Thursday, Jul 25, 2024

My Take on the News

Supreme Court Chief Revealed to Have Met with Protest Organizer

These protests have actually managed to create a very unfavorable impression of the opposition. First of all, Yair Lapid did not appear at the demonstration two weeks ago, even though he should ostensibly have been the first person to be there and to speak. The reason given for his absence was that he was on vacation in Paris. Lapid announced in advance that he and Benny Gantz had both decided not to attend the protest to avoid turning it into a political event. This, however, wasn’t exactly true; the reality is that Lapid and Gantz decided not to attend the protest because the organizers refused to let them speak.

Then, in a sudden turnaround that only made matters worse for Lapid, Benny Gantz announced that he would be attending the demonstration after all, even without giving a speech. Gantz claimed that he viewed it as a civic obligation to participate in the protest. This left Lapid looking rather foolish, and on this past motzoei Shabbos, he made a point of attending the second demonstration. Someone quipped at the time, “You see, citizens are coming all the way from overseas to protest….”

The truth, which should be obvious to any observer, is that the demonstrations are far more about posturing than about any form of ideology. And even the media, which is supposed to remain unbiased, made a concerted effort to draw out more protestors. As far as they concerned, there is no tactic that is illegitimate in the fight against Netanyahu.

It was also recently revealed that Tzipi Livni, the main speaker at the demonstrations, had met twice with Chief Justice Esther Chayut of the Supreme Court. Livni is a former justice minister who has since become the driving force behind the protests. The meetings with Chayut, which were certainly inappropriate, sparked a major uproar, including calls for Chayut’s resignation. The chief justice’s critics accuse her of crossing every possible red line and behaving like any politician, when her position is supposed to be completely apolitical. Not long ago, the Ombudsman of the Judiciary called for Rav Yitzchok Yosef to be dismissed from his position because he had weighed in on “political subjects.” This was when the chief rabbi spoke out against the kashrus changes spearheaded by Matan Kahana. Some critics have called on him now to demand Chayut’s resignation for the same reason; however, we all know that it will never happen.

Tension in the Government Follows Dismantling of Outpost

The new government is contending with internal friction for the first time, as both of the religious Zionist ministers, Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich and National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, skipped the cabinet meeting this week as a sign of protest. (Smotrich came to the meeting of the coalition party leaders in Netanyahu’s office to show solidarity with Deri, but he did not enter the cabinet meeting.) The reason: A new outpost that was established on Thursday night was torn down just a few hours later. In truth, it is possible that Smotrich and Ben-Gvir weren’t piqued by the demolition itself; both men understand that the law must be followed, especially since they are now ministers in the government and not members of the hilltop youth. What bothered them was more likely that Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the outpost destroyed without consulting them or taking them into account, which is especially galling considering the fact that Smotrich is officially a minister in the Ministry of Defense. The two right-wing leaders were also indignant over the fact that Netanyahu gave his full support to Gallant.

The outpost in question was named Ohr Chaim and was built in honor of the shloshim of Rav Chaim Druckman, one of the leaders of the religious Zionist community. The outpost was founded by five families and a handful of youths. About five hours after its establishment was announced, a large group of soldiers and police officers arrived at the site, and their commander announced, “This place has been declared a closed military zone by the Minister of Defense, and we have no choice but to remove you. Leave voluntarily, or we will evacuate you by force.” The “residents” responded by calling out, “A Jew does not expel a Jew!”

Ben-Gvir called on Defense Minister Gallant to halt the evacuation of the outpost. Ben-Gvir acknowledged that everyone must respect the rule of law and added, “However, an equal and consistent policy must be established. It is unacceptable that when Arabs build in the area of Yehuda and Shomron, the Civil Administration does not even talk to them or try to enforce the law, but when the construction is performed by Jews, the administration conducts selective enforcement and insists on demolishing and destroying the outpost within hours.” MK Limor Har-Melech, a member of Ben-Gvir’s party who lost her husband in a terror attack, arrived at the sight of the outpost and said, “This hilltop is especially critical for preventing the Palestinian Authority from taking over national lands in this area, and for protecting the road that traverses the Shomron. I call on Defense Minister Gallant to stop the hasty evacuation and demolition and to leave the settlers in their place.” Nevertheless, these objections did not achieve their goal, and Netanyahu only poured salt on the open wounds when he expressed his support for the defense minister and his decision. “We are in favor of settlement,” Netanyahu declared, “but it must be done legally and in coordination with the authorities.”

A Few Thousand Protestors Do Not Outnumber Two Million Voters

This has been a difficult time in Israel.

For one thing, the Israel Meteorological Service has declared this year to be a drought year, which is very sad. Everyone here in Israel is davening for more precipitation.

Another sad phenomenon in Israel is a series of incidents in which the families of patients have attacked medical teams in hospitals. This Monday, all of the hospitals in the country went on strike in response to these recent occurrences.

Of course, there are two more painful and interrelated topics to which I have already dedicated separate articles in this newspaper: the Supreme Court’s decision to disqualify Aryeh Deri from serving as a minister and the clash between the government and the Supreme Court over Yariv Levin’s proposed judicial reforms. In this column, I will mention only one aspect of the story: the demonstrations against the reforms that have been held in Yerushalayim, and even more so in Tel Aviv. These demonstrations originate on the left side of the political map, of course, and their goal is not so much to protect the so-called “rule of law” from Levin’s interference as it is to strike a blow at the current government. The protestors want nothing more than to undermine the government’s legitimacy, its authority, and its standing in general. There is some hope that the pressure exerted by masses of demonstrators will somehow create a dynamic that will eventually lead to the fall of the government. Various elements, including some European funds, have also been making their own contributions to fuel the protests. The media itself is also doing its part to support the left, first by calling on the “masses” to take to the streets and then by issuing reports with inflated estimates of the number of demonstrators who actually showed up.

But even if the media’s reports were true and there were actually 130,000 participants in the protest last motzoei Shabbos, it really should not make a difference. Someone commented this week that this was the exact number of votes cast for Meretz, the party that failed to cross the electoral threshold. Well, let’s assume that all of the Meretz voters indeed turned out for a demonstration; what difference would it make? What would it tell us? That there are 130,000 people in the country who aren’t happy about the establishment of a right-wing government? We are already well aware of that. In fact, Netanyahu reacted to the reports by proclaiming, “There were two million participants in the demonstration held a few months ago.” This was his way of referring to the election for the 25th Knesset, when two million Israeli citizens voted his government into power.

In other words, the demonstrators have no real claim, and they ought to leave the rest of the country alone.

The Prisoner Who Became a Minister

Itamar Ben-Gvir’s story might be considered a lesson in mussar. Half a year ago, Commander Kobi Yaakovi, the commander of the Moriah police station in Yerushalayim, was promoted to the rank of assistant commissioner and placed in charge of the Merchav Tzion station. This police officer began his career in the Yassam and almost certainly has a history of beating chareidi and right-wing protestors. His daunting visage has appeared many times in photographs in the press. As the commander of the Moriah station, he oversaw the police’s handling of the Balfour protests, in which the demonstrators received much gentler treatment; there was no use of skunk water there. But there can be little doubt that Itamar Ben-Gvir, who was himself a veteran demonstrator, occasionally tasted the wrath of this very man.

After a few days of interviews, Ben-Gvir decided to hire Yaakovi to serve as his security secretary, a position that requires a close personal working relationship between the police officer and the minister. Rumor has it that the appointment was made over the objections of the police chief. In any event, Yaakovi will soon be promoted to the rank of deputy commissioner on account of his new position. It is amazing to see how the tables have turned. Even more incredible is the fact that Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has visited police stations in the past as a prisoner or a suspect under questioning, and then as an attorney representing the hilltop youth and other individuals persecuted by the police, has now become the superior of the highest-ranking police officials, who may be dismayed to find themselves saluting to him.

US National Security Advisor Arrives in Israel

Over the past few days, Netanyahu has had to tread very carefully on account of the visit of Jake Sullivan from the United States. I presume that you are familiar with his name; Sullivan is the National Security Advisor in the White House, and he came to Israel in advance of a visit from his direct superior, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken. Because of this visit, Netanyahu instructed the Yerushalayim city council to postpone its discussion regarding the planned expansion of the Har Nof neighborhood of Yerushalayim. The city planned to approve the construction of thousands of new apartments in the area where the Kfar Shaul psychiatric hospital is currently located, but the Americans hinted that they would be angered by the move, and Netanyahu instructed the municipality to delay the discussion to avoid souring the mood during the official visit.

To Netanyahu’s relief, Sullivan maintained a friendly tone throughout his stay. The visiting official did not utter a word of criticism against Netanyahu or his ministers. In spite of all the predictions to the contrary, it seems that the Biden administration and the Netanyahu regime are getting along well, at least for now. Not long ago, we were warned that relations between the Netanyahu government and the Jews of America were in a state of collapse and that the consequences were liable to be extremely dire. Two weeks ago, however, Netanyahu’s video address at the AIPAC conference received an enthusiastic ovation.

At the beginning of the cabinet meeting this Sunday, Netanyahu avoided the topics of the demolished outpost and the court decision on Aryeh Deri, and even the demonstrations against the government. He spoke at great length about Sullivan’s visit to Israel. “This is taking place at a unique time,” he announced. “This is a time of serious challenges to our national security and serious opportunities for peace with our neighbors. Our talks focused on the regional security challenges, chief among them Iran, and on the ways that we can collaborate to deal with this shared challenge. I must tell you that there is a genuine mutual desire to reach understandings on this subject, which has decisive importance for the security of the state. The discussions between Yerushalayim and Washington on this topic will be held in the coming weeks.”

Meanwhile, there was an entertaining moment during the cabinet session as well. While Netanyahu did not mention Aryeh Deri, his name was invoked during the cabinet meeting by Communications Minister Shlomo Karai, who said, “Today, we added 120 million shekels worth of drugs to the medication basket in an initiative led by Aryeh Deri, but we still haven’t found a cure for the insanity of the Supreme Court. We are working on it…. This will require intensive multidisciplinary research, which will soon be completed under the aegis of Justice Minister Levin. Before you have time to blink, Deri will be returning through the front door,” he predicted.

The Visa Waiver Program

For several years already, America and Israel have been working on an agreement that would allow Israel to join the Visa Waiver Program. If this arrangement is made, no American citizen will need a visa to enter Israel, and no Israeli citizen will require a visa to enter America. The talks were fairly sluggish for a while, but the current ambassador, Tom Nides, has accelerated their progress. Nides has told his Israeli counterparts that it will be necessary for the Knesset to pass a certain law for the arrangement to go through, and that there are a few other questions that must be clarified as well.

At the cabinet meeting last Sunday (not this past Sunday but the week before), this issue was discussed by the ministers. Aryeh Deri, who was still serving as interior minister at the time, gave an overview of the situation. According to the reports that emerged from that meeting, American officials claimed that it will be possible to move forward with the agreement if the rate of refusal is below 3 percent, which is projected to be the case. Netanyahu then voiced his displeasure with the concerns expressed by some officials that the waiver program will lead Israelis to relocate to America. He pointed out that there was a time when it was prohibited to remove money from the country due to the fear that all of Israel’s funds would be depleted, but when the gates were opened, the opposite happened: Money began flowing into Israel. “We will not protect Zionism by fencing it in and imprisoning the citizens in the country,” he said.

Up to this point, this sounds like good news. After all, Israelis should not have any objection to the idea of American citizens entering the country without a visa, especially considering that Jews from anywhere in the world are already automatically permitted to enter the country. The waiver program might even benefit yungeleit and talmidei yeshivos who wish to learn in Israel; therefore, it is certainly an initiative that should be favored by the chareidim.

But the story doesn’t end there. This week, we found out what was really troubling the Americans: the “immigrants” from Russia and Ukraine. This was reported by Itamar Eichner, a well-connected journalist with sources both in the Foreign Ministry and in the Jewish Agency. According to Eichner, the Americans are afraid that their country will find itself on the receiving end of an influx of non-Jewish or half-Jewish Russians and Ukrainians who immigrated to Israel over the past decade, especially during the recent war. They are also concerned that the visa waiver program might provide an opening for Russian oligarchs or criminals to escape to the United States after making aliyah to Israel. In addition, there is a concern that a wave of immigrants and infiltrators may come to America, many of whom might turn out to be spies.

In addition to the million Russian “olim” who have been absorbed by Israel in the past, many of whom are by no means Jewish, the war in Ukraine has brought tens of thousands of Russians to Israel in the past few months alone. Many of those immigrants received Israeli ID cards and passports upon arriving in Israel and then left the country to wander the world. As Israeli citizens, however, they will be entitled to the same visa exemption that will apply to any other Israeli, if and when Israel joins the American program. In the past, new immigrants to Israel were not permitted to receive passports until they had proven their intent to remain in the country for a period of time; however, the process has since been changed, and olim are entitled to citizenship and passports as soon as they arrive in Israel.

American officials have recently asked for clarifications from various Israeli authorities (the Jewish Agency, the Nativ organization, and the Israeli embassies in Kyiv and Moscow) regarding the Israeli policies on issuing immigration certificates and ID cards. They were not pleased with the answers they received. The United States officials believe that Israel is too quick to accept every potential immigrant or infiltrator. In fact, this might be what ultimately prevents the two countries from arriving at an agreement. The most lamentable aspect of this story is the fact that Israel needed to receive a slap in the face from America concerning its lenient attitude toward potential immigrants, which has resulted in immigration rights being offered to countless people who are aiming only to exploit the benefits and funding available to them here. The tiny, poor, and foolish country of Israel has opened its doors to every Russian or Ukrainian opportunist, while the great, affluent, and humane United States of America has expressed its displeasure with that policy. Ironic, isn’t it?

The Right Way to Read the News

Many generations ago, a scandal erupted in a certain country that threw the government into chaos and ended with the jailing of two senior government officials. Of course, that country was Mitzrayim, and this incident is recorded in Parshas Vayeishev, where Rashi explains that Hashem brought about the scandal in order to distract the country’s attention from Yosef Hatzaddik’s imprisonment. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz drew a powerful lesson from this comment of Rashi: This incident on the Torah should give us a radically different perspective on all the extraordinary events that are reported in the media on a daily basis. Every event in the world, he explained, is deliberately calculated and engineered by Hashem, and only He knows the true reasons for the events that shake our world, great and small alike. After all, Rashi reveals to us here that two of the highest-ranking officials in the Egyptian government were tossed in jail and publicly scorned solely for the purpose of sparing Yosef Hatzaddik from disgrace. Both their crimes and the publicity they received were orchestrated from Above, and the ultimate purpose of the affair was to provide benefit to a tzaddik by deflecting attention from him.

Today, we are living through a period of political turmoil in Israel, and the controversy over Yariv Levin’s judicial reforms has seized the country’s attention. But who knows what the real reason for this public furor might be? Could it be that Hashem has engineered this chain of events to distract the country’s attention from the chareidim, who were previously on the receiving end of heaps of scorn and derision? Even the uproar created by the court’s ruling against Aryeh Deri will fade away very soon, and the country will return its attention to Levin’s reforms and the protests in the streets. Perhaps Hashem orchestrated all these events for the sake of distracting the Israeli public. According to Rav Yeruchom, that seems to be the right way to read the news.

But permit me to make one more observation about the veritable ocean of hatred and incitement that is facing the chareidi community today. Perhaps the right way to address this animosity is simply to promote ahavas chinom, kiruv, and chessed. Perhaps the campaign of hatred should simply be accepted as a normal aspect of this world of falsehood, something to be expected. And perhaps the solution is to focus on all the good that emerges from the religious community. Organizations such as Ayelet Hashachar and Ohr Yisraeli are quietly fomenting a spiritual revolution, as Lev L’Achim is transforming the lives of innumerable Israelis who have always been far removed from Yiddishkeit. A little bit of light is bound to repel the darkness being spread throughout the country by the enemies of the Torah. In the end, if the religious community persists, its enemies are bound to simply disappear.

Removing Mitzrayim from Within Us

This happened many years ago, but I still remember it as vividly as if it was yesterday. It was Shabbos Shirah, the week when we read the shiras hayam, and Rav Chaim Walkin, the famed mashgiach, was delivering a late night shmuess in the Chanichei HaYeshivos shul in Givat Shaul. He had arrived by taxi before Shabbos from his home in Bayit Vegan, he davened with us, he joined a talmid for the Friday night meal, and he came to the shiras hayam to deliver his shmuess and dance with us. Late that night, he made the long, difficult trip back to Bayit Vegan on foot.

In any event, Rav Walkin quoted the posuk in which Hashem states that He inflicted the makkos on the Mitzrim “so that you will recount in the ears of your son and your grandson how I mocked Mitzrayim.” Rashi explains the word hisalalti (“I mocked”) in the posuk to mean “sichakti,” a word denoting the act of playing or laughing at someone.

Rav Walkin elaborated on this by explaining the concept of mockery and leitzanus. He taught us that just as a single comment of leitzanus can negate the impact of a thousand reproofs (as in the famous parable of the shield smeared with oil, which is impervious to arrows because they simply slip off its surface), it can also prevent the words of others from creating even the slightest trace of an impact. Bnei Yisroel’s experience in Mitzrayim, he explained, had impacted them very deeply; in order to rid them of that impact, it was necessary for Hashem to make a mockery of the Mitzrim. “That was the way to take the Mitzrim out of us!” he declared. He went on to relate that his father, who had been a talmid of the Chofetz Chaim, recalled that the Chofetz Chaim was always extremely solemn and serious, with only one exception—whenever he felt it necessary to mock avodah zarah in general or Mitzrayim in particular.

This week, I opened my copy of Daas Chaim U’Mussar, the compilation of Rav Walkin’s teachings, in order to find this discussion. Sure enough, I found this insight quoted twice in Parshas Bo, both in the section dedicated to chiddushim on the parsha and in the shmuessen. In this case, the sefer quotes the Ramban. “This is the reason that we must make a mockery of them,” Rav Walkin explains, “since the leitzanus will remove their influence from the Jewish people. The purpose of Yetzias Mitzrayim and the makkos was to remove Bnei Yisroel from Mitzrayim, but the purpose of our telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim and the requirement for us to mock and ridicule them is to remove Mitzrayim from Bnei Yisroel.”

In the shmuess on this subject, Rav Walkin elaborates on it to a much greater degree and discusses the Chofetz Chaim’s aforementioned practice. “The Chofetz Chaim’s son-in-law, Rav Mendel Zaks, was once walking in the street outside the Chofetz Chaim’s home in the middle of the night on Shabbos, when he heard the Chofetz Chaim’s lilting voice echoing through his window,” he relates. “He approached the window and saw that the Chofetz Chaim was sitting and learning Parshas Vaeira, and after every makkah, he chuckled loudly. When he reached makkas shechin, which the sorcerers in Mitzrayim were unable to duplicate, the Chofetz Chaim let out an uproarious laugh the likes of which he had never heard before. This made a powerful impact on him, as he observed the degree to which every word in the Torah was a tangible reality for the Chofetz Chaim. Of course, it also illustrated the importance of relating to Pharaoh and the Mitzrim with mockery and derision.”

Young Terrorist Apprehended Near the Kosel

Once again, terror is still in the news. Another attempted terror attack took place this past Shabbos, near the Sde Ephraim farm, when a terrorist emerged from his car and tried to stab an Israeli civilian. The would-be victim managed to neutralize the terrorist by shooting him to death, and an additional knife was later found on the terrorist’s body.

A short time after the attempted stabbing, a shooting attack was perpetrated in Gush Etzion. In this incident, a terrorist opened fire on an IDF post near Herodion Park. Israeli forces immediately began pursuing the terrorist’s car and managed to capture the suspect. A bullet was found in the car almost immediately, and a search turned up a bag containing a gun and additional ammunition. An IDF spokesman told the story as follows: “A short time ago, a report was received about a shooting near the IDF position in the vicinity of Herodion, in the Etzion region. IDF troops began searching for the suspects and detected a suspicious vehicle, whose occupant threw a bag out of his window. The soldiers fired in the air in order to stop him. Two suspects were found in the car, and the bag thrown from the vehicle was located shortly thereafter and was found to contain a gun and three cartridges. The car was impounded and the suspects were transferred to the security services for further questioning.”

Another incident took place on motzoei Shabbos, which had the potential to end in a major tragedy. A group of police officers on patrol near the Kosel noticed an Arab youth who aroused their suspicions. (They later discovered that the Arab boy was only 13 years old and is a resident of the nearby neighborhood of Issawiya.) Upon frisking him, the soldiers discovered that he was carrying a knife. The young terrorist was taken into custody and brought to the police for questioning, where he admitted that he had been planning to carry out a stabbing attack.

Then there was another incident that has yet to be fully explained, although there is no question that it involves Arab violence. A seven-year-old girl was wounded in her head by glass that suddenly shattered in her home in the neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev in Yerushalayim. MDA paramedics were called to provide initial treatment and then brought her to Hadassah Har Hatzofim Hospital for further treatment and evaluation. Her condition was listed as light, but the police have opened an investigation into the incident, suspecting that the glass was shattered by stray gunfire from a nearby Arab village.

Rav Miller’s Account

On a similar note, let me quote Rav Avigdor Miller: “I heard a story about a young man who learned in the yeshiva of Radin and once passed by the Chofetz Chaim’s room, which was in an attic, and decided to look inside. I don’t know if it was the right thing to do, but that is what he did. He wanted to see what that holy man was doing while he was alone, and he decided to peer into the attic where the Chofetz Chaim sat. And what did he see there? He saw the Chofetz Chaim sitting on the edge of his bed and learning the ten makkos that Hashem brought upon the Mitzrim. According to the information given to us by that yeshiva bochur, the Chofetz Chaim wasn’t spending his time learning the Zohar or the secrets of the Torah that appear in the Sifra D’Tzeniusa. Instead, he was learning from a simple Chumash and reading the pesukim in this parsha; he was learning the simple explanation of each posuk, and he was laughing!

“‘The fish in the river died, and the river smelled foul.’ The Chofetz Chaim read these words exactly as they might be read by a child in cheder who was hearing the story for the first time. Yes, he was exactly like a child in nursery school sitting and listening to the story of the makkos. He eagerly drank in the Torah’s description of the events, and as he continued learning it, his enthusiasm and excitement grew. He imagined the Mitzrim kneeling on the river bank and trying to quench their thirst with fresh water from the Nile, and then disgustedly spitting out the water that entered their mouths because it had turned to blood. And while this was happening, the Jews were standing off to the side and laughing loudly as they delighted in seeing their tormentors receive their just deserts.

“The same bochur told us that the Chofetz Chaim himself was also enjoying reading about the spectacle. He sat on his bed and said out loud, ‘Ah, very good! They are getting exactly what they deserve!’ And then he stamped his feet, like a small Jewish child imagining the sight of the Mitzrim receiving their due.

“That is the end of the story we were told,” Rav Miller continued. “That bochur did not have the courage to continue watching the Chofetz Chaim for much longer, and he ended his furtive surveillance after just a few minutes.

“We must remember that when this story took place, the Chofetz Chaim was already a very old man,” he added. “He was in his late eighties and was getting close to the age of ninety. We would think that a man who was so old and so holy would be satisfied to read shnayim mikra v’echod targum, or in any event that he certainly wouldn’t dedicate additional time to learning the simple meaning of the pesukim, and that he would learn other portions of the Torah instead. But that was not the case. Not only did he dedicate time to learning the pesukim of the Torah, he made sure to do so on a constant basis. That is because the Chofetz Chaim understood the purpose of the makkos. He knew that they were intended for him as well….”



The Root Cause

  We have been living in turbulent times for a while, and this week, they got even more turbulent. Just a week after one party’s

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