Chessed Within the Calamities
It has been two weeks now since you and I “met” on the pages of this newspaper, and if a single week creates copious quantities of news in Israel, you can imagine the volume of newsworthy events in a span of two weeks. I will try to recap all of the most important stories, but let me begin with a few thoughts about the string of tragedies that occurred during bein hazemanim.
It has been made clear to us that everything that happens in this world is orchestrated by Divine hashgocha. Hashem’s guiding Hand is clearly visible in all of these tragic events. When Rabbi Pinchos Naftoli Deutsch was struck by a bus within a building on Rechov Yirmiyohu, this was a message—not to him, but to all of us. Hashem was “speaking” to us from Shomayim, and we need to recognize that when He makes a decree, the events unfold exactly as He ordains. When a family from Ofakim and a couple from Rechasim found their way to Rav Shefa Mall in Yerushalayim to be involved in an unspeakable bus crash, it was yet another message for all of us!
Every Jew is aware that there is something called the midas hadin, and when it is in force, we are all in danger. Every day, we recite the words, “V’hu rachum yechapeir avon v’lo yashchis—And He is merciful; He will atone for sin and will not destroy.” The implication is clear: If Hashem were not merciful and did not grant us atonement for our sins, then He would cause destruction. When Hashem’s attribute of mercy is in force, our lives can be calm and placid, but if that midah is suspended even for a moment, whatever the reason may be, then He does inflict destruction—albeit still with mercy. And when the destroyer is unleashed, it does not distinguish between the good and the evil. It has been very clear to us when the midas hadin has been brought to bear on us; we must now do everything we can to replace it with the midas harachamim.
Rav Gershon Edelstein, pointed out that these messages were meant for all of us. To quote, “These things are directed not only at the family but at every single person…. Therefore, our obligation as a community is to awaken ourselves, to engage in teshuvah and to rectify what needs to be fixed!”
Rav Ovadiah Yosef once commented, based on a posuk in Novi, that when people do not learn the appropriate lessons from the passing of a tzaddik, it is as if his death was in vain. The chareidi community has a very different and unique approach to misfortune. The family of Natan Fitoussi, a soldier who was tragically killed by friendly fire when returning from davening, commented, “We have no grievances at all against our son’s friend, who shot him by mistake. On the contrary, we pity him.” Their nobility of spirit is truly mind-boggling.
During these dark days, we must still take note of the unmistakable signs of Heavenly chessed that shone through the tragedies themselves. The accident at Rav Shefa Mall could easily have claimed dozens of lives; it was a miracle that the bus stopped moving when it did. And the terrorist in Yerushalayim that motzoei Shabbos could just as well have killed dozens of passengers on the bus; his violent spree was stopped only because his gun jammed before he could continue shooting.
The Bochurim Arrive
It is hard to move on to a different topic, since the issue at the forefront of my own mind right now is the month of Elul. Who really cares about the primaries in the Meretz party or the alliance between Smotrich and Ben-Gvir when Elul is in the air?
This past motzoei Shabbos, the Sephardic community began reciting Selichos. In recent years, some Ashkenazim have begun joining the Sephardim for their Selichos and relishing every piyut and melody. Personally, I grew up with those Selichos, since I was part of the minyan of ten men who participated in the Selichos in the Beer Yaakov seminary. Every year, the women’s section was packed with hundreds of the seminary’s female students, while an exact minyan occupied the men’s section. The Selichos were led by Rav Yosef Azran, the late rov of Rishon Letzion.
The beginning of this week brought us all the standard signs of Elul: We began reciting the kapitl of L’Dovid Hashem Ori after davening, and we began sounding the shofar after Shacharis every morning. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of bochurim and yungeleit have returned to their yeshivos and kollelim throughout the country. Every year, I marvel at the sight of these young men crowding together at bus stops, pulling bulging suitcases with one hand while clutching their tefillin in the other, as they prepare to begin another zman. To us, the truth is evident: These bochurim are truly sustaining the world, and all the miracles from which we benefit can be credited to them.
For the benefit of my readers in America, I must make special mention of the American bochurim who are returning to their yeshivos here in Eretz Yisroel. Last Shabbos, hundreds of bochurim had already arrived in the country, but since the yeshivos hadn’t yet officially begun the new zman, they filled the neighborhood shuls on Shabbos. In my neighborhood of Givat Shaul, we had the privilege of being joined for davening on Shabbos by dozens of recently arrived bochurim who would be learning in Yeshivas Ner Moshe. I found it inspiring to watch these young tzaddikim, who were about to enter the bais medrash from which they would emerge only in time for Kiddush Levanah on motzoei Yom Kippur.
But as much as I relish discussing these matters, it is time to move on to other topics.
Elul Comes in Av
For many of us, Elul began very early this year. Our community suffered repeated blows, as one tragedy followed another. The month of Av was very different this year, and this Elul will surely be a very different Elul as well.
I cannot stop thinking about Mordechai Schlesinger, the yeshiva bochur who drowned in the Kinneret. I read everything that was written about him, I learned much more about him from his friends in the Wolfson yeshiva, and I heard the hespeidim delivered by his rebbi, Rav Doniel Wolfson, and by his illustrious father. The bochur seemed to have been poised for a life of greatness. The mourning notice published by the family declared, “Woe is to us, for we have sinned!”
I also find myself repeatedly gazing at a picture of Tzvi Mordechai Pinter that was taken just three weeks ago at Camp Simcha in Glen Spry, New York. Tzvi Mordechai, who was a talmid in the Lakewood Cheder, is no longer with us. He was an eleven-year-old child whose counselor, Avi Schlitzky of Flatbush (a talmid in Yeshivas Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim), attested that he was a “choshuv” and “pure” child. He was widely admired in the camp, and he seemed to have a bright future in store for him. Tragically, he passed away two weeks ago. When I think about his parents’ grief, I cannot help but be moved to tears.
And then there is Yonasan Deutsch, the toddler whose parents live in Telz Stone; his father is a well-known and highly admired member of the local council on behalf of Degel HaTorah. The family rented a vacation cottage in Tzefas for a summer getaway, and young Yonasan tragically drowned in the swimming pool there. He was taken to Ziv Hospital in Tzefas, where his death was pronounced, in another horrific tragedy.
And I haven’t even touched on the dreadful tragedy at Shamgar. I shudder to think about the Glustein family, about the father and children who must go on without their wife and mother. I think about the bereaved husband’s Kaddish for his wife, and I can’t help but remember the stories he told about her unfathomable greatness. And then there are the two deceased girls, Sara Chaya and Chani, and the young children who tore keriah at the funeral. And my heart also goes out to the other victim of the accident, Batsheva bas Chaya Sara (Paley), who has had her legs amputated while Klal Yisroel davens fervently for her recovery. She, too, is suffering because of our sins.
Last Monday, Yerushalayim was plunged into mourning once again by the death of Rav Shalom Cohen, one of the last remnants of a generation of giants from Yeshivas Porat Yosef. His petirah left all of us reeling with pain, sorrow, and fear of what is to come. We know that the Torah and talmidei chochomim are the source of protection for Klal Yisroel, and it is frightening to be bereft of another of our gedolei Torah. We can do nothing but plead with Hashem for our salvation.
Autopsy Blocked by the Supreme Court
Another tragic incident this summer was the death of a child named Uriel Oberlander, who died under horrific circumstances. I have the utmost sympathy for his parents and grandparents. It is a tragedy that would be unbearable for any person. And in the aftermath of his death, the entire community has been swept into the battle to prevent an autopsy. This struggle encapsulates the fundamental difference in outlook between people whose worldviews are shaped by international law and those who live with emunah in Hashem. The police and prosecution are determined to defile a body before it is buried in order to procure evidence that will secure a conviction of the murder suspect. That conviction, as far as they are concerned, is the ultimate goal; it takes precedence over any other consideration, including the kovod of the deceased. In the mindset of a religious Jew, on the other hand, nothing could be further from the truth. What they consider justice is actually evil in our book, and vice versa. In this case, the Magistrate’s Court ordered an autopsy, and the order was appealed in the Supreme Court. The court accepted the appeal and ruled that the body should be released to the family for burial immediately.
I spoke with a leading legal expert in order to understand what led the Supreme Court to take the surprising step of siding with the religious family. He explained that it was mainly due to Judge David Mintz, the head of the panel of judges who heard the appeal, who is a sensitive judge who wears a yarmulke and is familiar with halacha. This supported my longstanding contention that when there is a clash between halacha and secular law, it can always be beneficial for the leading judge to be a man with a yarmulke. If the court always took halachic considerations into account, they would never order an autopsy. Halacha should always trump the need for a conviction, especially when the grieving family is begging to be allowed to bury their loved one.
“Also, when there are indications and evidence of the cause of death, the court will often accept the family’s request,” my source added. “This time, the evidence emerged from the medical records of the treatment in Shaare Zedek before the child’s death was pronounced. When the cause of death can be established, the court will not allow an autopsy to take place. A policewoman had also documented the signs of strangulation on the child at the scene of the crime. The child’s father also addressed the court, pleading to be allowed to bury his son and to sit shiva, and that consideration also carried weight. For all those reasons, Justice Mintz decided to accept the family’s appeal.”
I asked my source for his opinion of the ruling of the judge in the lower court, which I considered flagrantly disrespectful. Without going into too many details, I will quote his response: “She wasn’t being disrespectful of the family. She agreed to the request from the police because there was a certain amount of uncertainty as to the cause of death. The police wanted to have enough evidence to secure a definite conviction. The judge based her ruling on a document that wasn’t in the family’s possession; the forensic examiner claimed that he could not establish the cause of death with certainty without conducting an autopsy, and she therefore accepted the request from the police.”
We hope that there will never be another such incident, but if a similar case ever comes before the courts, one can hope that the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case will serve as a beneficial precedent.
Delight in the Eyes of Children with Special Needs
There was a good deal of sorrow during this bein hazemanim, but there was also much chessed. I am always astounded by the camp programs run by various organizations for children with illnesses or special needs. This summer, I visited the camp run by Ezer Mizion, which was an awe-inspiring experience. There were hundreds of boys and hundreds of girls in separate camps, and every child had an individual counselor. The kindness showered upon these children was inestimable. It was deeply moving to behold the joy and satisfaction in the children’s eyes and to listen to their shouts of delight. I also marveled at the logistics involved in this operation; the men and women of Ezer Mizion somehow manage to deal with mountains of work and run a flawless operation. With superhuman effort, they managed to provide a week of pure delight for thousands of children who were given lives with extraordinary challenges, while making it possible for the relieved parents to take a break from the frenetic lives they lead while caring for their children. A few days without the burden of providing for these children’s special needs can make a world of difference in their lives.
MK Uri Maklev, who makes a point of visiting one of the camp programs every summer, commented that his purpose in doing so is to regain focus and a sense of proportion. When I visited the camp, I came across Eyal Kashi, the head of the security department at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital. The usually impassive Kashi is a hardened veteran of years as a security guard, but he, too, was moved to tears by the sights he witnessed there. There is an inordinate amount of pain in the world, but there is also prodigious chessed.
At the entrance to the girls’ campus, I found Rivi Kossover, the director of the program, awaiting the arrival of Rebbetzin Kolodetzky, who was moved by the opportunity to meet and dispense brachos to the hundreds of girls and counselors in the camp.
After peeking into a dining room filled with hundreds of campers and at least as many counselors (since every child was assigned one or two personal staff members), I observed a play taking place in a large tent, I took in a few signs with cheerful slogans, and I saw the baking room, the game room, the music room, and more. There was even a room for changing diapers, which led me to pause and think about the parents who undertake that responsibility every day throughout the year. This room contained two pristine beds and was staffed by two women who are undoubtedly outstanding tzidkaniyus.
And this was only one camp program in one city; when you consider the volume of such programs that exist throughout the country, the scope of this operation is astonishing. About 6000 boys and girls, of various ages and with various types of disabilities, are served by these programs, all of them children with pure, sweet souls who are immersed in a sea of love and joy for one precious week during the summer.
Rabbi Chananya Chollak, director of Ezer Mizion, might never have dreamed that his organization would grow to such mammoth dimensions. When I praised the camp program, Rabbi Chollak said simply, “We support patients, people with special needs, and their families throughout the year, but the camp programs are the highlight of the year. And when we hear the reactions to these programs every summer, we become even more cognizant of our impact on the parents and their children throughout the year.”
New Attempts at Terror Every Day
Unfortunately, things have not been quiet on the security front. There have been constant attempted terror attacks, including Arab gunmen firing on cars traveling on the roads in Yehuda and Shomron; every day brings more overt miracles. Last Friday, there was a violent clash between Arabs and Jews at the kever of Shmuel Hanovi, and a group of Arabs nearly lynched a Jew for the “crime” of holding an Israeli flag (while they themselves were brandishing Palestinian flags). This time, for a change, the police decided to press charges against the perpetrators of the lynch—simply because it was too heavily publicized. Footage of the assault, however, shows Israeli soldiers watching the violence and doing absolutely nothing to protect the victim.
Meanwhile, an attempted stabbing attack was thwarted at a military checkpoint near Jenin. This, too, was a miracle; the would-be stabber was caught before carrying out his attack, thanks to intelligence that was gathered in advance about his plans. On Friday night, terrorists shot at an IDF vehicle; in another miraculous turn of events, there were no casualties. In yet another incident, an Arab youth was arrested on his way to carry out a terror attack. At that point, he was already a ticking time bomb; there is no doubt that his capture was likewise due to intelligence warnings.
Those warnings, of course, came from Palestinians recruited by the Shabak as informants. The intelligence service uses a variety of incentives to recruit informants: Some of them collaborate with Israel for monetary gain, while others receive certain favors. For instance, a young Arab might agree to provide information in exchange for certain benefits for a father who is serving time in an Israeli prison. On some occasions, there are even some Palestinians who agree to share information due to their personal abhorrence for the murder of Jews; this is rare, but it does happen.
One More Millimeter Would Have Spelled Tragedy
Of course, I must not neglect reporting on the aftermath of the terror attack that occurred on the road leading away from the Kosel. One of the victims of that attack was Boruch Gluck, a 20-year-old Satmar chossid from New York, who was listed in moderate condition after the shooting. Gluck was transferred to Hadassah Har Hatzorfim for medical treatment and was later moved to Hadassah Ein Kerem. A chosson who set out to daven at kivrei tzaddikim before his wedding, Gluck was injured in the neck and hand. Of course, it wouldn’t have taken much for his wounds to be much more severe, chas v’sholom. The good news now is that he has been released from the hospital.
Boruch Gluck received treatment in both branches of Hadassah from leading experts in trauma medicine and emergency medicine. The personnel who cared for him included general surgeons, operating room staff, plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons, occupational therapists, physical therapists, orthopedists, anesthesiologists, intensive care specialists, an angiography team, EEG technicians, a hand surgeon, and a social worker who served his family at all times. It is mind-boggling to contemplate the number of practitioners in such a wide variety of fields who were needed in order to help him return to health—at least enough to fly back to America and continue his recovery there.
A farewell party of sorts was held for him in the hospital, and his mother praised the hospital staff effusively. “The care in Hadassah was extraordinary,” she said, “and I am very grateful to the entire medical staff. The ambulance will be taking us to the airport, where we will meet Boruch’s father, who was also injured. The two of them will be admitted together to a hospital in New York where they will continue their recoveries.” Gluck’s mother and his eighteen-year-old sister, who was with him during the attack and was not injured, stayed at his bedside constantly throughout the past two weeks. His mother also noted that the family still must prepare for Boruch’s wedding, which is scheduled to take place in less than two months.
The director of the trauma unit at Hadassah Ein Kerem, Dr. Miklosh Bala, summed up the patient’s treatment as follows: “Boruch’s neck injury was a combination of a vascular injury and damage to the bone, joints, and nerves. In addition, he suffered damage to his hand, which might have long-term effects. If the bullet had hit him in the neck just one millimeter further to the right or left, the story would have had a very different ending. He was treated by a large team at Hadassah, who cared for him with dedication and with great success, and he has been discharged stronger and in more stable condition to receive continued medical care at home.”
Let me take this opportunity to wish Boruch mazel tov on his marriage … and welcome home.
Deadline for Party Lists Looms
And now it is time for a few words about the upcoming election.
Today, the Knesset building is completely closed; even the employees and the members of the Knesset are not allowed to enter the facility. The only person who managed to secure permission to enter the Knesset, both for himself and for his staff, was the hardworking MK Uri Maklev.
Three weeks ago, the Knesset convened during its recess to deal with a few trivial issues and to allow a few insignificant MKs to be sworn in. Anyone who visited the third floor at that time, which typically houses the party offices but is currently hosting the Central Elections Committee (headed by Justice Yitzchok Amit of the Supreme Court), would have been bound to notice the large sign announcing that only 78 days remained until the election. That is a somewhat chilling number, and the days are continuing to tick by. As of this Monday, we were down to 64 days. Time is flying, and there is much work to do.
Perhaps there is a mussar haskel to be derived from this: Our days are passing very rapidly. Someone recently wrote to me wryly, “Every day of our lives is like a paper cup. It is very precious, and it is gone after its first use!” In terms of the election, we are heading inexorably toward a critical juncture. Before we have a chance to turn around, Israel will be going to the polls. And just as a person who does not prepare on erev Shabbos will have nothing to eat on Shabbos, we must work hard to prepare for the election … or we will be left empty-handed after it is over. The chareidi parties must toil to bring in more votes from the other side of the fence. It will be difficult, but it is not impossible. The chareidim have plenty to offer the Israeli public, even those who would prefer to vote for the parties in the left-wing bloc. And if the chareidim manage to woo those voters, the accomplishment will be twofold: one vote deducted from the opposing bloc’s count, and one vote added to the chareidim’s side.
The problem is that things are still far from conclusive within United Torah Judaism itself. There is still much debate as to whether Degel HaTorah and Agudas Yisroel will be running together or on separate slates. Everyone is waiting anxiously for their decision, which will not be known with certainty until September 15, the deadline for submitting party lists. Unfortunately, I expect the remaining weeks until that date to be marred by tension.
Meretz Rejects Its Health Minister
And there is more news on the political front. I have already reported to you about the primaries in the Labor party, which resulted in the ouster of two men who are currently holding ministerial positions: Nachman Shai and Omer Bar-Lev. Since that time, Meretz held its own primaries, which marked the return of Zehava Galon as the leader of the party. Galon defeated MK Yair Golan, who could easily be the subject of an entire article in his own right. Golan is a former general who nearly became the chief of staff of the IDF; his political career has exposed him as a radical leftist who regularly spouts offensive comments. The results of the primaries left him at the end of the party list, making it far from certain that he will be part of the next Knesset at all. The Meretz primaries also signaled the rejection of Nitzan Horowitz, the former chairman of Meretz who is currently serving as Minister of Health. It seems that the Meretz voters themselves understood that he is nothing but a burden and a resounding failure.
At this point, both Meretz and Labor are hovering somewhere around the electoral threshold, and Galon has been begging the Labor party to merge with Meretz in order to ensure their political survival. Merav Michaeli, who chairs the Labor party, has been haughtily ignoring her calls for unity.
In other news, primaries were also held within the Likud party, as I reported previously. You may recall that the Netanyahu loyalists were the winners of the primaries, while his critics dropped to much lower places on the party slate. Meanwhile, the polls are continuing to predict that this election will lead to yet another deadlock. And once again, the media is continuing to promulgate a lie by framing this campaign as a close competition between the right and the left; they have disingenuously included both Yisrael Beiteinu and the Arab parties within the left-wing bloc. The real truth is that if the Israeli public were polled without the Arabs, the right-wing bloc would be shown receiving far greater support. The equivalence between the right and the left is nothing but a myth. Nevertheless, in the current political reality, it is not clear if the right-wing bloc will actually reach the crucial threshold of 61 mandates.
Biden Has No Time for Lapid
There is much more to discuss, but I am running out of space, so I will keep it short. For one thing, the school year in Israel is scheduled to begin this week, on September 1, but the teachers are planning a strike due to their frustration over their stalled salary negotiations with the Treasury. Prime Minister Lapid tried to intervene on this issue, but Finance Minister Lieberman threatened to resign if Lapid makes a single move on the subject. This certainly placed Lapid in a bind: He has no desire to see the finance minister quit on his watch, but he also knows that the voters will judge him for his handling of this volatile issue. In another slap in the face to Lapid, the Finance Ministry petitioned the courts to issue an injunction against the teachers’ strike and to require the teachers to begin the school year on time; this is another move that is opposed by Lapid.
Another crisis is brewing in the country’s hospitals, where many medical residents resigned from their positions after the government failed to deliver on the promises made to them last year by the Minister of Health. (This was only to be expected from a failed minister.) The hospitals lost about 200 residents in this wave of resignations, which makes it a failure on a national level. One can only imagine the uproar that would have erupted in the media if this had happened while Netanyahu was prime minister.
Then there was the snub from President Biden, who says he has no time to speak with Lapid, even though the latter has been begging for him to schedule a telephone call. The White House responded to his request with the laconic excuse that Biden is on vacation – which ended last week. To make matters even worse, Biden held a press conference at the White House itself on the same day that his staff claimed that he was away and couldn’t be bothered. Remember how Lapid mocked Netanyahu when Biden didn’t congratulate him immediately after his reelection? It seems that Lapid himself is now experiencing more than a taste of the same humiliation.
In fact, Lapid has been asking for more than just a phone call: He wants to schedule a meeting with Biden at the UN General Assembly session. He knows that the US president will be there, and he is prepared to get down on his knees to secure a meeting. For the time being, however, Washington has not responded to his requests, which doesn’t say much for the prime minister of Israel.
Lapid Blames Netanyahu for the Nuclear Pact
Of course, Lapid is under pressure because of the steadily developing nuclear agreement with Iran, which is viewed by broad consensus as the worst possible agreement for Israel. Again, one can only imagine the furor that would have resulted if Netanyahu had been prime minister now and the world had been ignoring him (which, to be fair, would not have happened). Last week, several European states publicly rejected Israel’s position on the pact, which came as a blow to Israel and to Lapid in particular.
Lapid simply has no mazel. According to his advisors, Lapid spoke with several European heads of state and urged them to reject the deal. Less than two days later, the agreement took several giant strides forward, while almost all the other countries of the world took positions opposing Israel’s stance. Yair Lapid himself is the greatest evidence of the fact that silence is always the best policy…. Last week, as well, he was tripped up by his own foolishness, when he announced at the beginning of a cabinet meeting, “I spoke with the mayor of Yerushalayim this morning, and he is continuing to prepare the city for holiday events. Yerushalayim is bustling and filled with tourists, and we will continue to keep it that way.” His reference to holiday events left many people scratching their heads. What holiday is taking place now? Perhaps Lapid believed that bein hazemanim is a holiday, or perhaps he was referring to Elul…. In any event, if this man weren’t the prime minister of Israel, everyone would be laughing at him.
And in yet another display of his lack of sense, Lapid decided to blame Netanyahu for America’s hardened stance against Israel. According to Lapid, ever since Netanyahu antagonized then-President Obama by addressing the American Congress about Iran and the deal, the United States has become less friendly to Israel. In his warped logic, this means that Netanyahu is responsible for the current nuclear agreement with Iran. It is amazing how this man is capable of distorting reality.
The Investment Broker Who Spoke About Moshiach
Rav Aryeh Klein, the rov of a kehillah in Brachfeld and the head of Kollel Mishnas Eliezer, recently related the following: “A certain man had an assortment of investments. One day, he hurried to his investment house and asked for all of his investments to be liquidated immediately. The staff assured him that he would receive all his money, but they asked him to tell him the reason for his decision. Had he heard about some sort of development that was expected to take place? He assured them that he had heard nothing of the sort, and he returned home. A week later, the investment firm went bankrupt, and all the other investors lost their money.
“The man’s friends were aware that he had retrieved his own money before the collapse, and they were somewhat perturbed. ‘Why didn’t you tell us that something was going to happen, if you knew about it in advance?’ they demanded.
“He replied, ‘The truth is that I didn’t really know anything about it, but I happened to meet the director of the firm somewhere, and we had a conversation about various things. At the end of our discussion, he remarked that we are all waiting for Moshiach to come and free us from our troubles. I realized that if he was talking about Moshiach, something bad was in store!
“There is a question that we must all ask ourselves,” the rosh kollel concluded. “Are we waiting for Moshiach because we want him to redeem us, or do we just want him to solve a few problems for us?”