Tuesday, Apr 23, 2024

My Take On The News

Two Jews Killed in Terror Attack

It is Sunday evening in Eretz Yisroel, and two Jews were murdered just a few hours ago. At 1:41 p.m., a report was received on the Magen Dovid Adom hotline about two men who were injured on Route 60, near Huwara. The victims were transported by helicopter to the hospital, but both men died of their injuries en route. The victims were two brothers from the community of Har Bracha: Hillel Menachem and Yagel Yaakov Yaniv. They were driving through the Arab village of Huwara in Shomron, south of Shechem, when a terrorist crashed his car into theirs, emerged from his vehicle, shot at them point blank, and then escaped. The double murder plunged the country into mourning. Of course, it also led to no small degree of resentment against the current right-wing government. The residents of Yehuda and Shomron are furious; they feel that they have been abandoned by the security establishment.

It is difficult to get into the Purim mood.

Incidentally, I asked a coworker in the Knesset why Israeli settlers such as the two murdered brothers would drive through an Arab area. He was outraged by the question. “Either the media doesn’t understand the reality,” he said, “or they are deliberately distorting the facts. They did not drive into an Arab area; they were driving on a road that is used by anyone who lives in Yitzhar, the community where I live, or in Har Bracha. It is a main road, and it is the only road that can be used to travel there. It is used by tens of thousands of Jews every day. It runs past Huwara, which is the reason for its name.”

We talked at length about the incident, and my coworker said adamantly, “The government must use every means at its disposal to punish terrorists, and especially to punish their family members. That is the only way to deter those who are prepared to become shahids.” As he spoke, he began to cry.

The Paley Law

A rational observer would be utterly perplexed by the behavior of Israeli society today. Jews are being murdered by terrorists, but the protests against the government are still going on. I am sure that people elsewhere in the world are finding it difficult to understand the mentality of this country. Future generations will likely be similarly baffled by the historical records of this period. We are living in an upside-down world, in a country that seems to have lost any trace of reason. We have a parliament that brings shame to our country, an attorney general who repeatedly challenges the government, judges with criminal temperaments, and army generals and police commissioners (such as Yair Golan and Aryeh Amit) who spout language that belongs in the gutter, while the losers of the recent election insist against all reason that they should be the ones running the government.

Israel of today is akin to the lowest of all nations. Out of all the figures in Israeli politics, it is Yariv Levin who is actually exhibiting a backbone: He is focused on his goal, he ignores all the background noise, and he is pursuing his objectives with determination and courage. And those objectives are entirely worthy: He intends to restore the government’s ability to govern and the legislative branch’s power to legislate; until now, both branches of the government have been stymied by the Supreme Court’s abuse of its power. The chareidim, meanwhile, are studiously sitting on the fence, refraining from becoming involved in the fight. At the same time, there is a vital issue at stake for the religious community: If the override clause is not passed, then the judges of the Supreme Court are bound to strike down any draft law that is passed, on the grounds that it is unequal.

Last Monday, when thousands of protestors surrounded the Knesset building in a fit of madness and rage, Justice Minister Yariv Levin was calmly meeting with Sander Gerber, an American citizen who is perturbed by the forgiving attitude toward terrorism and the high stipends paid to Palestinian terrorists. “The terrorists receive enormous sums,” he said, “and a terrorist who kills a Jew in Yerushalayim is given a bonus. How can Israel be silent in the face of this outrage?”

Five years ago, Gerber played a significant role in the passage of a law calling for money to be withheld from the Palestinian Authority due to its funding of terrorism. Today, he has another proposal to make. At a meeting with members of the Shas and Degel HaTorah parties at the home of Rav Boruch Weisbecker, Gerber presented the text of a new bill regarding compensation for victims of terror, which he named after Asher and Yaakov Paley, the two young boys killed in a terror attack a couple of weeks ago. The government will not approve the name of the law, but Yitzchok Pindrus has already collected the signatures of forty members of the Knesset supporting the measure. Gerber has also obtained the support of the Minister of Justice for the law, which indicates that it is likely to be passed by the Knesset.

The Truth About the Chometz Law

I am astonished by all the outrage being directed at the so-called Chometz Law approved by the Knesset last week. The law’s opponents decry the fact that visitors to hospitals will have their bags searched, but that is a ludicrous complaint; there is no hospital, shopping mall, or theater in the country that does not have a security guard stationed at its entrance who searches every bag that enters the facility. They have also denounced the law as a form of religious coercion, which is utterly absurd. In fact, where is their compassion for religious patients in hospitals? Why don’t they feel that the tenets of Judaism deserve any consideration under the law?

Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Asher, and Yitzchok Pindrus did not submit this bill in order to flex their political muscles. On the contrary, it came in response to petitions filed against the court by virulent anti-religious activists, and a highly offensive ruling issued by a band of hostile judges. The purpose of the new bill is only to restore the previous situation; is that a valid reason for it to trigger such an outpouring of rage?

I am not certain if the law’s opponents bothered to read it at all. For one thing, the law does not apply to any institution that doesn’t portray itself as kosher. For instance, a hospital in the Arab sector will be exempt from this law’s provisions. And while the law states that “chometz and other food items will not be brought into or held in any medical institution during the holiday of Pesach,” it also states that “the director of a medical institution will be authorized to appoint an employee who will prevent food items from being brought into the institution or kept there.” In other words, it will be up to every hospital administrator to decide whether to show this consideration to the patients; the law does not mandate the banning of chometz in every hospital in the country.

The explanatory notes are worded with a mix of conviction and sensitivity: “The holiday of Pesach, which is known in the Torah as the festival of matzos, is the holiday that symbolizes the birth of the Jewish nation and its redemption from slavery to freedom. According to polls and studies performed in Israel, the holiday of Pesach is considered the most important holiday observed in the country by the entire populace. The vast majority of the Jewish people observe Pesach and take care to abide by the prohibition of consuming chometz.”

The bill’s authors go on to explain the severity of the prohibition of chometz, pointing out that it is not neutralized even in a mixture more than sixty times its volume, unlike other prohibited foods, and that it is forbidden even to possess chometz on Pesach. Regarding the Supreme Court ruling in April 2020, they add, “The ramification of this ruling is that the majority of the citizens of Israel, who observe the laws of Pesach, will not be able to receive medical treatment or be admitted to a hospital on Pesach.” They also mention the position of Neal Hendel, the kippah-wearing judge who held the minority opinion and called for a solution to be found.

It isn’t news to anyone that Israel has seen the rise of a generation completely ignorant of Jewish tradition. But it is saddening and painful to witness the work of a society filled with hostility to anything that smacks of Yiddishkeit.

Ministers Singing Their Own Praises

Last Friday, the cabinet approved the state budget for the coming year. The approval of the budget is generally accompanied by disputes between various ministers and Treasury officials, in a process that can take many days. This time, however, Netanyahu made sure that the process would be quick and smooth.

After the government approved the budget, all the ministers in the cabinet hurried to publish boastful statements touting their accomplishments on behalf of their respective ministries. However, something about this did not add up. If every minister had all of his or her ambitions fulfilled, then the budget would have been massive. It is impossible to imagine that there were no funding cuts—but if some cuts were made, then where were the ministers decrying the loss of funding for the areas under their purview?

I was reminded of the old joke about the man who used to spend months away from home every winter to engage in business dealings, returning only at the onset of spring. In the years when his business ventures were unsuccessful, he would make sure to return home in an elegant carriage with four horses attached to it. “If I am coming home with empty pockets and in a state of misery,” he would reason, “then I can at least see to it that my neighbors will be riddled with envy so that my misery is shared.” Whenever he turned a handsome profit, however, he would walk back into town on foot like an impoverished vagrant. “If I am coming back in a state of joy,” he would say, “then let me give my neighbors reason to celebrate as well.”

The Donkey on Rechov Chanan

Now that I have dispensed with some news items, let us at least try to inject some small element of the Purim atmosphere into this column, beginning with this story: One year, Rav Elyashiv returned home after the megillah reading on Purim to find himself greeted by a white donkey standing at the entrance to his building. Of course, someone had brought the animal there in an effort to squeeze a smile out of the generally taciturn rov. Indeed, Rav Elyashiv laughed loudly—but then he turned immediately to his family members and asked, “Did you give food to the animal?”

A New Measure of Time

There are various measures of time defined by halacha based on certain activities. For instance, there is a span of time known as kedei achilas pras, and another measure of time known as kedei dibur. Rav Shmuel Auerbach once told me that Rav Elyashiv had taught him about a new, contemporary concept: a time span that he humorously dubbed kedei temunah, or the amount of time required for a photograph to be taken.

Rav Elyashiv once attended a bar mitzvah of the son of talmid, he explained. Although the rov made an effort to attend every simcha celebrated by his talmidim, he asked his grandson in advance to help him get out of the hall as quickly as possible, regardless of the pretext.

“How long does Zeide wish to stay?” his grandson asked.

“Long enough for the baal simcha to take a picture,” Rav Elyashiv replied. After all, having a photograph of the gadol hador at their simcha was the thing that would bring the greatest joy to the celebrants.

Purim Will Never Be Abolished

For a more serious interlude, let me share a vort from Rav Dovid Cohen, rosh yeshivas Chevron: The Midrash states that all the holidays of the year are destined to be abolished in the era of Moshiach, with the exception of the holiday of Purim. What makes Purim different from the other festivals on the calendar? And for that matter, why should the other holidays be abolished?

The Manos Halevi explains that the Midrash does not actually mean to imply that the other festivals will be completely abolished. Rather, the Midrash states that they will be batel, just as a prohibited food becomes batel b’shishim (nullified in a mixture that is sixty times its volume). This means that the miracles commemorated by those holidays will be vastly overshadowed by the miracles that we will witness in the era of Moshiach. The miracle of Purim, on the other hand, will remain even greater than the miracles of our final redemption.

Rav Dovid Cohen suggested that this can be explained based on the Vilna Gaon’s statement, in his commentary on Megillas Esther, that the uniqueness of the Purim miracle lies in the fact that it was not an overt miracle. This miraculous salvation, which occurred at a time of golus and Divine concealment, was a hidden miracle, unlike the other major miracles of Jewish history. Thus, the Midrash may mean that the unmistakable, overt miracles of our future redemption will greatly overshadow the miracles that occurred earlier in our history, but the concealed miracle of Purim will remain more meaningful and momentous even in contrast to the supernatural events of that time.

Kabbolas HaTorah At Sinai and in Persia

Many years ago, I heard the following vort from Rav Nosson Wachtfogel: The Gemara states that the Jewish people were coerced to accept the Torah at Har Sinai, when Hashem suspended the mountain over their heads, but they later renewed their acceptance of it during the days of Achashverosh, when they voluntarily committed to observe the Torah and its mitzvos. But while the Gemara describes this as a voluntary act, Chazal also tell us that the Jewish people were deeply intimidated by the threat posed by Achashverosh and Haman. In fact, the Gemara states in Maseches Megillah that Achashverosh’s act of removing his signet ring to seal a pact with Haman had a more profound impact on Klal Yisroel than the admonitions of all 48 neviim. Why, then, isn’t their acceptance of the Torah at that time considered the result of coercion as well?

Rav Wachtfogel offered an explanation based on an apparent contradiction in the Rambam. In one ruling, the Rambam states regarding the three cardinal aveiros—which one may not transgress even on pain of death—that if a person commits one of these sins in order to save himself from death, he is liable to the death penalty for that very act; however, since he committed the sin under duress, he is not punished with malkus (lashes) by a bais din. The Rambam goes on to state that a person may not commit any of these three aveiros for the sake of healing a life-threatening illness, and that if a person does so, he is subject to punishment at the hands of a bais din. Why is a person punished for committing one of these aveiros in order to save himself from illness, but not for committing the same transgression due to coercion? The Ohr Someiach explains that when a person is coerced by another human being to commit an aveirah, he is not considered to be performing a willful act, since the desire for the sin to be committed is that of the individual who coerces him. When a person commits an aveirah to save himself from illness, however, there is no other will imposing that sickness on him, and the transgression can be attributed completely to his desire to save his own life. Thus, one sin is considered the result of coercion, while the other is the product of his own will.

Rav Wachtfogel explained that this can account for the difference between Bnei Yisroel’s acceptance of the Torah at Har Sinai and their renewed acceptance at the time of the Purim miracle. At the time of Kabbolas HaTorah, when Hashem held the mountain over them and forced them to accept the Torah, His desire for them to receive the Torah was effectively imposed on them. After they were saved from Haman’s evil designs, however, the Jewish people committed wholeheartedly to observing the Torah out of their own volition; even though they were driven to do so by the fear they experienced due to the threat of annihilation, their act of accepting the Torah wasn’t forced upon them, and therefore it was viewed as having been done out of their own free will.

An Honorable Living

Rav Yisroel Meir Druk related this week that when Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel opened the branch of Yeshivas Mir in Brachfeld and appointed the members of its faculty, he told them, “I still don’t know how I will obtain the funds to finance this yeshiva’s operations, and I am not sure if you will receive your salaries in the coming months. Nevertheless, I can guarantee you that you will be honored as the founding members of the yeshiva’s faculty. Honor is also a form of parnossah, as we daven to Hashem in bentching, “Harachaman hu yefarneseinu b’kavod—May Hashem support us with honor—that is, being honored is a form of being supported.”

The Drunkenness of Lot

Sometimes, when a ben Torah drinks on Purim, it may lead him to dazzle his family and friends with his erudition. Consider the following veritable shiur kloli that I heard from such a drunkard:

The Rambam rules that if a person performs an act of kiddushin while he is drunk, it is a valid kiddushin and the marriage takes effect. However, if he has reached “the drunkenness of Lot,” the kiddushin is invalid. Elsewhere, the Rambam adds that a person who is as drunk as Lot is considered mentally incompetent and is exempt from all mitzvos and from the punishments for aveiros. Rav Hai Gaon defines this type of drunkard as “a person who has drunk so much that he is asked a question and does not know how to answer it.”

This leads to a puzzling question: The Gemara states (Eiruvin 65) that if a person in the state of “the drunkenness of Lot” commits a sin that carries the penalty of death, he is exempt due to his intoxication. However, there seems to be a more basic reason to exempt him from the penalty: By definition, he cannot possibly have received hasraah (a warning of the punishment for a sin, which is a prerequisite for imposing any punishment). A person must respond to hasraah by asserting that he is committing the sin with full knowledge of the penalty he will incur, but a person who has reached the drunkenness of Lot is not capable of responding to any question or statement that is made to him!

As I mentioned, this entire line of reasoning was presented to me by someone who was in a state of drunkenness on Purim, and it did not end there. Quoting Rav Moshe Soloveitchik, he explained, “If the exemption is due to a lack of hasraah, then the person is technically subject to the death penalty, but it is impossible to execute him because he was not properly warned. However, if he is intrinsically exempt because he is drunk, then it would mean that he was never liable to the death penalty at all. Ah, but what is the practical difference?” he continued. “It’s simple! Imagine that this person was mechallel Shabbos and tore someone else’s garment at the same time. If he is truly liable to the death penalty but cannot be punished because of the lack of hasraah, then he will be exempt from paying for the garment because of the principle of kim leih b’d’rabbah mineih [a person is absolved of a lesser penalty when he faces a greater one]. However, if his drunkenness exempts him altogether from the penalty, then he will be liable to pay for the garment.”

And it still wasn’t over. “We all know about the incident in the Gemara in which Rabbah slaughtered Rabi Zeira on Purim,” he continued. “Presumably, Rabbah was drunk at the time and was exempt from the death penalty, and therefore he was obligated to pay for tearing Rabi Zeira’s clothing. However, if he had been liable to death for the murder of Rabi Zeira and therefore exempt from paying for the damaged garments, one could have debated whether he became liable to pay for the damages after Rabbah was resurrected.”

This shiur kloli continued for quite a long time, leaving his audience agape. Of course, he even quoted Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, who pointed out that Rabi Zeira was a kohen and debated whether the kedushah of his kehunah was reinstated after his miraculous resurrection. In a similar vein, Rav Chaim also debated whether Rabi Zeira’s possessions were inherited by his heirs at the moment of his death, and whether he was entitled to reclaim his property after his resurrection.

Rabbah or Rava?

On that note, the maggid shiur of our daf yomi shiur, Rav Eliyohu Yitzchok Pincus, always comes up with a teirutz to any kashya that is put to him. Even if the teirutz seems incredibly unlikely, he feels that he cannot allow a question to go unanswered. On one occasion, someone told him that he found a particular answer to be unsatisfying. Rav Eliyohu responded by quoting the Gemara’s account of how Rabbah killed Rabi Zeira during a Purim seudah.

“Many have asked a kashya: How is it possible that Rabbah would kill Rabi Zeira?” Rav Eliyohu said. “Some answer that there is a different girsa of the text of the Gemara, in which the story deals with Rava rather than Rabbah.”

Of course, this evoked a storm of objections from the shiur’s participants: What difference did it make whether the Amora in question was Rabbah or Rava? The same question should apply to Rava: How could he have killed Rabi Zeira?

Rav Eliyohu smiled and replied loudly, “Well, we answered the kashya on Rabbah, and now you are left with a kashya on Rava. That is a different question, and we will deal with it at another time….”

The Absent Letter

Another drunken soliloquy at a Purim seudah revolved around a debate as to whether the passage of al hanissim is considered part of bentching. This debate was triggered by a particular incident: A melamed once challenged his students to find the letter feh sofit in bentching, promising a reward of ten shekels to any child who was successful in finding it. He based this challenge on the Beer Heitev’s statement (in siman 185) that the final feh does not appear in birkas hamazon, which alludes to the fact that a person who bentches with kavanah will not be subject to af, shetzef, or ketzef (various terms for Divine wrath, each of which ends in the letter in question). But one of his charges proudly announced that he had indeed found the letter—in the word taf, which appears in the passage of al hanissim.

At this point, the question of the status of al hanissim took on major significance. If it is considered part of Birkas Hamazon, then the rebbi was obligated to shell out the reward to his talmid. Then again, one might suggest that the rebbi should not be obligated to pay at all, since he could cite the Beer Heitev to support his position.

The speaker went on to share a related story: Rav Avrohom Genechovsky once told a child, “If you find Moshe Rabbeinu anywhere in the Haggadah of Pesach, I will give you 100 dollars.” The child looked through the Haggadah and came across the posuk that states, “They believed in Hashem and in His servant Moshe.” Rav Avrohom made good on his promise, even though he should ostensibly have been exempt from rewarding the child, since he had based himself on the traditional teaching that Moshe is not mentioned in the Haggadah at all.

Regarding the case of al hanissim, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein wrote, “The melamed is required to give the child his reward, since he found the letter in al hanissim, which is an integral part of bentching.”

The Klausenberger Rebbe on the Reform Movement

We have learned that the Reform movement is behind many of the negative things happening in Israel—not only the conflict over the Kosel, but most other things as well. They are like the modern-day eirev rav. They bring only harm, and they are constantly seeking to stir up trouble. The Klausenberger Rebbe once quoted a tongue-in-cheek comment: “Why did Hashem offer the Torah to the nations of the world before Mattan Torah? Was there even the slightest possibility that the Torah would be given to the children of Eisov? In truth, we see that the Reform movement and their ilk always wish to mimic the nations of the world. Thus, if the other nations had accepted the Torah, then the Reform Jews would have accepted it as well. Therefore, Hashem sought to give the Torah to the descendants of Eisov, so that the Reform Jews would accept it as well.”

A Brocha in Manhattan

Rav Moshe Feinstein passed away on erev Purim 5748/1986. Everyone who was in Eretz Yisroel at the time can still remember the massive levayah held in Yerushalayim on Shushan Purim. In honor of his yahrtzeit, I would like to share an incredible story concerning Rav Moshe, which was told to me by an American man at an event in Yerushalayim for the yungeleit of Lev L’Achim. This was his account: “When I was born, my parents were already somewhat old. My mother told me that my birth was a miracle. She recalled that they had been traveling through Manhattan on their way to Brooklyn, and that my father was in a rush to get to Mincha in Flatbush or Boro Park when he saw an elderly Jewish man waving for him to stop his car. In spite of his hurry, he pulled over to find out if there was some urgent reason that he was needed, and the stranger told him that he was looking for a tenth man for his minyan for Mincha. My father quickly discovered that he was speaking to the rov of a shul, and that there were eight other men waiting inside for the minyan to begin. This rov was an impressive-looking man; he was short in stature but something about him bespoke nobility. My father parked his car and entered the shul, and my mother decided that instead of waiting in the car aimlessly, she would daven in the ezras noshim. After the davening, the rov thanked my father for acceding to his request to join the minyan, and my parents returned to their car. While they were discussing their respective experiences, my mother said to my father, ‘Did you ask the rov for a brocha?’ My father admitted that he hadn’t done so, and my mother, whom I have always seen as the most refined and sensitive woman in the world, suddenly became vehement. ‘How could you not have asked him for a brocha?’ she demanded. ‘Couldn’t you tell from his face that he is a special person?’

“My father turned off the motor and returned to the shul, where he asked the rov for a brocha for a child. I was born one year later. That rov, who wasn’t very well known in New York at the time, was none other than Rav Moshe Feinstein.”

An Inauspicious Name

The month of Adar also includes the yahrtzeit of another great rov who was one of the leading poskim of his generation: Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who passed away on 20 Adar Rishon 5755/1995. Rav Shlomo Zalman is the subject of another story that was shared with me, and that I cannot resist sharing with you.

A couple once came to Rav Shlomo Zalman’s home to share the good news of the birth of a son and to discuss a disagreement that had arisen between them. The father wished to name the child Yehonoson, but his wife was vehemently opposed to it. She believed that the name was subject to an ayin hora; after all, their neighbors in the same apartment building had lost a child with the same name at the age of eight. The father rejected her argument out of hand. “Do you really think that no one should be given a name that belonged to a person who died young?” he demanded.

Rav Shlomo Zalman listened to their arguments, thought for a moment, and then said to the surprised father, “It is not a good idea to give this name to your son.” The rov wished them well, declined to serve as sandak at the bris, and suggested a different name. Shocked and deeply disappointed, the young father left the venerable rov’s home. He fully accepted Rav Shlomo Zalman’s psak, but he could not help but find it perplexing.

A short time later, the father found himself davening at a minyan in Yeshivas Kol Torah. As he was leaving the yeshiva, he spotted Rav Shlomo Zalman emerging from a classroom, and he hurried to join the rov as he made his way out the door. The yungerman reminded Rav Shlomo Zalman about his previous discussion with him, and the rov, uncharacteristically, did not smile.

Rebbi,” the young father asked, “do you really believe in ayin hora?”

“Not so much,” Rav Shlomo Zalman confessed. (In fact, Rav Shlomo Zalman was once asked if there was any truth to the non-Jewish superstition that a person who sees a black cat in the morning should be fearful throughout the day. “There is,” he replied, “but only if you are a mouse.”)

“Then why did the rov tell us not to use the name Yehonoson for our son?” the yungerman asked.

Rav Shlomo Zalman placed his hand on the younger man’s shoulder and said, “You told me that your upstairs neighbor had a son named Yehonoson.”

“Yes,” the father confirmed.

“And that child died.”

“Yes,” he said again.

“Just think about it,” the rov concluded. “When your child gets a little older and begins playing downstairs, and your wife wants him to come home, she will lean out the window and call out, ‘Yehonoson, come upstairs!’ Just think about how your neighbor will feel when she hears someone else in the building calling for a child named Yehonoson to come home.”



Save the Date

    Imagine that you’re a bear. On a certain crisp morning, you amble toward a certain river and position yourself at a certain spot

Read More »


Subscribe to stay updated