Miracles Hidden and Overt
On Pesach, we will recite the posuk, “Praise Hashem, all the nations … for His kindness has overpowered us.” There is a famous question regarding this posuk: Why should the nations of the world praise Hashem for His kindness to the Jewish people? Shouldn’t it be our responsibility to praise Him for that?
The answer is also well-known: This refers to the attempts made by the other nations to harm us that never came to our attention. We have all heard stories about such incidents, and this week, with the beginning of Daylight Savings Time in Israel, we became aware of another episode that illustrates this concept.
The miracle took place last year: Two terrorists set out to commit terror attacks, wearing suicide belts and driving cars that contained other explosive materials. On their way to commit their murderous attacks, though, their bombs exploded, killing them before they had a chance to harm anyone else. Soon enough, the reason was discovered: Their handlers had inadvertently set the timers on the explosives to the wrong time. The clock change had confused them.
During the months of the yomim tovim, Tishrei and Nissan, there is often an increase in the terrorists’ attempts to harm us. Unfortunately, there have been times when they have succeeded. In most cases, the Israeli intelligence services have managed to prevent the terror attacks before they took place. We ourselves often do not even know about it. In most cases, the attempted terror attacks are not even reported, mainly to avoid causing panic; the existence of the phenomenon, though, is a known fact. During these months, the Israeli populace always receives warnings to exercise added caution, and an added police presence in deployed in the country’s major cities. The agents of the Shin Bet also increase their demands for information from their Arab collaborators.
The prime minister’s office released updated travel warnings in advance of Pesach, asking Israelis not to travel to Turkey, Egypt, and Jordan. A particularly strong warning was issued regarding the Sinai Peninsula. To our chagrin, many Israelis travel to those places for Pesach.
In Every Generation…
The head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, appeared in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and warned that Hamas may be planning to carry out terror attacks in Israel as Pesach approaches. It was quite a rare occurrence; the director of the Shin Bet does not usually appear before committees of the Knesset, and he tends to avoid the limelight altogether. Argaman claimed that Hamas has an interest in undermining security in Yehuda and the Shomron by carrying out terror attacks. May Hashem protect us!
The intelligence chief revealed a little bit about his agency’s ability to use technology, in addition to Arab collaborators, to prevent terror attacks. “We have thwarted about 400 potential terror attacks before the terrorists could carry out their intents,” he said. He went on to enumerate the attempts at terror that were thwarted in recent months. “During the year 2016, we prevented 344 significant terror attacks at the last minute, including 184 shooting attacks, 16 kidnappings, 16 suicide attacks, and 86 vehicular or stabbing attacks. There has been relative quiet recently,” he noted, but he cautioned us against being lulled into a false sense of security. “The quiet is deceptive,” he added.
And that is exactly the point I wish to make. In the vast majority of cases, we do not even know when we were saved from disaster. The Haggadah’s statement that “in every generation they rise up against us to destroy us” is no less true this year than it has been in the past. Klal Yisroel has always been a sheep among seventy wolves. May we finally be blessed with true freedom, both spiritual and physical.
Birkas Ha’Ilanos in the Knesset
The Knesset is on vacation, but the employees in the building are still at work. In truth, members of the Knesset who truly serve the public can be found in the building even during the parliament’s recess. I do not need to look at the attendance board or at my computer screen to see who is continuing to work during the recess; I see them all in the Knesset shul at Minchah.
At the beginning of Nissan, the Knesset employees went out to the courtyard of the building to recite birkas ha’ilanos, and MK Yisroel Eichler accompanied them. Eichler, Uri Maklev, and Yitzchok Vaknin take turns serving as the “Knesset darshan”; every day after Mincha, the gabbai of the Knesset shul, Asher Chazan, asks someone to deliver a dvar Torah. That brief address is followed by another recitation of Kaddish. Eichler always consents to the request to “say a few words,” as do Maklev and Vaknin. On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, as he does on every Rosh Chodesh, the gabbai arranged an assortment of refreshments on a table in the shul, and Yisroel Eichler, who was tapped to deliver the dvar Torah, gave a short speech connecting the month of Nissan with the halachah of birkas ha’ilanos and with the fruits that had been put out for the mispallelim’s enjoyment.
Eichler mentioned that every person will be judged on whether he derived enjoyment from Hashem’s creations. After he finished speaking, I commented to him that I thought he had made a mistake. The Gemara states that a person will be judged on his honesty in business and on various other things, but it makes no mention of deriving pleasure from the world. Eichler did not reply, but he later sent me the source in an e-mail. It is a passage in the Yerushalmi, in Maseches Kiddushin, which states, “A person is destined to be judged before Hashem for everything that his eyes saw and that he did not wish to eat from, even though it was permitted to him and he was capable of it.”
Earlier that same day, there was an event in the Knesset auditorium in which the Minister of Health handed out awards to various organizations and medical askanim. One of the recipients was Rabbi Yitzchok Goldknopf, who runs a network of preschools in which children with special needs are integrated into ordinary classes. Rabbi Goldknopf opted to give the reward in turn to Mrs. Esther Klein. Mrs. Klein is an incredible woman; she is partially paralyzed and is confined to a wheelchair, yet she works as the educational director of Rabbi Goldknopf’s institutions for special education and integration. The recognition, he asserted, was definitely due to her. The audience was stunned and moved to tears.
I sometimes feel that the Knesset is a much more dignified place during its vacation, when the workers are present but the parliamentarians themselves are not. During the recess, the Knesset shul is open while the plenum is closed, and the strident sound of arguing in the Knesset committees is replaced with meaningful events held in the building’s auditoriums.
The Judges Take On the Dayanim
These were not the only newsworthy items. Another major saga came to a close as the coalition crisis over the Public Broadcasting Corporation finally drew to an end. Each party to the dispute – Netanyahu and Moshe Kachlon – is certain that he was the winner. It is exactly what one might expect from squabbling children. In fact, no less important than who actually won is the question of which of them the public considers the winner. The actual content of their agreement isn’t even all that interesting. It states, more or less, that the corporation will begin operating, with the exception of its news division. That was the division that caused Netanyahu to be outraged – and perhaps justifiably so. Most of that division of the corporation, after all, was staffed and controlled by his enemies.
Then there was a ruling of the Supreme Court that proved, once again, that even if the court wants to be objective, it is incapable of doing so. For the past several months, there has been an ongoing news story concerning a decision issued by the bais din of Tzefas, which permitted an agunah to remarry. The highest rabbinic body in the State of Israel is the Bais Din Hagadol, which is headed on a rotating basis by one of the two chief rabbonim of the country. When one chief rabbi serves as the head of the Bais Din Hagadol, the other heads the Chief Rabbinical Council and the country’s kashrus system. In the middle of their terms, the two switch these positions with each other. Actually, I believe that the current Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Rabbi Dovid Lau, prefers to maintain the present situation until the end of his term. Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Sephardic chief rabbi, is currently serving as the president of the Bais Din Hagadol, and Rabbi Lau would prefer to see him maintain that position, while he himself remains the president of the Chief Rabbinical Council.
The current saga began when Rav Yitzchak Yosef, the Rishon Letzion, overturned a decision of the bais din of Tzefas that permitted a woman to remarry. His ruling was challenged in the Supreme Court. On Thursday, the court announced that the highest-ranking rabbinic bais din in the country – which is officially supposed to be equal in power to the Supreme Court itself – did not have the authority to hear a case concerning the lower bais din’s ruling.
Then there is the Kosel agreement. We are approaching the finish line; in two more months, the Supreme Court will issue its ruling. Of course, there is a significant chance that the court will rule in favor of the Reform movement and against us. The court might even go further than that, and award the Reform movement more than they would have received by the terms of the compromise that we rejected. What will happen? Just as Hashem performed miracles for our ancestors, may He perform miracles for us as well.
The Work of Amateurs
I read some statistics that were published to mark the conclusion of the Knesset’s winter session, and I found myself thinking that the figures had to be falsified, or at least misleading. One article named one of the chareidi members of the Knesset as the most prolific lawmaker of the sitting: “According to the statistics published on the Open Knesset website, he holds the record for attendance…. In terms of legislation, he is at the top of the list of the chareidi members of the Knesset, with 362 proposed laws to his credit, of which 56 passed their preliminary readings, 19 passed the first reading, and 18 passed the second and third readings and were passed into law.” I believe that this is not referring to laws actually introduced by this member of the Knesset, but rather to laws to which he added his signature. Every member of the Knesset solicits signatures from his colleagues for the laws that he introduces. And if that is the case, then the figures are meaningless.
Indeed, the article also rates the members of the Knesset on “participation in proposed laws that were introduced at the beginning of the current Knesset.” There seems to be little significance to this; after all, it refers only to the number of times that an MK signed a bill introduced by someone else. Perhaps it is a measure of the degree of popularity or respect that each Knesset member enjoys, based on how often he is asked to sign other bills, but it indicates nothing about his legislative efforts. In the same chart, Yitzchok Cohen is ranked in the last place, with zero participation. This, too, simply shows a lack of understanding: Cohen serves as a deputy minister, which makes him a member of the executive branch of the government, and a deputy minister is not entitled to sign on proposed laws, which involve the legislative branch. Now, the people who compiled these statistics did not list any of the other chareidi ministers or deputy ministers; why was Yitzchok Cohen singled out? This simply shows that it is the work of amateurs.
Another set of statistics relied on the findings of the Public Knowledge Workshop; once again, I found some information that was confusing, if not outright mistaken. “For instance,” the article asserts, “it has been found that the member of the Knesset who participated in the largest number of Knesset sittings in the current session was MK Roy Folkman (142 sittings), followed by MK David Bittan (Likud) and Osama Saadi (Joint Arab List), with 141 each. Next was Uri Maklev of UTJ (140 sittings) and Moshe Gafni of UTJ (128 sittings).” This cannot be accurate at all, since there is no way to determine the number of Knesset sittings at which any member of the Knesset was present in the plenum. There are records of the number of votes taken by each member, which are recorded by computer, and one can also determine how often a member of the Knesset was present in the building, since every entry is recorded by the security guards. However, there is no way to determine when a member of the Knesset was actually present in the plenum. Whoever compiled these statistics, then, seems to have taken his job a bit too lightly.
Besides, is the presence of a Knesset member in the plenum any indication of fruitful and effective parliamentary work? It is certainly feasible that a member of the Knesset might not attend many plenary sessions or committee meetings, yet he might still accomplish an incredible amount on behalf of his constituents. On the other hand, there have been a number of chareidi Knesset members who were prolific speakers, but in the final analysis, does that really mean that they achieved anything of substance?
Eim Habonim’s Crucial Role
“When my father passed away, things became easier for me.” This statement was made to me by a 17-year-old young man at the Eim Habonim dinner last motzoei Shabbos. I stared at him, and it was clear that he was being serious. His facial expression indicated that he was fully behind the illogical, heartrending statement he had just made. Yes, he asserted, his father was killed in an accident six years ago, and then things became easier. He became an orphan, his mother became a widow, and they both began to breathe easier. Until that day, his mother was a divorcee, and he and his brothers were the sons of a divorced woman. “Only someone who was in the same situation can understand this,” he told me.
Rav Yisroel Gans, one of the most prominent rabbonim in Yerushalayim and one of the roshei hayeshiva of Yeshivas Kol Torah, is the president of Eim Habonim. In his speech, he asked rhetorically, “If you were asked to help a widow with four orphaned sons or a divorcee with four children, which of them would you be more likely to agree to help?” It is a painful reality, but he is correct.
“It isn’t a matter of lacking sympathy or empathy,” I commented to the young man who shared my table and essentially acted as my host. “An orphan has no father to help him, and a widow has nowhere to spend a yom tov.” I watched as his grip tightened on the glass in front of him, until I was certain that it would shatter. His gaze scanned the hall and then returned to me. “Let us part ways as friends,” he said lightly, “but you are mistaken. You are very mistaken. I had a father, and it was even sadder and more painful. The only place we could spend the Seder night was with my maternal grandfather, and the family wasn’t always pleased to see us. When we came to visit, my mother and grandmother would always argue over who was at fault. And my grandfather always said to her, ‘I told you so.’”
The Central Bureau of Statistics reveals the truth of the situation: In 2014, 4.2 percent of the households in the chareidi sector underwent a divorce, as opposed to 2.1 percent alone in the year 2004. That means that the divorce rate has doubled over the course of ten years. The point here is not to understand what this figure teaches us, but rather that we should ask ourselves who has come to the aid of these suffering families. And the answer is painfully simple: No one has! No one, that is, except Rebbetzin Malka Yarom, the founder of Eim Habonim. I read the organization’s brochure, and I came to understand how difficult, how sad, and how bitter this situation is for the children and their mothers alike. This organization provides crucial aid that helps divorcees and their children survive their plight and even thrive. They gain a tremendous amount from Eim Habonim: encouragement, companionship, yomim tovim, trips, financial aid, and tutors. Most important, though, is the knowledge that they are not alone in that all-consuming black hole. With Eim Habonim’s help, the darkness in their lives is transformed into light.
In his speech, Rav Gans quoted Rav Shach, who had repeated the story told by the Ponovezher Rov about his journey to Telz, when he passed through Radin to receive a brocha from the Chofetz Chaim. When the young Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman arrived at the Chofetz Chaim’s home, he was told that the gadol had left and would be returning shortly. As he sat and waited for the Chofetz Chaim to arrive, he began hearing piercing cries from the upper story of the house, and he felt compelled to investigate what was happening there. The Chofetz Chaim’s family assured him, though, that there was no need for concern; the voice belonged to the Chofetz Chaim himself. “Before you came,” they explained, “he was told that a certain woman is having a difficult childbirth and her life is in danger, and he went upstairs to say Tehillim.”
When Rav Shach repeated this story, he declared, “The Chofetz Chaim wept so passionately because he was a nosei b’ol; he shared the burdens of others. The woman was not his granddaughter or niece; she was simply another Jew. But who else would be concerned for her, if not the Chofetz Chaim? We must learn from him to share the burdens of others.”
“And we ourselves must learn from Rav Shach and the Chofetz Chaim,” Rav Gans said, concluding his address. “We must learn to join together with others who are suffering, to help them and to share their burdens.”
A Tzaddik in Yerushalayim
In conclusion, I would like to share a few words about Rav Zundel Kroizer zt”l, the outstanding tzaddik and Torah giant who was placed in this generation to illuminate the holy city of Yerushalayim with his piety. A biography of Rav Zundel was recently published, and I have collected a few tidbits from the book.
“After his marriage, he learned with Rav Berel Soloveichik,” the sefer relates. “After that period, he returned to Eitz Chaim, where he learned under Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. He then became a member of the founding group of talmidim at Yeshivas Mir, which was established in Yerushalayim at the time by Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. He spent many years immersed in learning in the yeshiva, where he was a chavrusa of Rav Beinish Finkel. During those years, he also traveled often to Bnei Brak to meet with the Chazon Ish and to discuss various topics in Torah with him, along with his close friend (and mechutan) Rav Chaim Brim, and Rav Moshe Yehoshua Landau.”
Here are a few more stories, for your yom tov reading pleasure:
One year, before Sukkos, one of Rav Zundel’s neighbors decided to build his sukkah around 12 o’clock at night. Upon hearing the loud sounds of a hammer striking repeatedly against wood and metal, Rav Zundel emerged from his home and told his neighbor, “This might be a question of a stolen sukkah.”
A yeshiva bochur related, “In the month of Av, I sent a letter to the rov with a shailah, and I enclosed a stamped envelope for him to send his response. In Shevat of the following year, my uncle went to visit the rov. The first question the rov asked him was whether he was related to me. When my uncle answered in the affirmative, the rov brought out the envelope with the stamp and asked my uncle to return it to me.”
Years ago, the Gra shul in Shaarei Chessed was searching for a laborer to do some work in the shul, and Rav Zundel offered to take the job for the pay they were offering. The gabbaim told Rav Shlomo Zalman that they had found a good worker, and when he learned the identity of the new shul employee, he was shocked. Rav Shlomo Zalman rebuked them for the affront to the honor of the Torah, ignoring their protestations that Rav Zundel had come forward on his own accord to take the job. For several days thereafter, Rav Shlomo Zalman was deeply disturbed by the incident.
Here are two more stories, from which I will allow you to draw your own conclusions:
An American man asked Rav Zundel for a brocha for his daughter, who was growing older and hadn’t found her zivug. “Take a Yerushalmi for her,” Rav Zundel suggested.
“A Yerushalmi and an American wouldn’t be a good match,” the man said.
“Then take a Bavli,” Rav Zundel replied.
Before long, the girl became engaged to a Sephardic ben Torah.
About 40 years ago, Rav Yaakov Tepillinski, a close friend of Rav Zundel, became severely ill, to the point that the chevra kaddisha was called. One of Rav Yaakov’s friends ran to Rav Zundel to inform him of the situation. Rav Zundel closed his Gemara, which was always open before him, and made his way to Rav Yaakov’s home. For about twenty minutes, he paced back and forth outside the home, his face aflame with emotion. Then he said, “It will be all right; he will be coming to shul soon.” Rav Yaakov immediately regained consciousness, and he returned to shul three days later.
Ahavah on Purim, Yirah on Pesach
We will conclude with a couple of Rav Zundel’s insights concerning Pesach. The Gemara states that the Jewish people initially accepted the Torah under duress, but they renewed their acceptance of it in the days of Achashverosh. Rashi explains that it the love engendered by the miraculous salvation of Purim that led them to accept the Torah willingly. Rav Zundel pointed out that when the Jews came to Har Sinai to receive the Torah, they had already witnessed many extraordinary miracles: the ten makkos that befell the Mitzrim, the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim and the splitting of the Yam Suf. Why was it that only the miracle at the time of Achashverosh led them to accept the Torah with love, whereas they were not completely willing to accept the Torah at Har Sinai?
Rav Zundel explained that there is a distinction between the miracles of Purim and those that occurred at the time of Yetzias Mitzrayim: In the days of Achashverosh, the Jewish people’s miraculous salvation led them to feel love, but the miracles in Mitzrayim engendered a sense of yirah and awe. In fact, the Torah itself states, “Yisroel saw the great hand with which Hashem had dealt with Mitzrayim, and the nation was afraid.” Since the miracles instilled only fear, not love, their willingness to accept the Torah was not complete, and Hashem therefore coerced them to accept it.
Here is another of Rav Zundel’s incredible insights: The Gemara states (Shabbos 10b), “Because of the extra weight of two selaim that Yaakov gave Yosef more than his other sons, a chain of events began that led our forefathers to descend to Mitzrayim.” Rav Zundel was once asked how it was possible that such a terrible period of enslavement resulted from such a minor infraction. He responded, “Actually, the entire golus in Mitzrayim was the result of just a few words. The Gemara says (Nedarim32a) that Avrohon Avinu was punished with the decree that his descendants would be sent to Mitzrayim simply because he questioned Hashem and said, ‘How will I know that I will inherit [Eretz Yisroel]?’”
I had the privilege of seeing Rav Zundel on a number of occasions, when he visited the home of Rav Uri Zohar. Toward the end of his life, Rav Zundel walked with a cane and with great difficulty, yet he came to Rav Uri’s home repeatedly to ask him to intercede on behalf of various people in difficult situations. Rav Uri would always protest that Rav Zundel should not have made the effort to come to him, and that he should have summoned his host to his own home instead. But as much as Rav Uri protested, Rav Zundel continued making the effort to come, in a clear sign of his deep concern for those for whom he was seeking to help. Even to a simple person such as myself, who is not versed in the wisdom of reading faces, it was evident from a simple glance that Rav Zundel was an extraordinarily holy person.