My Take on the News

If You Daven, Of Course You Will Be Saved

Last week, I promised you more details about the State Comptroller’s report on Operation Protective Edge. I also promised to report on the Elor Azariya case as the sentencing date approaches, although it is clear that the saga is far from over. I must delay those stories until next week, though, for the events of this past week have eclipsed even those stories.

First of all, for the chareidi community, the foremost issue this past week has been the continued illness of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, who has remained hospitalized at Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital in Bnei Brak. This week, I heard a remarkable story from Rav Uri Zohar about Rav Shteinman.

Almost everything that you tell Rav Uri Zohar is bound to remind him of something. When we learned the Gemara’s account (Megillah 11b) of how Achashveirosh calculated the years of the golus, for instance, he was reminded of the comment of his rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Shlomo Zilberman zt”l, who passed away on the 18th of Adar, 5761 (2001): “Our history has no miscalculations or approximations; everything, including Yetzias Mitzrayim and Maamad Har Sinai, is recorded and dated with the utmost precision. There can be no errors, and there can be no denying or disputing the facts.”

The story I wish to tell is one that Rav Uri Zohar shared with us when we described an exchange between Rav Shteinman and one of the doctors overseeing his care. “The rov is living through a miracle,” the doctor told Rav Shteinman one day. “So are you,” his prestigious patient replied.

In that single terse sentence, the rov conveyed the fundamental principle of emunah taught by the Ramban in his famous statement that Hashem’s overt miracles lead us to recognize and acknowledge the many miracles that are concealed within nature. Every moment of our lives, every breath we take, is nothing short of a miracle.

This reminded Rav Zohar of a story. The leaders of Lev L’Achim once visited Rav Shteinman and bemoaned the organization’s financial state. With its coffers completely empty, Lev L’Achim seemed to be in jeopardy. Its kiruv activities were threatened, and the stipends it pays to yungeleit were in danger of being delayed. Rav Shteinman was visibly distressed. He was silent for a moment, and then he said, “All right, I will daven.”

Before long, the rabbonim of Lev L’Achim visited Rav Shteinman again. When they informed him that the situation hadn’t improved, he appeared surprised. “Are you sure?” he asked. The visitors looked at each other in bewilderment, not understanding the question. “Are you sure?” the rosh yeshiva repeated.

He was silent again for several moments. It was a thunderous silence, a silence that seemed to reverberate with meaning. And then he said, as if asking himself a question, “But I davened!”

Rav Zohar recalls being astounded by the gadol hador’s reaction. “We saw that in his mind, it was so obvious that if you daven, Hashem will answer you. He couldn’t understand how it was that we hadn’t yet been helped. After all, he had davened. He gave us encouragement, as only he knows how, and we left his home. Rabbi Avrohom Zaibald can tell you,” Rav Zohar added, “that after that day, we received a number of unexpected donations of large sums of money.”

Rabbi Natan Chaifetz interjected, “There is no need for Reb Avrohom’s testimony. It is very clear from our bank records.”

But the story did not end there. Rav Zohar continued, “I decided that I needed to understand more about the power of davening. I went to Bnei Brak to visit Rav Shteinman again, and we sat together for twenty minutes.”

And what did you learn?

“I can’t tell you.”

Just tell us the basics, the main idea.

“Basically, that’s the way it is when you believe that a cup of water and a million dollars are the same miracle.”

We didn’t grasp his intent, but Rabbi Chaifetz said, “Perhaps he taught you the secret of tefillah?”

Rav Zohar paled, but in the midst of his astonishment, he managed a faint smile and exclaimed, “Natan! That’s a good joke!”

This week, the tefillos that have echoed throughout Eretz Yisroel have only strengthened the feelings we expressed two weeks ago. As the famous story has it, Rav Aryeh Levin once accompanied his wife to a doctor’s appointment and said, “Doctor, my wife’s leg is hurting us.” In a similar vein, Rav Shteinman’s suffering is afflicting all of us. His labored breathing is choking us all. Klal Yisroel is suffering.

An Epidemic of Cruelty

It is both painful and saddening to watch as a wave of unprecedented cruelty and malice has swept through our country. It is almost as if we are becoming a country of cannibals. After the passing of former Interior Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer, who was suspected of taking bribes and died at the end of his trial, the newspapers announced that the prosecution had displayed a level of apathy and cruelty that was virtually unheard of. According to the reports, the prosecution had wanted to place cameras in Assaf HaRofeh Hospital, where Ben-Eliezer was being treated, so that he could be questioned from the courtroom on his deathbed. Ben-Eliezer’s lawyer accused the prosecution of losing their sense of humanity, and he insisted that they make a reckoning for their actions. I, too, cannot fathom the depths of depravity that could have given rise to such a demand.

I am also bewildered by the glee with which our country has greeted the fate of the tycoons who have fallen into disgrace. Why should we rejoice over the downfall of the wealthy? And why are the tycoons who declared bankruptcy – Guy Cohen and Eliezer Fishman – being scrutinized to see if they are still living extravagant lifestyles? Will it help anyone if they are wallowing in poverty?

Furthermore, I recently read in a newspaper that there are suspicions that David Zisser, the son of the deceased Motti Zisser, owns property that was concealed from the family’s creditors. Ribbono Shel Olam! How much harm can the country seek to inflict on a man who was a wealthy financier, who lost all of his property and passed away from illness? Motti Zisser was one of the most remarkable men of chesed in our unforgiving country. He was unfailingly generous and attentive to anyone in need. The relentless harassment of his son is infuriating, and is also part of this epidemic of wickedness.

I am even saddened by the suffering of Tzvi Bar, the mayor of Ramat Gan, who began serving a prison sentence this week. Bar was a good man who gave of himself for his country since his youth. Even if he accepted gifts, what does that matter? I do not believe that the courts of this country truly dispense justice. They are places of cruelty and evil, especially in the case of Tzvi Bar. And even if his sentence was deserved, why has it elicited such joy? Is a man’s suffering truly reason for anyone to celebrate?

This brings us to the subject of Dr. Ilan Zamir. Zamir is a doctor and an expert in homeopathy, a kindhearted man who is known to have helped many people. I do not know him; as far as I know, I have never seen him or spoken with him. This week, a judge ordered Dr. Zamir’s medical license suspended for five years. That decision is outrageous, since a committee in the Health Ministry recommended only a one-year suspension. The committee heard the testimony of witnesses and medical experts over the course of two years, and the transcripts of its discussions are 1,300 pages long. So if the committee itself asked for only a single year, which is itself not a minor punishment, then why did the prosecutor – a representative of the very same ministry – demand that his license be revoked altogether? And how could the judge have ruled that his license should be suspended for five years? That is not justice; it is pure wickedness.

“I have never seen such a severe increase in a sentence,” Dr. Zamir’s lawyer told me. “It is absolutely disproportionate. I showed the court precedents in which patients actually died from medical malpractice, and the doctors merely received a reprimand, or their licenses were suspended for a short time.”

One of the complaints against Dr. Zamir, incidentally, was that he posted an advertisement larger than the size permitted by law. That is just to give you a picture of what has been done to him: Because of a few inches of paper, his entire life’s work is being destroyed. Zamir’s lawyer plans to appeal to the district court. Let us hope that he will find true justice there and that his standing in society will be restored.

Tu B’Shevat Festivities in the Knesset

Tu B’Shevat is a festive time in the Knesset, marking the anniversary of its founding. This past Chanukah, the Knesset became a sort of standup club, featuring a tasteless comedy show attended by a number of government ministers. Israel’s parliament is now continuing down the same slippery slope, having introduced a “peiros tish” of sorts in honor of Tu B’Shevat – albeit the worst possible imitation of the event. Instead of being held at the elevated tables of tzaddikim, this event is run by politicians, lehavdil.

The event was spearheaded by a woman who served in the Knesset in the previous government and felt that she could teach Gemara to all of us, along with the rabbi who established the Tzohar organization. Together with MKs Lavie and Azaria, they organized a “Tu B’Shevat Seder” in the Chagall Hall. The event brought a small amount of honor to the Knesset, but its contributions were of dubious value. It would be interesting to find out who has been coming up with the ideas for these events, which are turning the Israeli legislature into the laughingstock of the nation. More than that, it would be interesting to know where that person has been getting his or her ideas….

The “seder” included its own “four cups,” along with readings from the Medrash and from the works of Jewish songwriters, including Naomi Shemer’s “Shirat Ha’asavim” and Leah Goldberg’s “Shir L’Tu B’Shevat” – the worst possible mixture of the sacred and the profane. There was singing, and Yitzchok Herzog was there. Now, I can understand the festive Knesset sitting last Tuesday in honor of Tu B’Shevat which was attended by President Rivlin, Prime Minister Netanyahu, Chief Justice Miriam Naor of the Supreme Court, and the leader of the opposition, Yitzchok Herzog, not to mention Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. But what was the reason for this “seder” held in the Chagall Hall?

Speaking of Tu B’Shevat, I saw a picture of a sign in a fruit store that seems to indicate that the level of Jewish ignorance in this country has reached a new low. I wrote in the past about the newspaper that announced a shortage of “agasim” (pears) for Sukkos, and the store that advertised a sale on “Chol Hamoed Chanukah.” Now, it seems, a fruit store owner posted a sign announcing a sale in honor of “Tuby Shevat.” That simple misspelling shows that he doesn’t have an inkling that the name of the holiday is a date on the Jewish calendar. Then again, I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, Israeli high school students who are tested on “Jewish trivia” are often unable to answer questions such as “What is the Hebrew date of the fast of Tishah B’Av?”

A Blatant Double Standard in the Supreme Court

If Justice Yoram Danziger is interested in finding out where there is an injustice that needs to be corrected, he should be taking a long, hard look in the mirror.

Danziger, a justice on the Supreme Court, issued two rulings last Tuesday. One of those rulings overturned the agreement reached between the government and the residents of Amona, while the other overturned a decision of the district court and postponed the eviction Arab residents from illegal buildings that were constructed on private Jewish-owned land in Beit Chanina. Danziger explained the latter decision by noting that evicting the Arabs and demolishing the buildings would be “an irreversible step that would cause them enormous damage.” Evidently, there is one law for Jews in Amona and an entirely different law for Arabs in Beit Chanina. That alone is infuriating.

The first decision, which was issued while the evacuation of Amona was underway, ignited a firestorm of protests. It was widely pointed out that Danziger, in his youth, was active in the leftist organization Peace Now. The second decision added fuel to the already blazing fire. The Supreme Court’s decision to show mercy to an Arab clan for its housing troubles was too much for many in this country to bear.

An investigation by the Israeli newspaper Makor Rishon revealed that Noam Sohlberg, the only justice on the Supreme Court who identifies with the right and the settlement movement, has almost never been assigned to rule on any petition dealing with settlements. In the only case in which he ruled on such a petition, the Palestinian claimants lost. I found it both entertaining and saddening to read the Supreme Court’s response to the revelation: “The judges of Israel are professional judges who do not make judicial decisions based on their political stances. In the most sensitive cases, the procedure has always been that the chief justice of the Supreme Court places himself at the head of the panel dealing with the case as often as possible, while adhering to the rules of recusal. When the cases are not heard by expanded panels of judges, the remaining judges on a panel are selected randomly by the administrative staff responsible for the judges’ calendars, in accordance with the constraints associated with their schedules. There is no truth to the claim that the panels are chosen in such a way as to bring about a particular decision.”

Who said that our newspapers don’t have room for humor?

The Court’s Power Grab

On the same topic, let it be noted that when this country was first established, the government consisted of three parallel branches: the executive branch, the legislative branch (i.e., the Knesset), and the judicial branch. Each of these three components of the government operated independently, with none of them daring to infringe on the authority of the others. They also enjoyed amicable relations with each other. This status quo was preserved until the times of Chief Justice Meir Shamgar of the Supreme Court. Shamgar and his successor, Justice Aharon Barak, were responsible for the “judicial revolution” that led to the Supreme Court designating itself the ultimate authority in the country.

The court’s power grab began with small, measured steps, as it monitored the responses to its actions and hinted at its ultimate goals. In February 1992, elections were held for the Thirteenth Knesset. The elections were won by the Labor party, and Yitzchok Rabin began assembling a government. A wave of terror erupted the following year. In the course of that terror wave, a Border Guard policeman named Nissim Toledano was kidnapped and held hostage in exchange for the release of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin. When Toledano’s body was discovered, the government decided to call for a mass deportation of Hamas activists. A petition was submitted to the Supreme Court while the deportees were on the buses, and Barak, as the justice on duty, issued a temporary order suspending the deportation.

Toward the end of 1993, the Supreme Court shocked the government once again when it ordered Prime Minister Rabin to dismiss Aryeh Deri from his post, in light of the criminal indictment that had been filed against him. By law, there was no such requirement. Abuchatzeirah had served as a minister in the government throughout his trial, until he was convicted.

Under Shamgar, the Supreme Court exercised a small amount of self-restraint, contenting itself with merely eroding the standing of the government and the Knesset, while avoiding an all-out explosion. But Aharon Barak, first as a justice and even more so as the president of the Supreme Court, lost any sense of restraint. He essentially took over the government, making delicate moves at first but becoming increasingly aggressive as time went on. Unlike his predecessor, Barak decided that it was both permissible and proper for him to intervene in any area. According to his philosophy, every issue deserved to be discussed in the courts, and he was the master of everything that would take place in the country.

I will not weary you with the details of all the developments. Suffice it to say that the Supreme Court took control of the country, under the noses of the cabinet ministers and members of the Knesset, and in direct violation of their positions. It began with Barak’s assertion that every issue is potentially subject to review by the courts, and it continued with the Supreme Court asserting that it had the “right” to intervene in almost any area – even in decisions that certainly fall under the authority of the cabinet and Knesset. Even political agreements between parties have been judged by the Supreme Court, and some have even been disqualified. The court went on to rule on the fitness of candidates for the posts of director-general of the Ministry of Housing (when it disqualified Yossi Ginosar for the post), head of the Israel Bar Association (by disqualifying Choter-Yishai), commissioner of the police force (rejecting Rafi Peled), and member of the Knesset (with its acceptance of Azmi Bishara and its disqualification of Meir Kahane). Of course, the Supreme Court also had to have its say on matters of national security, such as the deportation of terrorists, the destruction of settlements, and even the conduct of military operations.

Some of the Supreme Court’s decisions rest on a concept that the court itself invented: the trust of the public. Although the justices of the court themselves have never had to win an election, they consider themselves entitled to overrule decisions made by politicians who have indeed won the endorsement of the Israeli public. The judges, who claim to base their rulings on public trust, are the ones who receive failing grades in the annual indexes of public confidence. The people’s faith in the courts is steadily waning, even as the judges boast that they represent the public. They claim to have the ability to decide what justifies public confidence, what laws can be considered reasonable, and even what the average person thinks.

Professor Daniel Friedmann, a respected legal expert who served as Minister of Justice under Ehud Olmert, once wrote that the judicial revolution in Israel has taken a heavy toll on the country. “It has disrupted the functioning of the government, it has increased the level of bureaucracy, and it has harmed democracy itself…. Israel is the only democracy where the results of elections and the assembling of the government do not take place only at the voting booth. The voters have a significant partner in that process: the judicial system. The fates of leaders and parties, and even the question of whether the government will be dominated by the left, right, or center, are often decided by our judicial system…. More than once, the court system has been able to bring about the dismissal of party leaders and to change the political map in Israel.”

Friedmann’s insights are devastatingly accurate. There is no other country in the world where the judges have succeeded in taking so much power out of the hands of elected officials.

The Ethics Committee’s Unfortunate Reversal

Several months ago, I interviewed MK Yitzchok Vaknin, who serves as the chairman of the Knesset Ethics Committee. Rabbi Vaknin revealed that because of his committee, the Jewish members of the Knesset had been refraining from venturing onto the Har Habayis, which alleviated some of the simmering rage on the Arab street and led to a reduction in the frequency of vehicular terror attacks. His assertion has been borne out by the facts: When the Har Habayis was closed to Jewish and Arab MKs alike, the tensions in the Arab sector dissipated.

That is why I find it lamentable that the Ethics Committee has changed its opinion. The following is an excerpt from its announcements this week: “As everyone knows, on November 2, 2015, the Ethics Committee decided by a majority vote that from the time of its decision and until further notice from the authorized security forces, the ascent of any member of the Knesset to the Har Habayis was liable to represent a breach of ethics and might lead to the imposition of sanctions on any Knesset member who would violate the decision. That decision was made in light of the security situation that prevailed at the time, the heightened sensitivity associated with any member of the Knesset visiting the Har Habayis, and the reasonable assumption that a visit of that nature would seriously impair the security situation throughout the country. On June 14, 2016, the committee discussed this subject again, and it decided by majority vote that its previous decision would not be changed. Nevertheless, it noted that if the security forces were to decide at any time that entry to the Har Habayis could be permitted for members of the Knesset, the committee would reconvene and change its decision accordingly.

“Now that six months have passed, the Ethics Committee was asked to reconsider the subject in response to a petition by MK Yehuda Glick. The committee heard the testimony of the police commander of the Yerushalayim district, Commissioner Yoram Halevi, who noted the marked improvement in security on the Har Habayis in recent months, along with the fact that the Har Habayis has been visited by record numbers of Jews and Muslims over the past year. It was also noted that the Minister of Internal Security and the police commissioner were given recommendations concerning visitation to the Har Habayis. However, this document had not been approved by the officials who dictate policy on the Har Habayis. Therefore, from the vantage point of the police, the prohibition for members of the Knesset to visit the Har Habayis has not changed since the previous discussion.

“In light of the information presented to the committee, and in light of the great importance that the committee sees in guaranteeing freedom of expression and freedom of worship for the members of the Knesset, the committee has decided that the time has come to change its previous decisions. From this point on, it will no longer be true that any visit of a member of the Knesset to the Har Habayis will be considered an ethical infraction. The majority opinion is that although there is room for the previous decision to be changed, nevertheless, in light of the political sensitivity and despite the fact that ordinary civilians are not required to coordinate their visits to the Har Habayis with the police, at this point the members of the Knesset should be required to engage in such coordination. Therefore, any visit to the Har Habayis that is not scheduled in advance with the police and that does not adhere to the conditions set by the police may still be considered an ethical infraction. The minority opinion is that the situation should not be changed, that the status quo in the area of the Al-Aqsa Mosque should be maintained, and that this matter is not subject to the authority of the Ethics Committee in any event.”

The “minority opinion,” of course, is that of the committee’s sole Arab member. In any event, it is an unfortunate that the previous decision was reversed.

The Fire That Burns

Now let us move on to something of a more spiritual nature. Two weeks ago, we marked the shloshim of Rav Moshe Shapiro zt”l, as well as the yahrtzeit of the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim, Rav Refoel Shmulevitz. I came across some fascinating anecdotes concerning both of them, and I would like to share some of those stories with you.

Let me begin with Rav Refoel Shmulevitz, who was a world-class Torah giant famed for his unique, highly precise analytical style. Rav Refoel once delivered a shmuess in which he presented an insight of his father, Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, into the concept of “bein adam lachaveiro.” I imagine that you are all familiar with Rav Chaim’s explanation of the story of Chana and Penina, the wives of Elkanah. The novi relates that Penina taunted Chana in order to induce her to daven for children. She would ask Chana questions that reminded her of her childlessness, feigning innocence when her real purpose was to cause Chana to experience anguish. This is all related in the Gemara, and Rashi states explicitly in his commentary on the novi that Penina’s intentions were lesheim Shomayim, as she wanted Chana to daven. But if that is so, Rav Chaim asks, why was she punished? Penina suffered a terrible fate. Every time Chana gave birth to a child, two of her own children passed away. Yet all she had wanted was to motivate Chana to daven.

Rav Chaim answered this question with a simple statement, one that has been repeated countless times: “Bein adam lachaveiro is fire!” It made no difference that Penina’s intentions were noble. Since she caused pain to Chana, it was inevitable that she would be punished, just as a person will inevitably be burned if he places his hand in a fire. Even a person who touches a fire with the most noble intentions, for the sake of a mitzvah or for some other virtuous reason, is bound to be burned. That is the nature of fire. It is not a punishment. It is simply the reality of the phenomenon. Just as fire burns, causing pain to another person “burns” the perpetrator.

In that shmuess, Rav Refoel continued, “I asked my father: If a doctor amputates a person’s leg in order to save his life, is that considered a breach of bein adam lachaveiro that will automatically cause him to suffer?” Rav Refoel went on to relate that he did not remember Rav Chaim’s response, but he had his own answer to the question. “There is a tremendous difference between the two cases,” he explained. “A doctor has no intention of causing pain to his patient at all. Of course, a patient will be distressed if he has a limb removed, even if it is to preserve his health, but the doctor does not mean to cause him pain. His goal is only to heal the patient, and it is possible that he will even share his distress. Consequently, it is not a breach of the laws of bein adam lachaveiro. Penina, on the other hand, wanted to cause Chana to suffer. Even though she meant it for Chana’s benefit, she had the express intent to cause her anguish; she simply planned for that anguish to lead to davening. That is why it was a violation of bein adam lachaveiro.”

A Lesson in Courage

Now let us move on to Rav Moshe Shapiro. During his lifetime, many people were amazed at the courage he displayed by adopting his unconventional approach. I have already related in these pages that even Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach once asked Rav Moshe what source he had for a particular practice, and Rav Moshe replied that he derived it from Rav Eliyahu Eliezer Dessler. Later in his life, the validity of his approach was evidenced by its success, but his unusual style led to some raised eyebrows at the beginning, and some people even wondered aloud how he could dare to follow such an unprecedented path.

Rav Moshe’s son recently shared an insight into the source of his father’s courage. “When my father was a young bochur in the Yeshiva of Ponovezh,” he related, “Rav Aharon Kotler visited the yeshiva and delivered a shiur in the bais medrash. Rav Aharon always spoke with fiery passion, and Rav Moshe was impressed by the fact that Rav Shmuel Rozovsky, who was much younger than Rav Aharon, argued with him throughout the shiur. Rav Aharon disagreed with him vehemently, raining impassioned objections on Rav Shmuel’s arguments – and once again, that was typical of his style – but Rav Shmuel was completely unfazed and continued promoting his perspective. Years later, my father commented on this incident, ‘If you really know what you want, then nothing in the world can frighten you.’ That was the explanation for my father’s fearless attitude.”

Another noteworthy anecdote that I read this week came from one of Rav Moshe’s talmidim, who described an encounter between Rav Moshe and Rav Yitzchok Hutner. This took place decades ago, when Rav Hutner visited Rav Moshe while the latter was hospitalized with an illness. After he left the hospital, Rav Hutner commented, “Rav Moshe is unique in this generation.”

Making Way for Rav Aharon Kotler

Since I mentioned Rav Aharon Kotler, I would like to share an anecdote that appeared in Divrei Siach, the weekly publication produced by Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s household. The story also appears in Bais Imi, the new book of stories about Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky that was written by Rav Chaim’s daughter.

Any description of the Lederman shul, the famous shul adjacent to Rav Chaim’s home where his father, the Steipler Gaon, also davened throughout the years, would be incomplete without mention of Rav Dovid Frankel, who was very close with the Chazon Ish, was one of the pillars of the shul. He was also an outstanding talmid chacham and was known for his intimate familiarity with the entire corpus of the Chazon Ish’s writings. Rav Dovid was a dedicated adherent and confidant of the gedolei hador, who faithfully served the Chazon Ish, Rav Shach, and many other Torah giants. Once, he remarked that he had actually had the privilege of serving all of the gedolim. Someone who heard that comment interjected, “What about Rav Aharon Kotler?”

Rav Dovid replied, “Once, when Rav Aharon Kotler was visiting Eretz Yisroel, a large group of people crowded around him to the point that he couldn’t even move forward. I made my way into the crowd, took hold of his arm, and began shouting, ‘Kavod haTorah! Kavod haTorah!’ I continued doing that until the way was clear.”

The pamphlet relates further that Rav Shach once told his family to remove all the visitors from his home and to lock the door. One of the family members asked him, “What if Dovid’l comes?” The reference was to Rav Dovid Frankel. Rav Shach replied, “There is nothing we can do about that. If he finds the door locked, he will simply come in through the window!”