Armon Hanetziv not long ago, when I accompanied the Rebbe of Mevakshei Emunah to a shmuess he delivered at Armon HaTorah, a kollel in the neighborhood where newly religious local residents learn with yungeleit from Yeshivas Mir. I mentioned at the time that the neighborhood has suffered from many terror attacks for a simple reason: This Jewish neighborhood is adjacent to an Arab residential area that has been the place of origin of many murderers. In most cases, those murderers traveled further into the city to carry out their attacks, but in some cases, such as this one, they didn’t bother traveling far, and instead committed their acts of slaughter mere meters from their homes.
When I drove to Armon Hanetziv, I followed the directions of my GPS, and I suddenly discovered that the signs on the stores surrounding me were in Arabic. I realized immediately that I was in an actual Arab neighborhood. In general, this wouldn’t be frightening, since I would assume that the locals were Israeli Arabs, but in this case, for some reason, I was concerned. My fears reached their peak when I found my car sitting still in the middle of a small traffic jam, with Arabs all around me. Even the word “Meuchedet” on a nearby building, the name of one of Israel’s four health care providers, was written in Arabic. Despite my fears, I did not make any rash moves. I simply waited until I was able to continue driving. Finally, I reached my destination.
When I drove up to the kollel, one of the yungeleit spotted me and exclaimed, “How are you coming from that direction?” I told him that I had followed the directions from Waze, and he looked at me in shock. “Are you crazy?” he demanded. “You drove through Jabel Mukhaber! You should have come from a different direction altogether!” Now realizing the peril in which I had placed myself, I began trembling.
Amazingly, there wasn’t a single government minister present at any of the funerals of the four victims of the terror attack. Although there is no legal requirement for a minister to attend such an event, it is certainly dictated by common sense. In response, the secretary of the cabinet announced that an oversight of this nature would not be allowed to occur in the future.
The Little Things
Allow me to share with you a brief yet powerful thought on the parsha this week. The Torah describes how the two Jewish midwives in Mitzrayim risked their lives to save the infants whom Paroh ordered thrown into the Nile. Those midwives were Shifra and Puah, names that were derived from the way they tended to the infants after they were born. The name Shifra comes from the word meshaperes, meaning that she “beautified” and cleaned every newborn child, while Puah represents the soothing sounds that she made to calm the newborn infants.
This leads to a question: Why were the midwives given names that represent the most marginal aspects of the things they did? One would think that it would have been much more appropriate for them to be given names such as Chaya and Tzila, for the fact that they gave life to the children and saved them from death. Those were things they did with genuine mesirus nefesh.
The answer to our question is that a person is measured specifically by the small things he does. It is the little things that are the true yardstick of a person’s character. In the midst of their mesirus nefesh and their massive rescue operation, these midwives did not forget to tend to their newborn charges in even the most minor ways – and that is the true measure of their greatness.
The Limits of Praise
I try to avoid praising people when it is possible that a kind word may actually lead to harm. Sometimes, a simple praise can turn into the exact opposite, even when we least expect it. Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l once related that he encountered a close friend, a member of a distinguished family from Bnei Brak, and complimented him on his son’s davening at the Kosel Hamaarovi. “Your son was davening like a true ben aliyah,” he said. “It was the tefillah of an adam gadol.”
But while Rav Moshe Shmuel had hoped to bring joy to the father with his words of praise, he was shocked when his words had the opposite effect. The father’s face turned red as he let out a cry. “He was at the Kosel? What was he doing at the Kosel? Why did he leave yeshiva?”
“I learned from that incident,” the rosh yeshiva related, “that it is sometimes better to refrain from praising someone, because one can never know what effect those words may have.”
This past week, an incident took place that bore out this lesson: A man happened to notice his neighbor’s son leaving his home with a large plate piled high with food. Presuming that the child was carrying snacks for his own enjoyment in the bais medrash, the observer watched dispassionately as the boy made his way down the stairs and suddenly dropped the plate, spilling its contents on the ground. In what appeared to be a display of great maturity and responsibility, the boy then hurried to clean up the mess he had inadvertently made, making sure not to leave a trace of the ruined platter of food on the floor.
Later that day, the man who had witnessed the scene decided to share his observation with the boy’s father, with the intent of complimenting him on his son’s maturity. But his neighbor did not share his positive view of the incident. “He dropped the food and he never told me?” the man exclaimed. “I sent him to bring that food to his grandmother!” Rather than feeling pride, the father was overcome by fury.
Once again, it was clear: Even the most well-intentioned compliment can sometimes backfire. Clearly, we must be careful with our words even in this respect.
Cigars, Newspapers, and Looming Elections
This sounds hard to believe, but the investigation into Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has actually grown to encompass two separate issues. The first has to do with cigars – a lot of cigars. In fact, hundreds of thousands of shekels worth of cigars. And champagne, as well. The story is that there is a wealthy financier – or perhaps two – who has been in the habit of giving gifts to the Netanyahu family. I mentioned in the past that this person lives in America, but we have since learned that that is not exactly true. The gift-giver is an Israeli who has a home in chutz la’aretz as well.
Yediot Acharonot, a newspaper that is considered particularly hostile toward Netanyahu, celebrated the investigation, until the newspaper itself became entangled in the scandal, when it was leaked to the media that there is a second investigation taking place, and that one concerns Yediot Acharonot. According to the report, the investigation is based on recorded conversations between Netanyahu and the publisher of Yediot Acharonot, in which the two had made an agreement of sorts: Netanyahu would limit the publication of Yisroel Hayom (the newspaper owned by Sheldon Adelson and identified with the prime minister), which had been detracting from Yediot Acharonot’s business, mainly because it is distributed for free and was causing the other newspaper to lose advertisers. According to the allegations, the publisher promised, in exchange for the reduction in competition, that he would change the paper’s slant against Netanyahu. In fact, the publisher reportedly assured Netanyahu that he would see to it that the latter remained prime minister for as long as he wished.
Will this turn out to be nothing more than an unpleasant stain on the prime minister’s reputation, or will the affair lead to an actual criminal case? There are divergent opinions on that subject, but since most of the details haven’t been revealed yet, it is difficult to make a prediction. Meanwhile, some are claiming that the allegations themselves are reason enough for Netanyahu to resign, not only because of the ethical implications, but also because it is impossible for him to run the country properly under the circumstances. That makes sense, but then again, at least in the case of the Yediot Acharonot investigation, one must wonder how Netanyahu was at fault.
At the same time, there is talk of new elections. Speculation is already abounding about what will happen if Netanyahu resigns. Will we go directly to elections? Will the coalition support one of the ministers in the government to take his place? Will someone from the opposition become prime minister? Whatever the case may be, the entire country is now preoccupied by this subject.
Terror on the Road to Kiryat Sefer
Over the past two months, there have been dozens of attempted terror attacks. The reason you have not heard about most of them is that when there are no fatalities, bechasdei Hashem, the attacks are generally not reported. Out of the dozens of events that have taken place, the media reported only a few isolated incidents: a Jew who was lightly wounded in Gush Etzion when his car was stoned near Tekoa, another Jew who was stabbed near Efrat, and three soldiers who were injured by stone-throwers. The many other incidents that took place were barely reported at all.
On a related note, I have learned that hundreds of security cameras have been installed on Route 443, making it the most well-guarded highway in the country, according to the army. It is apparently also the road that has seen the largest number of attempted terror attacks on motorists, although that fact is not reported very much. Boruch Hashem, those attacks have been mostly unsuccessful, but there have been innumerable attempts. And that is only logical, considering the many hostile enemies concentrated on either side of the road, the dangerous section of which is a mere 17 kilometers long. We are all protected by Hashem’s immense kindness.
MK Yigal Guetta recently sent a query to Avigdor Lieberman, the Minister of Defense, about Route 443. Guetta explained that he had a hunch that the establishment prefers not to allow the incidents on the highway to become public knowledge in order to avoid panic. Almost all of us travel on this road at least once every few days, and many motorists drive there every day. Guetta asked if there is a policy in place to prevent incidents on the road from becoming public knowledge. He also asked about the specific number of violent incidents recorded on the road in each of the past four years, and in how many cases the perpetrators were apprehended and brought to justice.
The defense minister replied that it is the media, not the IDF, that decides which incidents to publicize. With regard to the number of perpetrators who have been brought to justice, he advised Guetta to pose that question to the Israel Police Force. In conclusion, Lieberman wrote, “Regarding your question as to the specific number of incidents recorded on Route 443 over the past four years, I will note that the IDF has records of incidents only between the years 2014 and 2016 (attached).”
That is, Lieberman claimed that he was appending a list of security incidents during the past two years. I asked to see the list so that I could relay that information to you, but I discovered that nothing had been attached to his response at all. Was it merely a mistake? Perhaps. But then again, it might be part of a larger policy of covering up incidents that would cause alarm.
Who is Really in Charge in Israel?
If you were looking for proof of who is really in charge in the State of Israel, this past week gave us three pieces of evidence that point to the Supreme Court as the ultimate authority in this country.
First, the court issued a ruling that was a slap in the face to anyone who cares about the kedushah of the Kosel: The court ruled that no one has the right to search the members of the Women of the Wall to determine whether they are smuggling Sifrei Torah into the Kosel plaza.
In the words of the court, “the rov of the Kosel [Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, who gives orders to all the personnel at the Kosel] should prevent any searches from being conducted when women come to pray at the plaza, other than the usual security checks.” Of course, the petition also included a request for the court to rule outright that women may daven with a Sefer Torah at the Kosel, but the Supreme Court also worked to block any efforts to prevent them from doing so. Now, did you think that the “religious” judge on the Supreme Court was on our side? If so, you were mistaken. After the court session, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein himself issued an order for the rov of the Kosel to instruct his staff not to conduct any searches of women visiting the Kosel; it was also Rubinstein who wrote the court’s decision. And here is another statement he made: “Today there is a larger plaza, yet we have not yet reached the point of full accessibility to the Kosel. The petitioners claim that they are not permitted to enter the traditional plaza with a Sefer Torah, and that they are subject to searches of their persons in case they are carrying Sifrei Torah. Their belief is that it is not an option to find an alternative location for them. Rather, they must be permitted to pray in keeping with their custom in the traditional plaza.”
As you are aware, the government has been ordered to respond to the Supreme Court to explain its failure to implement the Kosel agreement. Chief Justice Miriam Naor noted this as well in the court’s decision, declaring that “things have been dragging on without end and without limit.”
Naor’s comment referred to the fact that after three and a half years of negotiations, the Kosel agreement was approved on January 31, 2016. This agreement stipulated that a new prayer area was to be designated for the Women of the Wall and the non-Orthodox movements. The implementation of the agreement has been stalled for almost a year already, due to the opposition of the chareidi parties. Naturally, the Reform movement and the Women of the Wall drew encouragement from the Supreme Court’s verdict, which they believe will bolster their primary cause. One of their rabbis was quoted as saying, “This decision means that the full implementation of the Kosel agreement must move forward. Once again, it has been proven that the Supreme Court is the place where we can find the courage that will overcome the cowardice of the Knesset and the government.”
To be honest, I am afraid that he may be right.
The Court Defies the Rabbonim
The second Supreme Court ruling of note this past week concerned a halachic issue. To be more specific, the court prohibited the Bais Din Hagadol to involve itself in the case of an agunah from Tzefas. The situation began when a local bais din in Tzefas issued a certain ruling on the case, and the Bais Din Hagadol decided to invalidate that ruling, prohibiting the woman to remarry. In response, the Supreme Court ruled that the chief rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, who serves as the nosi of the Bais Din Hagadol, is not permitted to adjudicate this case. Once again, the Supreme Court has deemed itself superior to the Bais Din Hagadol, which is supposed to function as a parallel court.
This ruling should be infuriating to anyone who cares about the standing of the rabbonim and dayanim of Eretz Yisroel, although it should be noted that this is not the first time that the justices have placed themselves above the dayanim. And once again, it was the religious judge, Elyakim Rubinstein, who led the opposition to the Bais Din Hagadol and the chief rabbi, ostensibly for the purpose of “saving” the agunah. Rubinstein expressed outrage at the rabbinic court’s ruling.
For the sake of accuracy, I will explain a bit further. The Supreme Court didn’t actually challenge the bais din’s halachic ruling; it merely interfered in the procedure. The bais din in Tzefas had ruled that the woman was no longer married to her husband, whose brain function had completely ceased. Someone with no connection to the matter petitioned the Bais Din Hagadol to overturn that ruling, and the chief rabbi set a date for the case to be discussed. The woman herself then turned to the Supreme Court to challenge the Bais Din Hagadol’s decision to hear the case, and the court issued an order prohibiting the bais din to discuss it.
Now, if you thought that the Supreme Court’s audacity is limited to cases involving halacha, you were wrong. The court views itself as the ultimate authority on every subject. That attitude is evidenced by its third ruling this past week, which dealt with an Arab who was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the wave of fires in the north. The Supreme Court ordered the suspect released, in defiance of the views of the police and the government.
As I have said, it is not the government, the prime minister, the police, or any other entity that truly rules the State of Israel. That privilege is reserved for the Supreme Court, a government body whose members were never chosen in any election and never earned the trust or confidence of the public in any way.