Brushes with Terror
I have much to tell you this week, but the first thing I must report is that Israel has not been given a reprieve from murderous terror attempts. Last week, a terrorist attempted to stab soldiers to death at a junction near the Shomron Regional Brigade military base. The terrorist failed to harm the soldiers and was shot and neutralized in the process. A spokesman for the IDF announced that the details of the incident were under investigation.
This attempted stabbing took place just one day after a different incident was reported. In that case, a group of police officers working to maintain public order flagged down a car that had raised their suspicions. While searching the car, the policemen discovered an axe and a letter written in Arabic, in which the driver declared his intention to carry out a terror attack. In addition, the police thwarted an attempted terror attack last Friday near Beit El, when a terrorist threw a cement block at a car occupied by Israeli citizens and then attempted to force the doors of the car open to attack them. That terrorist was likewise shot and neutralized by an officer in the reserves who was passing through the area.
And these are only the incidents that have been reported; who knows how many more such aborted attacks may have taken place? The Shabak does not report all of the terror attacks that are thwarted, in order to avoid demoralizing the public. Nevertheless, the groundswell of Palestinian violence in Yerushalayim cannot be hidden from the public. The media tries to downplay this phenomenon, but the residents of Yerushalayim are well aware of the riots and the danger. It is terrifying to walk through Shaar Shechem or the streets of the Old City, and it is immensely frightening to set foot in the neighborhood of Shimon Hatzaddik, where the Arabs behave as if they are the masters of the land.
Riots in the Hospitals
There is more unfortunate news to report, and I will try to be brief. For one thing, a new disease has arrived in Israel that has people afraid. This disease is known as monkeypox, and after two infected patients were discovered, the media created a panic. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court reviewed the case concerning Prime Minister Bennett’s home in Raanana, which has been wryly dubbed “the Bennett fortress,” and concluded that the government seems to have committed some illegalities in its handling of the matter. Binyomin Netanyahu reacted by announcing that if he had been the prime minister in question, the media would have slaughtered him immediately….
In other news, the IDF was forced to backtrack on a plan to carry out a military exercise near the Arab settlement of Umm el-Fahm. The venue for the exercise had been chosen due to its similarity to Arab villages within the Palestinian Authority; however, the Arabs became irate, and their representatives in the Knesset announced that they were not willing to permit the military exercise. With that, the army gave in to their demands—which should give you an idea of the type of situation we are living in. How ironic that the Israeli army can be bullied by its enemies into canceling a military exercise!
In another recent incident, the Iron Dome intercepted a foreign object that entered Israeli airspace from the north. This automatically triggered an air raid alert in nearby towns. It was soon revealed that the incident had been a mistake, and that the triggering object had been an Israeli drone.
Finally, violent incidents also took place in three hospitals around the country—in Nahariya, in Wolfson, and in Hadassah Har Hatzofim. In all three cases, Arab families attacked the medical staff in response to the belief that their family members had received insufficient care. In each case, when the patient died, the Arab families blamed the doctors and flew into a rage, attacking everyone in their vicinity.
Arab MK Jolts the Coalition
Last Thursday, on Lag Ba’omer, a political bombshell exploded in the Knesset, when MK Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi (Meretz) shocked Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett and Foreign Minister Lapid by announcing her resignation from the coalition. The other members of her own party, who had been given no prior warning about her decision, called on her in response to resign. Following Idit Silman’s departure from the coalition several months ago, this resignation seemed to herald the imminent arrival of another election.
In a letter addressed to Bennett and Lapid, Rinawie-Zoabi wrote, “Over the past few months, due to narrow political considerations, the leaders of this coalition have chosen to preserve and strengthen its right-wing element. Over and over, the heads of the coalition decided to take hawkish, rigid, and right-wing stances on issues of unparalleled fundamental importance to the Arab community: Al Aqsa and Har Habayis, Sheikh Jarrah, the settlements and the occupation, home demolitions and the expropriation of land in the Arab settlements in the Negev, and, of course, the Citizenship Law. I have also encountered complete disregard for the true needs of the Arab settlements.” She also stressed her objections to the conduct of the police on Har Habayis during the month of Ramadan: “The images that emerged from Har Habayis of violent police officers facing crowds of worshipers, and of the funeral of the Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, have led me to a single personal conclusion: This cannot continue. I can no longer continue supporting the existence of a coalition that shamefully persecutes the society from which I come.”
Bennett and Lapid radiated absolute shock in response, and Lapid promised that he would put out the latest fire to threaten the future of the government. Indeed, he solved this problem with the most straightforward possible means: financial incentives.
Buying Back the Defector
It is simply absurd. After Rinawie-Zoabi announced her departure from the coalition, Lapid “bought” her allegiance back with money. On Sunday, the foreign minister met with her. Zoabi entered the meeting with Lapid accompanied by eight Arab mayors: Ali Salam of Nazareth, Izz al-Din Amarna of Kfar Kana, Maher Khalilya of Yafia, Ali Zidan of Kfar Manda, Adel Badir of Kfar Kassem, Mahmoud Aasi of Kfar Bara, Ibrahim Abu Ras of Ilut, and Jamil Bassol of Reineh. The agreement that they reached, according to the public announcement made after their meeting, calls for 1.6 billion shekels to be allocated to those Arab localities. Of course, the price tag might actually be much higher; one can never know how much more money was promised “under the table.” After the meeting, Zoabi announced that she had decided to continue supporting the government for the time being. Nevertheless, the coalition had been quite concerned about her actions. Remember, Zoabi is the lawmaker who voted against the coalition several months ago and brought down the yeshiva draft law by a margin of one vote.
This financial transaction took place shortly after Lapid promised MK Ahmed Tibi that the government would fund the construction of roads in Arab settlements in exchange for their cooperation in the Knesset. The price paid for the Arabs’ goodwill reached a total of about 200 million shekels.
Of course, this is just the latest chapter in an old, ongoing story. This government first came to power because Raam was promised a huge sum of money in exchange for its support as a member of the coalition. The unprecedented funding approved for the Arab sector at the time seems to have reached a whopping 53 billion shekels according to many analysts, or at least 30 billion shekels according to more conservative estimates.
Consider this: Yair Lapid is known for railing against chareidi “extortion” and for lambasting Netanyahu for surrendering to the chareidim. In March 2021, Lapid wrote, “Either a government of darkness and extortion, or a complete upheaval. Let sanity rule!” This is the same Yair Lapid who adopted the anti-Semitic slogan used by his father, as well as by others such as Barak and Paritzky, “Where is the money?”
Well, Yair Lapid, now you know exactly where the money is!
Bennett Repays Loyalty with Betrayal
Even though the government has made it back to the threshold of sixty mandates in light of Zoabi’s return, temporary as it may be, it is still losing its grip on power due to the fortunes of cash being shelled out to the Arab sector. The Israeli people—right, left, and center alike—are watching this with growing indignation. No one can tolerate the thought that the country is effectively being sold to its enemies. This also affects the right-wing elements within the government and the coalition, who are suffering from their constituents’ wrath over their betrayal of their basic ideology. This phenomenon certainly has the potential to trigger another defection from this government, which has shown its willingness to trade all of its principles for political benefit.
In fact, it isn’t just mere speculation that the government will compromise on its values for the sake of retaining its power; this has been borne out by fact. I have barely reported to you about this, but the incident involving Yom Tov Kalfon makes this very clear. Until recently, Kalfon was a member of the Knesset on behalf of the Yamina party; he joined the Knesset on the basis of the Norwegian Law, which allows a minister to resign from the Knesset in order to allow the next member of his party’s slate to take over his seat. If that minister steps down from his position in the government, for whatever reason, the law allows him to retake his seat in the Knesset, automatically ousting the lawmaker who replaced him. Thus, Kalfon’s place in the Knesset was conditional from the outset.
Yom Tov Kalfon is a staunch devotee of the right. At the same time, he has always been a devoted defender of Naftoli Bennett and Yamina, whether because of the power it afforded him or because of his friendship with Bennett. Even though he has lost many other friends as a result of this loyalty, Kalfon remained committed to his prime minister and party leader. At the same time, no matter how much he was willing to debase himself by going along with Bennett, he was somehow always suspected of being the next potential defector from the coalition. Two weeks ago, on the Friday before Lag Ba’omer, Matan Kahana suddenly resigned from his position as Minister of Religious Affairs. This was a move that took the country by surprise, as it came immediately before the hillula in Meron and in the middle of Kahana’s efforts to pass his various religious laws to weaken the authority of halacha in Israel. But it was soon revealed that he had a single motivation for making this move: to remove Yom Tov Kalfon from the Knesset before he could defect. The fear of Kalfon turning on his own party trumped all other considerations.
At first, it was reported that the decision came from Bennett himself, which was a sign that he is a treacherous and insincere friend. This betrayal of a close ally caused him to lose many points in the public eye. However, a few days later, rumors began to circulate that the person behind the decision was actually Mansour Abbas. Raam—or, more precisely, the Shura Council, which is the religious body that sets the party’s policies—had decided to punish Kalfon for his habit of defiantly visiting Har Habayis, and they therefore insisted on having him ousted from the government.
This revelation exponentially magnified the outrage directed against Bennett. Kalfon had been a loyal ally who had protected the prime minister at great cost to himself, and Bennett had repaid that kindness by effectively stabbing him in the back. And the greatest indignation came from Bennett’s other allies on the right, who began to realize that their own loyalty to the prime minister would not get them very far….
Ukraine Also Has a State
Yom Hazikaron and Yom Haatzmaut tend to be marked by speeches delivered by Israeli government officials and other public speakers. This year was no exception, and the usual themes featured in their addresses: They boasted that Israel possesses the strongest army in the world and took pride in the fact that the Jewish nation possesses a state.
I do not like to put a damper on anyone’s festivities, but in this case, I think the obvious is begging to be pointed out. Ukraine, like Israel, is a sovereign country, yet its citizens are being slaughtered while the world looks on with indifference. With that example in mind, it doesn’t seem that there is much reason to rejoice over Israel’s statehood. If all the armies of the Arab countries were to mass against Israel, chas veshalom, what would happen? In fact, if all the citizens of all the neighboring countries, along with the Arabs in Israel who sympathize with them, were to take up arms and march to Al Aqsa, who would come to Israel’s aid? Would the Border Guard, the Yamam, or even Biden and the United States fend them off? When Saddam Hussein was firing missiles at Israel, did anyone come to this country’s aid? And what about the world’s reaction to Iran’s nuclear development today? Is there anyone in the world who is standing up for Israel against this ardent foe?
I cannot help but wonder how these government officials have missed the fact that is blatantly obvious to everyone else in the world: that the Jews survive only because they have a G-d Who is protecting them. Neither the State of Israel nor the IDF nor Bennett and Lapid can do anything to shield this country from its enemies. Unfortunately, many of the country’s political leaders seem to have been blinded by their pride and cannot see this reality.
At the same time, there is one person who deserves to take credit for a successful piece of oratory—and for many other accomplishments, as well. Last summer, President Yitzchok Herzog was sworn in as the president of Israel, at a festive ceremony attended by the entire Knesset. Herzog was (and still is) highly popular among the members of the Knesset and was elected to his current office by a record number of votes. And I believe that many people here in Israel will agree with my assessment that in spite of the high level of expectations that Herzog faced, he has managed to meet and exceed those expectations. So far, his presidency has progressed without a hitch. He shows respect to the entire populace. His speech about the picture of the mother who was murdered next to her infant son ought to go down in history no less than the famous address delivered by his father, Chaim Herzog, at the United Nations. His shiva visits in Elad were also highly stirring to the families in mourning.
On that note, I will share a sobering incident that I happened to witness. I arrived at the Chavakuk family’s mourning tent in Elad just as President Herzog was leaving after his on visit to the family. His bodyguards were escorting him out of the tent when they noticed a tall chareidi man heading toward him, and they hurried to place their own bodies between the newcomer and the president, forming a defensive barrier between them. Little did they know that this man was the current mayor of Elad, Yisroel Porush…. Unfortunately, this is a normal reaction for the young men who serve as bodyguards to high-ranking officials. Whenever they see a person wearing a yarmulke, and certainly someone with a beard, they automatically presume that he is a potential assassin until someone manages to prove otherwise.
A Botched Kaddish
At one particular Yom Hazikaron event at the Kosel, a father and son recited Kaddish together for a deceased family member. The son, who is serving in the army, recited Kaddish without a siddur and pronounced the entire tefillah fluently. His father, on the other hand, mangled many of the words, and I was reminded of the shame I felt when Yuval Rabin recited Kaddish for his father. What an embarrassment! Even if there are Jews in the world who have never heard anyone reciting Kaddish, why should it be such a challenge for them to focus on the words and read them correctly? After all, the text of the Kaddish was vowelized. Even if the words are foreign to them, can’t they simply read the letters with the appropriate vowel signs?
On a similar note, at a special discussion in the Knesset concerning the country’s defense establishment, a member of the Knesset stood at the podium and recited the tefillah for the well-being of the soldiers of the IDF. Strangely, she mispronounced several of the words. Once again, I found her errors very difficult to understand. The text was printed before her, complete with the vowel signs. Why was it so difficult for her to read the words correctly?
Twelve Thousand Pairs of Talmidim
The story of the deaths of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim is the subject of a famous passage in the Gemara: “Rabi Akiva had twelve thousand pairs of talmidim from Givas to Antipres, and they all died between Pesach and Atzeres [Shavuos] because they did not behave toward each other with respect. The world was then desolate until Rabi Akiva went to our rabbeim in the south and taught them … and they preserved the Torah at that time” (Yevamos 64b). Rashi explains that when the Gemara states that the world was desolate, it means that the Torah was forgotten. This seems to imply that the Torah was forgotten throughout the entire world, and that when Rabi Akiva began teaching his new talmidim, the Torah returned to the remainder of the world as well. This idea seems to be echoed in the Midrash as well, which states that Rabi Akiva’s new talmidim “immediately rose and filled all of Eretz Yisroel with Torah” (Koheles Rabbah, ch. 11).
Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro once pointed out that the Gemara’s account is somewhat puzzling. Why should the entire world have suffered the loss of all Torah knowledge because of the lack of mutual respect among Rabi Akiva’s talmidim? Moreover, what was the basis of their obligation to relate to each other with respect? And why does the Gemara refer to them as twelve thousand pairs of talmidim? Couldn’t the Gemara have stated simply that Rabi Akiva taught 24,00 talmidim? But above all, why did their failure to relate to each other properly cause the Torah to be forgotten throughout the world? And why was it that the Torah returned to the rest of the world when Rabi Akiva began teaching his new talmidim? Why didn’t it return only to those who learned it?
Rav Moshe Shmuel explained this as follows: “This indicates an incredible idea—that the Torah’s influence is not limited to natural means. Rather, as long as a yeshiva exists, the Torah that is learned in that yeshiva is extended to affect the entire world. When the yeshiva ceases to exist, the Torah will be forgotten throughout the world, and when the yeshiva is reopened, the Torah will return to filling the earth with its impact. It is only the spirit of the yeshiva that inspires others to learn Torah in any place they may be.” In a remarkable revelation, Rav Moshe Shmuel thus taught us that the effects of Torah learning are felt immediately and on a global scale.
Rav Moshe Shmuel continued, “This may be inferred from the fact that they are described as twelve thousand talmidim, which is quite puzzling. Why didn’t the Gemara simply state that he had 24,000 talmidim altogether? This teaches us that their failure to show respect to each other was due to the absence of the type of respectful conduct required of people who learn in pairs. These talmidim learned together in pairs, yet they still did not relate to each other with the respect due to a chavrusa. The Gemara states at the end of Perek Eilu Metzios that the talmidei chachomim of Bavel used to stand up for each other, and Rashi adds that they would do this ‘just as the halacha requires of a talmid with his rebbi, since they would sit together in the bais medrash, asking questions and formulating answers, and they would all learn from each other.’ In other words, they were supposed to revere each other as rabbeim. We know that in some respects, a person has an obligation to show his chavrusa the same type of honor due to a rebbi, since it is presumed that he must have learned something from him. The failure to demonstrate this kavod is punishable by death, whether because it is a lack of respect to the rebbi, just as a person who issues a halachic ruling in his rebbi’s presence is liable to death, or because it leads to bittul Torah, since a person who does not respect his chavrusa as a rebbi cannot learn Torah from him, and if a person does not add to his Torah knowledge, he will lose it (see Avos 1:13 and Rashi ad loc.).”
Thus, the Gemara’s description of Rabi Akiva’s talmidim as “twelve thousand pairs” alludes to the nature of the respect that they failed to show each other. Rav Moshe Shmuel goes on to share a powerful psychological insight and a remarkable anecdote to illustrate his point: “The Midrash states that the reason they did not show respect to each other as a talmid would respect his rebbi is that they were begrudging of each other’s Torah knowledge. Indeed, it is a very difficult challenge to view another person as one’s superior. Even if a person knows that there must be others who are wiser than he is, it is human nature for a person not to admit that a man who is sitting before him is actually one of them.
“It is a known fact that Rav Chaim of Brisk was very fond of the Maitcheter Iluy. When other talmidei chachomim visited Rav Chaim, he would call the Maitcheter Iluy and ask him to share some divrei Torah with the visitors, in order to make them aware of his brilliance. One day, a certain prominent talmid chochom responded dismissively to Rav Chaim’s praise for the iluy. ‘Are we lacking iluyim?’ the visitor asked, implying that Rav Chaim’s praise was not deserved by his young talmid.
“Rav Chaim was aggrieved, and he asked the visiting gadol, ‘With all due respect, do you feel that you are the wisest man in the world, and that no one knows more than you do?’
“‘Chas v’sholom,’ the visitor replied. ‘Of course there are some people who know more than I do!’
“Rav Chaim smiled and responded, ‘In that case, what difference does it make to you if one of those people is the Maitcheter Iluy?’”
Rav Moshe Feinstein’s Exertion
As you may have realized, I am quite fond of stories about tzaddikim. This week, I discovered another story, which was told by Rav Chizkiyohu Mishkovsky not long ago: “I heard from the late Rav Berg, who served as a cheider principal in Ramat Elchonon and Rechovot, and became a respected rov of a community in America at the end of his life, that his brother had learned in Yeshivas Tiferes Yerushalayim in America, the yeshiva that was headed by Rav Moshe Feinstein. He recalled that on the Shabbos of his brother’s aufruf, which was held in the yeshiva, Rav Moshe Feinstein attended the kiddush. Rav Moshe was approaching the end of his life at the time, and as his strength ebbed, he had ceased attending such events, yet he made an exception for this particular chosson. Moreover, Rav Moshe even delivered a drosha in honor of the chosson. What led him to exert himself in this fashion in spite of his weakness? Rav Moshe explained that he had noticed that when there was a kiddush in the yeshiva and other rabbonim or roshei yeshivos were delivering drashos in honor of the occasion, there would always be bochurim who would continue eating during this time. Even if they continued listening intently while they ate, he did not feel that it was fully appropriate. However, Rav Moshe had noticed that Rav Berg’s brother, the chosson, always made sure to interrupt his meal and to listen intently while the rabbonim spoke, which is indeed a proper way to show respect to the Torah. In order to honor the young man for this virtuous conduct, Rav Moshe had made an exception to his usual practice and had made a point of attending his simcha.”