Omicron Variant Sparks Hysteria
Israel is in hysteria—and it isn’t only the citizens of this country who have succumbed to panic. The prime minister and his advisors are in full-fledged panic mode as well.
On motzoei Shabbos, Prime Minister Bennett convened the cabinet and held a press conference, in which he appeared frightened. And it was all because of the new variant of the coronavirus, which originated in Africa and has been dubbed the “omicron” variant.
The new variant is rumored to be very infectious, spreading more rapidly and to more people than the previous versions of the virus. There are also reports that the vaccine that we received in Israel (in three doses) will not be effective against this new variant. And it seems that the panic isn’t only in Israel; it is all over the world. In London, the threat posed by the new variant is already seen as an established fact. The United States, England and a host of other countries have closed their borders to travelers from Africa. Some of them have even banned travelers from other countries where the omicron variant was discovered, including Israel. I have been wondering when America will follow suit….
I am never in favor of panicking, but I acknowledge that there is a good chance that we are entering a new era. If we thought that we had beaten the coronavirus here in Israel and that we could begin gradually returning to routine, we may have been mistaken.
If the current virus proves ineffective, Pfizer is preparing to produce a new vaccine that will be effective against the omicron variant. What can we learn from this? The same lesson as always: Everything that happens in this world is solely in Hashem’s control. All that we have left to do is to put in our hishtadlus and, of course, to daven.
No Lockdown on Chanukah
When the cabinet convened to discuss the omicron variant, it made some difficult decisions. One of the options that were discussed was an immediate, complete lockdown. As of now, there are eight confirmed cases in Israel of the new variant. One of the confirmed patients was a foreign worker in Eilat who ignored all of the health guidelines and roamed the streets freely, without giving thought to the impact of her actions. You may remember, in fact, that the original outbreak of the coronavirus in early 2020 started with a group of tourists who visited many places in Israel.
In the end, the cabinet decided not to take the radical and draconian step of imposing a lockdown. Their reason: Chanukah is a holiday, and they didn’t want to disrupt the festivities in the country and cause panic. Large gatherings are perhaps the greatest source of danger, and many large events take place on Chanukah, such as concerts attended by huge crowds. Even the secular community in Israel tends to relate to Chanukah as a time for entertainment and merrymaking. It is therefore very unclear if the government’s decision was wise or correct.
At the same time, the cabinet made another decision on the opposite extreme: The country’s borders were completely closed to all foreigners. And this closure is absolute. Just this week, I received a request for assistance from a couple in New York who wanted to come to Israel for the birth of a grandchild. At first, they were facing a relatively simple problem: They did not have digital certificates of their vaccination status. I was trying to help them, but then the government announced its decision to permit no foreigners at all to enter the country. Even Israeli citizens, who are permitted to return to Israel, will find themselves facing some tough rules: Any returning citizen who is unvaccinated will be required to quarantine for seven days, a vaccinated citizen will be required to quarantine for “only” three days. Israelis returning to the country from any of fifty African states will be shipped off to hotels for quarantine. In this case, some have claimed that the government’s measures were too severe. Incidentally, the government is also planning to reinstate the Sin Bet tracking that was used to identify people who had come in contact with coronavirus carriers.
Frum Travelers Sent Away on Shabbos
The panic over the omicron variant brings us back to another recent news story: the terror attack in Yerushalayim that took the life of Eliyohu Kay, an employee of the Kosel Heritage Fund. Here is the connection: Eliyohu and his family immigrated to Israel from South Africa. After his death, several Jews from South Africa flew to Israel to visit the grieving family and support them in their time of loss. However, because of the new rules, they were detained in the airport when they arrived on Friday. They were not permitted to enter Israel and were sent back to their country of origin. Actually, they were forced to board a flight to Dubai, with the expectation that they would return to South Africa from there. That alone is unfortunate enough, but what makes matters worse is the fact that they were forced to desecrate Shabbos. Their flight left Israel on Friday but landed in Dubai after Shabbos began. The religious travelers begged for permission to remain in the airport in Israel until Shabbos ended, but their pleas fell on deaf ears.
The group of travelers, two of whom were relatives of Kay, argued forcefully that the travel restrictions hadn’t come into effect when they left South Africa and that the rules therefore required them to be granted entry to the country. Their arguments, however, had no effect. When they arrived in Dubai, they were told that they were not permitted to remain there, and they were flown back to South Africa. One of the travelers told the Israeli media, “We were treated like criminals. We tried to ask questions, and they simply told us to be quiet. I told them that I couldn’t fly on Shabbos, and they threatened to arrest me if I didn’t board the plane. I wasn’t able to eat for over 24 hours, and I violated Shabbos for the first time in my life.”
Brian Blumnau, a friend of Eliyohu Kay’s brother Katriel, was quoted as saying, “I support rules that save lives and protect public health, but we took off before the prime minister made his decision. I wasn’t even aware of it. As a Jew and a Zionist who supports Israel, I would expect the leaders to listen to us and not throw us onto planes on erev Shabbos. A Jewish state should not do such things.”
Hamas Controls Israeli Arabs
Unfortunately, the terror attack in which Kay was killed was far from the first of its kind. Our enemies are constantly plotting to harm us. Just recently, the Shabak revealed that it has thwarted hundreds of attempted terror attacks. We must truly give thanks to Hashem for every minute that passes without incident.
At the same time, there were some ways in which the terror attack was largely unprecedented. When the murderer’s identity was revealed, the Shin Bet became distraught. The terrorist wasn’t a youth who was somehow whipped into a murderous passion; he was a middle-aged man who was supposedly settled in life. The murder, Fadi Abu Shakhaydem, was a 40-year-old resident of the neighborhood of Shuafat in Yerushalayim. He was a well-known sheikh in East Yerushalayim and a teacher in a public high school near the Shaar HaPerachim. There is much to learn from the terrorist’s profile, especially about the degree to which Hamas has extended its influence into Yerushalayim.
Hamas, the most radical and militant organization in the Palestinian Authority, controls the Arabs of Yerushalayim, who are full-fledged citizens of Israel. After the terror attack, Hamas released a statement: “This attack was executed by Sheikh Fadi Abu Shakhaydem, one of the Hamas leaders in Shuafat in East Yerushalayim. Our shahid [martyr] in Yerushalayim spent his life preaching jihad, and every part of the city and of the Al-Aqsa mosque will attest to that. He has now ascended to heaven after a heroic battle fought against the occupying forces, in which he succeeded in causing death and injuries.”
Amazingly, even though the terrorist was known to be an ardent supporter of Hamas and possibly even an activist of the organization, this wasn’t considered legal grounds to dismiss him from his work as a teacher employed by the Yerushalayim municipality. Such is the state of affairs in Israel today.
President Herzog Lights Menorah at Meoras Hamachpeilah
Meanwhile, here is another piece of evidence of the extent of Hamas’s activities within Israel. President Yitzchok Herzog announced this week that he would be lighting the menorah on the first night of Chanukah at Meoras Hamachpeilah, as a guest of the Jews of Chevron. As the news of his plans spread, Israeli leftists began loudly protesting the president’s intentions, trotting out the old canards about the Israeli “occupation” and the like. They also announced that they would stage a protest at Meoras Hamachpeilah. It is astounding to see how far wayward Jews are capable of descending. Eliyohu Libman, the head of the Kiryat Arba council (and a man who lost his father in a terror attack) declared in response, “We are excited to host the president of Israel in the city of Chevron. The president will be coming to the graves of our avos and imahos, the roots of the Jewish people. Hosting the president of the state in this place is a victory for the Jewish people. We are happy to say the Meoras Hamachpeilah is the shared property of Klal Yisroel almost by complete consensus. About a million people visit it over the course of every year. We will continue holding on to this place with pride and with strength, even though there is a small minority of people, unfortunately, who do not desire that. Protests of the radical left do not frighten us; we invite every Israeli and every Jew to come here.”
The Palestinian reaction is noteworthy in this case. The Islamic Jihad movement announced that it held Israel responsible for the “intrusion” in Meoras Hamachpeilah and warned of its reaction. They decried the event as a step toward bolstering the “Judaization” of the site, and they denounced it as a hostile move that deserved to be opposed with all possible force. This was a blatant call for Arabs in Israel to commit acts of violence. They also made sure to mention Ariel Sharon’s visit to Har Habayis many years ago, which sparked an intifada at the time, and they threatened to launch another intifada today.
Hamas likewise condemned the president’s planned visit and called on the residents of the West Bank, and Chevron in particular, to show up at the site and express their opposition, fomenting a disturbance during the president’s visit. The Shin Bet’s main concern is that Hamas might increase its power among Israeli Arabs and influence them to commit acts of murder.
Bennett and Biden on a Collision Course
Another topic that demands to be addressed is the conflict that seems poised to erupt between Israel and the United States over the upcoming summit in Vienna concerning Iran’s nuclear program. What is most ironic, perhaps, is that Bennett has adopted Netanyahu’s position in this regard.
Last week, at a meeting of the Institute for Strategic Policy in Tel Aviv, Bennett said, “Israel is standing at the brink of a complicated period, when we might have disagreements with some of our closest friends. Even if the nuclear agreement is reinstated, Israel is not a party to the agreement and isn’t bound by it.” The timing of these comments was far from coincidental; Bennett made a point of making this statement just as the world powers are about to resume negotiations with Iran over the nuclear agreement.
Netanyahu placed all of his eggs in the proverbial basket that was Donald Trump. The previous American president was determined to block Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, and Israel was calm. But Biden’s victory in the election effectively reshuffled the deck. Biden feels no obligation toward Israel, though he publicly pretends that he has a sense of obligation to the country.
Bennett could not resist criticizing Netanyahu’s conduct after the signing of the nuclear agreement in 2015. “The mistake that we made after the first nuclear agreement will not be repeated,” he insisted. “As soon as the agreement was signed, it affected Israel like a sleeping pill. Israel simply fell asleep on the job.” Bennett claimed that when he took office half a year ago, he was astounded by the divergence between Netanyahu’s rhetoric and his actions. “I discovered a troubling gap between [Netanyahu’s] statements such as ‘We will never allow Iran to become a nuclear power’ and the legacy that I received.”
Let us pray and hope for the best.
A Spy in Benny Gantz’s House
There is much more that I could write about, but I am running out of space. For one thing, there is the peculiar case of the spy in the household of Defense Minister Benny Gantz. A man employed as a cleaner in Gantz’s home was found to have agreed to transfer information to Iran in exchange for money. The man has a lengthy criminal record, and the fact that he was employed in the defense minister’s home is a major failure on the part of the Shin Bet. I could also write about the Knesset speaker’s failed struggle to open the Knesset Ethics Committee. This requires much more explanation as to what the Ethics Committee is, why it is so important, and why he hasn’t been successful. I will do that on a future occasion, bli neder.
I should also write about the trial of former Prime Minister Netanyahu. The prosecution’s key witness, a former close advisor to Netanyahu and his family, began speaking and revealed that he had recorded all of their conversations. At the same time, it emerged that his testimony wasn’t entirely incriminating. There are plenty of voices calling at this point for the trial to end immediately.
Perhaps I should also write about the defense minister’s visit to Morocco. Benny Gantz was treated to a royal reception on his visit, which may have been the first time in the history of Israeli-Moroccan relations that uniformed Israeli soldiers (the members of Gantz’s entourage) were permitted to set foot on Moroccan soil. At the same time, this begs a question: What did Israel have to give up in exchange for the gesture? It is possible that Israeli paid too much (in weapons) for this privilege, just as it may have paid too high a price (in water) to Jordan after Lapid’s visit, or made too many concessions to Erdogan in Turkey in order to secure the freedom of the couple jailed on false charges.
Attack on Rav Yitzchak Yosef
One thing that I must discuss is the fierce battle against the Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchak Yosef. Both chief rabbis, Rav Yitzchak and Rav Dovid Lau, have spoken out against Minister Kahana’s kashrus reform plan and have urged the country’s rabbonim not to cooperate with it. This infuriated the Ombudsman of the Judiciary, retired Supreme Court Justice Uri Shoham, whose jurisdiction extends to the dayanim of the rabbinic courts as well.
Last weekend, Judge Shoham called for an evaluation of whether Rav Yitzchak Yosef should be allowed to continue serving as a dayan on the Bais Din Hagadol. He also instructed the Minister of Religious Services to summon Rav Yosef for a sharp rebuke for his criticism of the kashrus reforms. Shoham claimed that a gathering of rabbonim and dayanim organized by the Rishon Letzion’s office to protest the kashrus reforms was a breach of the code of ethics for rabbonim, who are not permitted to intervene in matters that are subject to public or political dispute.
This is Shoham’s second assault on Rav Yitzchak Yosef, and some believe that he still bears a grudge against the rov for the latter’s attack on him during his tenure as a justice on the Supreme Court. Naturally, Shoham’s statement evoked a series of vehement protests from many rabbonim, including Rav Dovid Lau, and from a wide range of public figures. And who do you think filed the original complaint against Rav Yosef? I am sure you guessed right: the Reform movement! They also plan to light a menorah in the Kosel plaza on Chanukah. It seems that they do not rest even for a moment in their quest to become entrenched in this country.
Winds of Evil
Anyone who lives in Israel can sense the winds of evil that are blowing. These winds are originating with our government of wickedness. It seems that much of the government has decided to declare war against all that is holy to Klal Yisroel. The words of Al Hanissim seem to have come to life in our days: “When the wicked kingdom of Yavan rose up against Your nation Yisroel to cause them to forget Your Torah and to make them transgress the laws of Your will….” The Israeli government today is doing its best to tempt the religious parties to join it, offering them funding, positions, and influence, in exchange for agreeing to its core principles. Well, the Yevonim were the same: They wanted to destroy our spirits, not our bodies. They didn’t want to kill us; they simply wanted us to become like them.
Merav Michaeli, the Minister of Transportation, has declared her intention to launch public transportation on Shabbos. “I plan to achieve it; it is the part of the coalition agreement,” she assured the nation. Her colleagues have also spoken about the desecration and secularization of Shabbos. They have apparently decided to ignore the vast majority of the public, which treasures Shabbos and wishes only to maintain its kedusha. Most of the Israeli public shares a commitment to maintain the Jewish character of the state.
What is even more infuriating is the fact that Yamina and other members of the coalition who consider themselves traditional have decided to align themselves with this anti-Jewish agenda. The Israeli people must not allow these political turncoats to rest; they must be reminded that they are partners in treachery and destruction. The religious parties have plenty of gripes with wicked politicians such as Lieberman, Michaeli, Lapid, and their comrade from the Reform movement (whose name I do not like to mention), but there is even more to hold against the religious and traditional public figures, from Elkin and Kahana to Saar, Bennett, and the other traitors of Yamina. Without their participation, this government would never have arisen, and the leftists would not have been in a position to carry out their nefarious agendas.
Signs of Moshiach?
I don’t necessarily write about everything that happens in Israel, and there are some things that I prefer not to discuss. The following incident is one type of event that I would generally choose to omit from this column, but in this case, I feel that I have an obligation to voice a protest over this heinous crime.
Last week, an unknown perpetrator—who was clearly mentally disturbed—poured black paint on the tombstone of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman. One doesn’t have to be a genius to figure out where this person came from, since Rav Shteinman had enemies even during his lifetime. There were even a few incidents in which unbalanced people entered his home and actually endangered his life. There are also many stories about people who sought his mechilah after being beset by misfortunes; Rav Shteinman’s responses to these requests were always astonishing.
The Israeli public was appalled by this act of vandalism, even if the perpetrator was clearly unbalanced. Even the police seem to have taken the matter seriously. And this week, I read the following in Divrei Siach, the weekly journal of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s teachings: “In the shemittah year of 5755, Rav Chaim spoke at length both before and after shemittah about the coming of Moshiach. He cited the Gemara that states that ‘on motzoei sheviis, the son of Dovid will come,’ and he urged everyone to be strong and to support the farmers who observed shemittah. During that year, there was a group of people who fought against the leadership of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman, and Rav Chaim saw that as one of the signs of Moshiach’s imminent arrival. In the following year, Rav Moshe Sternbuch once visited the rov and told him about some of the hardships facing the community, especially the suffering of talmidei chachomim and bnei Torah. Rav Chaim showed him the Gemara’s statement (Kesuvos 112b) that in the generation when Moshiach arrives, there will be strife among talmidei chachomim. ‘This prediction has come true to the fullest,’ he said. ‘In this generation, unfortunately, people make efforts to fulfill it with hiddurim.’”
Pharaoh’s Trap for Yosef
Every year, when Parshas Mikeitz (the parshah of my bar mitzvah) rolls around, I remember a special vort on the parsha that I heard from Rav Ovadiah Yosef many years ago. I always enjoy the insight, and I might as well share that pleasure with you.
As you know, Yosef was rushed to Pharaoh when the latter was distraught over his cryptic dreams. The Torah relates that Pharaoh began his account by telling Yosef, “In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile.” The Torah goes on to describe how Yosef interpreted every detail of Pharaoh’s dreams, but there was one detail that he omitted: the opening line, in which Pharaoh describes his location. Why is that?
Turn back to the beginning of the parsha, and you will find the answer. In his dream, Pharaoh wasn’t actually standing on the riverbank; the Torah states that he was standing on the river itself. Now, why would Pharaoh alter this significant detail? The answer is that he wanted to test Yosef. If Yosef came up with some sort of elaborate interpretation of this specific detail (and he would have to address it, since the Mitzrim worshiped the Nile and it was therefore a glaring part of the dream), Pharaoh would not accept his interpretation. Since Yosef completely ignored this detail, which was inaccurate, Pharoah sensed that he had understood the dreams correctly. In other words, Yosef did not fall for Pharaoh’s trick.
Rav Ovadiah Yosef brilliantly explained that Dovid Hamelech alludes to this in the posuk, “He made it a testimony for Yosef when he went out over the land of Mitzrayim: I heard a language that I did not know.” The final words of the posuk, “sefas lo yadati eshma,” indicate that Yosef disregarded the word “sefas” (the riverbank) in Pharaoh’s account, which served as a testament to Pharaoh that he had interpreted the king’s dreams correctly.
A Memorable Shabbos in Tzefas
This week, a distinguished yungerman and grandson of one of the gedolei hador, who is a resident of Beit Shemesh, shared the following story with me: “After several difficult weeks, my family and I decided to go away to Tzefas for Shabbos to enjoy a change of scenery. We planned to visit some ancient kevorim in the city and to pay a visit to the kever of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai on the way, and we hoped to return home with renewed energy. I randomly chose a number to call in one of the ads for vacation rentals in Tzefas. The price was 800 NIS, which was reasonable, and we booked the apartment for the weekend. We prepared our food and dressed in warm clothes, since we were told that the temperature was chilly in Tzefas, and we arrived about an hour before Shabbos. The owner of the apartment had left a key for us in a hidden spot, and we found it and entered the apartment.
“When we entered that poorly lit, decrepit apartment, we felt the exact opposite of relief and joy. It was a place out of someone’s worst nightmare. All the owner’s exuberant descriptions of the apartment fell flat in the face of the revolting reality that we encountered. A few minutes before hadlokas neiros, he arrived to ask for his payment. We complained that the apartment was filthy to the point of being uninhabitable. There were no bed linens or towels, and the floor was littered with leftover food. He apologized, explaining that there was a worker who was supposed to clean the apartment between guests, but he had presumably forgotten to do so. In his mind, the apartment was still serviceable in every other sense. And he didn’t forget to collect the full sum of 800 NIS. We were shocked, but we decided to suppress our indignation and pay him the full rent.
“I went to daven Mincha, and when I returned, I found my wife and children outdoors. They announced that they had no intention of returning to the apartment; as far as they were concerned, they would spend the entire Shabbos in the courtyard. I was outnumbered, and I didn’t exactly feel that they were wrong. I agreed that it would be the exact opposite of kavod Shabbos to remain in that rental. My resourceful wife decided that we would go somewhere else instead.
“She set out to walk through the alleyways of the Old City of Tzefas, and as soon as she encountered a child in the street, she asked him if he knew anyone who rented out apartments. He replied, ‘Yes. My mother.’ She asked if the apartment would be clean, and the child replied, ‘My mother is the cleanest person in the world.’ This righteous woman, Mrs. Rottenberg, understood our predicament and came to our rescue. ‘We’ll talk about money after Shabbos, but don’t worry about it,’ she told me. We were brought to a place that was indeed a dream vacation home. It was immaculately clean and an excellent place to spend Shabbos in the city of the mekubolim, just one block away from the hovel from which we had escaped. In shul that night, a chassidishe man approached me and handed out sweets to my children. He told me that he was the owner of our new accommodations, and he would send a non-Jew to set up the electricity and the air conditioning for us.
“Sure enough, a non-Jewish worker came to make sure that the light in the refrigerator was off, that there was enough light in the apartment for our needs, and that the air conditioning was turned on. Before he left, we pointed to a wallet sitting on an upper shelf and hinted that he could take payment for his services. His eyes widened and he exclaimed, ‘You are offering me money? But it’s my mitzvah!’ It seems that Tzefas is home to some very interesting non-Jews as well….
“And that is not all. While we were on our way home to Beit Shemesh, a neighbor called to inform me that there had been burglaries in two apartments in Ramat Avraham, the neighborhood where we live. He wasn’t sure if our apartment had been broken into, since it was difficult to see from the street if the thieves had lifted the shutters on the door leading to the balcony. However, he warned me that it was likely that we had suffered a break-in since the apartment above ours had been burglarized, and the thieves had entered it by climbing up from our porch. If they were already there, it stood to reason that they would have tried to enter our apartment as well. On the other hand, we had left the living room light on, and it was possible that they had thought that we were home and had decided to skip our apartment.
“We entered our home with our hearts beating fast. My wife decided that if our apartment had been burglarized, she wouldn’t spend the night there. But fortunately, we had been spared that trauma, perhaps in the merit of our avoiding conflict with the owner of the first apartment in Tzefas. I cannot describe the sense of relief that we experienced.”
“What is the moral of this story?” I asked.
“Isn’t it obvious?” he replied. “A person should always listen to his wife!”
The Value of Time
“Abba,” my son said to me the other day, “one of the yungeleit in our kollel recently traveled to America with his entire family for a very short visit. He could have stayed there for much longer, but he flew to America and back in the shortest possible time frame, in order to avoid bittul Torah. You must write about it.”
Since my son is a prodigious masmid and his rosh kollel is a marbitz Torah of towering stature, the story piqued my interest. But I insisted on speaking with the yungerman directly and hearing the story from him.
“Yes,” he confirmed. “I had to travel to America to resolve a financial issue. It meant missing ten days of kollel. I could have postponed my trip until bein hazemanim but that would have cost me an extra 5000. I am not chasing after luxuries; this was a trip born of necessity. But it was still a dilemma, since it was the middle of the zman and I did not want to miss the sedorim of the kollel.
“My first step was to ask my rosh kollel, who is a great man who has helped me resolve difficult quandaries in the past. In this case, he didn’t want to make the decision for me, and he advised me to contact Rav Moshe Hillel Hirsch. I believe that the rosh kollel himself has been consulting with Rav Moshe Hillel since Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman passed away.
“It was very hard to reach Rav Moshe Hillel, but I managed to get in touch with him. I told him that I was considering traveling to America for a period of ten days to two weeks, and I asked him whether it was appropriate to miss that amount of time in kollel for a profit of 5000 dollars that I would use to pay off debts.
“Rav Moshe Hillel replied, ‘If someone offered you a job for which you would be paid the same amount of money, but it would require you to leave the kollel for two weeks, would you do it?’ I mulled over the question and then replied that I wouldn’t accept the offer. ‘Then what is the difference?’ he asked.
“I was silent. I am smart enough not to engage the rosh yeshiva in debate. After all, what could I have told him? That taking a job would be different?
“I later found an option that would only keep me away from kollel for three days, but didn’t think this would be different. Nevertheless, the rosh kollel told me that I should present my question to the rosh yeshiva again. I debated whether I should tell him that I would be away for three days or for four days, since I didn’t know if the travel time should count toward the total. Finally, I decided to ask him about a three-day trip. He replied, ‘For three days, you may travel abroad. It should be with hatzlochah!”
“And how much time did it actually take?” I asked.
“It was a total of 74 hours,” he replied. “We left Israel on Monday at 12:00, and we returned on Thursday at 2:00 in the afternoon. Out of those 74 hours, we spent 25 hours on the plane.”
“Did you enjoy the trip?” I questioned him.
“I enjoyed every minute of it,” he replied. He confirmed that he even took the time to visit his brother, a kollel yungerman who spends his time immersed in learning and delivering shiurim.
“After hearing this story, I would surmise that Lieberman’s day care decree isn’t going to propel you into the work force,” I commented.
“I take it that you are pleased with the short duration of your trip,” I said.
“Of course. I don’t believe that I am a tzaddik,” he hurried to add. “I never really saw the need to ask the question in the first place, since I am not on the level of attaching such tremendous value to every day of learning. But Rav Moshe Hillel’s answer taught me that even a person such as myself, on my own level, must think carefully before giving up even a short time that could be spent learning. He understood that the money would be very important to us, but he still told me at first not to make the trip.
“I was also amazed by Rav Moshe Hillel’s dedication to answering my questions,” he added. “He doesn’t exactly have a surplus of time on his hands, and I was a bit of a nuisance. I asked him at first about a two-week trip, and then I came back and asked about a three-day trip, and I contacted him again to ask if the extra time for the flights should be included in the three days. But that should show you how badly I needed that extra money. I made numerous calls to him, and I somehow managed to obtain his fax number and sent him my question at 8:00 in the morning. I was prepared to call his house repeatedly to follow up on the faxed question, and I left him my own phone number and my wife’s number as well. At 8:20, after he had told me that a three-day trip was acceptable, I sent another fax to ask him if it included the time spent in the air. At 9:00 in the morning, he called to answer me. I was in the middle of davening and couldn’t answer the phone, so he called my wife and told her that he was trying to reach me. His answer was that even if the travel time extended the trip to four days, it would still be acceptable. I couldn’t believe the efforts that he made to respond to me. I was in tears as I contemplated the fact that such a great man had read a faxed question from a yungerman who needed to make a few dollars and that it had led him to place a call personally to the questioner, and even to go to the effort of calling my wife when I didn’t answer the phone.”
This shailah, with all its purity and sincerity, comes from a man who walks among men and looks like an ordinary human being, but whose humble demeanor belies the true greatness that lies within him. Even a thousand finance ministers could never rival a fraction of the greatness of a single, simple yungerman.