Thursday, Dec 1, 2022

My Take on The News

 

Iron Dome Batteries Deployed on Yom Yerushalayim

This past Sunday was Yom Yerushalayim, which is marked every year with a parade known as the Flag March, in which young men from Zionist yeshivos march on foot from Yeshivas Merkaz HaRav to the Kosel Hamaarovi, brandishing Israeli flags. But while the Flag March may be an annual tradition, this year it became a cause of much friction.

The current government, as you know, is beholden to the Arab parties. In fact, the recent ousting of MK Yom Tov Kalfon from the Knesset was revealed to have taken place on the insistence of the Shura Council, the Muslim religious body that oversees Raam, the party headed by Mansour Abbas. And with the approach of Yom Yerushalayim, the Arabs notified the government that they were opposed to the Flag March. That announcement was echoed by Israel’s adversaries over the border as well.

This time, Israel announced that the Flag March would proceed on schedule. In response to the Arabs’ threats, Iron Dome batteries were deployed in Yerushalayim and the Israeli air force went on alert. At the same time, in order to placate the Palestinians, Israel announced that the marchers would not be granted access to Har Habayis. In truth, they had never intended to visit Har Habayis, which has never been part of the Flag March. The main event of the Flag March takes place every year at the Kosel plaza. But this is a sign of how far Israel has fallen. The government has made every possible gesture to its enemies, and in return it has received calls for murder on the Arab street, arsons in Sheikh Jarrah, and Palestinian flags and intimidation in the neighborhood of Shmuel Hanovi. This is a sad commentary indeed on the state of the current government of Israel.

Speaking of Yom Yerushalayim, every year there is a festive event in honor of the day at Yeshivas Merkaz Harav, with a single guest speaker: the prime minister of Israel. This year, in a dramatic break from this tradition, the yeshiva informed Prime Minister Bennett that he was not wanted! Meanwhile, Bennett’s two closest advisors recently resigned from their positions, triggering endless speculation as to what prompted their departures. Perhaps I will write about this at greater length in the near future. For now, I will comment merely that these are further signs that the government is crumbling.

Meanwhile, Gilad Erdan, the Israeli ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, led a group of 13 UN ambassadors on a visit to the Kosel last Thursday. The delegation toured the Kosel tunnels and the Old City of Yerushalayim. This represented an accomplishment for Erdan, who summed up the visit with the following statement: “I brought the ambassadors to Yerushalayim in order to expose them to the truth and to let them see it for themselves. The UN has been disseminating lies regarding the situation in Yerushalayim, and it is therefore very important for the representatives of other countries to see firsthand how Israel maintains the freedom of religion and to understand our connection to Yerushalayim and the holy sites. I am sure that they will remember this when our enemies attempt to spread lies about Israel again.”

The ambassadors who participated in the visit came from Mexico, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tanzania, Benin, Burundi, Estonia, Malawi, El Salvador, and Panama.

Marking 77 Years Since the Nazis’ Defeat

Speaking of the Kosel, I mention the event that took place there last Thursday to mark the Day of Liberation and Salvation, the anniversary (on the Jewish calendar) of European Jewry’s liberation from the Nazis. This commemoration has been held for the past few years on the Jewish anniversary of the Nazis’ defeat, thanks to an initiative of the philanthropist German Zakharyaev of Moscow. In recent years, the commemoration has been enshrined in a law passed by the Knesset, which was also a product of Zakharyaev’s efforts. The Hebrew date of the liberation was the 27th of Iyar, and this year marks its 77th anniversary. The main event was held at the Kosel, while other events took place throughout the world.

Rabbi Moshe Lebel, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Moscow and rabbinic director of the Conference of European Rabbis, was the main speaker at the event this year. He was accompanied by Rabbi Benzion Zilber, director of the Toldos Yeshurun institutes and son of Rav Yitzchok Zilber, the famed tzaddik from Russia. Hundreds of talmidim from Talmud Torah Emunas Tzion and Yeshivas Nachalei Tzion, as well as rabbonim, yungeleit, and other representatives of Caucasian Jewry, came to the event from all over Israel.

Another event was held at the Great Synagogue of Moscow and was attended by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Lau of Netanya, who regaled the participants with stories from the life of his renowned father, Rav Yisroel Meir Lau. A talmid in Talmud Torah Reishis Chochmah recited a perek of mishnayos. The crowd of hundreds of participants—including Holocaust survivors, soldiers, army veterans, public figures, and many others—recited Tehillim together, and the tefillah of Kel Malei Rachamim was recited by the chazzan, Rabbi Yaakov Bar Nasa. Over the course of the day, Rabbi Lau delivered a shiur at Kollel Ohalei Yaakov and visited the Reishis Chochmah school.

The New York Times Endangers Israel

Israel’s possession of the lifesaving Iron Dome defensive system can be credited to the country’s friendship with America. Rav Shach would describe the United States as a kingdom of chessed; for that reason, he was always opposed to provoking the Americans. This week, however, the citizens of Israel were distressed by a leak reported in the New York Times, a leading newspaper in the United States. This was a leak that could have come only from the American government itself.

Quoting unnamed sources in Washington, the New York Times reported that Israel had admitted to the American government that it was responsible for the assassination last Sunday of Sayyad Khodaei, a high-ranking official in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The disclosure was highly problematic; things that are left ambiguous are meant to remain that way. Even though the Iranians themselves were well aware that Israel was behind the assassination, and the Israelis likewise knew that their involvement was no secret in Iran, there was still a certain measure of ambiguity as long as Israel didn’t openly admit to its role. Iran, for its part, was able to pretend that it did not know who was behind the assassination on its own soil. But as soon as the American government leaked that Israel admitted responsibility, this forced the Iranians to respond. For the same reason, Israel has always maintained a policy of refusing to confirm any operations that it carries out in Syria, even if everyone in the world knows that the Israelis were behind those actions.

Therefore, the New York Times—or, better yet, the American officials who leaked this story to the press—can actually be accused of openly permitting Israeli blood to be spilled.

Shrinking Support for Bennett’s Government

Another issue that has thrust the government into turmoil is the fact that the political right and Binyomin Netanyahu are enjoying excellent standing in recent polls, and that Bennett and his government are steadily dropping in the same polls.

You may be wondering why anyone is bothering to conduct polls right now. For one thing, the simplest answer is: Why not? But even more than that, the Bennett-Lapid government has reached the first anniversary of its founding, which is an appropriate time for polls to ascertain how the government has been faring. And several recent polls have shown that the coalition has weakened, while Netanyahu and the opposition have been gaining strength.

The most prominent poll was conducted for the Channel 12 news station by the Midgam Institute. This poll found that if elections were held today, the mandates in the Knesset would be apportioned as follows: 35 for the Likud party, 17 for Yesh Atid, 10 for Blue and White, nine for Shas, eight for Religious Zionism, seven for United Torah Judaism, six for the Joint Arab List, six for Labor, five for Yamina, five for Yisroel Beiteinu, four for New Hope, four for Meretz, and four for Raam. In other words, this would give the current coalition 55 mandates while the Netanyahu-led bloc would receive 59, and the Joint Arab List would hold the remaining six. The poll also explored the possibility that Yamina, Yisroel Beiteinu, and New Hope might unite to form a single party in advance of the election. In that scenario, the poll found that this party would receive 15 mandates, but the distribution of Knesset seats between the blocs would remain the same.

Although the results of this poll may sound similar to the outcome of previous elections, there is a key difference that indicates just how much of a political bombshell it represents: The poll does not count Yamina as a right-wing party. In the past, when the right-wing bloc reached 59 Knesset seats and merely failed to pass the critical threshold of 60 mandates, it was with the inclusion of Yamina. At this point, though, the poll shows the bloc rising to 59 mandates without the participation of Yamina. And for Netanyahu and the right, that is a major accomplishment.

Another poll dealt with the government’s image rather than the specific breakdown of the mandates, but the results of that survey were undoubtedly equally distressing for the prime minister. This poll found that the majority of the public believes that the government is under the control of terror supporters. In other words, it isn’t only the right that is filled with revulsion over the government’s conduct; the sentiment is shared by the center and left as well. And if the majority of the Israeli public feels that way, then that is a problem for both Bennett and Lapid.

Porush’s Proposal Fails

The issue of police misconduct in Meron this Lag Ba’omer refuses to go away. With every passing day, it has become increasingly clear that the negligence and audacity of the authorities bordered on criminal behavior. For instance, even when the state commission of inquiry called for the crowding on the mountaintop to be limited, the recommended maximum was 16,000 people at any given moment. Why, then, did the police limit it even further, to a mere 9000 people? And why did the Meron project coordinator give in to this decision of the police? On what basis did the police implement that limit, and who authorized them to do that?

To make matters worse, it has become clear that the district commander of the police force managed to impose his decision to limit the crowding to 9000 people by claiming that there was already rioting and overcrowding on the mountaintop, and that there had even been injuries. It was subsequently revealed that this was completely false; no such incidents had taken place. Moreover, an investigation showed that there were some points in time when there were only 4000 people altogether on the mountain, far less than the number of visitors officially permitted by the regulations.

MK Meir Porush called for a parliamentary investigative commission to be formed to examine the conduct of the police and other authorities in Meron on Lag Ba’omer. To Porush’s credit, it should be noted that he anticipated the total collapse of the outline for the hillula even before Lag Ba’omer, and he tried to sound a warning in advance of the day.

In the Knesset, Porush declared at the podium, “In the outline formulated by the project coordinator, he decided—not with our agreement, but this was his decision—that at any given moment, there could be 16,000 people on the mountaintop and in the area of the tziyun, but during the hadlokah there would be a limit of 6000 people. I will not weary you with all the questions I asked, such as why the maximum was set at 16,000 and why it had to go down to 6000 during the bonfire.” Porush noted that the commission of inquiry had recommended coordinating the regulations with the various communities and chassidish courts that were most heavily involved in the hillula, but this was not done. He also excoriated the police for the ordeals experienced by thousands of travelers on the buses to Meron.

Porush continued, “I must ask: Who authorized the police to destroy the festivities enjoyed by the 200,000 people who come to Meron every year to celebrate on Lag Ba’omer? Why didn’t the project manager arrange for the parking lots to be modified to meet the needs of human beings? The minister might stand here and deny the statistics or the facts, but everyone knows that thousands of people were stuck in parking lots with no water, shade, or lavatories, and that they remained there for hours. Thousands of people were ultimately not permitted to continue on to Meron at all. And even if someone will argue that the police used their judgment to make these decisions, the question remains: How could they have done this, when the rules allowed 16,000 people to be present on the mountaintop alone? I am not even speaking about what was permitted in the settlement of Meron, which contains dozens of dunams. The police closed Mount Meron to visitors. I am not here to defend those who engaged in violence or destroyed government property; that is not our topic now. That might be a subject for discussion, and it certainly wasn’t right; it is possible that this was the reason that the police gave in, but I want to understand who authorized them to destroy our festivities before they retreated. Who gave them the right to close off Meron?”

Kahana Faces Criticism

Matan Kahana, who was the superior of Tzviki Tessler (the project coordinator in Meron) and has since stepped down from his ministerial position to become a deputy minister, was flustered as Porush spoke. It was clear that he had completely failed in his task. He tried to convince the Knesset that there was no need for a parliamentary investigation, since the Ministry of Religious Affairs would be conducting its own probe of the events. “There is no need for confrontation now,” Kahana said. “Give me a moment; we are not arguing with each other now. I will say only that after all is said and done, this religious event will happen whether we want it or not. Therefore, we must prepare for it in a different way. This year, at this hillula—and this isn’t necessarily what will happen next year—we all worked under certain contains or within the framework that was set up for us by the investigative committee. You will soon see that we need to examine whether the framework defined by the committee was appropriate. For now, I don’t think that anyone here in this building believes that we would have been able to operate this year without the parameters set by the committee. I am not saying these things in order to search for excuses; my purpose is only to define the direction in which our investigation is going to lead us.”

MK Yinon Azulai said, “The investigative committee and the people both know the truth. The number of people on the mountaintop was supposed to be 16,000. But even from the outset, that number was not reached.”

“I will speak about that,” Kahana hurried to respond. “Give me a minute, and I will address it. Believe me, I have no intention of evading your questions. But I want to explain something to you. If we ignore the reality now, then next year there will be problems again, and we cannot allow ourselves to hide from the reality.”

“Next year you will be in the opposition,” Yaakov Asher said confidently.

“It doesn’t matter,” Kahana replied. “MK Yaakov Asher, it doesn’t matter who will be here,” he repeated. “Believe me, it is very much worthwhile to conduct a very intensive investigation of what happened now, so that whoever is responsible for Lag Ba’omer next year will be able to do what is necessary.”

“There is no need for an investigation,” Asher responded. “We foresaw this in advance. People were told not to go to Meron.”

“MK Asher,” Kahana said, “even within the outline that was formulated for us, there were things that we didn’t do well enough. There should have been more shade and water in the parking lots, and more shade on the mountaintop itself. There are some things that we should have done regardless of the actual outline.” Kahana went on to elaborate, but I have no interest in quoting too much of the pontifications of this failed deputy minister, who sealed his ears and his heart to all the warnings that he received in advance of Lag Ba’omer.

The bottom line is that Porush’s demand was rejected by a margin of a single vote.

The Hillula Began When the Police Left

There is one thing about Lag Ba’omer on which everyone agrees: There was no real hillula in Meron this year. In reality, the hillula did not begin until the police left. And what makes this utterly infuriating is the fact that there is no other sector of Israeli society that suffers from the type of egregious abuse that the authorities inflicted on the chareidim. The intolerable conditions in the parking lots were nothing short of a hate crime. Forcing busloads of passengers to return home without being permitted to visit Meron was an act of pure hatred and a breach of the police’s duties to the public. Both the police themselves and the project manager who gave in to their whims were myopic and rigid. The reports from Meron sounded at times like news updates from a battlefield. Entire battalions of Border Guard policemen in riot gear were sent to secure the site. When the police finally withdrew, the chareidi community took advantage of their absence to converge on Meron and retake the mountain. And the police were caught in yet another lie when they claimed that they had “closed the mountain” on account of some “extremists running amok.” But the fact that they made a false claim wasn’t even their greatest offense. As Aryeh Deri pointed out, even if a handful of miscreants had indeed been disturbing the peace, that did not give anyone the right to torment the tens of thousands of innocent people who were forced to wait for hours on end in the parking lots or to suffer from the conditions on the mountaintop.

Personally, I celebrated Lag Ba’omer at a large Sephardic shul in Bayit Vegan. I arrived at the shul for Maariv and then noticed a sign announcing the “central hadlokah” to take place there that evening. Before davening, a distinguished-looking elderly man entered the room, and one of the mispallelim whispered to me that the man was Rav Yechezkel Siton, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Mishkan Chaim and rov of the shul and the neighborhood. Of course, he was to be honored with lighting the bonfire. The rov’s talmidim quickly arrived from the nearby yeshiva building, and Rav Siton, one of the last talmidim of Rav Ezra Attiya and a prime talmid of Chacham Benzion Abba Shaul, danced with his own talmidim and with the rabbeim of the yeshiva with all the energy and vigor of a young man. I joined the group of men crowding around him to kiss his hand and seek his brocha, and I felt privileged to have experienced the event.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef on Learning Torah

As Shavuos approaches, this is an opportune time to discuss one of the main themes of the Yom Tov: the mitzvah of learning Torah.

Rav Ovadiah Yosef once addressed an audience with the following remarks: “My brothers and friends, there are people who have set their sights on us and wish to take the Torah away from us. If we strive to remain involved in Torah learning, Hashem will foil their plans and thwart their schemes. All we must do is make an effort to learn at all times, with all our strength. We must use all of our energy, and Hashem will help us…. Hashem is with us; do not fear. There is no reason to be afraid. Our enemies fight us with horses and chariots, and we resist them with the Name of Hashem. They will fall, and we will be strong. We must strive to learn with consistency. Pesach is approaching and people will be going on vacation for bein hazemanim, but everyone must remember not to let time go to waste, and to take advantage of every moment when it is possible to learn Torah. When Hashem sees that we are applying ourselves to learning Torah, He will thwart the designs of our enemies and frustrate their plans, and He will punish them for their evil deeds. May we all be zoche to the arrival of Moshiach, who will rescue us from our troubles and remove all evil decrees from us. May we merit to learn, to teach, to observe and to perform the mitzvos, and may the land be filled with knowledge of Hashem.”

On another occasion, Rav Ovadiah said, “Becoming a talmid chochom requires intensive effort and hasmodah. It requires applying oneself day and night without giving up even a single moment. A person should learn Torah even when he is on the road; even if he is traveling by bus from one neighborhood to another for only a few minutes, he should keep a small sefer with him and find a quiet corner where he can open it and learn a single page while traveling in each direction. Bit by bit, a person can accumulate a vast amount of knowledge this way. Even if he covers only a single page, that is still a major accomplishment…. Anyone who learns, reviews, and continues learning will emerge with a major acquisition. This is the path to becoming one of the gedolei hador. One should take a lesson from the poor man who collects money for his sustenance and rejoices over every penny he receives, for he knows that those pennies can add up to a significant sum.”

A Shidduch Suggestion from the Chazon Ish

Over the recent Yom Tov of Pesach, I read many stories that were written about Rav Chaim Kanievsky. I wish that I could share many of those stories with you. Instead, I will settle for two stories that Rav Chaim retold, which he had heard from his illustrious uncle, the Chazon Ish. These stories appear in a kuntres published by Rav Chaim’s close talmid, Rav Yitzchok Ohev-Tzion.

The first story concerns a bochur who was redt numerous shidduchim and rejected all of them, finding a deficiency in every girl who was suggested to him. When the Chazon Ish became aware of the situation, he asked someone to approach the bochur with a new suggestion: a girl who had so many poor qualities that the Chazon Ish’s messenger balked, fearing that the suggestion itself was bound to be an insult to the bochur. The Chazon Ish was insistent, however, and added that the bochur should even be told that the Chazon Ish himself was the source of the suggestion. After the shidduch was offered to the young man, there was an immediate turnaround, and he swiftly became engaged to a different girl. Rav Chaim explained, “The Chazon Ish felt that the reason the bochur was rejecting all the other shidduchim was that he suffered from gaavah. The solution was to propose a shidduch that would deflate his ego and make him prepared to accept a potential bride with ordinary flaws.”

Another story was told by the Chazon Ish to his sister, Rav Chaim’s mother, and likewise concerned the topic of shidduchim. A man once came to the Chazon Ish to inquire about a particular bochur who was a frequent visitor to his home and who had been suggested as a possible shidduch for the man’s daughter. When he asked about the bochur’s learning, the Chazon Ish replied, “It could be better.” The father took this as a positive assessment, reasoning that any person can improve his Torah learning. “What about his yiras Shomayim?” the father asked, and the Chazon Ish replied once again, “It could be better.”

“And what about his middos?” the father asked.

The Chazon Ish’s response was still the same: “It could be better.”

The father took this as a glowing report and gave his blessing to the shidduch. Before long, he celebrated his daughter’s engagement to the young man in question.

“You see that?” the Chazon Ish said to his sister when he repeated the story. “When a shidduch is meant to be, it will come to fruition even when the parents are given ample reason to reject it.”

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