Thursday, Dec 1, 2022

My Take On The News

A Time for Rejoicing

The holiday of Sukkos, according to the Sefer Hachinuch, is a time of great joy for the Jewish people. Sukkos and Simchas Torah are a very special time of year here in Eretz Yisroel. On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, people enjoy day trips, visit Yerushalayim, and attend shiurim. Every neighborhood has its own list of shiurim taking place in local shuls, which enhances the enjoyment of the Yom Tov. It is always an extraordinary pleasure to attend shiurim delivered by such prominent figures as Rav Dovid Cohen, Rav Asher Weiss, Rav Noam Alon, Rav Bunim Schreiber, and Rav Aryeh Shapiro, along with many other rabbonim of renown. This is what adds a taste of Olam Haba to the Yom Tov of Sukkos.

In addition to the shiurim, the shuls of Yerushalayim are filled throughout the holiday with thousands of people sitting and learning with great intensity. Of course, the botei medrash themselves aren’t the only venues for learning; there are many who prefer to learn in the sukkos built adjacent to every shul instead. My own local shul, the Pressburg shul, has become a magnificent facility in recent years (thanks to the children of Rav Avrohom Yosef Shapiro, the son-in-law of the Cheshev Sofer, who helped procure the requisite funding) and has been a bustling hub of Torah learning. There are also a few kollelim, daf yomi programs, and a Sephardic yeshiva occupying the building. My regular chaburah with Rav Uri Zohar — which included Rav Avrohom Zaivald, Rav Nosson Cheifetz, and Rav Aharon Lev — also moved there in recent years. Our group is now continuing to learn in Pressburg in Rav Uri’s memory.

Chazal tell us that even a sefer Torah needs mazel. One might say that at the very least, a sefer Torah can benefit from the help of a yungerman named Yisroel Narkis (originally Sankewitz). Rabbi Narkis is the son-in-law of the gaavad of Pressburg, Rav Avrohom Shmuel Binyomin Schreiber, and is responsible for transforming the shul into a massive complex of Torah learning, tefillah, and halacha. If any of you will be spending Sukkos in Israel, I invite you to visit the Pressburg shul at the entrance to Givat Shaul. I have no doubt that you will enjoy the experience.

Every year, I also delight in walking along the streets and looking at the array of sukkos occupying the porches and gardens adjacent to every apartment. There is hardly a single building where a sukkah cannot be spotted, not only in Yerushalayim itself but in many of Israel’s secular cities as well. On Sukkos, the pure essence of the Jewish people is on display. The Israeli people’s commitment to the Torah and its mitzvos is revealed, making it clear that the warped image of Israeli society presented by the media is untrue. This is not a country struggling to detach itself from its religious heritage; on the contrary, it is home to people who revere their traditions.

The Esrog Is Hefker but the Stem Is Owned

We have just reached the end of a shemittah year, and as a result, the purchase of esrogim this year will be a very different experience. The fruits of the shemittah year are halachically ownerless and free for the taking, but to ensure that the owners of the fields gain something from their hard work, many esrogim are sold under an arrangement known as otzar beis din. The otzar beis din is paid by the buyers for its expenses, and the owner of the field is thereby able to collect some revenue without violating the halachos of shemittah.

This week, I heard a story about a yungerman who decided he could outsmart the otzar beis din system. “Hefker is hefker,” he declared with conviction. “Of course, I am prepared to pay for the beis din’s expenses, but how much money could they possibly have spent on a single esrog? A dollar? Two dollars? Then that is all I will pay!”

The sellers were not interested in engaging the fellow in debate, and they referred him instead to one of the dayanim involved in the system. The yungerman laid out his arguments for the dayan’s benefit and concluded triumphantly, “Tell me exactly how much the beis din spent on one esrog, and I am not willing to pay a single cent more.” The magnificent esrog he had chosen, of course, would have fetched a handsome price of at least $200 in an ordinary year, but he was confident that he could avoid paying even the reduced price specified by the otzar beis din.

“You are right,” the dayan said to him. “You are entitled to pay only one dollar to cover the beis din’s expenses. However, you should be aware that although the owner of the field renounced his claim to the esrogim themselves, he did not declare the trees hefker. Therefore, the oketz — the stem — that is attached to every esrog remains the property of the field’s owner, and I will have to ask you to return it to him….”

Naturally, the yungerman agreed to pay the full asking price for the esrog.

Should a Left-Handed Person Reverse His Arba Minim?

At this point, I would like to share a vort of my own. Some of the people with whom I discussed this issue were amused by the question… until they discovered that it is addressed by the Mishnah Berurah itself.

Here is the issue: A left-handed person, unlike a right-handed person, is required to hold the esrog in his right hand and the lulav in his dominant (left) hand. This is an explicit ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (651:3) and is explained by the Mishnah Berurah. However, there is another detail of the halacha that isn’t addressed explicitly in the Shulchan Aruch: Should a left-handed person also switch the positions of the two minim held adjacent to the lulav, so that his hadassim are to the left of the lulav and his aravos to the right? After all, a right-handed person holds the aravos next to the esrog; perhaps we should therefore conclude that a left-handed person should do the same.

As compelling as this argument sounds, there is reason to doubt this line of reasoning. I actually came across a discussion of this very question in the Mishnah Berurah (651:12), although he does not explicitly discuss the idea of keeping the aravos adjacent to the esrog. The Mishnah Berurah states, “The hadas must be tied on the right side of the lulav and the aravah on its left; this is the practice. Regarding a left-handed person, whose right [dominant] hand is everyone else’s left, the Pri Megodim suggests that this is determined not by him but rather by ordinary people; see Bikkurei Yaakov.” In other words, the Mishnah Berurah entertained the possibility that a left-handed person should indeed reverse the positions of his hadassim and aravos, as I suggested, although this idea is ultimately discarded.

My son, Reb Binyomin Zev, pointed out that there is a clear distinction to be made: Although a lefty uses his right hand to hold the esrog and his left hand to hold the lulav, that is because his personal “right” and “left” are reversed, and therefore he is actually holding the esrog with his own “left” (i.e., non-dominant) hand, and the lulav with his “right” hand. With regard to the arrangement of the hadassim and aravos, however, the halacha calls for the hadassim to be positioned on the right side of the lulav and the aravos on its left. This has nothing to do with the “right” or “left” of the person holding the items; rather, their positioning is based on the lulav itself. (I presented this reasoning to Rav Yedidya Manat, who approved of the explanation and asserted that it is an excellent distinction to draw.)

Terror Attempts Hit Record High

I must ask you to daven for us — and by “us,” I mean all the residents of Eretz Yisroel. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we are in danger. The entire defense establishment has been sounding the alarm over warnings emerging from Palestinian territory, where the youths are under tremendous pressure to carry out terror attacks, especially in Yerushalayim and during the holidays of Sukkos and Simchas Torah. And that is quite terrifying. Our enemies are constantly seeking to destroy us, especially when our holidays arrive, and Hashem always saves us from their designs. These evildoers constantly desire to murder Jews, and they take a special interest in carrying out that wicked agenda on Jewish holidays, with the goal of ruining our rejoicing. They also know that hundreds of thousands of Jews visit Yerushalayim and the Kosel Hamaarovi on our holidays, and as far as they are concerned, those visits to the Kosel are tantamount to a declaration of war over Har Habayis, where they believe they are the sovereign power. This is quite frightening.

Meanwhile, a miniature war is being waged on a daily basis in places such as Jenin, as IDF soldiers have been entering Palestinian areas to capture wanted terrorists — i.e., Arabs who have already carried out terror attacks or who are on their way to perpetrate such attacks. These soldiers are invariably taking their lives into their hands; may Hashem protect them.

This week, there were a few “minor” terror incidents, including one on Route 443, a road that all of us take when we visit Modiin Illit. Even more chillingly, a group of Arab terrorists tried to murder dozens of Jewish train passengers in a single deadly attack. This attempt was made on Rosh Hashanah, when an explosive device was discovered near the train tracks between Akko and Carmiel. At first, it was believed the Arabs had placed a metal obstruction on the tracks with the goal of causing the train to overturn. That alone might have caused a major tragedy, but upon further investigation, the security personnel discovered that it was much more than that: The metal device was attached to a wire that was meant to set off a grenade, which would have represented an entirely different type of terror attack. Had the terrorists been successful, the train would have blown up, with all its passengers on board.

The police and Shabak are working hard to find the terrorist who placed the obstruction on the train tracks. After Rosh Hashanah, the police notified the public about this attempted attack, which had been intended to target the first train after the conclusion of Yom Tov. At the same time, they announced that a suspect had already been taken into custody. This suspect, an Israeli Arab who lives in a village near Akko, was released after spending the night in a Shabak interrogation room. The intelligence service concluded that the man in custody was not responsible for the attempted terror attack, and therefore they set him free. The investigation is still underway, and the police are searching for the actual perpetrator of the act of sabotage.

In any event, the entire defense establishment is on high alert, with the understanding that terrorists will be seeking to disrupt the festivities of the holiday and create tension and fear specifically during these festive days. In recent days, Hamas has been running a major campaign calling on Arabs living in Israel, the West Bank, and East Yerushalayim, to come to “Al Aqsa” (their term for Har Habayis and the area of the Kosel and the Old City) and defend it from Israeli attempts to gain control of it. In fact, this is another reason that any Jews who insist on visiting Har Habayis deserve to be excoriated for their actions; aside from transgressing a halachic prohibition, they are also endangering the rest of us by fanning the flames of Arab hatred. They should be considered “rodfim” no less than Arik Sharon, who triggered an intifada with his own visit to Har Habayis.

Without getting into the details, I will tell you simply that the Shabak is on the highest possible alert. The intelligence officials who are in contact with Palestinian collaborators have not been resting for a moment, and thousands of police officers have been brought to Yerushalayim from all over the country. The fear in the air is palpable and oppressive. And that is why I have asked you to daven for us. There is no question that we are in need of miracles!

Updates on the Global Jewish Population

Every year, before Rosh Hashanah, statistics are published in Israel regarding the number of citizens in the country, both Jewish and non-Jewish. The report includes figures on the number of births over the course of the previous year, and even the most popular baby names of the year. This year, for instance, “Dovid” has been the most popular Jewish name, while the most common name given to Arab children was “Ahmed.”

Anyone who reviews these statistics, however, should be reminded of an important point: Not everyone who is deemed Jewish by the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Ministry of the Interior, and certainly the Jewish Agency is actually a Jew. There are many people who have immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return, which grants citizenship even to the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother. That means that the Israeli government regularly classifies certain people as Jewish when the halacha considers them non-Jews in every respect.

Bearing that in mind, I will nonetheless quote some of the official statistics. The global Jewish population has been pegged at 15.3 million Jews, about half of whom (46%, to be more precise) live in Israel. Today, there are 7.08 million Jews living in Israel, with 8.25 million in the Diaspora. About six million of the world’s Jews live in America.

The official statistics also put the number of “Jews” in the world — including those based on patrilineal descent (i.e., people who are halachically non-Jewish but were born to a Jewish father) — at 25 million. This is a statistic that indicates a staggering number of intermarriages. Yet another saddening fact is that there are half a million citizens in Israel who were entitled to Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return but do not actually define themselves as Jews.

In any event, here is the breakdown of the global Jewish population by country: France — 442,00; Canada — 394,000; Great Britain — 292,000; Argentina — 173,000; Russia — 145,000; Australia — 118,200; Germany — 118,000; Brazil — 91,000; South Africa — 51,000; Hungary — 46,500; Ukraine — 40,000; Mexico — 40,000; the Netherlands — 29,700; Belgium — 28,000; Italy — 27,000; Switzerland — 18,800; Uruguay — 16,300; Chile — 15,800; Sweden — 14,900; Turkey — 14,300; Spain — 12,900; Austria — 10,300; Panama — 10,000. It is also estimated that there are a few thousand people in Ethiopia waiting for the opportunity to make aliyah.

Foreign Ministry Staff Tries to Block Voting Abroad

Last week, I mentioned that a conflict has been raging between the staff of the Foreign Ministry and the minister who heads it, who just “happens” to be Israel’s interim prime minister at this moment, Yair Lapid. This is an unusual type of conflict, but it has been going on for a long time. At this point, the ministry has completely dissociated itself from Lapid and refuses to provide services for him. The animosity was more blatant before Lapid became the prime minister, when the position of foreign minister was his primary concern. Now that he is focused on serving as prime minister, however, he does not even visit the offices of the Foreign Ministry and the friction between him and the ministry staff is far less noticeable. Nevertheless, this should tell you something about Lapid himself. He simply does not value his own subordinates in the Foreign Ministry, just as he does not value anyone else.

The conflict between Lapid and the ministry staff was especially blatant during his recent trip to the United Nations. (That trip deserves to be a topic of discussion in its own right; it is said that Lapid made every possible blunder in his address to the UN!) Before his departure, the Foreign Ministry refused to use diplomatic mail to transfer the various documents and other materials that he wanted to have available during his visit to New York. This forced Lapid to send the materials through different channels, costing the Israeli taxpayers several hundred thousand shekels. And now the ministry has tried to create more problems for Lapid by obstructing the voting process for Israelis abroad.

There are several groups within the Israeli electorate who are permitted to cast their votes before the rest of the country. One such group consists of Israeli diplomats and other government employees serving abroad, including employees of the Jewish Agency, various government ministries, and the army and police force. These individuals are entitled to vote early to ensure that their ballots are received in time to be counted with the rest of the votes cast in Israel itself. There are 103 Israeli polling stations set up in various locations throughout the world, mainly in the United States, for this purpose. However, the Foreign Ministry refused at first to provide this service for the government in advance of the election.

When the time came to begin preparing for the election, the Foreign Ministry announced a work stoppage that included the refusal to send voting materials abroad. The government responded by appealing to Justice Yitzchok Amit, a judge on the Supreme Court and the chairman of the Central Elections Committee, who issued an injunction obligating the ministry workers to perform their duties. Of course, the ministry staff has no choice but to obey the court, and the polling stations have begun being transferred overseas this week. The voting will take place in Israeli embassies and consulates abroad on October 20, twelve days before the date of the election in Israel itself. The law requires the voting materials to be shipped abroad no later than the 35th day before the election, which was this past Wednesday.

The right to vote in an Israeli election abroad is limited to employees of the Israeli government who are stationed overseas, as well as representatives of the Keren HaYesod (United Israel Appeal), the World Zionist Organization, and the Keren Kayemet L’Yisrael (Jewish National Fund). There are over 4,300 Israelis stationed abroad who are legally entitled to vote in the election. The largest group of Israeli voters is in New York, where two polling stations will be set up to accommodate the voters. This past Wednesday, the Foreign Ministry sent ballots and other electoral materials via diplomatic mail to its consulates in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.

While the staff of the Foreign Ministry complied with the court order, they were furious nonetheless. “Following the brute force imposed by Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, all the sanctions that were removed will be restored after the holiday,” they warned the public in a statement released after the court’s ruling. “Foreign Minister Lapid has evaded the responsibility to solve the steadily deepening crisis and is damaging Israel’s foreign services during these challenging times. The responsibility for the sanctions rests with him.”

Former Givers on the Receiving End

For the moment, let us put aside the issue of the upcoming election, which will take place in less than a month, and move on to a related topic. If anyone had any doubt — and there can really be no doubt about this — that the spiking cost of living is a painful issue to every person in Israel today, even the members of the middle class, then those doubts are being increasingly laid to rest with every passing day. In fact, this is the main issue in the current election campaign!

This week, the Israeli public was made aware of another series of price hikes involving basic household products, such as laundry detergent, corn flakes, and tuna. This trend is becoming quite frightening. The situation is so serious that Yisrael HaYom has begun running a daily series titled “Artzeinu HaYekarah,” a clever double entendre that can be translated either as “our precious country” or as “our expensive country.” Last Thursday, the series profiled an organization known as Meir Ponim and quoted a representative who told the journalists that “we have been helping people fill their refrigerators.” Without the organization’s help, its recipients would be going hungry….

The people behind the country’s chesed organizations and food distribution projects, most of whom are part of the chareidi community, are the ones who can truly grasp the extent of the financial distress plaguing the citizens of this country. Chasdei Naomi, Ezer Mitzion, Yad Ezra V’Shulamit, and Yad Idud are just a few of the many organizations on the front lines of the battle against poverty and hunger. These entities provide support for tens of thousands of families who cannot afford to put food on their tables. The food distributions at the Mir Yeshiva are also mindboggling in their scope, and some yungeleit whom I know personally have told me that they would be unable to get through the Yomim Tovim in a reasonable fashion without the benefit of those distributions.

You are surely familiar with the Avichayil bakery in the neighborhood of Geulah. Next door to this bakery, in a room that was meant to serve as a bomb shelter, is a kollel known as Ohel Leah, where dozens of Sephardic men, some of them in their fifties or above, spend their days immersed in intensive Torah learning. In the evenings, the kollel is transformed into a different type of institution — a thriving hub of chesed, where people gather to receive food packages that are sorely needed. In fact, the yungeleit learning in the beis medrash often spend their days surrounded by mounds of packages slated for distribution.

The rosh kollel, Rabbi Eliyohu Cohen, is a tzaddik who has taken it upon himself to provide succor and support for many people in need. Innumerable men arrive at the beis medrash burdened by their woes, only to leave with expressions of hope in their eyes as they return home with packages brimming with basic food supplies. Rabbi Cohen, with his unique charm, manages to collect a wealth of products from large businesses and generous individuals alike, which are distributed several times a year to families in need. The beis medrash of Ohel Leah is only one of nine distribution points throughout the country. Before every Yom Tov, Rabbi Cohen provides packages of food to his recipients; at the end of every summer, the packages contain a wealth of school supplies, sparing the needy families huge sums of money and enormous heartache.

The organization was first founded under the aegis of three of the greatest Sephardic leaders of the time: Rav Ovadiah Yosef, Rav Benzion Abba Shaul, and Rav Yehuda Tzadkah. At their behest, Rabbi Cohen assumed responsibility for the project, which has since expanded to mammoth dimensions. This week, he provided large packages of food and disposable utensils to thousands of needy families. I watched the distribution as it took place, marveling at the lifesaving aid provided for these families. And I noted that Rabbi Cohen’s tzidkus is matched by his discretion; he will never reveal a single identifying detail concerning any of the families who benefit from his altruism.

In an effort to gain some insight into the situation in Israel today, I posed an important question to him: “Do you feel that the number of poor and hungry people is on the rise?”

“Absolutely!” he replied. “May Hashem protect us!” When I tried to press him for more details, he said, “Without getting into the specifics, I will tell you that some people who used to be on our list of donors have now become recipients of our distributions.”

Sobering Statistics

The end of a year is a good time to sum up the events of the previous year. However, some of the end-of-year statistics that have been publicized for the year 5782 are quite sobering. Over the course of the year, 171 elderly people living alone in various locations in Israel were found dead in their homes, occasionally in a state of decay. Tel Aviv leads the list of cities where such tragic occurrences were reported, with 26 cases registered over the course of the year. This stands in contrast to Bnei Brak, for instance, which witnessed only two such instances. These people died of natural causes, but their deaths went unnoticed by neighbors and even by the relatives of the deceased. It is a sad phenomenon indeed. Among the fatalities were a 50-year-old childless man in Haifa, a 50-year-old woman living alone in Sderot, a 72-year-old man in Yerushalayim, and a 79-year-old man in Ramat Hasharon. These tragic incidents took place even in more well-to-do neighborhoods, which is perhaps a badge of shame for those communities.

Perhaps there is a certain degree of blame to be shared by the communities themselves, but it is the government that should bear the most blame for these incidents. Historically, Jewish communities have been led by people who actively sought out those who were impoverished or starving and proceeded to provide for their needs. The government of Israel has done exactly the opposite, starving and depriving its citizens rather than supporting them. In the Israel of today, it is common for elderly men to be forced to choose between two different lifesaving medications, when they can afford only one drug but both are critical for them. Similarly, many children go to school every day without a single morsel of food in their school bags.

This week, someone told me that for many years, he has been buying a bottle of Vitaminchik (a syrup that is used to flavor water to produce a sweetened beverage) for 12 shekels for Shabbos every week, and his entire family was able to enjoy several bottles of the drink over the course of the day. Thanks to Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s decrees, however, the price of the syrup has doubled, and flavored drinks disappeared completely from his Shabbos table. That is yet another mark of shame for the Israeli government.

But where the Israeli government has fallen terribly short, the chareidi community has proven itself many times over. When a dead body is found in a house, Zaka is called to provide dignity for the deceased. When a family cannot afford sufficient food for Shabbos, the local tzedokah fund steps in. This week, a volunteer for an organization known as Beit HaTavshil informed me that when he arrived at the home of one of his recipients, he heard a child calling out, “Ima, you can stop crying now! Someone just brought us all the food we need for the Yom Tov meals!” On Wednesday, I saw a long line of people waiting outside the Meir Ponim restaurant on Rechov Hatzvi (which was founded by the tzaddik Reb Dovid Zilbershlag and his family), which is essentially a large soup kitchen that has come to serve hundreds of “customers” every day. Incidentally, most of the people waiting on that line were Russians.

So while this state of affairs is a sad commentary on the Israeli government, the chareidi community’s response can be a source of pride for it.

Shabbos Meals for Dozens of Families

Another outstanding organization that is a credit to the chareidi community is known as Sabeinu. This organization is the brainchild of a yungerman in Yerushalayim who began cooking larger quantities of food during his own Shabbos preparations to share with neighbors who were suffering from illness. It did not take long before his pet project expanded, and he began cooking for dozens of families of sick people in his own kitchen.

Soon enough, this chesed enterprise grew to the point that he had to rent a kitchen (across the street from his home on Rechov Oholiav) and to receive a hechsher from the Badatz of the Eidah Chareidis. As of now, he prepares Shabbos meals for hundreds of families every week, which are brought to the recipients’ homes by the cook himself and his children.

Let us imagine what would happen if the wicked government of Israel and all the people who have been cruel to the immigrants and the sick were placed on one side of a scale, while Sabeinu, Ezer Mitzion, Lev L’Achim, and dozens of other chareidi organizations were to be piled high on the other side. Is there any doubt that all that goodness and chesed would tip the scales to elicit a favorable judgment for the Jewish people?

Wishing Good Yom Tov to Savta Gelb in Lakewood

Last year, I wrote about a wonderful yungerman in Givat Shaul who was davening with us on Simchas Torah in the Pressburg shul but mysteriously refrained from dancing. When I tried to pull him into the circle of dancers, he whispered to me that he was an aveil and was not permitted to join us. Moments later, I observed that he had joined the circle after all. He later explained that he had told a rov that someone had tried to pull him into the circle, and the rov had told him he was therefore required to join the dancing to avoid a public display of mourning, which is prohibited on Yom Tov. At the time, my point in telling you this story was to stress the importance of giving others the benefit of the doubt. It seemed at first that this yungerman, Reb Menachem Gelb, had been less than honest when he claimed to be in mourning, or else that he had decided to violate the strictures of aveilus; however, as it turned out, there was a perfectly rational explanation for his behavior within the framework of halacha.

Exactly 11 months after that Simchas Torah, Reb Menachem celebrated the bris of a son. The sandak was Rav Gershon Meltzer, a well-known marbitz Torah who is one of the most widely admired talmidei chochomim of Yerushalayim and is known to any American talmid in the Mir Yeshiva. In any event, the young child, of course, was named after Rav Yosef Gelb, Rav Menachem’s father.

This marks the closing of a circle, not to mention a stroke of hashgocha pratis and a simcha that brought healing to a family in mourning. One year ago, the world lost Rav Yosef Gelb of Lakewood. Rav Yosef was a yorei Shomayim and a man of outstanding character, not to mention a prodigious talmid chochom who led a chaburah in the Lakewood yeshiva and was the author of a series of seforim (titled Birkei Yosef). Together with his rebbetzin, he built a beautiful family. This month, his namesake, another Yosef Gelb, was ushered into the Jewish nation in Yerushalayim. Let us wish mazel tov to the child’s distinguished savta, Mrs. Shoshana (Hinda Rosa) Gelb of Lakewood, and wish a good Yom Tov to her and to all of Klal Yisroel.

The Visitor in Rav Chaim Brim’s Sukkah

In closing, let me share a story that I heard from Rav Uri Zohar, my beloved rebbi who is so sorely missed.

Rav Uri spent several years attending a weekly shiur delivered by Rav Chaim Brim, who was a rosh yeshiva in Yerushalayim and one of the most outstanding figures in the community. Rav Chaim once told the following story after Sukkos: “I was sitting in my sukkah, and a baal teshuvah arrived and sat there for a very long time. I realized that he wanted to ask me a question without anyone else hearing it, so I leaned over to him and said, ‘Reb Yid, if you are waiting for the sukkah to be empty, you will be here at least until Simchas Torah. If you have something to ask me, ask it now. No one will laugh at you.’”

The man leaned forward and whispered to Rav Chaim, “It is very hard for me to recite brachos. I am simply incapable of addressing Hashem in the second person, with the word atah. How can I, a simple baal teshuvah, dare to speak to the Master of the Universe in that way? What can I do?”

Rav Chaim looked at the participants in his shiur and said, “Do you hear this? This man felt that he could not address Hashem directly. What about the rest of us? We have no problem with it! Well, let me tell you something. When he said that, everyone else in the sukkah — including myself and many great talmidei chochomim — felt like burying ourselves under the table out of embarrassment.”

May we all gain everything that we are meant to derive from the upcoming Yom Tov.

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