Thursday, Sep 16, 2021

My Take On The News

Time to Start Looking Out for Kedushas Sheviis

In a separate article this week, I mentioned that the arrival of the shemittah year will force us to be extra vigilant here in Eretz Yisroel, and I listed several possible ways that the halachos of shemittah might be violated. Since I wrote that article, I have delved further into the halachos and I have discovered that there are many more issues to take into account than I had reckoned with.

One of the first halachic concerns during shemittah might come along with the first load of laundry on motzoei Rosh Hashanah. Here in Eretz Yisroel, many of us still hang our laundry on clotheslines. What if the wet clothes are hanging over a courtyard and the water drips onto the ground below? Even if the person hanging the laundry has no intention of watering plants below, Rav Elyashiv maintains that it is a serious problem to allow the water to drip to the ground. In fact, Rav Elyashiv prohibits this practice even if there are no plants at all, since the water makes it possible, even hypothetically, for plants to take root in the earth.

And here is another application of the halachos of shemittah in Eretz Yisroel: In this country, we wash our floors with large quantities of water. In some homes, the water used for this purpose drains directly onto the street. In fact, Rav Yitzchok Yaakov Fuchs, a neighbor of Rav Uri Zohar at Rechov Ponim Meiros 17 who publishes a popular newsletter dealing with timely halachos, has an amusing story to tell about this Israeli “custom.” Rav Fuchs relates that he was once visiting Rav Moshe Halberstam when a man burst into the room, bedraggled and distraught. The newcomer, who had moved to Yerushalayim not long before, told the rov that he had been standing next to a bus stop on Rechov Bar Ilan when he was suddenly hit by a cascade of water from the balcony of a nearby apartment. Rav Moshe replied, “I see that you still haven’t learned not to stand beneath a residential balcony as people prepare their homes for Shabbos in Yerushalayim.” Nevertheless, when it comes to shemittah, we must be very careful about disposing of the water that has been used to wash a floor. If it is poured onto the ground it is a serious halachic problem.

Grama on Shabbos and Shemittah

But one doesn’t need to wait until after Yom Tov in order to run into halachic pitfalls involving the laws of shemittah. Even on Rosh Hashanah itself, we must be cognizant of the unique halachos of the year. For instance, a man might be sitting and learning in his home on the afternoon of Rosh Hashanah while eating a fruit. He might be tempted to toss the pit of the fruit through a window rather than making the effort to discard it in a garbage can across the house, but if he lives on a ground floor and owns the yard outside his window, it is forbidden to discard the pit there. Indeed, throughout the shemittah year, it is prohibited to throw pits on the ground.

At the same time, there is an interesting leniency in the halachos of shemittah. On Shabbos, it is forbidden to perform a melochah even through the mechanism of grama (indirect causation). In the halachos of shemittah, on the other hand, the Chazon Ish rules that grama is permitted. For instance, if wet laundry is hung on a porch (rather than directly above the ground) and the water drips onto the porch and then flows onto the ground, it is considered an act of grama and is permitted. Similarly, one may turn on an air conditioner in spite of the water that drips from the outdoor unit. A person may also wash his car even if the water runs off the vehicle and flows into someone’s yard. All of these activities, even if they cause the ground or plants to be watered, are considered cases of grama.

And then there is the issue of kedushas sheviis—the halachic sanctity that is infused in produce of the shemittah year. As soon as Rosh Hashanah ends, we will have to start being vigilant about the vegetables we consume. We won’t have to worry about fruit yet, since tree fruit will become subject to kedushas shviis only at the end of the winter, but we must be very careful about our vegetables, which acquire kedushas sheviis simply by being picked during the shemittah year. How does a simple Jew like myself deal with this challenge? I shop for fruits and vegetables only in store supervised by the badatz of the Eidah Chareidis, where produce is sold that is not subject to kedushah, either because it was raised by non-Jews (either in Eretz Yisroel or in chutz laaretz), because it grew in the sixth year (and, presumably, was stored in freezers for later use), or because it grew in a greenhouse and was never rooted in the ground.

There is a fundamental dispute regarding the laws of shemittah that has far-ranging implications. The Eidah Chareidis follows the view of the gedolim of Yerushalayim, who paskened that any produce raised by a non-Jew in Eretz Yisroel is not subject to kedushas sheviis. This is not a simple matter, since the Mabit and the Chazon Ish disagree with this view and maintain that a non-Jew’s ownership does not negate the kedusha infused in the produce of Eretz Yisroel during the shemittah year. In Bnei Brak, the Chazon Ish guided the city’s residents to abide by this stringency. In Yerushalayim, those who follow the view of the Chazon Ish often buy from stores supervised by an Otzar Bais Din; however, this approach requires them to modify not only their shopping but their behavior in their kitchens as well. Peels or leftover scraps of produce infused with kedushas sheviis may not be discarded in an ordinary fashion; instead, many such items are carefully stored in the typical home until they rot.

Rav Fuchs has a fascinating story to tell on this note: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was adamant about following the minhag of Yerushalayim, which meant that he freely used produce raised by a non-Jew and did not view it as possessing kedusha. He pointed out that the Bais Yosef, Rav Yosef Karo, was very particular about this matter, and that he even declared a cherem on any person who handled the produce raised by a non-Jew in Eretz Yisroel as if it possessed kedushas sheviis. Rav Yehuda Addes, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov in the neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, once decided that the yeshiva should follow the ruling of the Chazon Ish, but Rav Shlomo Zalman overruled him. “In your home, you can do as you please,” Rav Shlomo Zalman informed the rosh yeshiva, “but in a yeshiva in Yerushalayim, you should not act contrary to the views of the botei din of Yerushalayim, which have made it the common practice to follow the Bais Yosef’s view.”

The Passing of Rebbetzin Sara Finkel

Rebbetzin Sara Finkel (the mother of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel) remained lucid until her final day on earth when she passed away at the age of 101. She knew the names of all of her progeny, who were quite numerous; just a month ago, yet another great-grandson was born. Two days before her petirah, the father of the baby (Reb Moshe, the son of Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel) brought his child, the latest boy to be named Nosson Tzvi, to visit his great-grandmother. The rebbetzin was deeply moved and gave an emotional blessing to the child. Reb Moshe then attempted to make small talk with his grandmother by asking her, “Bubby, what’s new?”

“What is really new is young Nosson Tzvi,” the rebbetzin replied.

Every Friday, Rebbetzin Finkel received dozens of telephone calls from her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was always able to remain on topic during those conversations, and even when she was unable to hear the caller on the other end of the line—as her hearing failed her at the end of her life—she somehow managed to keep the conversation flowing. She was unfailingly clever and witty.

Rebbetzin Finkel hailed from an American family that exemplified the virtues of integrity and wholesomeness and was known for their prodigious practice of hachnossas orchim. The rebbetzin and her husband, Reb Eliyohu Meir, opened their home in Chicago to host many roshei yeshiva who traveled to America to raise funds for their institutions, including the Ponovezher Rov, Rav Aharon Kotler, and Rav Moshe Chevroni. In those days, no one dreamed that the son of the generous couple in Chicago would one day become the leader of the Torah empire of Mir.

This week, Rav Moshe Finkel, a prominent rosh chaburah in Mir and the son of Rav Gedaliah Finkel (Rebbetzin Sara’s younger son, who was sitting shiva for his mother) showed up at a simcha held by a member of his chaburah. In order to be permitted to join the simcha while his father was sitting shiva, Rav Moshe joined the serving staff. He was so intent on making a show of respect for his talmid that he did not consider it beneath his dignity to perform that menial task. I managed to have a brief exchange with him between the salad course and the entrée, and Rav Moshe reflected on Rav Nosson Tzvi’s incredible journey to the helm of one of the world’s largest yeshivos. “There is no question about it,” he said. “It was an outright miracle.”

“Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi once told me that his wife, Rebbetzin Rivka Ezrachi, deserved the credit for it,” I commented.

“That is true,” Rav Moshe concurred. “When my grandmother [Rebbetzin Sara] heard the story of the Akeidah on Rosh Hashanah in the yeshiva, that was when she decided to dedicate her son’s life to the Torah.”

I first heard this story in a conversation with Rav Yitzchok Ezrachi, when I remarked about the incredible spirit of brotherhood and mutual respect that existed among the roshei yeshiva of Mir. “Yes,” he agreed. “Each of them wants to honor the others more than anything else.” Then he revealed that he felt a personal connection to Rav Nosson Tzvi’s development and ascension to the position of rosh yeshiva. “Rebbetzin Rivka deserved some of the credit for the fact that the young Nosson Tzvi Finkel remained in Mir to learn,” he revealed. “When he was a young man, Rav Nosson Tzvi came to visit Eretz Yisroel along with his mother, and the rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, advised her to let him remain in the yeshiva. It was very hard for Rav Nosson Tzvi’s mother to accept that suggestion. How could she leave her son all alone in a faraway country? Who would take care of him? Who would see to it that his needs were met?

“Rav Nosson Tzvi and his mother spent Rosh Hashanah in the yeshiva, and after davening they were invited to a Kiddush at the home of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz. Rav Chaim’s daughter—my rebbetzin, who was utterly peerless—spoke an Oxford-level English and graciously played the role of hostess. Rav Nosson Tzvi’s mother asked her to explain the story of the leining for that day, which dealt with the Akeidah, and Rivka Shmulevitz described the events in such an impassioned and meaningful way that Rebbetzin Sara Finkel announced, ‘If Avrohom Avinu could pass the test of binding his son on a mizbeiach, then I must also leave my son here in the yeshiva!’”

Rav Ezrachi closed his eyes for a moment and then said, “Do you understand my point? Everything that Rav Nosson Tzvi accomplished was owed to her. It all came from her.”

Rebbetzin Finkel was a talented artist. She was once complimented for her talent, but she replied, “It isn’t talent; it is patience.” In fact, the rebbetzin used to assert that patience is the key to all good middos—which is indeed a profound insight.

The rebbetzin once honored her neighbor, Rav Yitzchok Tuvia Weiss, by painting his portrait. It was Rav Weiss who was asked to notify her on the day of Rav Nosson Tzvi’s passing. “There is going to be a major levayah,” he said, breaking the news gently to the newly bereaved mother. “The levayah will be leaving from the yeshiva,” he added. Rebbetzin Finkel immediately took the hint and paled; her precious son had been taken from her in the middle of a life of prodigious accomplishment.

Rav Weiss was later asked how he had worked up the courage to break the dreadful news to the rebbetzin. “At our age, things work differently,” he said simply.

May she be a meilitzas yosher for all of us during these days of turmoil.

Kavod Shomayim and Rosh Hashanah

This week, I feel compelled to quote the weekly publication of the Chumash shiurim of the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Halberstam, the Shefa Chaim of Sanz. This week’s issue includes a shiur in which the Rebbe spoke about the way He addressed Hashem during the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah.

“The posuk that states that ‘I will certainly hide My face on that day’ has been fulfilled in our lives,” the Rebbe began. “The ways of Hashem are far beyond our comprehension. People on our level watch the events in the world without understanding anything.

“We see that the wicked people who eat the flesh of pigs, vermin, and rodents, those who plunder and steal, are healthy and strong, enjoying longevity and reaching the ages of 80 and 90 in physical health and with their children and grandchildren around them. We see that they live and laugh until the end of their days like complete goyim, whereas those who fear Hashem are like broken shards, barely managing to survive.” These words were uttered by a man who had lived through unspeakable suffering during the years of the Holocaust.

The Rebbe went on to explain the symbolism of the three different blasts of the shofar and to expound on part of the tefillos of Rosh Hashanah. Seemingly in passing, the Rebbe then remarked, “Our message when we sound the shofar before Hashem; is as if we are crying out to Him, ‘Act for Your great and beloved Name!’ The other nations do not understand Hashem’s ways. If, chas veshalom, the attribute of judgment brings Divine wrath upon Bnei Yisroel, they will attribute greatness to their false gods, and it will be an even greater desecration of Hashem’s Name. If the Jewish people are subject to evil decrees, chas veshalom, and are downtrodden and oppressed, then a Jewish soul in some remote location at the end of the earth that is still clinging to Yiddishkeit, even in the most tenuous way, may go astray. A Jew who recites Shema Yisroel at least once in a while may give up even that practice. And kiddush Hashem certainly will not emerge from such things.”

With his ahavas Yisroel, the Rebbe also spoke in defense of those who spend the Yom Tov of Rosh Hashanah preoccupied by their own finances. “We see what happens in the bais medrash during U’nesaneh Tokef,” he said. “The entire room shakes with the cries of ‘who will live and who will die,’ and ‘who by hunger and who by thirst,’ as the sound of wailing emanates from the ezras noshim as well. The people beg Hashem for children, life, and sustenance, but they daven over and over for gelt, which is astounding. The Rebbe of Ropshitz famously commented, with his holy humor, that when Jews recite the words ‘u’v’chen tein pachdecha’ on the Yomim Noraim, they are really thinking, ‘U’v’chein—gelt. Tein—gelt. Pachdecha—gelt.’ When a person davens for money, if his intentions are for his own benefit, so that he can afford luxuries and enjoy the pleasures of this world—such as traveling to the country in the summer or to Florida in the winter—then he is the type of person whom the Zohar describes as crying out like a dog, ‘Hav hav—Give, give!’ However, if a person davens to Hashem for money in order to use it to lead others to fear Him, it is certainly both permitted and necessary to make that request of Hashem.

“Now, a defendant in a trial has the right to speak up for himself, and a person is permitted to voice his feelings before Hashem and to ask Him, ‘Master of the Universe, what was gained in Shomayim from the judgment poured out on Bnei Yisroel?’ After all, Hashem does not hold grudges or seek revenge. The only reason He sometimes exercises His middas hadin is that the purpose of the entire creation of the world is to reveal His honor and Kingship, as the posuk states, ‘Hashem made everything for His sake.’ All of Hashem’s actions are for the sake of His honor, for everything was created for His honor, as we say in the brocha of shehakol bara lechvodo. Therefore, from time to time, it is necessary for Him to exercise judgment in order to uphold His honor…. The cities of Europe, however, were filled with hundreds of thousands of Jews who used to rise early in the morning on the days of Selichos and stand before Hashem, wrapped in their tallisos and serving Him with tears and supplications. True, there were some among them who spoke during the tefillah and Krias haTorah, but did their torturous deaths add to the honor of Hashem’s holy Name? And the same can be asked regarding the decree of golus itself. When Bnei Yisroel lived in their land and the Bais Hamikdosh stood in its place, it is true that Bnei Yisroel did not behave correctly, and they even placed an idol in the Heichal, as we find that they are rebuked for this in the seforim of the neviim. They were indeed deserving of punishment, but did the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh and the decree of exile add to the honor of Hashem’s Name? Was Hashem’s Name sanctified by the fact that the wicked Nebuchadnezzar placed a golden idol in the valley of Dura? I am not questioning Hashem’s ways, chas veshalom, for ‘Hashem is righteous, and I have defied His word.’ Rather, my argument is that even if we have been found deserving of punishment in Hashem’s judgment, it will not lead to kavod Shomayim for Bnei Yisroel to be subject to the middas hadin. May we have a year of salvation and redemption, and may we experience our eternal geulah very soon.”

The Best Insurance

This week, I attended a series of hespeidim in a shul in Bayit Vegan for a woman who passed away at a young age. Rabbi Shlomo Benizri of Yeshivas Ohr Hachaim shared an interesting story in his speech: When Rav Shlomo Amar, the rov of Yerushalayim (who was serving at the time as chief rabbi of Israel and Rishon Letzion), came to visit him during a shiva, he was told that Benizri’s elderly father was living in his home. “That is a form of insurance,” Rav Amar remarked. On a similar note, Benizri related that the Ponovezher Rov once asked the Chazon Ish if he should take out an insurance policy for the yeshiva. The Chazon Ish replied, “As long as the two tzaddikim remain in the yeshiva, there is no need for insurance; they themselves are the insurance.” He was referring to two elderly Holocaust survivors who learned in the Ponovezh yeshiva.

I recently Rav Shmuel Markowitz, rosh yeshiva in the Ponovezh yeshiva, and asked him if this story about his grandfather was correct. “Absolutely,” he replied. “It is a very well-known story. I even remember one of the men. We called him Reb Luzer; I don’t know his last name.”

Our conversation was overheard by Rabbi Avrohom Shmuel Pappenheim, one of the most prominent talmidim of Ponovezh, who was very close to Rav Shach. “If you want to get more details,” he said, “you should speak to Rav Moshe Dovid Lefkowitz.” Rav Moshe Dovid is mashgiach in Yeshivas Beer Yaakov.

“The story is true,” Rav Moshe Dovid confirmed as soon as I questioned him about it. “There were two tzaddikim in the yeshiva—Rav Luzer Mendlowitz and Rav Yosef Shlomo Horowitz. They were both survivors of the Holocaust. Rav Luzer used to sleep in the tzrif with us. He once told me that he had been a talmid chover of Rav Naftoli Amsterdam. He also once asked me to test him on mishnayos that he had committed to memory. Both men were outstanding tzaddikim. The Chazon Ish told the Ponovezher Rov that as long as they were in the yeshiva, there was no need for insurance.”

“What was the tzrif?” I asked.

“You don’t know?” Rav Moshe Dovid exclaimed in surprise. “It was the little hut about which the Chazon Ish wrote, ‘The palace is being built.’ Before the building that everyone recognizes was erected, we used to sleep in a small hut in the courtyard. I remember asking my mother, ‘How can anyone call our hut a palace?’ She replied, ‘If you have a place to sleep and eat, that is enough reason to call it a palace.’”

“And those two tzaddikim slept in the hut along with you?”

“Rav Luzer slept there, as did the two Edelstein brothers, Rav Gershon and Rav Yaakov. When my sister reached the age of three, Rav Luzer decided that it wasn’t appropriate for him to stay there. Then the Ponovezher Rov gave him a room in the yeshiva dormitory. He used to daven together with the Chazon Ish at neitz.”

My father-in-law, Rav Tzvi Tausky, is another talmid of Ponovezh, and he informed me that he remembers Rav Luzer as well. This righteous man lived in the dormitory with the bochurim and left his room only to go to the bais medrash. Actually, he added, there was one occasion when Rav Luzer deviated from his usual practice. One day, he heard a group of bochurim singing in the hallway of the dormitory, and he peeked outside his room to investigate what was happening. The bochurim told him that they were bidding farewell to one of their peers, who was leaving for the airport to travel overseas for his own wedding. Rav Luzer immediately emerged from his room, accompanied the bochur for four amos, and then returned. That bochur was none other than my father-in-law, who traveled to Copenhagen to marry his wife; may they both be well.

Another Shul Vandalized

This may be an exalted time of year, but I must devote at least a little space to some more mundane news items. First of all, I must voice revulsion at the desecration of a shul in the Shapiro neighborhood of Tel Aviv. Last week, I mentioned that an unknown perpetrator had left a pig’s foot at the entrance to a Chabad house in Rishon Letzion. The building serves as a shul in every respect, and the perpetrator clearly knew that he would be defiling a sacred place. In another incident of hate, swastikas were scrawled on the walls of a shul in Tel Aviv this week.

I sometimes feel as if our sensitivities have been deadened by the constant hardships and waves of hatred we have been facing. That, however, is something that we must not allow to happen. When a pig stuck its hooves into the wall of the Bais Hamikdosh, all of Eretz Yisroel shook. We may not be able to replicate that reaction of horror, but we should at least be able to sigh in distress when we hear these stories.

I should probably write about the draft law as well, but I am omitting that topic for several reasons. First of all, I haven’t managed to understand all the details. I didn’t grasp anything that anyone else wrote about it, and I have an odd feeling that they themselves likewise do not understand it. Furthermore, I know one thing: We must be extremely cautious about both whether and how we write about this particular subject. So for the time being, I will remain silent on that issue. Perhaps in my next column, which will be published in the Sukkos edition, I will tell you about an exchange that I had with Rav Shach about this topic.

One more point: Every year, on erev Rosh Hashanah, the Kosel plaza is given a thorough cleaning in preparation for the Yom Tov. In addition, all the notes are removed from the cracks in the wall. As I noted in the past, this isn’t a simple task; according to some poskim, the spaces between the stones are considered to be sanctified, and it is forbidden to insert one’s hand into any of those gaps. The notes themselves are taken away to be handled respectfully rather than being discarded—not because they might contain a name of Hashem, but rather out of the concern that the papers themselves became sanctified when they were placed in the Kosel. The cleaning process at the Kosel probably deserves a much longer treatment in a future article, but for now, I will leave you with this information.

The Vizhnitzer Rebbe and the Doctors’ Strike

The coronavirus pandemic is still one of the top news stories here. Recent events in Israel have left us all with mixed feelings. On the one hand, we are seeing 20 new hospitalizations a day, which is quite a large number. There are now 1100 corona patients hospitalized in Israel, which is also a huge quantity. There are 150 communities throughout the country that have been categorized as “red,” and the hospitals claim that they are not able to keep up with the pressure. At the same time, there seems to be a downward trend in the rate of the disease’s spread, and that is quite encouraging. In fact, it is so encouraging that the government announced this Sunday that certain restrictions would be dropped. Among the new leniencies is a relaxation of the quarantine requirement for travelers returning from abroad. However, these measures will take effect only if the positive trend continues and people continue receiving the vaccine.

Speaking of the hospitals, I mentioned that some of the public hospitals have gone on strike. A group of hospitals including Shaare Zedek and Hadassah in Yerushalayim, along with Laniado in Netanya and Maayanei HaYeshuah in Bnei Brak, are furious with the government for failing to cough up the extra funding promised to medical institutions to deal with the burden of the pandemic. The Finance Ministry quickly responded to the strike by transferring 100 million shekels to the hospitals, but that only served to enrage them even more, since they had initially been promised much higher sums.

The chareidi parties (Shas and UTJ) have submitted a request to the Knesset speaker for the Knesset to convene to discuss the issue, in spite of the fact that it is in recess. (The Knesset speaker is obligated to convene the Knesset even during a recess if 25 of its members sign on a request for a special discussion.)

Perhaps I should mention that there was another doctors’ strike many years ago, and the prime minister received an appeal from an unlikely source to do everything in his power to end the strike. That demand came from no less illustrious a figure than the Vizhnitzer Rebbe himself.

A Dream Meeting

Another story this week, which may or may not merit the status of an important news item, was the meeting between President Biden and Prime Minister Bennett. Poor Bennett seems to have no mazel. Last Thursday, at eight o’clock in the evening in Israel—the height of prime time—he was waiting to be called into the Oval Office to meet with the president of the United States, but then the terror attacks in Afghanistan turned Biden’s schedule topsy-turvy. Suddenly, Bennett was the last thing that interested Biden. The Israeli premier sat in his hotel in Washington and waited for hours, until he was finally informed that the meeting had been postponed and possibly canceled. Finally, it was rescheduled for Friday morning. Bennett was then forced to remain in Washington for Shabbos (and we will not discuss whether he and his staff actually observed Shabbos while they were there).

At long last, on Friday morning, Bennett was called in to meet with President Biden. I am not sure exactly what words passed between the two of them, but Bennett announced, of course, that it had been a historic meeting and that he had a long list of accomplishments to boast of, including an understanding on how to deal with Iran and American financial aid for Israel. His entire story seemed ridiculous. To make matters worse, Biden was seen dozing off while Bennett spoke with enormous pathos. This gave rise to many jokes at Bennett’s expense that circulated throughout Israel. “It was a dream meeting,” one satirist wrote. “Biden trusts Bennett with his eyes closed,” someone else quipped.

Still, the press had only positive things to say about Bennett, possibly because it is important to them to give him a boost as long as he remains a barrier to Netanyahu’s return. It is absolutely amazing to watch the behavior of the Israeli media; they have no red lines and no shame. They have an agenda of their own, and they will stop at nothing to promote it, even making the most ludicrous or twisted statements. For that reason, the media themselves have earned a heaping dose of derision. Some satirists even mimicked one of Netanyahu’s most ardent critics in the media and portrayed the man as arguing, with blatant illogic, that Biden had shown his abiding respect for Bennett by dozing off while the other man spoke. This may be exaggerated, but it has more than a kernel of truth: As long as Bennett stands in Netanyahu’s way, he will be the darling of the media.

Barel Achiya Shmueli Passes Away

This past motzoei Sabbos, we began reciting Selichos. Actually, I personally experienced Selichos even before that, with a Sephardic minyan. I have had plenty of exposure to the monthlong Selichos prayers of the Sephardic community. There is something about their Selichos, both the words and the tunes, that somehow melts a person’s heart.

This time of year always reminds me of another source of inspiration as well: I used to enjoy accompanying Rav Ovadiah Yosef when he traveled around the country, visiting various communities to attend inspiring rallies organized by El Hamaayan. Sometimes, he would even arrive by helicopter. There is one image that stands out in my mind every year: There was a man who was at least 40 years old, who suddenly began davening with much devotion and intensity during one of Rav Ovadiah’s events. Once again, the innate Jewish capacity for righteousness had been revealed.

Rav Ovadiah would conclude his speeches by leading his audience in kabbolas ol malchus Shomayim. It was impossible to remain unmoved as thousands of people cried out their dedication to Hashem as the King of the universe.

This year, I found myself reliving these memories while I observed another emotional gathering. This time, hundreds of people were reciting Selichos every day in the courtyard of Soroka Hospital, led by Rav Batzri on regular weekdays and by Rav Yehuda Deri, the rov of the city, on motzoei Shabbos. The large crowd was davening for the recovery of Barel Achiya ben Nitza, the soldier who was gravely wounded on the Gaza border. Many of the participants in the tefillos wept bitterly, and hundreds of people flocked to the hospital to recite Tehillim with the family. On a personal note, I was even more deeply touched by the family’s ordeal, since they are residents of Beer Yaakov.

And then the news spread that Barel Shmueli had passed away. May Hashem heal his parents’ broken hearts and may we all be blessed with a good and sweet new year and an end to all our troubles.

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