Fear Grows as Arabs Become Bold
It has been two weeks since the last time we “met” on the pages of this newspaper, and I have much to tell you. As I often note, Israel may be a small country, but it produces enough news stories in a single week to rival the entire continent of Europe and half of America.
If we put aside the world of politics for a moment, I would say that the most important news story this week concerns the audacity of the Arabs. It isn’t clear exactly what is happening or how it began, but the Arabs have begun to show that they are no longer afraid of anything. They do not fear the police or the army. In recent days, there were several incidents in which Arabs brazenly attacked police officers and IDF soldiers. In two other cases, Arab assailants tried to seize a weapon from a soldier or a policeman.
Over the past two months, the Old City in general and Har Habayis in particular have practically been a war zone. With every passing day, the Arabs’ audacity seems to be on the rise. Photographs from Yerushalayim show soldiers and policemen alike coming under attack from Arab youths. And I haven’t even mentioned the stoning of Israeli buses and ordinary citizens.
The latest outrageous incident was the torching of eighteen buses at the central bus station in the city of Tzefas. On the one hand, this incident has been portrayed largely as criminal in nature; it is rumored to be the work of a gang engaging in a protection racket, which would mean that is has no connection to terrorism. At the same time, the Shabak is involved in the investigation, which means that there are certainly suspicions that the arson was committed for nationalistic reasons. The Israeli government, according to this assumption, is trying to hide the nationalist connection of the incident, in order to prevent the public from panicking. But it is too late for that; the people of Israel have already sensed the lack of deterrence within the Arab sector, and they have already begun to panic.
In another tragic incident, a volunteer policeman was killed this past week when he was hit by a car occupied by Arabs in Rishon Letzion. The occupants of the car claimed that it was an accident; the police, on the other hand, insist that it was murder. And that is not all: About a year ago, there was a spate of nationalistically motivated incidents of arson, with some fires even being sparked by incendiary balloons flown across the border from Gaza. Unfortunately, it seems that the Arabs may be resorting to setting fires again. Last week, there was another wave of wildfires, and there is a very compelling suspicion that these blazes, too, were the handiwork of Arab arsonists.
Gas Prices Hit Record High
Israel has been suffering one diplomatic setback after another. I have written in the past about the government’s botched reaction to the war between Russia and Ukraine, but that is not all. The foreign minister of Israel is a man who manages to wreak havoc on everything he touches, and now the country of Norway has begun condemning Israel as well. This week, the Norwegian government announced that their country plans to immediately begin labeling products that are produced in Israeli “settlements” in order to make it possible for anti-Israel activists to identify and boycott those goods. According to the Norwegians, these products are manufactured in areas that are illegal under international law. They also claimed that the failure to label products from Israeli settlements is a violation of a UN resolution from the year 2019, which called for the products to be labeled in order to avoid misleading consumers. The Israeli foreign ministry reacted harshly to the move, warning that this step would “not lead to the advancement of relations between the two countries.”
I think it is safe to bet that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will accomplish nothing with these tactics but exacerbate tensions between Israel and Norway. In the end, the products will be labeled as planned, and Lapid will merely have antagonized another country without achieving anything as a result.
Speaking of consumer goods, there is one phenomenon that is at the top of everyone’s mind: the dramatic rise in prices of all sorts of products in Israel. One of the most noticeable trends is the spike in the price of gasoline, which has risen to a 13-year high. In the month of June alone, gas prices rose by 66 agorot to a full 7.72 NIS per liter, a 10 percent increase in comparison to May and a 20 percent increase over this period last year, when the prices stood at 6.13 shekels per liter. The current prices are the highest since March 2013, when the price of gasoline hit a whopping 7.95 shekels per liter. The highest gas prices in history were recorded in 2012, when every liter of gas sold for 8.25 shekels. And the sharp increase from May to June this year was also the most precipitous spike in the price of gas in 13 years, since the prices soared upward in the month of June 2009.
As everyone knows, a dramatic increase in gas prices is bound to have a ripple effect on the rest of the economy. A rise in the price of gas will lead to an immediate increase in the prices of other products associated with it, such as electricity and even packing materials. And that means that this is no laughing matter.
Will Masks Make a Comeback?
Unfortunately, it seems that the coronavirus is returning. After many long months, we all thought that Covid was finally disappearing from our lives. All the pandemic-related restrictions have finally been lifted, even those in the airport, but now a new wave of the virus seems to have begun. It started last week, and the number of new cases of coronavirus increased dramatically this week, with a two-month record high of 3259 cases diagnosed at the beginning of the week. Meanwhile, the number of active cases rose to 25,859, and the number of seriously ill patients was also found to have risen.
I have mentioned in the past that my job in the Knesset provides me with an excellent barometer of the overall state of the pandemic. I can tell whether the morbidity is rising, falling, or remaining stable based on the messages circulated by the Knesset Sergeant-at-Arms, who announces the name of every person who is diagnosed with Covid after being present in the building. These messages were always intended partly to alert other people about the need to enter quarantine, but the practice has continued even though the requirement to quarantine after coming in contact with a Covid patient has been scrapped. In any event, after a long time passed without news of any coronavirus cases, we received a message on Friday, June 10, 2022, informing us that several individuals who had been present in the Knesset had tested positive for the virus. On Friday, both MK Tzvi Hauser and Renata Rotikov, advisor to the Knesset speaker, were found to have contracted Covid, and on the previous day, MK Ahmed Tibi had tested positive for the virus. In addition, another four Knesset employees were found to have contracted the coronavirus on the day before, and Aryeh Deri, the chairman of the Shas party, was likewise found to have been infected.
Professor Zarka, who serves as the Health Ministry’s coronavirus project manager, announced at the beginning of this week that the latest figures indicate that the pandemic is on the rise again. “We attribute this to a new variant from the omicron family,” he said. “We saw this phenomenon take place in South Africa, it occurred in Portugal as well, and it is unfortunately occurring here. I hope that it will not lead to high morbidity as well.” Zarka advised the public to begin wearing masks in closed public spaces again, which naturally raised the public’s hackles. We had all thought that the era of masks was over, and it was disappointing to hear the possibility raised again. As for whether other restrictions might be reinstated, Zarka said, “We are not in a place of imposing restrictions right now; we are only at the beginning of the increase.” He insinuated that the restrictions that had been imposed in the past hadn’t really been effective at curbing the spread of the virus, a notion that is certainly debatable. In any event, one thing is sure: The specter of the return of the pandemic has brought much anguish along with it.
More Shame for the Coalition
The current government of Israel officially enjoys a majority by a margin of one vote. The coalition officially has 61 members, whereas the opposition holds 59 seats in the Knesset. But all of that was true only until Idit Silman dropped out of the coalition. At this point, we are looking at a deadlocked government, with 60 members of the Knesset on each side of the divide. And that means that the government is incapable of making any moves. The coalition leaders had actually hoped that Silman would be deterred from voting against the government out of fear that she would be declared a renegade. According to the law, once a Knesset member is deemed a renegade, he or she will be barred from joining any party in the next election. However, Silman surprised the government once again by casting a vote against it.
Last week, Gideon Saar brought a piece of legislation known as the Yehuda and Shomron Law to a vote. This bill was essentially an extension of the legal measure that allows the Israeli government to control the areas of Yehuda and the Shomron. Saar, who is serving as justice minister, explained that if the law was not passed, the result would be anarchy. He was certain that Silman—and, in fact, the right-wing opposition—would vote in favor of it, understanding the dire consequences of the failure to do so. However, not only did the opposition decide not to serve as the government’s lifeline, but Silman herself voted against the bill. Two other “nay” votes were also submitted by two Arab members of the Knesset—MK Zoabi, who has already made a name for herself by bucking coalition discipline in the past, and an Arab from Raam named Mazan Ganaim. Shortly after that defeat in the Knesset, the government suffered another embarrassing setback when it tried and failed to have Matan Kahana reinstated as Minister of Religious Affairs after his recent resignation. In this case, the Arabs fell in line with the coalition, but Silman voted against the move and Kahana’s appointment was rejected. This was not only a source of embarrassment to the government; it was also a clear indication that the coalition isn’t truly in power.
These two devastating blows to the coalition caused Bennett and Lapid to panic. Lapid vowed to bring back the renegades from the left, and he made an abundance of promises to Zoabi in order to woo her to support the coalition again. In his statements to the public, Lapid tried to deny some of his capitulations, but Zoabi exposed his lies by publicizing a copy of the document signed between them. Meanwhile, Bennett pledged to regain the support of Nir Orbach, who had signaled his own imminent departure from the coalition. In short, the government seems shakier than ever.
This Sunday, meanwhile, Gideon Saar announced that he was withdrawing his plan to bring the Yehuda and Shomron Law to the Knesset for an additional vote. Realizing that the bill would fail to garner a majority once again, he understood that it would only be to his detriment to bring it up again.
Orbach Does Not Trust Bennett
The Likud has been intimating for a long time that they expect Nir Orbach of Yamina to be the next defector from the coalition. And Orbach himself repeatedly provided signs that this is indeed the case. Like Idit Silman and Amichai Chikli, Nir Orbach has had enough of the government’s disingenuousness. He resents being trapped in a left-wing government headed by Naftoli Bennett while his friends are abandoning him and even his family members have turned their backs on him. In fact, he recently married off a son, and the media reported that the groom begged his father to resign from the government before his wedding. His friends had told him point-blank that they were unwilling to attend the wedding of someone whose father had sold the country to its enemies. Thus, Nir Orbach has reached the end of his proverbial rope. Bennett, who was well aware of the volatile nature of their alliance, hurried to call him in for a meeting last Friday (which both participants described after the fact as a “good” conversation), and they agreed to continue meeting for further discussions. Would you like to know what was said in that meeting? It is no secret: Bennett pleaded with Orbach to wait for the government to be brought down by someone on the left, rather than rushing to be the cause of its demise. I will explain further why this would make a difference to him, but first let us focus on Nir Orbach.
During their first meeting, Orbach voiced the many frustrations that have been plaguing him for quite a while. “This is a left-wing government,” he complained to Bennett. “Yamina is violating its commitments to its voters, and I can no longer tolerate this situation.” Sure enough, Orbach is clearly buckling under the pressure. At the same time, it has come to light that a large part of his motivation for staying in the government has to do with his own personal finances. Orbach took out a large mortgage on a house that he purchased in Petach Tikvah, and he needs his salary from the Knesset in order to continue meeting his required payments. At the same time, he is tired of being part of a left-wing government and being bombarded with criticism from his colleagues on the right. He also seems to have sensed that this government has nearly reached the end of its existence, and he is hoping to abandon the ship before it sinks.
What I found most striking, though, is the following statement that appeared in the media’s reports: “The prime minister promised Orbach to include him on the party slate for the coming election as well, but Orbach does not trust him.” In other words, Bennett tried to convince Orbach to resign from the Knesset now, so that the next person on the Yamina party slate, who will ostensibly remain faithful to the party, can take his place. At the same time, Bennett promised not to cut Orbach out of the party completely, assuring him that he would be included on Yamina’s list for the next election, but Orbach did not trust him to follow through on his promise.
Let me ask you: Was Naftoli Bennett really foolish enough to believe that Nir Orbach would trust him? Does he actually think that there is any person in the world who will still believe him? After all, how can anyone take Bennett at his word? He hasn’t had a single political ally who hasn’t been burned by his false promises. He has lied all the way to the prime minister’s office, to the point that his word means nothing to anyone. That is why I can’t decide whether to laugh or cry over that extremely telling comment.
And then on Monday Orbach announced that he would be leaving the coalition, another nail in the government’s coffin, but for now at least, not the final one.
A Government with No Right to Exist
No one has the slightest doubt that even the government itself is anticipating its own downfall. And when it falls, it won’t be because of Idit Silman; it will be a direct result of its own internal fragmentation. Falsehood cannot stand on its own, even if it has a coalition with a majority, and this government was born in falsehood and sin, crafted with the aid of hefty payments made to Abbas and Zoabi in direct violation of the promises made on the eve of the election. There can be no justification for those crimes, and the government is bound to fall.
Meanwhile, it is limping along from one act of treachery to the next. The Meretz party betrayed its voters and its principles by pretending to be part of a left-wing government, while Gideon Saar did the same on his own end of the spectrum by pretending to believe that this is a government of the right. In the final analysis, this government is neither right nor left; it is nothing but a band of charlatans and frauds. The state of the Kosel agreement is an excellent example of the complete lack of truth within the government: When the Reform representatives met with Bennett, they were overjoyed when he announced his intention to move the deal forward. When religious Jews from America met with him, they were equally pleased, since he promised that it would remain frozen. It should be obvious that he was not telling the truth to everyone, or perhaps to anyone. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Lieberman announced that the cut in subsidies for day care for kollel families would be frozen for a year, on account of “pressure” from the members of Yamina, but everyone senses that Lieberman had some devious reason for this announcement. Neither he nor Bennett has anything that resembles a backbone.
But out of all the liars and frauds in this unholy alliance, it is the alternate prime minister, Yair Lapid, who is the worst of the bunch. Lapid has a long history of making promises and then ignoring them. In the Yesh Atid party platform, which might be legally binding, Lapid boasts of the party’s “ironclad principles from which we will never depart.” The platform includes a vow to establish a government of only 18 ministers, with no more than four deputy ministers and not even a single minister without portfolio! He also promised that the government would not give in to the pressure to award gifts or grants to various groups. And he has since been revealed as a liar of the lowest possible order. This week, the government has suffered a complete loss of public confidence—and understandably so.
A Meeting of the Mendacious
The meeting between Nir Orbach and Prime Minister Bennett was reminiscent of another meeting that took place not long ago, this one between Orbach and Finance Minister Lieberman. Orbach met with Lieberman in an effort to show that he was capable of accomplishing things for the right, such as having the government revoke its decision to deny subsidies for day care to families of kollel yungeleit. (This was a wicked and wholly anti-Semitic move on Lieberman’s part, which was intended to strike a blow at chareidim but ultimately led to negative fallout for thousands of kollel members in the dati leumi community as well.) After their meeting, the two released the following statement: “A short time ago, Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman and MK Nir Orbach, the chairman of the Yamina party, concluded a meeting that took place in the Ministry of Finance in a spirit of mutual cooperation. Minister Lieberman and MK Orbach agreed that every effort should be made to stabilize the coalition, and consequently they agreed to cancel the arrangement [i.e., the new regulations governing subsidized day care] for the year 2023 and to delay it until the year 2024. Both sides agreed that the differences between them are minor, and that it is necessary to integrate various populations into the work force while maintaining a community of Torah scholars. They agreed that the dialogue between them will continue together with the Minister of the Economy, Orna Barbivai, in the short term as well.”
My reaction to this statement is that both sides were pathetic! One of them (Lieberman) was willing to sacrifice his entire ideology for the sake of power; for many years, Lieberman was the arch enemy of the Arab community and even called for Arabs to be denied Israeli citizenship. Yet when it benefited him, he had no qualms about joining a coalition together with an Arab party and making enormous concessions to them. The other (Orbach) somehow remembered to look out for the Torah world only when he sensed that his own position in the government was threatened. When he realized that he needed to have some sort of achievement to show his constituents, he issued an ultimatum that forced Lieberman to back down from his decision to strip the kollel community of its subsidies for day care. In short, both men were as duplicitous and insincere as they could possibly be. In any event, I have no doubt about the ultimate outcome of this story: Lieberman’s day care decree will ultimately be abolished, and Nir Orbach will resign from the government.
Anti-Semitism in the Russian Press in Israel
Speaking of Avigdor Lieberman, his own party, Yisroel Beiteinu, recently protested the harsh tone adopted by the chareidi media against him. “The incitement on the part of chareidi activists continues exceeding the limits of legitimate criticism,” Lieberman’s allies wrote. “It is unbelievable that a newspaper can give a platform to such speech in the State of Israel. You should be ashamed.” They were referring to a particular statement that Moshe Gafni had made against Lieberman. However, Lieberman himself could rightly be dubbed the king of incitement. He himself has spoken out in the most venomous terms against Arabs, against the left, against police officials, and, of course, against chareidim. In fact, Lieberman recently asserted, “The main reason for the rise in the cost of living is the fact that 50 percent of the chareidi community does not participate in the workforce.” This is more than just slander; it is practically incitement to bloodshed. Just two weeks ago, Lieberman also made some despicable comments against kollel yungeleit, claiming that they come to kollel every day solely in order to drink coffee.
Allow me to reveal to you now that the comments against chareidim that appear in Russian-language newspapers in Israel are atrocious and bordering on anti-Semitism. A Russian-speaking friend recently provided me with a few choice samples of this invective. Most of these comments appear in response to Lieberman’s anti-chareidi diatribes; he lights the fire, and others fan the flames of hatred. Various commenters described the chareidim as a “cancerous growth” and Aryeh Deri as a “leech who will yet become prime minister,” and another writer asserted, “We can only pray that the satan will take them.” After Lieberman spoke out against kollel yungeleit in a party meeting, someone wrote in response to his comments, “We need to turn off the spigot for these idlers and force them to go out to work. If they don’t like it, let them leave the country. We don’t need these parasites!”
Yet after all these horrendous comments, Lieberman and his party still have the gall to complain about “incitement” on the part of others.
Since I mentioned Moshe Gafni, I must also inform you of the dramatic change within United Torah Judaism: Yaakov Litzman has left the party, and Tessler has returned to the Knesset. Bli neder, I will write more about this in the future.
Why Do They Care Who Brings Down the Government?
And now I will make good on my promise to explain why Bennett prefers to see the government brought down by the left.
The truth is that Lapid has the exact opposite preference: He wants to see the defectors who topple the government come from the right. The reason for this is simple. Bennett and Lapid, the two charlatans who established this government in the first place, foresaw at the time that it would not last long. When a government falls and the country goes to elections, there is a transitional period before the election during which the prime minister who was serving in the post remains in power.
Bennett and Lapid, however, have a rotation for the position of prime minister. This is why Lapid officially holds the title of alternate prime minister. This is a similar arrangement to the agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz in the previous government. But what will happen if the government falls before the time comes for Lapid to take over? According to the agreement signed by Bennett and Lapid at the government’s inception, this will depend on the reason that the government is toppled. If the fall is triggered by someone on the right, such as Silman or Orbach, then Lapid will automatically become prime minister until the next election. However, if a left-wing Knesset member, such as Zoabi or Ganaim, brings down the government, then Bennett will retain his position until the election.
Bennett and Lapid are both aware that the government is already on the road to its collapse. What concerns both of them right now is only the question of who will ultimately cause the government to fall. Lapid has been begging the rebels on the left to wait until someone on the right sounds the government’s death knell, so that he will be installed as prime minister. Meanwhile, Bennett has likewise been pushing for the Knesset members on the right, especially Nir Orbach, to give the left a chance to be at fault for the government’s demise, so that he will be able to remain prime minister until the election.
Such are the “problems” of the world’s connivers.
And there is much more to tell. I haven’t even written yet about the mass exodus of Bennett’s advisors from this office. This week, the prime minister lost his fourth advisor, and Matan Kahana’s spokesman likewise announced his resignation. Everyone is scrambling to get off this sinking ship…
The Knesset Speaker Loses His Temper
I have grown tired of reporting about the Knesset descending to new lows, but it seems that no matter how far it sinks, it can always descend further. Last week, Knesset speaker Mickey Levi lost his temper as usual and began screaming in rage, refusing to listen to anyone who attempted to reason with him. But let me provide some background to this story.
When the Knesset votes on various pieces of legislation, the advisors to the Knesset members tend to stand on the sides of the room and call out to the MKs to vote for or against the bills, as if the members of the Knesset were simply a mindless herd that requires constant direction. It is never clear who is shouting instructions to whom, but this is a longstanding practice in the Israeli parliament.
During a recent vote, when the Knesset secretary called the name of MK Ofir Sofer (Religious Zionism), one of his party’s aides shouted out to him, “In favor!” The Knesset speaker thought that the other man was answering instead of Sofer himself, which would be a serious infraction; however, that was not the case. The aide was simply reminding Sofer to vote in favor of the bill. But Mickey Levi had heard enough. He ordered the Knesset secretary to halt the vote, and then he turned to the aide, Yossi Cohen. “Leave the room, please,” Levi ordered him. “You are not a member of the Knesset, and you may not vote yes instead of a member of the Knesset. Please leave.”
Yoav Kish of the Likud party, who hadn’t yet realized that Levi had misinterpreted the situation, demanded, “Why are you throwing him out? Doesn’t your own party do this?”
Levi repeated his order for Yossi Cohen to leave. “MK Sofer,” he said, “please tell us how you vote.”
“In favor,” Sofer replied.
Meanwhile, Dudu Amsalem challenged Levi, “What is wrong? Don’t your aides shout instructions as well?”
“All the party managers do that,” Yoav Kish added.
“Aren’t you ashamed of yourself?” Amsalem demanded.
Mickey Levi replied, “MK Amsalem, I am calling you to order for the first time.”
“No problem,” Amsalem replied. “I know. You have another month left to throw me out of the room, and then we will begin ejecting you.”
“I am calling you to order for the second time,” Levi informed him sternly. “Calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down,” Amsalem countered.
“Please leave the room,” Levi responded. “This cannot be tolerated any longer.”
“Good for you,” Amsalem replied. “You can count your final opportunities to do this.”
“Please get out,” Mickey Levi repeated.
Levi refused to accept the explanations that had been offered to him for Yossi Cohen’s actions, and even after he had ejected Amsalem from the room and had begun to calm down, he still did not seem to grasp what had happened—or perhaps he had no interest in grasping it.
“Sit, sit, sit,” Levi ordered everyone in the room. “He [Cohen] will not be permitted to vote in favor of any bill in place of a member of the Knesset. Please, let us continue.”
MK Katy Sheetrit noticed at that moment that someone was shouting “against” to a member of the coalition, instructing them to vote against the bill under discussion. “Mickey, they are doing the same thing!” she called out. “This isn’t right; they are also doing it.”
Levi was unmoved. “He [Cohen] said ‘in favor’ in place of a Knesset member,” he repeated woodenly. “He is not a member of the Knesset. Now let’s move on.”
Many members of the Knesset were shocked; some of them began roaring with laughter. “They are continuing to do it,” Sheetrit pointed out, and Levi called her to order.
“What tyranny!” Sheetrit exclaimed.
Spoiled Ice Cream, Rotten Hechsher
Last week, the Ministry of Health announced that in response to information about ice cream products that had been marketed in Israel without the proper permits, the ministry’s food safety division had collaborated with the Ministry of Agriculture to deal with the phenomenon. To make a long story short, government inspectors had caught a large shipment of ice cream products being smuggled into Israel and had ordered the vendor to take the products back. It bears noting that when a previous shipment of ice cream was intercepted, the merchandise had been destroyed, not merely returned to its sender. The Ministry of Health added that the incident is still under investigation. As far as they are concerned, there was a twofold offense here: The vendor did not have the requisite permits to import the products, and the ice cream was stored under conditions that did not properly prevent the development of bacteria.
Personally, I feel that there is a third problem that they overlooked: the halachic concern of products being marketed with false kashrus certification. The news report on the ice cream interception included pictures of the products, which bore the logos of prominent kashrus organizations. But it seems that neither the Ministry of Health nor the Ministry of Agriculture is particularly concerned about that aspect of the crime.
For religious consumers, on the other hand, the forged hechsheirim are a matter of great concern—and the fact that the ministries are not disturbed by this is equally problematic. A forgery is a forgery, regardless of what is forged, and a criminal who produces a counterfeit hechsher should be punished accordingly. In fact, this is much worse than any other type of forgery; it is an act of causing other Jews to unwittingly consume treife food, and Chazal tell us that causing a person to sin is an even worse offense than taking his life. For some people, the very thought of eating non-kosher food is as abhorrent as the notion of plunging a sword into their flesh. One must wonder, then, why this aspect of the crime went unmentioned. Indeed, where is the Chief Rabbinate? Why isn’t the state bringing the perpetrators to justice?
In truth, it is hard to understand why the authorities were so forgiving of the lack of proper sanitary standards—after all, they allowed the goods to be returned to the vendor rather than insisting on having the products destroyed—but their complete disregard for the forgery of the hechsher seems to be an invitation for further such offenses in the future.
We Do Not Question a Father
Years ago, I learned about the meaning of song in the bais medrash of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, who taught us musical compositions to which the words of various pesukim or maamarei Chazal were set. At special events, we would be taught new niggunim along with the associated chiddushei Torah. For instance, the posuk states in Sefer Tehillim (42:2), “As a hart yearns on streams of water, so does my soul yearn for You, G-d.” Rav Moshe Shmuel pointed out that it would have seemed more logical for the posuk to use the phrase “al afikei mayim,” which would have implied that the animal longs for water. What does it mean for an animal to yearn on water?
Rav Moshe Shmuel explained that our passion for Torah learning should be like that of an animal when its desire for water is greatest—at the moment when it is already bent over a stream of water and prepared to drink. At that time, there is nothing that can prevent the animal from satisfying its desire. Likewise, we should be so intent on our love for the Torah that nothing can distract us from it.
After teaching us this chiddush, Rav Moshe Shmuel proceeded to teach us a beautiful, stirring tune set to the words of the same posuk. “The heichal [sanctuary] of song is more elevated than all other heichalos,” he once remarked.
There is a singer in Israel named Motti Weiss. Motti is a young man with enormous talent, who draws the lyrics of his songs from some of the most stirring words of Tanach and Chazal and sets them to tunes that are both majestic and deeply stirring. One can sense the neshomah beating within the singer and his music alike, and his songs have become incredibly popular.
I once complimented Motti on his music, and he thanked me gracefully and asked me to listen to his new song, which is titled “Al Abba Lo Shoalim Sheailot” (“We Do Not Question a Father”). The song is based on the story of a Holocaust survivor whose grandson turned to him at the Pesach Seder and said, “Zaide, I have a fifth question: How are you able to smile after living through such terrible darkness?” The grandfather explained that he had once attended a tish led by Rav Yissochor Dov of Belz before the war, and the rebbe’s son, Rav Aharon of Belz, was present. During the tish, the rebbe tried engaging in various perplexing behaviors in order to induce his son to question him, but the child remained silent. Finally, the rebbe said to him, “My son, don’t you have any questions?” And the future rebbe looked up at his father and replied, “I do, but we do not question a father.”
In the song, those words are repeated over and over. This song has indeed become immensely popular here in Israel, and the reason is very clear: The concept that one should not question a father—that is, our Father in Heaven—is an extremely important and fundamental principle of our lives.
The Third Floor is Better Than the Fourth
I will conclude this week’s column with two beautiful insights.
First, Chazal tell us that Hashem Himself declares, “I created the yeitzer hora, and I created the Torah as its antidote.” The renowned Klausenberger Rebbe, the Shefa Chaim of Sanz-Klausenberg, once remarked, “I am always reiterating that it is impossible to fix the world through shouts and protests, and certainly not through curses and invective. The only way to improve the world is for people who fear Hashem to gather in the bais medrash, to engage in Torah learning and to conduct themselves with sanctity. This inspiration will deeply affect all of their hearts and will weaken the forces of tumah in the world.”
Someone once told Rav Chaim Kanievsky that he needed to choose between two apartments, one on the third floor of a building and the other on the fourth floor. On the one hand, he felt that the third-floor apartment might be better for him, since it was less than twenty amos above street level and would therefore be a fitting place to fulfill the mitzvah of lighting Chanukah candles. On the other hand, he suggested, perhaps the fourth-floor apartment would be preferable, since he would be able to perform the mitzvah of building a maakeh [protective barrier] around the roof. To his surprise, Rav Chaim rejected both lines of reasoning and replied, “The third-floor apartment is better, because it will entail less bittul Torah.”
“But the building has an elevator,” the questioner pointed out.
“It will make a difference on Shabbos,” Rav Chaim replied. Then he added, “Besides, even in an elevator, the ride to the third floor is shorter….”