Thursday, Dec 2, 2021

My Take On The News

The 11th of Cheshvan at Kever Rochel and Yeshivas Mir

It has been an eventful week on many fronts, but I will start this week’s column with the topic of the 11th of Cheshvan, the yahrtzeit of Rochel Imeinu. Of course, I visited Kever Rochel in honor of the occasion. The authorities warned the public in advance that the number of mispallelim at Kever Rochel would be limited due to the pandemic, and that visitors would be permitted to enter the building only in limited groups, with each group required to leave the premises before the next would be admitted. In practice, none of these rules were followed. We all entered the building freely, as if the coronavirus pandemic had never happened. And the crowding was utterly indescribable. As usual, the buses were packed with people and Egged’s transportation system collapsed. This is a scene that repeats itself every year.

Last year, the situation was exactly the opposite: No one was granted access to Kever Rochel at all. You might remember that I wrote at the time about my experience davening outside the closed door of Kever Rochel, with Rav Yitzchok Kolodetzky beside me. Despite our “protektsia,” we were required to stand outdoors. After we had been there for about an hour, Rav Don Segal arrived and was actually permitted to enter the building. There was also a sick child who received special permission from the police commissioner to go inside. This exclusive privilege was secured for him by his friends in Darchei Miriam, the wonderful organization that assists the sick.

The 11th of Cheshvan, which fell on Sunday, was the yahrtzeit of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. On Motzoei Shabbos, 51 siyumim were held in the bais medrash of Yeshivas Mir in honor of the yahrtzeit. It was a highly moving event, which reached its climax when Rav Chaim Kanievsky entered the bais medrash. I do not remember Rav Chaim ever visiting Yeshivas Mir before. Hundreds of people crowded into the bais medrash to attend the event, while thousands more filled the streets outside. It was a deeply moving experience for all concerned.

But I am afraid that we must now make a sharp transition and dive directly into the latest political news. I would much prefer to write only about occasions such as the siyumim in the Mir, but I have a duty to report to you on other things as well.

Lapid Keeps Wreaking Havoc

Let us begin with the latest outrage perpetrated by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. Lapid seems to be generating new fiascos on a weekly basis, and in his capacity as foreign minister, he has been spending most of his time wrecking Israel’s relations with other countries.

This week, the country has been rocked by controversy over America’s plan to open its consulate on Rechov Agron in Yerushalayim, between the Plaza Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria. I am sure that many of you are familiar with the area. This office, which is officially dubbed the Palestinian consulate and is mainly intended to serve an Arab clientele, was closed after the United States embassy opened in Yerushalayim. The reopening of the consulate conveys the message that America is backtracking from Trump’s policies on Israel, which included the transfer of the embassy to Yerushalayim as one of his main accomplishments. The Israeli government’s official policy, of course, is to oppose the opening of the consulate. Nevertheless, Yair Lapid reportedly told the American government that if the opening is postponed until after the Knesset passes the budget, there will not be a problem with it. That was the type of assurance that can never be retracted. It seems that Lapid made this statement at the beginning of his tenure as foreign minister, during a telephone call with the Secretary of State of the United States. Lapid has denied it, and he announced this week that he opposes the opening of the consulate. But the Americans do not forget a promise.

You may be aware that Lapid visited Washington last week, attending a joint press conference last Wednesday with Anthony Blinken, the Secretary of State of the United States, and Abdullah bin Zayed, the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates. During the press conference, Blinken brought up the consulate in Yerushalayim. “We will work closely together with Israel, we will deepen our diplomatic ties with the Palestinians, and we will consult with our partners in the region and outside it who have a joint interest in supporting our efforts to promote lasting peace,” Blinken said. “As I mentioned in May, we plan to move forward with opening the consulate as part of our efforts to deepen our ties with the Palestinians.”

For the United States government, this is a critical issue. In his meeting with Bennett in Washington last month, President Biden spoke about his intention to reopen the consulate. Israeli sources who were involved with their meeting insist that the consulate was discussed only peripherally, but American sources claim that it was a significant topic of conversation between the two heads of state. To Israel, it is clear that the reopening of the consulate would represent a step backward from the recognition of Yerushalayim as the capital of Israel. “There is no other country in the world that houses a consulate serving a different country,” Israeli officials insist. “The United States must receive Israel’s approval in order to open the consulate.”

When Yair Lapid assured the Americans that the consulate could open as planned, he directly contradicted the stance of Prime Minister Bennett and other government ministers on the right side of the political map. In the process, he may have caused serious damage to Israel’s diplomatic interests.

Senator Joseph Lieberman Speaks

Israel’s Channel 7 recently featured an interview with Senator Joseph Lieberman. During the First Israeli Conference on Shabbos, Society, and the Economy, the American former senator spoke about his own perspective on Shabbos. “Many people yearn for serenity and wish that they had a commandment that would force them to take a break for 25 hours every week,” he said. “Shabbos is a gift. We are living in the digital age, and we have smartphones, computers, and other forms of technology that cause us to work all the time; disconnecting from these devices for one day every week can be very meaningful. Today, the eternal truth of Shabbos, its value and beauty, involves disconnecting from the outside world in such a way that we can understand and appreciate what we possess.”

Senator Lieberman praised the initiative to bring Shabbos to all of Israeli society. “The idea of trying to use Shabbos as a means of promoting unity in the State of Israel and the Jewish people as a whole is very inspiring,” he said. “Over 50 percent of the Israeli public already observes Shabbos in some way. This is a great basis for unity, and it can be expanded over time as well.” Lieberman added that he felt that observing Shabbos had bolstered his own political career. “My Christian colleagues were very respectful of my Shabbos observance,” he said. “They, too, consider religion to be an important component of their lives, and they were very interested in learning about the source of this mitzvah. They showed me even more respect because of my dedication to my faith. I absorbed that faith from my parents and from the rabbonim with whom I consulted throughout the years, and I am indebted to them for it. Observing Shabbos gave me strength throughout my years in the political system.”

More Chilling Testimonies at the Meron Commission

The state inquiry commission is still hearing testimonies about the disaster in Meron on Lag Ba’omer, and some of the recent eyewitness accounts have sent waves of emotion rippling through the country. First of all, there were the painful personal stories of survivors of the disaster. Here is a small excerpt from one recent testimony: “We were beginning to go down, and suddenly we felt the crowd pressing against us. We decided that if we continued a bit further to the end of the stairs, the pressure would ease. Four or five meters before the turn, a friend who was ahead of us called out, ‘It’s dangerous! Stop where you are!’ We tried to stop, but we didn’t succeed; the crowd kept moving. To our left, we saw that people were beginning to fall, but we couldn’t stop moving. We continued going downward, and I saw that the people in front of me were also falling. I could not prevent myself from falling on top of them, and then people fell on me. Some people tried to pull others out of the crowd. My friend tried to pull me out, but he was unsuccessful, even though he pulled with all his might. I lay there, I vomited, and I felt that my end was near. The people around me were shouting ‘Shema Yisroel,’ and then some of them fell silent. The police came and the area began to clear, and they began trying to extract people from the crowd. I felt that if the police pulled out the person beneath me, I would fall to the ground and be crushed, so I asked them to pull from above instead of below, since it wouldn’t help to do otherwise. Fifteen minutes later, I felt that the pressure had begun to ease, and I remembered that I had legs. Then the Hatzolah volunteers arrived and extricated me.”

Another survivor related, “My leg was crushed in the crowd. There was a man beneath me who kept screaming; there was an exposed fence next to us that had pierced my leg, and I realized that it had penetrated his leg as well. Everyone was shouting and screaming. Someone managed to get out, and I asked him to pull me out as well, but he wasn’t able to do it. The screams continued from all around, and after a few minutes, someone else arrived and extricated me. Someone examined me and told me that I had an open wound and I should go to the hospital. But since I had no feeling in my leg, I waited for the area to begin to clear.”

A Representative from Toldos Aharon Speaks to the Commission

There were two other witnesses who attracted significant media attention with their testimonies. The first was Rabbi Aharon Tzvi Heller of the Toldos Aharon chassidus, who arrived dressed in his chassidishe garb and held a lulav ring in his hand, presumably as a segulah of some sort. Heller told the committee that if they decided that the Toldos Aharon bonfire should be discontinued in the future, the community would comply. In fact, he spoke at length about the community’s cooperation with the police and adherence to safety regulations.

“We do nothing without the approval of the police,” he said. “Had the police prohibited us to hold the bonfire, I promise you that it wouldn’t have happened. Whatever you decide is sacrosanct. If you decide that there should be no bonfire, we will cooperate completely; we will obey all the regulations. We follow the rules. We have worked closely together with the police throughout the years; you can ask them to confirm that. We have always tried to ensure public safety and to make sure that everyone will arrive in peace and return in peace. We have always set an example for all the other chassidishe communities of the importance of obeying the police and safety engineers.”

Heller told the committee that his community had adopted new safety procedures at every event since the tragedy in Meron. “Almost every day, I receive phone calls from other communities asking about our plans. I tell them all that things will never be the same as they were. What happened in the past was history. What will happen next will be decided by you, be’ezras Hashem, in this commission. I am sure that you will consult with engineers and other professionals. There will be no resistance; whatever you decide is what we will do. There is no outsmarting the rules; the mitzvah of venishmartem me’od lenafshoseichem is supreme. We have already paid a very painful price. I told a large chassidishe community today—and it isn’t comfortable for me to stand here on this stage, but I will tell you this very clearly—that we must comply with the instructions of the police and security forces, whether it is regarding holding the bonfire itself or regulating the number of people in attendance. We must listen to them and not take anything lightly, even the tiniest detail.”

In effect, he was laying the blame for the tragedy on the police. The implication was that if the police had limited the number of participants at the hadlokah, then the Toldos Aharon community certainly would have gone along with them—and therefore the police themselves are to blame for the overcrowding.

Blaming the Police Chief

There was another witness whose testimony placed the blame squarely on the police, or, to be more precise, on Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. This witness was Amnon Alkalai, a retired police commander who headed the operations division of the police force at the time of the disaster. Alkalai claimed that Shabtai had rejected a recommendation that he had submitted along with Shimon Lavie, the police commander of the northern district, to limit the size of the crowd at the hillula in Meron on Lag Ba’omer.

Alkalai revealed that the police chief had claimed there were only two possible options: either canceling the hillula altogether or holding it with no limitations on the size of the crowd. “I recommended allowing the event to proceed with limits on the number of participants, but the commissioner rejected the idea altogether,” Alkalai said. “He told us that it was all or nothing: Either the mountain would be completely open or it would be completely closed. We felt that that was a mistake. I told him that the main problem was the crowding and our concerns about the public welfare, and that if he insisted on taking that path, he should prepare for a multi-casualty incident.”

The retired commander added, “In the middle of March, I asked to step down from my position because I felt that the decision-making process was flawed, that the decisions being made were wrong and that the commissioner’s authority over operational and organizational issues was improper. I told the commissioner that I was unable to fulfill my responsibility under the circumstances. At his request, I agreed to stay for another year. Throughout the time that I served, I saw that the decision-making process wasn’t being handled correctly.”

I would like to add one important point: All of the debates before the disaster over the size of the crowd that would be permitted in Meron, as well as the actions of the police chief (and those of the chareidi government ministers, who pressured the police not to limit the number of participants), had nothing to do with the disaster that ultimately took place. The debate was based entirely on the threat of infection posed by the coronavirus. Everyone who pushed to limit the size of the crowd was concerned about the coronavirus, and the police chief (as well as the chareidi politicians) argued that it wasn’t a valid reason to impose restrictions. No one suggested that the crowding might result in a disaster even remotely resembling what actually happened. Therefore, it is possible that Alkalai’s testimony will have no relevance to the issues that actually interest the commission. The committee members are trying to determine who could have prevented the tragedy and failed to do so. They are investigating whether barriers were put in place that contributed to the overcrowding, and whether efforts were made to mitigate the impact of the disaster as soon as it became apparent that it was happening. They have no interest in the fact that anyone felt that the pandemic restrictions were inadequate at the site.

Most Israelis Are Sympathetic to Religion

Here is a small news item that I didn’t manage to include in last week’s column, but that lends credence to an assertion I often make: The Israeli public, by and large, has a favorable attitude toward Judaism.

Before the Yomim Tovim, an Israeli think tank conducted a poll whose results, while fairly predictable, were also encouraging to see. The survey revealed that the majority of the Israeli people daven in shul on holidays, participate in holiday meals, and observe customs associated with the Yomim Tovim. Moreover, the survey found that a majority of Israelis who observe tradition—whether they are chareidi, national religious, or even chiloni—observe the mitzvos of the holidays. Then there were two other fascinating statistics: First, the researchers found that the younger generation has a greater connection to tradition than their parents. Secondly, even the “traditional” community tends to celebrate the Yomim Tovim in keeping with halacha.

The overview of the report is followed by a plethora of charts and diagrams. For instance, there is a graph of shul attendance during the month of Elul and the Yomim Tovim of Tishrei. Interestingly, more respondents reported that they attended Sephardic shuls than Ashkenazic shuls. The respondents were also asked whether they built sukkos or visited sukkos during the course of the Yom Tov. As could be expected, 100 percent of chareidim and other religious Israelis confirmed that they did; likewise, 94 percent of traditional Israelis confirmed that they did, and even in the chiloni sector, 65 percent of the respondents answered in the affirmative. The survey even asked the respondents to reveal how much they spent on the arba minim.

Putting aside all the details, though, the broader lesson is clear: The people of Israel, for the most part, rally around the Jewish religion. All the fuss created by the Reform movement and their ilk has no basis in reality. If anyone were to survey the Israeli people and ask whether they are in favor of granting space at the Kosel to a movement that denies the authenticity of the Torah Shebaal Peh, I am certain that the vast majority of Israelis would be opposed to it. And that is just one example.

Politicizing Decorum in the Knesset

The Knesset began its winter session two weeks ago with a clash between Bennett and Netanyahu during a debate over a no-confidence motion on Monday, and with further conflicts surrounding the proposed laws that were debated in the Knesset on Wednesday. Last week, Bennett and Netanyahu crossed swords again during a forty-signature discussion, and rancor filled the Knesset once again on Wednesday as more bills sparked fierce disputes.

I couldn’t help but notice that the Knesset speaker, Mickey Levi of Yesh Atid, displayed a short fuse throughout this time. When Levi was in the opposition, he was known for his impulsive reactions and his penchant for shouting. Now that he occupies the seat of the Knesset speaker, he has been trying to adopt a certain dignified impartiality, but he isn’t always successful. I observed this in the way that he expelled various Knesset members from the room. For instance, MK Yoav Ben-Tzur was ejected from the room, even though he is one of the quietest and most refined members of the Knesset. It was during Bennett’s inflammatory speech, and Ben-Tzur hadn’t even opened his mouth when Mickey Levi called him to order three times (or perhaps he didn’t call him to order at all; it wasn’t actually clear) and ordered him to leave the room. The entire Knesset was in shock.

I have been in the Knesset for many years, and I have watched many Knesset speakers during that time. Some were older and others were younger; some were rash and some were conceited. Some were certainly more dignified than others, but I believe that Mickey Levi has been the most politicized and one-sided of all of them. There is no question that he uses his position to represent the interests of the coalition as a whole and Yesh Atid in particular. When his time in the position comes to an end, that is undoubtedly what he will be remembered for.

The Questions That Remained Unheard

Here is another strike against Levy: The Knesset speaker has exclusive jurisdiction over the approval of urgent parliamentary queries. Instead of the Knesset presidium, which consists of the speaker himself and all of his deputies, the speaker alone has the right to approve or reject urgent queries as he sees fit. And I have been observing his decisions with astonishment.

Last week, Levy refused to approve two urgent queries, despite the fact that it would have been completely justified to accept them. One question, which was directed to the prime minister himself, concerned the veritable libel against the Breslover chassidim who returned from Uman after Ros Hashanah. Bennett had claimed that the chassidim had presented forged negative corona tests in order to reenter the country, and he ordered the police to investigate them. The police proceeded to summon hundreds of chassidim for questioning, but then it was revealed that the supposedly falsified test results were actually legitimate. The problematic tests were actually those conducted earlier by Magen Dovid Adom in Uman, which produced the positive results that seemed to incriminate the chassidim. The police notified the chassidim that the investigation had been canceled, but no one, including Bennett himself, bothered to apologize to them for the libelous treatment. The query concerning this lapse was marked urgent but was not approved.

Another query was addressed to the Minister of the Interior. This question dealt with the decision of the Tel Aviv municipality to increase the number of businesses with permits to operate on Shabbos from 164 to 273. This was a serious breach of the religious status quo, and the questioner demanded to be informed of how the interior minister plans to respond to it. Once again, the question was not approved. Both rejections, of course, were unmistakably political in nature.

On that note, here are three more queries that were submitted by chareidi Knesset members and that the Knesset speaker refused to designate as urgent. First was a query to the foreign minister about the swastikas that were scrawled on the barracks in Auschwitz, about a Jew in Germany who was attacked during a Muslim demonstration, and about the general trend of anti-Semitism in Europe. Another query, this one directed to the Minister of Health, concerned the absence of an oncologist on the Health Basket Committee, the committee that determines which medications are included in the “basket” of drugs sold to Israeli citizens at subsidized prices. A third question, again directed at Lapid, dealt with America’s intent to open a consulate in Yerushalayim. How was it that the Knesset speaker didn’t consider it appropriate to assign urgent status to any of these questions?

Meanwhile, there are two interesting issues that did manage to surface in the Knesset debates last week. The first was the fact that the families of victims of the Meron disaster still haven’t received a single cent in compensation from the government, despite the fact that it was promised to them. Second, it was revealed that Minister Matan Kahana had hidden the fact that his kashrus reform plan had been developed with the involvement of the Israel Democracy Institute.

One more item regarding queries in the Knesset: Last week, MK Chaim Bitton submitted an urgent query on the subject of road accidents. His query mentioned the death of Rav Avrohom Aryeh Aderes, who passed away on that same morning. In another query, he voiced a protest—“in true friendship and without any intent to pick a fight”—over the fact that Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli flew back to Israel from America on Shabbos. Michaeli was flustered and gave a weak and undignified response, claiming that it was a “private trip” and protesting that she is “not a symbol of the government.” But it was clear that Bitton’s objection was certainly valid.

A Neighborhood Lacking the Basics

I recently received an invitation to a protest in Beit Shemesh. The invitation read, “Let us all go out together, fathers and sons, to the plaza outside the Beit Shemesh municipality, in order to demand a public park in our neighborhood, Ramat Avrohom, for the benefit of the thousands of children who live there.”

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that the organizers had chartered buses to take the protestors from their neighborhood to the municipal building. This was a sign of their unity, their organizational skills, and the depth of their concern. They are certainly deserving of praise. I am not sure why the invitation reached me as well, although it might be because I have written about their plight in the past, or possibly because I was the intermediary when previous Knesset members came to the neighborhood’s aid when it was first being populated. In any event, I wanted to join them at the demonstration, but I couldn’t make it; I hope they will be satisfied with my words of encouragement from afar.

Ramat Avrohom is a remarkable neighborhood that was built with incredible rapidity by the Yesodot Tzur construction company. The neighborhood is named for Rabbi Avrohom Ravitz, who played a significant role in the establishment of chareidi neighborhoods throughout his years in the Knesset, especially during his time as deputy housing minister and as head of the Knesset Finance Committee. It is a diverse neighborhood whose population consists of a majority of Litvishe yungeleit, along with large contingents of chassidim and Sephardim. The residents are protesting the fact that the city hasn’t provided them with many of the most basic elements of any residential neighborhood, including public benches, streetlights, trees to provide shade, and a playground for young children. Nor have they been provided with proper buildings for their religious needs. In fact, perhaps the chareidi Knesset members ought to look into the situation in Ramat Avrohom once again. I will have to urge them to do so.

Bennett and Netanyahu at Odds

It has become a regular scene in the Knesset: Naftoli Bennett takes the podium and tries, to the best of his limited abilities, to cast his predecessor in a negative light. Binyomin Netanyahu himself then exercises his right to speak after Bennett and assails him with derision.

I can’t help but be reminded of the old joke about the man who refused to burden his horse with work. When someone pointed out that horses exist to work for their masters, the man replied, “It’s true that if the horse takes me to a din Torah in the World to Come, I will be the victor. The horse will not be able to claim that I was wrong for making it work. However, I don’t want to have to go to a din Torah against a horse in Olam Haba!” In a similar vein, while it’s true that Netanyahu manages to demolish Bennett in their weekly clashes in the Knesset, it is still unbecoming for him to have to respond to Bennett at all. Netanyahu deserves better.

Things are not easy for the opposition in the Knesset these days. People who were once positioned at the heart of the government and heavily active in all the country’s affairs are now spending their days trying to fend off the new coalition’s aggression. And the greatest concern of all is the steady erosion of the status quo on everything connected to Yiddishkeit: the Kosel, Shabbos in the public sphere, kashrus, the status of yungeleit, and, of course, the draft law. We are living in frightening times.

Aliyah Day – Is There Really a Reason to Celebrate?

This week, Israel celebrated “Aliyah Day” amid reports of a “spike” in immigration. The media dramatically proclaimed that the number of olim has risen by a whopping 31 percent. Once again, the largest groups of immigrants have come from Russia and Ukraine.

Personally, I am not joining the celebration. Israel is the only country in the world where non-Jews who are looking to upgrade their quality of life and escape from backward countries are automatically entitled to citizenship, even if they will be a drain on our resources and our lives.

A young Russian actor named Semyon Trasnokov recently immigrated to Israel. I was told by an expert that his last name is indeed a Jewish name, although this is obviously no guarantee that he is Jewish, since his mother might well be a gentile. When he was asked why he had chosen to move to Israel, Trasnokov did not speak about the Jewish religion or even Zionist ideals. He replied simply, “I came for the quality of life and the welcoming attitude toward immigrants.” He knows that he will be able to make a better living here and to enjoy a more comfortable existence, not to mention pocketing the country’s “absorption basket” of benefits for immigrants. And then he may move on to Berlin or Stockholm. Israel’s policies aren’t encouraging aliyah; they are a form of national suicide.

On another note, perhaps the following will bring a smile to your lips. Many years ago, someone suggested that Israel should institute a shortened workweek of five days rather than six. The prime minister at the time, Levi Eshkol, responded, “We have to take things slowly. First let people get used to working two days a week, then let them work for three days, and then we can move up to five.” This week, Eshkol’s quip was adapted by a member of the Knesset in response to Health Minister Horowitz’s order for the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute to extend its operations to Shabbos. “Before you have the forensic institute begin working on Shabbos,” the lawmaker said sardonically, “why not get it to start operating properly during the week?”

Tragedies That Cannot Be Grasped

Last week, I found myself at the Shamgar funeral home one night at 2:00 in the morning for the levayah of a yeshiva bochur from my neighborhood of Givat Shaul. At first, there were fewer than ten men present. A dignified-looking yungerman who was sitting beside me seemed to have arrived for the funeral by mistake; I presumed that if he had a connection to the family, I would have recognized him. When I asked him about his presence, he explained that his name was Yitzchok Kadosh, and he was the father of Yosef Mordechai Kadosh. All of Klal Yisroel had davened fervently for Yosef Mordechai until his tragic passing in Adar 5781. Yosef Mordechai Kadosh suffered from painful illness for most of his life; when he passed away at the age of ten and a half, Klal Yisroel was plunged into mourning, but his noble parents gave solace to the public. In the mourning notice itself, they wrote, “We accept Hashem’s judgment with love.” His father later sent me a picture of his gravestone, which exhorts visitors to follow Yosef Mordechai’s example by constantly declaring that everything Hashem does is for the best. The same inscription appears on the large sign that adorns the wall of the family’s home in Beitar Illit, which bears a picture of a smiling Yosef Mordechai along with the message, “Everything that Hashem does is for the best. We will continue following the example of the holy and pure young man Yosef Mordechai ben Tehilla Simcha, who used to say this about his suffering.” The sign is a bright, optimistic shade of blue.

As soon as he heard about the death of Pinchos Weiss, Yitzchok Kadosh hurried to the funeral home in order to offer his condolences to the family. He wanted to comfort Reb Aharon Zev Weiss, who had lost his son in a terrible accident at the Otzem junction. All of us, the family’s friends and neighbors, had been pained when we first heard that there had been a fatal accident in the south. When we were told that the victim was a yeshiva bochur, our pain gave way to apprehension. When we heard that he was from Givat Shaul, we were beside ourselves with worry. And when we learned that the victim was Pinchos Weiss, we were grief-stricken.

Pinchos Weiss was young in years, but his achievements were fitting for someone much older. We all anticipated a bright future for him. He had just begun learning in yeshiva gedolah this past Elul, having previously learned in a yeshiva ketana in Yerushalayim known as Kol Aryeh. He threw himself into his learning with great passion as soon as Elul began; he was clearly determined to accomplish as much as possible. On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, he learned in the yeshivas bein hazemanim in the Pressburg shul. He began the winter zeman two weeks ago; on the night of his passing, he traveled to Kiryat Gat to take a Dirshu test. He was on his way back to his yeshiva when he lost his life in the fatal accident. Pinchos’s yeshiva is popularly known as Otzem, since it is located in a moshav bearing the same name, but it is actually a branch of Yeshivas Orchos Torah in Bnei Brak. Once again, Hashem has taken one of the best of His children.

I sat with Kadosh in the funeral home, and we waited for the taharah to be concluded. “The answer is in Pasach Eliyahu,” he said cryptically. I looked at him in puzzlement and he continued, “Chazal teach us, ‘Pasach Eliyahu v’amar—Eliyahu began and said, ‘Master of all the worlds, You are one and You cannot be counted. You are exalted above all the exalted ones, and You are more hidden than all the hidden ones. No thought can grasp you.’ You understand?” Kadosh said to me. “Our minds cannot grasp Hashem’s calculations. They are beyond our comprehension.”

The levayah began and we listened to the hespeidim. We sat in awe as Pinchos’s father declared, “There are no explanations, and we do not look for explanations. Everything is the Will of Hashem. ‘And Aharon was silent,’” he added, quoting the posuk.

Kadosh whispered to me, “Do you hear that? That is simple emunah. That is recognizing that we understand nothing, that our minds cannot grasp Hashem’s intentions.”

The Shamgar funeral home was filled with an oppressive sorrow. The street outside was crowded with people who had come to pay their respects to young Pinchos. It was 3:00 in the morning, but all of Givat Shaul had come to the levayah, along with the stunned and shaken talmidim of Yeshivas Otzem. The rosh yeshiva cried, “You had just begun learning Kesubos, and then this terrible blow came!” The mashgiach exclaimed, “My dear Pinchos, you promised to come back to shiur immediately after the test!” Pinchos’s grandfather, Rav Yehoshua, amazed everyone with his own display of emunah. And his father’s combined grief and faith were stunning as well.

It was 4:00 in the morning when I left the levayah. A yeshiva bochur asked me if I was driving toward the exit from the city; he had come to pay his last respects to Pinchos, whom he knew from Yeshivas Kol Aryeh. “He wasn’t just any bochur,” he said. “He was very special. We were also good friends. I was worried that I hadn’t shown him enough respect, and it was important to me to come and ask for his forgiveness.” The bochur then returned to his yeshiva, where he would resume learning. Such is the way of bnei aliyah.

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