Hospitals Buckling Under the Burden of COVID Patients
The coronavirus is still one of the dominant topics in the news in Israel. The number of confirmed cases has been rising steadily, while the vaccination program continues moving forward as well. Unfortunately, the hospitals have been buckling under the burden of caring for coronavirus patients. This week, a tragedy took place in Israel when a patient died after his ventilator became disconnected and the hospital staff failed to notice. The patient, Moshe Harazi, was a 47-year-old employee of the sanitation department in Tel Aviv and was survived by five children, the youngest of whom is a six-year-old girl. The hospital blamed the accident on the relentless pressure in the coronavirus ward.
Ichilov Hospital, where the tragedy took place, released the following statement: “A 47-year-old coronavirus patient with many underlying conditions was hospitalized in the coronavirus intensive care unit in critical condition. His condition deteriorated during the afternoon hours to the point of requiring resuscitation, and in spite of the doctors’ efforts, he passed away several hours later. A preliminary inquiry by the hospital administration shows that the ventilator tube became detached from its place, but due to the many alarms sounding simultaneously in the unit, the staff members were responding to emergency calls from other patients and did not identify the problem until several minutes had passed. We are experiencing a heavy patient load, which is very challenging for the staff. In light of this overwhelming burden and the rise in infections, the hospital management has decided to reduce the number of beds [in other wards] and to proportionally limit its [other] activities in order to augment the medical staff dealing with coronavirus patients. The hospital management has opened an inquiry into the unusual incident and will reach the relevant conclusions. The hospital has informed the family of the details of the event and shares their grief. This is an excellent ward where coronavirus patients in critical condition are treated. The hospital administration gives its backing to the work of the dedicated staff, who are laboring day and night to care for the most severely ill coronavirus patients.”
This incident focused public attention on the fact that hospitals around the country are struggling to cope with an overwhelming load of patients amid a spike in Covid cases.
The numbers are quite frightening, and they are higher in the chareidi community. There is no logical explanation for this, since the chareidi sector has been extremely meticulous about following medical guidelines and has obeyed the instructions of its rabbonim to receive the vaccine. Nevertheless, there is no denying the facts. The number of Covid cases in chareidi cities today is much higher than the number in non-chareidi cities, and this time it is not because more chareidim are being tested.
Hospital Managers Protest in Yerushalayim
Here are the facts: In Beitar Illit, 29 percent of the Covid tests administered to residents of the city last week were positive, in a slight rise from the figure of 28 percent during the week from January 3 through January 9. In other words, since last Sunday, 1274 new cases of coronavirus were diagnosed in the city. In Elad, 23 percent of the tests were positive, while the previous week saw a rate of only 18.4 percent. This means that a total of 1007 new coronavirus patients were identified in Elad last week. In Modiin Illit, a city that is home to about 78,000 residents, there were 2393 new cases last week, accounting for 20 percent of the tests conducted in the city. Once again, this was an increase since the previous week, when 18.5 percent of the coronavirus tests were found to be positive. In Bnei Brak, 3202 new coronavirus patients were identified, with the rate of positive tests rising from 15 percent in the previous week to 19 percent over the course of this past week. Yerushalayim currently has the highest number of active Covid patients in the country; almost one out of every five active coronavirus patients in Israel today lives in Yerushalayim. Over the past seven days, 17 percent of the people tested in Yerushalayim—a total of 10,250 people—have been found to have contracted the virus, in contrast to the 14 percent of positive tests in the first week of January. In chiloni cities, meanwhile, the rates are much lower.
Personally, I do not need the statistics to inform me that the situation is growing steadily worse. All I need is to see what is happening in my own neighborhood, where many of my friends are becoming sick and the death rate has been on the rise. I also know that many of my own family members, including children and grandchildren, have contracted the virus. The situation now is much graver than it was half a year ago.
At the beginning of the week, a demonstration was held outside the prime minister’s office by a group of hospital directors. In Israel, there are two types of hospitals: public hospitals and government-owned facilities. The protestors were the directors of the public hospitals, many of whom serve the chareidi public. This included the administrators of Maayanei HaYeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak, Laniado Hospital in Netanya, and Shaare Zedek in Yerushalayim.
Lockdown Extension to Be Considered
Just to remind you, Israel is in the middle of a lockdown at this moment. This means that it is illegal to leave our homes (except for permitted reasons), to hold gatherings, and even to daven in shul; all tefillos must take place outdoors. The truth, however, is that we are barely conscious of the lockdown. We rarely see police cars or officers patrolling the streets. People are going about their usual routines, although the downtown areas are much quieter than usual. The neighborhood of Geulah, for instance, isn’t bustling with its usual activity, nor is Rechov Rabbi Akiva in Bnei Brak. But it would be hard to call this a genuine lockdown. Even the shuls aren’t actually closed.
The lockdown is scheduled to end this Thursday, but in light of the current infection rates, the Ministry of Health plans to ask the Coronavirus Cabinet to extend it for another week. The cabinet will probably meet to discuss this request. Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t yet announced whether he is in favor of extending the lockdown; he is waiting for additional information before making his decision.
Considering the ongoing vaccination drive, the main factor that will make the decision is the coefficient of infection, rather than the actual number of confirmed cases. If the number of serious cases of the virus is found to be dropping, that will also have an impact on the decision. If this statistic remains the same or seems to be rising, Netanyahu is expected to support extending the general closure.
The Coronavirus Cabinet also plans to discuss a strategy to exit the lockdown, as well as the new “green passport” program. The stages of exit from the lockdown will depend on the number of vaccinations that are administered. The first stage will consist of returning to the state of the economy immediately prior to the lockdown: Preschools, first through fourth grades, and grades eleven and twelve will return to school, and street stores and shopping centers will reopen. Restrictions on movement will also be canceled, and air travel will resume.
Israel Leads the World in Vaccinations
Netanyahu is counting on the vaccination drive to secure his political future. He believes that he will win the election on account of the successful immunization program. In an internal speech delivered to the members of the Likud party, Netanyahu basically presented an equation: When the vaccination numbers are up, the Likud is up, and when the infection rate rises, the Likud goes down. This assessment was completely on the ball; Netanyahu has a very clear understanding of politics. Aside from the chareidi parties, only the Likud is expected to maintain its level of influence in the Knesset. Most polls show the Likud receiving more than twice as many mandates as any other party.
There is no question that Netanyahu has gained political points from the vaccines, which is completely justified. The State of Israel, led by Netanyahu, was the first country to sign purchase agreements for the vaccines, and therefore it was the first country to receive the inoculations. Of course, some have criticized Netanyahu for being too quick to pay an exorbitant price for the vaccinations, and some claim that Israel’s agreements with Pfizer and Moderna are full of holes and that the commitments are not solid (although it is unclear exactly what sparked those objections). Nevertheless, the bottom line is that every citizen’s main concern is a simple question: Will there be a vaccine for him? And so far, the government has been providing those inoculations.
Israelis have been flocking to receive their injections. Two million Israelis have already received the first dose of the vaccine, and many have even received the second dose. It seems that the four health funds (Maccabi, Clalit, Meuchedet, and Leumit) are competing with each other to administer the largest number of vaccines. Of course, each health fund is putting its supply of vaccines to the maximum possible use, although they are limited by the fact that the vaccines are distributed to them by the Ministry of Health. The challenge is heightened by the fact that as soon as the vaccines are removed from refrigerated storage, they expire very quickly. This makes it urgent for the health funds to have patients prepared to receive their shots. For the time being, however, the Israeli public and the government are each living up to their respective expectations; there have been sufficient vaccinations for all the intended recipients, and the people have been hurrying to receive their shots.
Israel is leading the world in its vaccination rate, with America taking fifth place. As of now, 23 percent of the Israeli populace has been vaccinated; the United Arab Emirates is in second place, with a 14 percent vaccination rate, followed by Bahrain, England, and America. If the information I have received is correct, the rate in the United States is only 4 percent, which isn’t very high at all.
Every Israeli citizen is given a “green passport” upon receiving the second dose of the vaccine. If I have understood correctly, that means that he becomes free of all restrictions: A citizen with a green passport is not required to enter quarantine even if he is exposed to a confirmed coronavirus patient or if he returns to Israel from abroad, and the passport permits its holder to leave his home even during a lockdown. However, this week it was reported that Rav Yisroel Meir Lau tested positive for the coronavirus after receiving the second dose of the vaccine. (Rav Lau was one of the first Israelis to receive the first dose.) Everyone has pounced on this to challenge the vaccine’s efficacy, and there have been a flurry of attempted explanations. Some suggested that Rav Lau was infected less than two weeks after receiving the second dose, before the vaccine could confer full immunity. Others speculated that he might be among the 5 percent of people for whom the vaccine is not effective. Some have conjectured that he might have caught the British or South African variants of the virus, and that the vaccine is not effective in preventing those mutations. It is hardly surprising that Rav Lau’s illness made the front pages of the newspapers in Israel, as it is a phenomenon that begs for an explanation.
A Personal Experience with the Second Dose
Since we are on the subject of vaccines, allow me to share my own experience with the second dose. I mentioned last week that I had received the first dose of the vaccine; I even told you about the nurse, Effie, who administered my injection. As soon as I received my first shot, a form automatically emerged from the computer informing me that my appointment for the second dose was scheduled on January 21. Nevertheless, I received a call from the Meuchedet health fund last week, informing me that the appointment that been moved up to this past Friday. I was even offered a choice of slots ranging from 8:00 in the morning to 1:00 in the afternoon. In case you are wondering, I booked my appointment at 12:55. As soon as I made my choice, a text message appeared on my phone: “Hello, Tzvi. You have been given an appointment for the second dose of the coronavirus vaccine on Friday, January 15, at 12:54, at the Meuchedet complex in Binyonei Ha’Umah on Rechov Shazar, Yerushalayim. This is an important step toward returning to normal! We will see you then. Meuchedet.” I was impressed by their efficiency, and I was amused by the fact that my appointment was officially scheduled at exactly 12:54 p.m.
Like any good Israeli, I showed up precisely on time, and I was disheartened to find a line of people stretching from the building’s entrance all the way to the street. There were hundreds of people waiting in line, most of them chareidim. Many of them were bnei yeshivos. I was certain that I did not stand a chance of being admitted to the building in time for my appointment, but I soon discovered that the people on line had arrived without appointments of their own. In addition, they were young, whereas I am much older. The organizers heard that I had an appointment (and observed my age) and ordered me to skip the line.
The process was actually very quick. Once again, I was attended by a nurse, who was young and polite. His name was Tomer. I commented jokingly that I hoped he had administered other injections in the past, and he replied, also in jest, “No, I have never done this before. I was waiting outside, and they asked for volunteers who were willing to give injections.”
“Is that so?” I asked, continuing the joke. “In that case, I will go to someone else.”
This time, Tomer did not catch my humorous tone, and he hastened to reassure me that he hadn’t been serious. “Did you really think that?” he asked. “I am actually a nurse with Magen David Adom.”
“And I was still joking with you as well,” I reassured him. “I just wanted to show you that I would have the last laugh.”
Tomer guffawed in response. “Then the score is one to zero,” he replied.
I asked him if he believed that all the people waiting outside would have an opportunity to receive their shots. He was surprised to hear that there were hundreds of people outside the building. “I don’t think we have more than a few dozen doses left,” he replied solemnly. I felt bad for all those people who had come without appointments.
After I had been given my shot, I received a document verifying the vaccination, and I moved on to the area where we were asked to wait for fifteen minutes to ensure that we did not suffer adverse reactions. (We were told that after the second dose of the vaccine, we could expect to feel unwell for several hours.) I was also told that I would receive a notice about my green passport in the mail. When I finally left the building, I heard the officials in charge shouting at the people waiting on line, “Go home! Don’t keep waiting here! We have already closed for the day!”
After davening that night, I was told by a senior official in Meuchedet who lives in my neighborhood that hundreds of doses of the vaccine had been discarded. After a package has been opened, its contents must be used within a few hours; after that, the vaccines are no longer effective. I found it bizarre and lamentable that so many precious inoculations had gone to waste.
Pandemic and Incitement
The other hot topic of discussion in Israel, of course, is the upcoming election. The coronavirus pandemic has actually played into the propaganda of many of the parties contending in the Knesset race. Some politicians have exploited the pandemic to attack the government and Netanyahu; others have taken advantage of the situation to denounce the chareidim. The latter category, of course, includes Avigdor Lieberman, who built his previous election campaigns on anti-chareidi rhetoric and is continuing to do the same. This week, Lieberman released a video calling for chareidim to be stripped of government funding. “Anyone who doesn’t serve in the army should not benefit from state money,” Lieberman declared. He also cynically exploited the coronavirus to attack the chareidim. “Why does the whole country have to be put in lockdown?” he demanded. “The high numbers are only among the chareidim. Why should Mitzpeh Ramon have to be locked down because of the chareidim in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak?”
The Blue and White party was also quick to attack Netanyahu. They announced that Defense Minister Benny Gantz and the ministers of Blue and White would oppose extending the lockdown unless the rules were enforced in the areas with problematic infection rates. According to the statistics released last weekend, they pointed out, the rate of confirmed cases in the chareidi sectors stood at 19.5 percent, while the rate in the Arab sector was 15 percent, and only 5.5 percent of the coronavirus tests among the general public were positive. “We are not witnessing any efforts to raise awareness or to enforce the rules, and therefore we demand real enforcement and a real lockdown before we will discuss extending it,” they declared. “With all due respect to the Ministry of Health, the lockdown will not be extended until they show us how they are enforcing it.”
Like Lieberman, the Blue and White party seems to have decided that the chareidim are the source of the country’s ills.
Benny Gantz himself, meanwhile, is becoming increasingly irrelevant; according to the polls, he does not stand a chance of crossing the electoral threshold. But that hasn’t stopped him from speaking with arrogance. What is most amusing is the fact that he has been attacking the prime minister and calling on the country to unite in order to oust Netanyahu from his position, while Gantz himself still sits in the government and holds the official title of alternate prime minister. Last week, Gantz called on all the left-wing and centrist parties to collaborate in order to topple Bibi, but no one seems to have heeded his call. Many people believe that the wisest thing for Gantz to do now would be to retire from political life.
Polls Anticipate No Clear Result from the Election
Now for a bit of election news. Recent polls indicate that the election will not have a decisive outcome, mainly because of the ostensibly right-wing parties that have insisted on joining the “anyone but Bibi camp,” in spite of their own ideologies. The most obvious example is Yisrael Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman. There is no rational way to explain Lieberman’s completely illogical thinking. He is expected to receive five or six mandates, most of which will undoubtedly come from right-wing voters, yet he plans to block the formation of a right-wing government. As you know, Lieberman himself was responsible for the past three wasted elections, which resulted in a deadlock because of his refusal to support a government led by Netanyahu.
Gideon Saar is another baffling figure on the political playing field. Saar himself is a former Likudnik, and his party is attracting other members of the Likud party, including Minister Ze’ev Elkin, MK Sharren Haskel, and now Dani Dayan, the former Israeli consul in New York. Yet in spite of his strong ties to the Likud, Saar has avowed that he will never join a government led by Netanyahu. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that Saar will renege on this commitment if it turns out that his refusal will lead to the formation of a center-left government. In politics, as they say, one should never say never….
These public proclamations might actually be the reason that Gideon Saar has been losing popularity. The centrist parties have been sinking rapidly in the polls. After his thunderous debut on the political scene with a projected 20 mandates, Gideon Saar is now expected to win a maximum of 15. Ron Chuldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv, was initially expected to win 10 to 15 mandates and has now dropped to five, which brings him perilously close to the electoral threshold. Now that most of Benny Gantz’s allies have jumped ship, the polls predict that Blue and White will not cross the threshold at all. Both Meretz and Lieberman are also hovering somewhere around the threshold.
Here are the figures regarding the various parties’ standing at this time, based on the averages of the results of five polls conducted last weekend: The Likud party is expected to win 30 mandates. Gideon Saar’s party, New Hope, is expected to win 16, while Yesh Atid (Yair Lapid’s party) will receive 14. Yamina (Naftoli Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, on the assumption that they will part ways with Smotrich and religious Zionism) will earn 12 mandates, the Joint Arab List will receive 11, Shas will win eight, United Torah Judaism (Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel) will end up with seven, Yisroel Beiteinu will receive six, and Yisraelim (Ron Chuldai’s party) and Blue and White will each receive four mandates. Smotrich and the religious Zionist party are directly below them, hovering somewhere around four mandates, but it is generally assumed that they will cross the threshold.
There is much to discuss about what is happening on the political right. Why would Bennett and Smotrich run on separate lists? What might be their reason for running together? What is happening with the party of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s followers? For that matter, what is happening within the ranks of Agudas Yisroel? But I think it would be best to devote a separate article to this topic. Bli neder, I plan to do this next week.
Thousands of Non-Jews Continuing to Immigrate
There is much more that I could write about, but I have nearly reached the end of this column. I could describe the tefillos of Yom Kippur Katan this Wednesday evening, when people gathered in hundreds of shuls throughout the country to cry out to the Master of the Universe. Tefillos were held at the Kosel as well, although attendance was kept to a minimum due to the current regulations. There were also special chizuk gatherings, where the main addresses were delivered by Rav Aviezer Piltz, the rosh yeshiva of Tifrach, and by the famed mashgiach Rav Don Segal.
I also have another point to make. The Jewish Agency proudly announced that the coronavirus pandemic has not stemmed the flow of immigration to Israel, and that over 20,000 immigrants from about 70 countries arrived in Israel in the year 2020. Personally, I cannot understand why they consider this a reason to rejoice, when more than half of those immigrants came from Russia and Ukraine. Logic and experience alike indicate that most of those olim were probably not Jewish at all. There are a million non-Jews in Israel today who are utterly bewildered by the fight for Jewish values in this country. What is wrong with eating bread on Pesach? What difference does it make if a person’s grandmother was Jewish, or if it was only his grandfather who was a Jew? Why should there be separate burial areas in cemeteries?
Incidentally, the immigrant community is the voter base of Yisroel Beiteinu, which explains why the party has set its sights on the Ministry of Immigrant Absorption. Control of this ministry will allow them to perpetuate the laws that enable Israel to be flooded with Russians and Ukrainians, and that grant generous benefits to these immigrants. For that very reason, the Likud party has already decided that the ministry will never be placed under the control of a Russian politician.
The root of Israel’s problems today isn’t the immigrant population; it is the people who brought them to Israel in the first place. Whoever was responsible for this, whether it was Shamir or Sharon, brought disaster to this country. When the government tried to promote a wave of immigration, perhaps in order to prevent the religious sector from gaining control of the country, they did not make any effort to ensure that the immigrants were Jews or even that they supported the Zionist cause. By doing so, they were directly responsible for the rift in Israeli society today. The immigrants suffered in silence at first, but then they began to gain confidence. Today, there are non-Jews in Israel who are as viciously anti-Semitic as their brethren in their countries of origin. They see no reason to change their way of living simply because they have moved to a Jewish country; as far as they are concerned, the Jews should change instead!
The Fleischman Incident: History Repeats Itself
If you thought that the Arabs had ceased their efforts to kill or maim Jews, then you were wrong. From time to time, we hear about new attempts to harm Israeli civilians or soldiers, attempts that were miraculously thwarted. But we do not need these reports from the Shabak or the army to know that we are living in Israel by miracles. That is as clear as the sun in the midday sky.
The right-wing protests against the police are also continuing. And since I have mentioned the police, I must add a few words about the case of Yosef Fleischman. It has been exactly one month since Fleischman’s arrest, and there are still many questions about the incident that beg to be answered: Since when do the police make an arrest simply because someone claims that he was threatened with violence and identifies the perpetrator’s address? How was it that the police couldn’t tell that Fleischman was harmless? How did they figure out in the police station that it was a case of mistaken identity (or, according to their version of the story, that they were unable to identify him)? And the greatest question of all is: Will anything change in the wake of this incident?
As far as that last question is concerned, it seems that the answer is no. Even after a month has passed, very little has been done, even though the police committed a grievous injustice. They dragged a man out of his home barefoot, in the middle of the night, for no good reason, and then cast him aside unceremoniously, leaving him lying on the damp ground. At the same time, it is unlikely that any protests, demonstrations, or other forms of outcry will bring about change of any kind. And it is likewise doubtful that Ahuvya Sandak’s killers will suffer the proper punishment for their roles in his death, in spite of the massive protests that followed that incident.
As for the Yosef Fleischman episode, I recently became aware of two interesting details. First, Fleischman was an iluy in his younger years and edited Mekor Brocha, the sefer written by his late father, Rav Yeshaya Fleischman. Second, this isn’t the first time that a member of the Fleischman family has suffered abuse at the hands of the police. In Elul of the year 5747, Fleischman’s uncle, Reb Simcha, joined a demonstration organized by the Badatz at Kikar Shabbos to protest the desecration of the Shabbos. The demonstrators were beaten viciously by the police, and a murderous blow landed on Reb Simcha Fleischman’s head, leaving him severely injured. Several months later, Reb Simcha collapsed and passed away.
Baron Rothschild’s Secret Room
Sheldon Adelson, the Jewish billionaire and renowned philanthropist, was buried on erev Shabbos on Har Hazeisim, at a levayah attended by a minyan of Yerushalmim. Adelson was a generous donor to various causes, and numerous world leaders, including Netanyahu and Trump, paid tribute to him after his death. Yitzchok Herzog, chairman of the Jewish Agency and the man who aspires to follow in his father’s footsteps and become the president of Israel, described him as “the Moses Montefiore of our generation.” A statement from United Hatzalah went even further: “There were few people like him in all of Jewish history. He was in a class together with Moses Montefiore and Baron Rothschild.”
When people speak about Baron Rothschild, they are referring to Edmond James Rothschild. I would like to share a story with you about his brother, Baron Shimon Zev (Wolf) Rothschild, who passed away exactly 120 years ago, in January 1901. Shimon Wolf was the only Rothschild brother who did not give up his Jewish name, attire, and spoken language, and who lived a fully religious lifestyle. According to legend, his father hired an apostate Jew who had become a priest to tutor him during his childhood, and young Shimon Wolf somehow inspired the priest to return to Judaism. As a youth, Shimon Wolf lived in Frankfurt at the home of his uncle, Anshel Meir, who was also religious. He later joined the family business and became a prolific donor to various yeshivos and to the old yishuv in Yerushalayim, including the community in the Old City. He also provided the funding for the establishment of Batei Machseh.
Nicknamed “the righteous baron,” Shimon Wolf maintained a modest lifestyle in spite of his affluence. He founded a shul and built a mikveh in his home, and he supported a minyan of kollel yungeleit. He eventually found himself battling the Haskalah and supporting Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch. He also maintained close ties with the rabbonim of Pressburg; the Ksav Sofer, who once stayed in his home, commented, “The word shor in the posuk ‘yoda shor koneihu’ [the ox knows its master] is an acronym for Shimon Wolf Rothschild.” Shimon Wolf corresponded with the Chofetz Chaim, and it is rumored that he was a close friend of Rav Shlomo of Bobov.
The Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg once spoke about Baron Shimon Wolf Rothschild during a shmuess on the parsha. “Regarding his tzidkus, it is a mitzvah for me to relate what I heard from my father,” the Klausenberger Rebbe said. “My father once traveled to the city of Karlsbad at a time when his uncle, the Shinever Rebbe, was staying there. During their stay, Baron Shimon Wolf Rothschild, who was an elderly man at the time, arrived as well. He was followed everywhere by many people, and people would even watch him from their windows, since it was unusual to catch a glimpse of the noted Jewish financier. He was a very pampered and finicky man by nature, to the point that he was reluctant to touch a doorknob if anyone else had touched it before him. For that reason, his servants always wrapped the doorknobs in his home in cloth so that no one else would touch them, and the cloth coverings would be removed after he passed through each doorway. Nevertheless, my father recalled that he saw Baron Rothschild walking through the streets of Karlsbad on Shabbos in order to drink the healing waters of its springs, and in spite of his pampered nature, the baron wrapped his handkerchief around his neck when he entered the public domain. At some point in the middle of his walk, he stopped and removed the handkerchief from his neck, using it to wipe his nose, and then he returned it to its place again and continued on his way. He overcame his finicky nature in order to avoid transgressing the prohibition of carrying in the public domain.
“What is relevant to us is an incredible story that I heard from my father, which was told to him by a certain great rov from Russia. This rov once stayed in Frankfurt together with Baron Rothschild and spent several weeks in his home. Throughout that time, the baron showered him with honor, as was befitting for his status as a talmid chochom, and a close friendship developed between the two, to the point that the rov was considered practically like a member of the household. One day, the visiting rov was told by the family members that he was permitted to enter any room in the house except one particular room, which was off limits to everyone. The baron himself kept the key to that room in his possession, and his family members knew nothing about it other than the fact that the baron would enter the room once every few weeks and remain there with the door locked for several hours. They surmised that the baron’s most valuable possessions were kept in that room.
“Upon hearing this, the rov was overcome by a desire to find out what the mysterious room contained. Since he had developed a close friendship with the baron, the rov gathered the temerity to ask for permission to see the room. In deference to his guest’s stature as a talmid chochom, Baron Rothschild felt compelled to grant his request and informed him that he would allow him to enter the room, even though he had never permitted anyone else to see its contents. When he was brought into the room, the rov was surprised to discover that it contained a funeral bier and a set of tachrichim. Astonished, he turned to the baron and asked for an explanation. The baron replied, ‘A person such as myself, who is renowned throughout the world, is liable to become conceited and to forget to fear Hashem. I have therefore taken it upon myself to enter this room every erev Rosh Chodesh and to take off my clothes, put on these shrouds, and lie on this bed, where I recite the entire Sefer Tehillim.’”