A Shooting at the Gaza Border
It has been a long time since I saw such a display of brotherhood and solidarity as the national outpouring of emotion after a Border Guard soldier named Barel Chadariah Shmueli was seriously wounded on the Gaza border. Barel was recently given the additional name Achiya, so that his full name for tefillos is Barel Achiya ben Nitza. His mother, Nitza Shmueli, has pleaded with the Israeli public to daven for her son’s recovery. In a heartrending video that was released to the public, the soldiers in Barel’s unit can be seen reciting Tehillim outside his room in Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva. They weren’t able to enter the room itself because Barel is in the intensive care unit; however, they were allowed to stand next to the door.
Barel, a 21-year-old combat soldier who serves in the Border Guard in the south, was critically wounded in a mishap that should never have been allowed to happen. He was peering through a hole in the security wall at an Arab demonstration on the other side when a Palestinian youth shot three bullets through the hole, critically wounding Barel in his head. Many difficult questions have been asked in the wake of the incident: How did the Arab youth manage to bring a gun to that area? How was he able to shoot through the slit in the wall without triggering an immediate response? And why was Barel placed in such a vulnerable position? Were the army and the Border Guard unable to tell what was happening on the other side of the wall? Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai promised to investigate the matter. (The Border Guard falls under the jurisdiction of the police rather than the army.) A senior official in the Border Guard remarked, “This is a very painful incident and a tragedy for the unit. We wish the injured soldier a quick recovery.”
While the Border Guard goes about its investigation, Barel’s father, Yossi, has appealed to the public to daven for his son. He has also severely criticized the IDF. “This was a major failure on the army’s part,” the distraught father said. “Since when is it forbidden to shoot people who have come to kill you? Why did my son have to end up in the hospital because of a demonstration?”
Barel’s sister, Hila Shmueli, told the media this week, “His condition still isn’t good. There have been no new developments. He had another operation today, and we are waiting for a miracle. We are surrounded by our extended family and by Barel’s friends and acquaintances. Anyone who knew him is enveloping him with support. All of his friends are here.”
As for the accusations that have been leveled against the army, Barel’s sister says, “We still haven’t received complete answers, but we understand that the issue is being investigated. We don’t want to deal with it right now; we want to focus on davening for Barel to get back on his feet. That is our only concern at the moment. I am sure that in the coming days, we will also receive answers as to how and why it happened.”
A Botched Phone Call
Everything that Naftoli Bennett seems to be riddled with mistakes. The case of Barel Shmueli was no exception. As the prime minister, Bennett called the injured soldier’s father in an effort to boost his spirits. The conversation, which was recorded and later publicized, left Bennett looking callous and inept.
As soon as Bennett identified himself, the aggrieved father lost his temper. Bennett sat silently through his outburst, not even attempting to respond. Finally, the prime minister inquired about the soldier’s well-being and asked, “In which hospital is Yossi being treated?” This only made him look worse; Bennett was the only person in the country who didn’t know that the wounded soldier had been transported by helicopter to Soroka Hospital in Be’er Sheva, the hospital closest to the border with Gaza. Moreover, the entire nation knew that it is the father, not the son, whose name is Yossi!
On the recording, Yossi Shmueli can be heard exclaiming, “Where do you live? In what universe? [The soldiers have orders] not to fire on armed people? What is this? What do you know about making decisions? Wake up! Whom are you afraid of? Mansour Abbas? You are a coward; you and your entire government are cowards. Do something! Don’t you have children? I have one child; do you have nothing to answer me?”
Bennett remained silent as he spoke.
Barel’s mother also released a statement deriding Bennett for the call (perhaps justifiably). In contrast to the prime minister’s bungled phone call, she revealed that Bibi Netanyahu called her at midnight, that he was familiar with every detail of the situation, and that he actually wept over the phone. Amazingly, Naftoli Bennett is still living in Netanyahu’s shadow.
Realizing that he had seriously damaged his own public image, Bennett issued a statement of his own the next morning: “The soldier Barel Chadariah Shmueli was seriously injured in an incident on the Gaza border. I am davening for his recovery along with the entire nation of Israel. Yesterday, I called Yossi, Barel’s father, out of sincere concern for Barel’s well-being and in order to support the parents at this difficult moment in their lives. Yossi expressed understandable anger and frustration in his conversation with me, and I would like to convey my sympathies to him and his family. Confusing Barel’s name with his father’s name was an innocent mistake, and I would like to apologize wholeheartedly for it. There are no words to describe the pain and hardship that the family is suffering at this time. The soldiers of the IDF, and certainly their family members, have always been close to my heart, and it will always be that way. They are sacred to me. I would like to once again express my support for the family at this difficult time, and I apologize for the affront. The entire nation of Israel joins in davening for Barel’s recovery.”
A Nation Shares Its Pain
As I mentioned, the entire nation of Israel has shown solidarity with Barel Shmueli. Personally, I feel an even deeper connection to the wounded soldier, since he is a resident of my own hometown of Be’er Yaakov. And perhaps this is an appropriate place to share an idea I heard from Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, the rosh yeshiva of Be’er Yaakov. In our tefillos, we daven, “Acheinu kol bais Yisroel hanesunim batzarah uvashivyah… HaMakom yeracheim aleihem—Our brothers, the entire House of Yisroel, who are in in distress or captivity … may Hashem have mercy on them.” The rosh yeshiva once pointed out that while some Jews are certainly in distress or captivity, it seems strange for the tefillah to state that “the entire House of Yisroel” suffers from these hardships. In what way is every single Jew in trouble at once?
“Indeed, that is the case,” the rosh yeshiva answered his own question. “When one Jew is in distress, then all of Klal Yisroel is in distress along with him!”
Elul in Bais Mattisyohu
Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching. This year, more than ever, the import of the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is a tangible reality. The words we recite in Unesaneh Tokef have come to life over the past year, as the world has been shaken by many terrible and mind-boggling disasters. We have lived through a pandemic and raging fires, along with frightening natural disasters ranging from earthquakes to powerful floods. And that is to say nothing of the unspeakable tragedies in Meron and Miami.
Every year, I visit Yeshivas Bais Mattisyohu in Bnei Brak during Elul to experience the unique atmosphere of the month. I always marvel at the sight of the bais medrash, where 690 bochurim sit packed together, learning with unbridled intensity. The crowding in the bais medrash is so intense that the yeshiva was forced to build three galleries to provide additional seating on a second level; each gallery accommodates about 25 pairs of bochurim. “Elul is the Rosh Hashanah of the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah,” one talmid chochom commented to me while I was there. “Just as you understand that the events of the entire year are determined during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, you must also realize that the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah themselves are shaped by Elul!”
This idea was supported by a publication produced by a talmid chochom in Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s inner circle. This week, he wrote: “On erev Rosh Chodesh Elul, I said to Rav Chaim Kanievsky, ‘I am supposed to deliver a shmuess before the tefillos of Yom Kippur Koton. What should I say?’ He replied, ‘Tell them that the Torah learning of the month of Elul is a preparation for the impending judgment of Rosh Hashanah.’” The writer added another telling anecdote: “Someone came to Rav Chaim today and said, ‘It is already the 14th of Elul, and nothing has moved within me in preparation for Rosh Hashanah. What should I do?’ Rav Chaim replied, ‘Learn!’”
During my visit to Bais Mattisyohu, I tried checking in with a couple of bochurim in the yeshiva who live in Givat Shaul. I realized very quickly, though, that they were not about to answer any of my questions, as both bochurim were conducting a taanis dibbur. This was another topic that was addressed by Rav Chaim Kanievsky in the latest publication. The writer goes on to relate, “Someone who was visiting the rov’s home suddenly became emotional and cried out, ‘Oh! What are we going to do about Elul?’ The rov replied, ‘Shouting will accomplish nothing.’ … A bochur asked if he should observe a taanis dibbur during Elul or the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, or if it was better for him to be ‘normal,’ as the Chazon Ish advises. (The Leket Sichos relates that a bochur once came to the Chazon Ish in a panic about the month of Elul, and he replied, ‘The first thing to do during Elul is to be normal.’) When this question was put to Rav Chaim, he replied, ‘A taanis dibbur is a good thing.’”
It is widely believed that Rav Chaim himself used to observe a taanis dibbur at this time of year, and that he discontinued the practice only after his marriage, at the Chazon Ish’s urging. According to the oft-repeated story, the Chazon Ish advised Rav Chaim that a person must have the freedom to converse with his wife. However, Rav Chaim himself has debunked the story. “It is true that I used to conduct a taanis dibbur during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah,” he explained, “but I stopped even before my marriage, when I saw that it was impossible to keep up the commitment in yeshiva when the rosh yeshiva came to speak with me or in similar circumstances.”
Measures to Harm Yungeleit Are Implemented by the Government
This week, the Israeli government announced the new regulations concerning the state subsidies for day care. As I reported in the past, the government’s true agenda is to strike a blow at the country’s kollel yungeleit. Today, in order to encourage women to go out to work, the government subsidizes the cost of day care for the children of working women. The government has now decided to make the subsidy available only to families in which both spouses work, thus excluding yungeleit in kollel from the equation. What they hope to achieve is to induce the men to go out to work as well. However, what will more likely happen is that the women will stop working. To put it more bluntly, in its effort to encourage employment, the government will actually be fostering unemployment. But that doesn’t actually bother the members of the current government. At the same time, they have a different concern: The regulations were made hastily, and the new criteria are expected to harm chiloni families as well. This is something that the government does not want.
Several lawyers have already appealed to the Supreme Court to overturn the new law discriminating against chareidi families. Part of their argument is that the law discriminates between men in kollel, who study Torah-related subjects such as dayanus and rabbonus, and students in academic institutions, who are also pursuing subjects that have no traction in the job market. The lawyers also argued that the regulations were made without the requisite authority and that the time frame for their implementation was too narrow.
“We expect the Supreme Court to accept our petition in light of the severe and deliberate harm to the children and wives of yungeleit specifically now, at the time of the coronavirus pandemic,” the petitioners wrote. “[The subsidy cut] is also detrimental to the purpose of the law, especially since the family unit in the chareidi populace is currently meeting the goals for employment that were set by the government for the year 2020, and the changes in the criteria for support will lower the employment rate among women and will not cause it to rise among men.”
A Chronic Liar and a Chronic Coward Meet in Washington
The current government has made history in a lamentable way with its dependence on the votes of four Arab members of the Knesset. The government has done much more than rely on external support from the Arabs; Mansour Abbas is actually one of the central components of the current government. Even worse, the government has been regularly giving in to his demands, and those demands are steadily growing. In my view, though, the worst part of the situation isn’t what the government is actively doing for Abbas, but what he has managed to force it not to do.
For instance, the government is not acting with determination against the terrorists in Gaza who have been sending incendiary balloons into Israel, along with the occasional rockets. The recent wounding of Barel Shmueli was another act of Arab terror. Despite all these provocations, the government is barely acting to put an end to the terrorist violence. And there is only one reason for their inaction: fear of Mansour Abbas’s response. To be honest, though, some believe that there is another reason that the government hasn’t responded appropriately to the acts of terror: Bennett’s upcoming trip to Washington. You are probably aware that Prime Minister Bennett is scheduled to meet with President Biden this Thursday. Personally, I find it amusing: A chronic liar will be meeting with a chronic coward. What can possibly be the outcome of such a meeting?
Actually, Bennett’s upcoming trip has already been subjected to scathing criticism in Israel. For one thing, there is the meeting itself. What will the two leaders discuss? Will Bennett compromise on more of his ideological principles? Will he voice any objection to the opening of the American consulate in Yerushalayim? More than that, however, there is the fact that Israel has a plane designated for the prime minister’s use, but Bennett plans to rent an El Al plane for an enormous sum of money to transport him to America. This, too, has brought the wrath of the Israeli public upon him.
Next Time, the Arabs Will Flock to the Polls
This week, I met up with the rov of my neighborhood, a brilliant and highly accomplished man who is also a distinguished rosh kollel. I have always found him to be an original thinker who invariably has some unique insight into every issue. Naturally, I took advantage of the encounter to ask him, “What does the rov have to say about our evil government?”
He laughed mirthlessly. “Everyone is talking about the 53 billion shekels that were promised to Mansour Abbas and the Arabs, about the tremendous financial drain on the state and the fact that we will all have to pay taxes to fund it,” he said. “But that is only part of the problem. People do not realize that the economic damage should be the least of our concerns. There has been a major change that is bound to affect us dramatically in the future. A precedent has been set that will change the entire electoral map. The Arabs received 15 mandates in the Knesset when they were at the height of their power. They lost some ground in this election, but I predict that they will receive between 15 and 20 mandates in the next election by virtue of high voter turnout. They have now discovered that there is endless potential to extort money from the Jews they hate and the state they loathe, and they will certainly find a way around their own self-imposed ban on voting in elections. You will soon see all the Israeli Arabs, even the most radical extremists, flocking to the polls.”
Third from the Bottom
The coronavirus—even if Bennett has another name for it—is on the rise. Not long ago, Israel was considered more successful than any other country in the world at beating the pandemic; today, it is ranked third from the bottom of the list. To add to our sense that the situation is spiraling out of control, five public hospitals announced this week that they will no longer be able to accept coronavirus patients, since they did not receive the funding promised to them by the previous government. Those five hospitals include Maayanei HaYeshuah in Bnei Brak and Shaare Tzedek in Yerushalayim. And that is quite disconcerting.
Meanwhile, the author of the book How to Beat a Pandemic (i.e., Naftoli Bennett) has been losing popularity as he has visibly failed to beat this pandemic. In the Knesset, however, we don’t have to listen to the news or visit hospitals in order to assess the situation. We have our own means of gauging it: through the notices we receive from the Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms.
Whenever someone who works in the Knesset is diagnosed with corona, he is required to report his condition to the Sergeant-at-Arms, who then notifies the entire Knesset workforce about the latest case. Every notice comes with an identical message: “Anyone who was in close contact with this person and has been immunized is not obligated to enter quarantine. However, the Ministry of Health recommends performing a coronavirus test after 72 hours have passed since the contact. Anyone who has not been vaccinated and has been in personal contact with him is asked to remain at home and not to return to work until he has received instructions from the Health Ministry.”
When these messages increase in frequency, I take it as a sign that the situation in the country is growing steadily worse. After a period of several months when we didn’t hear about a case of corona in the Knesset, we have recently received quite a few of these messages. In fact, there have been too many. The newest Covid patients include MK Ofer Cassif, MK Gilad Kariv, two of Kariv’s aides, Knesset employee Tammy Sela, and MK Inbar Bezek. And now Itamar Ben-Gvir has been added to the list.
Speaking of Kariv, the Reform representative in the Knesset, I have to wonder if the members of Women of the Wall, with whom he engaged in a publicity stunt last Rosh Chodesh, were ordered into quarantine.
Bills on the Table
This week, tempers flared in Israel over a story that was likely exaggerated. The financial magazine Globes was the first to break the story: “MK Alex Kushnir, chairman of the Knesset Finance Committee, has submitted a bill based on the coalition agreements that would establish a new educational stream in the public school system for the chareidi sector. According to the authors of the proposal, the intent is to provide the full core curriculum to chareidi students, in light of the significant demand for these studies.” The article was quoted widely throughout the media and garnered plenty of criticism from the chareidi community.
I couldn’t help but be reminded of the recent uproar over a bill that allegedly prohibited offering tefillin to strangers. That particular law had been placed on the Knesset table many times over the past 18 years and had never been brought to a vote. It was simply one of the 2,186 bills that were placed on the table in the current Knesset and were never brought up for debate. And even if any of those bills had been brought to the Knesset floor, they would inevitably have been defeated. The current brouhaha was likewise probably unnecessary.
In order to get to the bottom of the current rumors, I perused all the bills introduced in the 24th Knesset by Alex Kushnir, most of which were designed either to harm chareidim or to help the Russian community. I did not find a single bill concerning the establishment of a new stream within the public school system. It is also not possible that Kushnir introduced the bill only now; the Knesset is in recess, and no new legislation may be submitted at this time. So the alleged bill that stirred these impassioned reactions doesn’t actually exist… I have a feeling that Kushnir publicized this story in a bid for publicity, and that the Israeli public went along with the ploy. His explanation for the alleged bill—that it was based on coalition agreements—is also spurious. Yisrael Beiteinu’s coalition agreement contains a clause stating that the core curriculum should be a “national goal” and should be promoted with “both positive and negative incentives,” but there isn’t a single word about opening a new stream within the educational system.
The truth is that anyone who wants to generate sensational fake headlines can easily find plenty of anti-religious bills on the Knesset table to stoke controversy and outrage. Civil marriage, public transportation, and an area at the Kosel for Reform prayer have all been subjects of proposed laws that will never see the light of day. For example, Gilad Kariv submitted a bill calling for all religious events and ceremonies to require licenses. Similarly, certain members of Yamina, including Ayelet Shaked (before she became a government minister), submitted a string of right-wing bills (such as a law calling for the families of terrorists to be deported, or a bill that would impose Israeli sovereignty on the Jordan Valley) that may now come back to haunt them. Dozens of members of the Knesset, including some who have become ministers in the government and others who are members of the chareidi parties, also placed their names on a bill calling for the 24th Knesset to be dissolved. There are also some very interesting and significant bills, such as one sponsored jointly by the Joint Arab List and Shas that calls for discounts on water consumption to be provided for houses of worship. A group of right-wing MKs submitted a proposal that would bar anyone who praised terrorists for murdering Jews from holding a seat in the Knesset. MK Gaby Lasky, who has established herself as a defender of civil rights, submitted several bills to uphold the rights of innocent citizens, including one that would require compensation for a false arrest. The most interesting of all, perhaps, is a bill submitted by Yariv Levin that would grant soldiers the right to grow beards.
A Pig’s Foot at the Entrance to a Shul
There are many other things that I would like to report to you, but I am short on space. For one thing, the government has issued a new outline for travel to Uman in honor of Rosh Hashanah. The restrictions that will be imposed on the travelers, especially after their return, have already been published, but I will not bore you with the details.
Meanwhile, Minister Matan Kahana has written a long letter to the rabbonim of Israel attempting to explain why his plan for kashrus reform is a good thing. I, however, am not inclined to bother quoting the letter or explaining its flawed logic.
Many members of the coalition have already announced that they plan to oppose the state budget unless the provisions for reform in agriculture are removed. This means that the farmers’ protest has paid off. And it also spells trouble for the government, as dissension grows within its ranks.
Finally, a pig’s foot was recently found at the entrance to a shul in Rishon Letzion. This was a shocking and horrific hate crime, and it deserves to be protested vigorously.
Another Take on Ben Sorer Umoreh
Rav Nissim Toledano, the rosh yeshiva of She’aris Yosef, once davened with us during bein hazemanim at Beit Knesset Yehuda in Be’er Yaakov. After davening, he asked us, “How can we proclaim in Nishmas that we wouldn’t be able to praise Hashem even if our mouths were filled with song like the sea, our tongues were like its many waves, and so forth, yet then we go on to declare that those parts of our body will praise Him? The answer is that when the praise bursts forth from us on its own, when we simply can’t resist it, it is different.”
On a similar note, I once served as the tenth man at a minyan in Bais Chilkiya for Rav Berel Lichtenstein, the rosh yeshiva of Kaminetz. After the minyan, he decided to “reward” me with a devar Torah: “How are we able to include the tefillah of zachreinu l’chaim in the first brocha of the Shemoneh Esrei, which is not a place for requests?” he asked. He immediately explained, “Because this tefillah bursts out of us on its own accord! We can’t help but plead with Hashem for life!”
And here is a devar Torah that I cannot resist sharing with you.
In last week’s parsha, we read about the ben sorer umoreh. The Gemara tells us that this rebellious son is destined to become a highwayman who will rob passersby, and the Torah therefore decreed that he should die while he is still innocent of sin (Sanhedrin 72b). There is much that we can learn from this parsha. For instance, it may offer us insight into the mystery of why some people die young: Perhaps Hashem took pity on them and brought them to Shomayim while they were still innocent and pure. For some people, an early death might be to their advantage.
Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv once pointed out that the Gemara’s prediction concerning the ben sorer umoreh appears in a slightly different form in the Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 8:7): “He will kill people, and he will ultimately forget his learning, and the Torah states that it is better for him to die innocent than to die guilty.” Rav Elyashiv cited this passage in the Yerushalmi to illustrate the enormous importance of Torah learning. Even after a person has become a murderer, he observed, the Gemara still indicates that it is an even more heinous offense for him to abandon his Torah learning. After all, as long as a person remains attached to the Torah, regardless of any sins he has committed, there is always hope for him.
The Chofetz Chaim’s Prescience
Next week, we will mark the 88th yahrtzeit of the Chofetz Chaim, who passed away on 24 Elul 5693/September 15, 1933. I recently came across a passage in the memoirs of my grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, that piqued my interest. My grandfather had close connections to all the gedolei Yisroel of the previous generation and personally met the Chofetz Chaim on several occasions, even visiting him in his home in Radin. This is what he wrote:
“If we were to say that he is a true gaon, it would be only a partial description. If we were to say that he is supremely righteous, it would likewise not encompass his entire essence. Even if we were to say that he is the great leader of his nation, we would be describing him only partially. But when we say that the Chofetz Chaim is the Chofetz Chaim, then we have said it all. For anyone who had the privilege of spending time with the Chofetz Chaim, that experience became a pivotal moment in his life. Why is that so? It is difficult to answer this question. His home was clean but very simple. He seemed like an elderly, weak man. His posture was bent and he spoke quietly; he raised his voice only rarely. He spoke without pathos or any particular unique style. At first glance, the things he said were no more profound than the teachings of other gedolim or masters of mussar. Why, then, were we seized by trembling and awe when we were in his presence? Why did we experience burning remorse and an irresistible drive to do teshuvah? There is no way to explain it, but my heart tells me that the Shechinah is constantly wandering from place to place, and during the Chofetz Chaim’s lifetime, it chose him as its abode.
“It has often been reported that the Chofetz Chaim could read the thoughts of others, that every secret was revealed to him and that he could foresee the future. I will record here what I heard from his close talmid and friend, Rav Elchonon Wasserman, not long ago: ‘This happened a few years ago at the last great gathering of rabbonim in Warsaw, which was attended by the Chofetz Chaim. Rav Chaim Ozer [Grodzensky], the Gerrer Rebbe, and the Belzer Rebbe all spoke, and then the Chofetz Chaim said his piece. He began with a maamar Chazal and responded to everything that the three previous speakers had said, even though he was completely deaf and hadn’t heard a single word of their speeches. When Rav Meir Shapiro heard this, he leapt out of his seat and exclaimed that we had witnessed the revelation of the Shechinah. I replied to him that we had always known that to be the case.’
“Tzaddikim are considered alive even after they have left this world,” my grandfather’s account continues. “Even now, I feel as if I am still standing in that simple room in Radin. I can still hear his voice from those times when I was in his presence. ‘Not everyone can be a lamdan,’ he said, ‘and not everyone can learn Mishnayos, but everyone can and must learn a little Chumash!’”