Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Take on the News



Fears of Impending Incitement

Have you ever had a nagging feeling that something bad was about to happen, but you couldn’t put a finger on exactly what it was? In a sense, that is happening here in Israel, but our premonitions are a bit more specific. We know exactly what to anticipate, and we even know why.

The anti-government protests have led to a wave of refusals to serve in the IDF. It began with pilots in the air force, but the trend has since spread to other branches of the army as well. And while the earlier refusers were volunteers in the reserves, active soldiers have begun following their example. The problem has become so severe that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Gallant met with the top brass in the IDF to discuss the matter.

I will let you in on a little secret: This Wednesday, the Knesset convened in spite of its recess. Since the building is undergoing renovations, the Knesset met in an auditorium rather than in its usual chamber. This session wasn’t very interesting, but the meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee was quite intriguing. The committee held a classified discussion about whether the IDF is still prepared to operate both under routine circumstances and in an emergency situation. The discussion was prompted by serious concerns raised by senior officials in the defense establishment about the army’s combat readiness. In a joint subcommittee meeting attended by senior officials in the IDF, the Knesset members were given a detailed report on the army’s readiness “in light of existing and future needs.” The participants in the meeting raised the question of how the public dispute over the judicial overhaul will affect the IDF’s readiness in the future. Last month, before the bill eliminating the reasonability standard received its final approval, Prime Minister Netanyahu warned its opponents against refusing to serve in the army, cautioning them that it would lead to similar tactics on the other side of the fence.

What does all this have to do with the religious community? As I have written in the past, there is always a concern that any public controversy will ricochet to affect the chareidi public. This is especially true now, when the draft law must be passed. Just to remind you, the previous draft exemption for yeshiva bochurim was struck down by the justices of the Supreme Court; at this time, there is no law allowing them to defer the draft. In theory, that means that all the yeshiva bochurim in the country could technically be drafted at this moment. With large groups from other sectors refusing to serve, the danger of a backlash against the chareidim is tangible.

As for the draft law, the leaders of the chareidi parties recently warned Netanyahu that his time is running out. It is urgent for a new law to be passed anchoring the deferment for yeshiva bochurim in official legislation, along with an override clause that will prevent the Supreme Court from disqualifying it. Netanyahu responded that he is not certain he will have the ability to pass these bills at the beginning of the winter session. In fact, there are even some members of the Likud who oppose the bills. But those opponents do not understand one simple fact: If there is no draft law, there will be no government.

Tempers Flare and Netanyahu Frets

At this point, there is great concern that a wave of ugly incitement against the chareidi community, over the draft exemption for yeshiva bochurim and against chareidim in general, is just around the corner. Almost every day, another scandal seems to erupt and generate more outrage against chareidim. Even an everyday activity as prosaic as traveling on a bus can suddenly become a catalyst for controversy, as chareidim are regularly assailed with accusations of discriminating against women on public transportation. To make matters worse, there was a recent furor created by a correspondent for Channel 13, who claimed that she was forced to switch seats on a flight from New York because she had been placed next to a chareidi man. The truth soon came out: The woman had committed a veritable blood libel against her fellow passenger, as the real reason she had been asked to move was to allow two friends to sit next to each other. But when someone is eager to besmirch the chareidi community and fan the flames of hatred, facts tend to be unimportant to them.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has received new petitions that have added to the mounting tensions. An organization calling itself Achim Laneshek (Brothers in Arms), along with the parents of dozens of young men and women who are due to enlist in the IDF, appeared in the Supreme Court in Yerushalayim last week and petitioned the court to issue an injunction against the government’s decision to refrain from enforcing the draft of chareidim. They claim that there is no law presently on the books that makes it possible to grant deferments to yeshiva bochurim. From a purely legal perspective, of course, they are correct.

While the urgency of passing a draft law seems to increase every day, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked the chareidi parties to soften their proposed law, but his request was turned down. The chareidi parties insisted that the draft law must be passed exactly as the coalition agreements stipulate, including the override clause that will prevent the Supreme Court from striking it down. Moreover, it must be the first bill passed by the Knesset when it returns from its summer recess, just two months from now.

The Fruits of Incitement

The potential impact of incitement against the religious community should never be understated; it can have catastrophic results. A powerful example of this is a recent incident in Tel Aviv, when the Planning Committee in the Tel Aviv municipality canceled its approval for the construction of a new building for Maaleh Eliyohu, a national religious yeshiva situated in the city. The original decision to approve the building was made three months ago and evoked a storm of outrage in the city’s secular community. Reuven Ladiansky of the Green Secular party, a member of the city council, proudly boasted about the reversal this week: “Yeshivas Maaleh Eliyohu will not be established in the heart of a densely populated secular neighborhood. This is thanks to the struggle waged by the residents and the political battle that I fought within the Tel Aviv municipality. It is only because of the dedicated struggle of the residents and the political and professional battle that I led against the Planning Committee’s decision to place Yeshivas Maaleh Eliyohu in the area of Kikar HaMedinah that we managed to ruin the deal between Chuldai and the national-religious yeshiva, which was made without the knowledge or participation of the residents.” This, unfortunately, is what gives him pride.

The yeshiva in Tel Aviv was founded over 20 years ago in a building on Rechov Dafna. When the city needed space for municipal buildings in that area, the Bar Kochva shul, which served as the yeshiva’s headquarters, was demolished, and the municipal government offered it a new location about a kilometer north of its original position, on a side street on the opposite side of Rechov Arlozorov. Some of the street’s residents were angered by the yeshiva’s proposed move and complained that its large building would put too much stress on the neighborhood’s infrastructure. The residents were joined in their objections by the participants in the anti-judicial reform and black flag protests, and Ladiansky filed an official petition against the planning committee’s decision. The yeshiva is still permitted to move to the Megurim shul, but it will not be able to begin work on the building at the current time.

The incitement has led to vandals scrawling hateful graffiti on the walls of the shul, as well as a vicious struggle against tefillin stands in the neighborhood. In fact, this incitement has the potential to create a situation in which chareidim are afraid to walk in the streets. There are already several places in Israel where that is the case.

A Call for Responsibility

When I read the writings of some of my colleagues in journalism here in Israel, there are times when I really question their sense of responsibility. There are some things that should not be written about, and there are some things that it is even forbidden to write about. With all due respect to the public’s right to know and the concept of watchdogs, there are still some topics that should not be addressed in a public forum. I can understand the temptation of being the first to publicize a momentous piece of news or of getting an exclusive scoop, but these things should not come at the expense of the most fundamental principles of Judaism. By way of illustration, let’s say that a chareidi public figure makes a certain ultimatum with the hope of achieving something for the community, and then a journalist exposes the fact that he will not be capable of carrying out his threat. This might be considered a journalistic accomplishment, but it is also highly damaging to the work of that politician, whose only objective is to achieve something for the entire community.

Speaking of media responsibility, the media carried some negative stories last month about the chevrah kaddisha in the city of Rishon Letzion, accusing the organization of burying non-Jews in Jewish burial plots. The chevrah kaddisha insisted that the reports were unfounded, but their claims did not convince anyone; the press merely responded by publishing more negative stories about them. I admit that even I was led to believe that there must have been some truth to the allegations. Last week, however, the media changed its tune. Under the title “Burial Outrage in Rishon Letzion Comes to an End,” a leading newspaper reported, “This saga had reached its end. The rabbinical committee of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel has rejected the allegations about the burial arrangements in Rishon Letzion and has found that everything is carried out in accordance with high standards of halacha.” There are pictures of rabbonim meeting to discuss the topic and examining the area, as well as an image of a letter signed by the rabbonim that attests that the chevrah kaddisha’s procedures are completely proper. It is also mentioned that Rav Yitzchok Yosef, the chief rabbi, previously wrote a letter in support of the chevrah kaddisha. All of this leaves me with a simple question: Who will restore the honor of the chevrah kaddisha? Who will remove the stigma that this public criticism has attached to them? And where is the sense of responsibility of the journalists who published this story?

This is only one of many such cases. I could easily cite numerous other examples, but I will settle for one more. Ten years ago, the media gleefully reported that the police had recommended indicting a former deputy mayor of Raanana on charges of bribery. Almost all the reporters mentioned that this official had been associated with the chevrah kaddisha. What was the reason for mentioning that tangential fact? It’s simple: It made it evident to the readers that he was religious. Anyone who knew the man personally could attest that he was a paragon of decency and integrity, but many people were exposed only to the headlines and judged him accordingly. Four years later, the case against him was closed, after the charges were exposed as a mistake. But at that point, the media didn’t bother reporting on his exoneration. Now, do you think that anyone who spilled his blood in public bothered to ask for his forgiveness? Did anyone compensate him for the financial losses he suffered? Did anyone make amends to his family members, who were forced the bear the crushing shame of the situation?

This is my appeal to all my fellow writers: Take care to avoid shaming others, and be careful to preserve the dignity of the people you write about!

The Incapacitation Law Is Misunderstood

Speaking of newspaper articles and their writers, I should mention another point as well. Every story in the news about the Knesset has always captured my attention. In recent times, I have also taken a keen interest in their reporting on today’s hotly contested issues — the reasonability clause, the judicial reform, the override clause, and even the Incapacitation Law. I always try to understand these topics, but I discover that other reporters do not seem to understand them. There are times when I come across articles that are utterly incomprehensible. And there are some reports that are simply fake, such as this week’s investigative report about chareidim who allegedly defraud banks for the purpose of being approved for mortgage loans. These findings will surely soon be exposed as bogus.

My main topic here is the Incapacitation Law. In March 2023, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Basic Law: The Government, which stipulates that the only legitimate grounds for declaring a prime minister unfit to serve are if he is mentally or physically incapacitated in some way, and that the declaration can be made only by the prime minister himself. I understood that the purpose of this law was to preempt a move by the attorney general appointed by Gideon Saar, who announced that she was weighing the possibility of declaring Netanyahu unfit to serve after he violated her own order to refrain from involvement in the judicial reform, which she saw as a conflict of interest due to the criminal cases against him. The Supreme Court was petitioned against this amendment, despite the fact that it is part of a Basic Law! The attorney general supports the petitions, which argue that the amendment was an abuse of the Knesset’s authority and that it was passed for the current prime minister’s personal benefit. The Knesset’s legal advisor, meanwhile, disagrees with her. This week, the Supreme Court issued an injunction freezing the law until it is discussed by an expanded panel of justices. This entire saga is both shocking and absurd, but in this country, when an issue concerns Netanyahu, it seems that there is no red line that cannot be crossed and no precedent that cannot be set.

Yet while the absurdity and overreach are plainly obvious to me, it seems that some reporters do not understand. This week, I read the following newspaper report: “Last night, a senior official in the Likud responded to the Supreme Court’s decision in a discussion with Maariv. ‘This was a wise decision of the chief justice of the Supreme Court,’ he said. ‘Since incapacitation is not on the table right now and the attorney general isn’t demanding it, and there is no argument that the Knesset has the authority to enact a Basic Law — with the entire debate revolving around the question of whether it applies to Netanyahu — Chayut combined the discussion about incapacitation itself with the debate over the Basic Law. In the absence of incapacitation, the question of whether a Basic Law can take effect on a personal level becomes a theoretical issue, and the Supreme Court does not discuss theoretical matters.” Sorry, but I didn’t understand a single word that was written there.

The Prisoner Who Didnt Flee

This week, the Torah world has been enthralled by a newly released sefer, Divrei Shalom — Teshuvos V’Hanhagos, containing a collection of the teachings of Rav Shalom Cohen. I don’t know how many people have begun perusing the sefer yet, but I can tell you that I personally found it difficult to put down. This sefer focuses on one of the lesser-known facets of Rav Shalom’s persona: his expertise as a posek. The sefer deals with hundreds of his piskei halacha and personal practices related to the various holidays of the year. The broader Jewish world is certainly aware of his prodigious accomplishments as a marbitz Torah and a formidable spiritual leader, but this sefer focuses on his halachic rulings and personal conduct.

Rav Avichai Nissim writes in the foreword to the sefer, “This sefer is a refreshing new addition to the collections of Rav Shalom’s teachings. He was known primarily for his shiurim on iyun in the yeshiva, and his knowledge of halacha is less well-known to the broader public. The rov was also reluctant to issue halachic rulings and hesitated to answer questions that were asked to him, unless they came from his talmidim or family members, who had the privilege of hearing the word of Hashem from him. Even so, they did not all succeed in grasping the depth of his thinking; anyone who had a close connection to Rav Shalom was aware that he was a brilliant master of halacha and that every one of his actions, great or small, was calculated down to the tiniest detail. Likewise, every instruction that he gave to others was weighed and measured with the utmost precision.”

The sefer also contains some fascinating insights on aggadah, including a scintillating explanation of an issue that has always troubled me. Rav Shalom Cohen explains the famous moshol cited in the beginning of Shaarei Teshuvah (which he traces back to an earlier source, the Koheles Rabbah) to illustrate the severity of the failure to engage in teshuvah when one has the opportunity to do so. The moshol tells the story of a band of thieves who were captured and placed in a prison cell but managed to dig an escape tunnel, through which most of them fled. Only a single prisoner remained behind, and when the chief warden discovered him in the cell, he began beating him with a stick as he exclaimed, “Fool! The tunnel is right in front of you! Why didn’t you hurry to escape?”

On the surface, the warden’s reaction in the analogy seems very bizarre. One tends to think that a prisoner who does not escape from his cell along with his comrades is actually demonstrating his obedience to the king. Why should he be beaten for his failure to flee?

Rav Shalom explained that when the prisoners in this metaphor escaped from the cell, they demonstrated that they were disturbed by their incarceration in the prison, to the point that they seized the first opportunity that presented itself to flee. The warden was pleased with the fact that they understood that it is a punishment to be in prison; their decision to escape demonstrated that they would avoid committing crimes in the future, so that they would not be imprisoned again. The prisoner who remained in the cell, meanwhile, demonstrated that he had no objection to remaining there; it did not bother him to be held in the prison, and as far as he was concerned, there was nothing wrong with the situation.

The meaning of this analogy is now clear: When we do not engage in teshuvah for our aveiros, we demonstrate that we are not actually troubled by the fact that we have committed those sins. And that is a very unfortunate failure.

The Tragedies of This Bein Hazemanim

This bein hazemanim ended with yet another devastating tragedy: the death of an 18-year-old yeshiva bochur at the Maaleh HaShachar lake in the Golan Heights. The victim, Yishai Keinan (originally Kakon), was the son of Rav Dovid Keinan of the neighborhood of Pisgat Zeev in Yerushalayim and a first-year talmid in Yeshivas Tiferes Halevi in Elad. He was visiting the lake with his friends on a summer afternoon when he disappeared. Rescuers spent hours searching for him until he was finally located in the water and was pronounced dead immediately. He had been known as one of the most outstanding bochurim in his yeshiva.

This bein hazemanim was marred by a number of terrible tragedies. One such tragedy was the death of Rabbi Binyomin Halevi Praga, a 44-year-old mechanech in Talmud Torah Midrash Meir in Modiin Illit, who passed away from dehydration during a hike in the vicinity of Kochav Hashachar. Compounding the tragedy is the fact that his brother passed away in a similar fashion many years ago. Another tragedy was the death of ten-year-old Boruch Abadi from Rechov Ketzos Hachoshen in Kiryat Sefer, who drowned in a pool in Moshav Mattisyahu (near Modiin Illit). Another drowning, this one in a hotel pool, took the life of four-year-old Shoham Dovid Turgeman. And yet another drowning victim was 79-year-old Reb Yitzchok Ben-Shimol of Yerushalayim, who lost his life in the Kinneret while visiting the beach in Teveria. These were all decrees from Shomayim!

Murderers or Heroes?

Last week, I wrote about Elisha Yered and Yechiel Indor, the two young men who were arrested after a violent incident at the Arab village of Burqa. I explained that the police and the prosecution (as well as the Shabak, of course) mercilessly hounded Yered; the court ordered him released to house arrest, and the prosecution appealed the decision over and over as the case was moved to the District Court and then the Supreme Court, then returned to the Magistrates’ Court and then bounced up to the higher courts once again.

I did not mention, however, that Indor was subjected to the same process. Yechiel Indor was severely wounded in the violence and was hospitalized due to a deep hole in his skull inflicted by a rock that was thrown at him. In the hospital, he was officially in police custody and was guarded by police officers. When he was discharged, he was transferred to a Prison Service facility, where they refused to release him despite his precarious medical condition. Even if Indor had shot the Arab who was killed, it was clearly a case of self-defense, but the authorities paid no attention to that fact. At a certain point, Indor had to be brought to court when the police requested an extension of his remand, and he was brought to the courthouse in chains. That alone should be enough to demonstrate that the police and the Shabak approached this case with an obsessive attitude, but it did not end there. The Magistrates’ Court ordered Indor released to house arrest, and the prosecution appealed the ruling to the District Court. Once again, the District Court echoed the lower court’s ruling, and it was appealed to the Supreme Court, where the prosecution suffered another defeat.

It did not make an iota of difference to them that Indor, a resident of Ofra, had been hospitalized in Shaare Zedek with a crushed skull and that his life had been in danger during the altercation. The police insisted on keeping him in custody even when he was in the hospital, and he was brought to a hearing in chains. And as I mentioned, the prosecution continued appealing the courts’ decisions to release him to house arrest. This is utterly unfathomable. The enemies of the political right do not know how to accept a loss gracefully. They are firmly held in the grip of their collective ego. Is it any wonder that the Shabak has lost any trace of the public confidence it might have once possessed?

A Profitable Scheme for City Governments

I would like to quote a proposed law introduced by MK Erez Malul on the subject of parking tickets that are issued based on pictures taken by a municipal inspector in a car: “The enforcement of parking laws is very important for the sake of preserving public and municipal order. However, the enforcement of parking laws through cameras mounted on special vehicles does not achieve that goal of preserving public order and preventing disruption on main streets. The local authorities have simply found an alternative source of income and a means of enriching their coffers through the proceeds from parking tickets. Public order is not a factor in their considerations. The new approach of taking pictures of cars committing parking violations while the inspector’s vehicle is in motion, without announcing the violation, examining the car, or attempting to move it is an unacceptable method that does not achieve the goal for which the use of the cameras was approved. Many citizens receive parking tickets in the mail after a long time has passed, when they no longer have the ability to explain the circumstances of the incident. In many cases, the citizens who committed parking violations were in their cars when the violations were committed; if the inspectors had approached them or used the loudspeakers on their cars to ask them to move, those violations would have been prevented and the disruption to traffic and the public order would have been avoided.”

Malul truly hit the nail on the head when he accused the local authorities of finding an “alternative source of income” and pointed out that their true interest has nothing to do with maintaining order on the streets. This seems to me to be a very accurate assessment that extends beyond the specific topic of parking violations. The same can be true of tickets issued to motorists who were photographed in public transportation lanes. The media has identified this as a major source of revenue for the municipalities, especially Tel Aviv and Yerushalayim. The time has come for someone to put an end to this abusive treatment and exploitation of motorists. The citizens who drive on the roads of Yerushalayim have passed their threshold of tolerance.

An Inspiring Sheva Brachos for a Baal Teshuvah

This sheva brachos celebration had all the ingredients of a rags-to-riches fable. The chosson was a yungerman who is described by his rabbeim in Yeshivas Ashrei Ha’Ish as an outstanding lamdan who is completely immersed in his learning. Rav Tzvi Levi, the mashgiach of Yeshivas Kol Yaakov, spoke about the many challenges that the chosson faced and overcame. He also told the story shared by his wife, Rebbetzin Amaliah, who is involved in kiruv in the girls’ midrashah of Machaneh Yisroel and described the shidduch as a display of pure hashgocha pratis. The rebbetzin was the shadchanit who brokered this shidduch, and Rav Levi is the grandfather of the yungerman who first began learning with the chosson nine years ago in the midrashah run by Lev L’Achim in the neighborhood of Armon Hanetziv, when he was a promising student in a secular school. That yungerman told his grandfather about his new protégé, and a life-changing sequence of events was set in motion.

Rabbi Shaul Movshovitz, the Lev L’Achim coordinator in Armon Hanetziv, spoke about his role in encouraging local residents of all ages to come to the midrashah, while Rabbi Shlomo Rosenfeld discussed his responsibility for recruiting the yungeleit, most of them from the Mir yeshiva, to learn with the participants. The yungeleit, most of whom live in the nearby neighborhood of Bayit Vegan, are brought to Armon Hanetziv on Thursday nights in designated vans. The chosson, who has the appearance of a baal mussar, gave thanks to the people whom Hashem had sent into his life to set him on the proper path, teaching all of us, the inspired guests, about the wondrous workings of the hashgocha pratis that leads Hashem’s lost children back to Him. The host of the sheva brachos, the chosson’s chavrusa, spoke about his journey and marveled at the incredible strides he had made. The transformation took place over time, step by step — learning in the midrashah, then during bein hazemanim, then with his chavrusa in a shul in Bayit Vegan, and then visiting him for Shabbosos and developing the spiritual aspirations that eventually led him to Ashrei Ha’Ish and to make the difficult decision to become a yeshiva bochur. His story culminated with the miraculous shidduch that led to this marriage.

The chosson, a gifted student who had already completed his army service, joined the program out of a desire to enrich his Jewish knowledge before spending several years in university. Ten years later, his life has changed far more dramatically than he anticipated. What began with a weekly chavrusa in Armon Hanetziv continued with a regular learning seder with the same yungerman at the latter’s home in Bayit Vegan, in various shuls, and at all sorts of opportunities, until he finally took the leap and became a talmid in Yeshivas Ashrei Ha’Ish. Once he was there, Rav Yosef Ben-Porat took the young man under his wing and watched as he developed into a ben Torah and an avid student of mussar who amazes everyone who comes in contact with him. Today, he enjoys a relationship akin to actual brotherhood with the yungerman who has been his guide throughout his journey. His “Shabbat chattan” was held at the home of the same yungerman, who participated enthusiastically in hosting the simcha despite his visible poverty.

At the sheva brachos, it was revealed that he hails from a family of tzaddikim who were closely affiliated with the holiest tzaddikim in Morocco. His father, Yechiel Elisha, turned out to be a witty and learned man. He related that he lived in Kiryat Yovel as a child and that many of the neighborhood children frequently harassed him and knocked his yarmulke off his head. “I gave them a curse,” he said with a wry smile, “that the neighborhood should be filled with people wearing yarmulkes.”

Rav Avrohom Zaivald of Lev L’Achim also addressed the guests, telling wondrous stories about the dozens of young men who joined the midrashah in Armon Hanetziv, as well as similar programs in other neighborhoods, and became bnei Torah. He spoke effusively about the thousands of yungeleit in hundreds of neighborhoods in dozens of cities who are spearheading a quiet spiritual revolution, and then he added, “All of this is to the credit of Rav Uri Zohar, who envisioned this country becoming filled with kollel yungeleit and who introduced the concept of midrashot and recruiting yungeleit to learn with chilonim as a means of kiruv.”

The Happiest People

Since we have mentioned Rav Uri Zohar, I would like to add another comment about him. One of his most outstanding characteristics was his constant joyous mindset. “I am the happiest person on earth,” he would often say. This was a statement that often seemed to be belied by the circumstances under which he lived: His wobbly bed was held up by a telephone book, he wore the same simple jacket that had accompanied him to meet the Steipler and Rav Shlomo Zalman and that hung on a nail protruding from a wall in his apartment, and in his final years, he could often be seen laboriously making his way across the street with his walker to attend a shiur in the bomb shelter facing his home. Throughout all this, despite a life that many would consider the epitome of privation, Rav Uri repeatedly insisted that there was no one in the world who was happier or more content than he was. And there was no doubt that he believed it; Rav Uri was a man of truth at his very core, and he would never make a statement that was not sincere. From Rav Uri, we learned that happiness comes from within; it has nothing to do with living in affluence or comfort.

This week, I saw a video recording of a very short drosha that Rav Elazar Menachem Shach delivered in Nesivos Olam. Rav Shach stood ramrod straight at the front of the room, occasionally pounding on the shtender before him and pausing here and there during his speech, as he addressed his audience in eloquent Hebrew. This speech is incredibly fitting for the month of Elul.

“Greetings to everyone,” Rav Shach began. “My friends, this is the first time that I have been here. It was difficult for me, but when I arrived here and witnessed these sights….” Rav Shach was clearly emotional. “It is very hard to express my joy in words,” he continued. “I would like to tell you how you should be feeling, the type of joy with which you should live. Chazal tell us that in the place that is occupied by baalei teshuvah, even perfect tzaddikim cannot stand. This relates to their reward in Olam Haba. The Torah says this, and Chazal tell us this, and that is all we need to know. It is the truth! That is the way it will be! You must rejoice over this.” Rav Shach briefly placed his hands over his heart and then spread his arms wide. “I would like to open my entire heart before you, to tell you about my deep admiration for you, but it is hard for me. I can tell you only that you are the most fortunate people in the world! You are far more fortunate than even the wealthiest men.”

Sensitivity Over a Minhag

This week, I heard a remarkable story. On Thursday, the family of young Moshe Menachem Rotenberg celebrated his pidyon haben, bringing great joy to his parents and grandparents. The kohen, Reb Yosef Rappaport (the author of the sefer L’Teshuvas Hashanah on the Rambam’s Hilchos Teshuvah) shared a story at the simcha that yields an eye-opening lesson.

Several years ago, Rabbi Rappaport related, he served as the kohen at the pidyon haben of a grandson of the renowned Rav Sraya Deblitzky. The father of the baby informed the kohen that his father, Rav Sraya, had instructed him to hold the pidyon at night, contrary to the traditional practice among Ashkenazim. This was extremely surprising. Rav Sraya was an outstanding talmid chochom with an almost unmatched depth of understanding of the Torah’s mystical secrets, but he was also known for his encyclopedic knowledge of minhagim and his meticulous observance of every minhag that exists. Many of his practices are recorded in the sefer Derech Yesharah, and Rav Sraya published numerous seforim and kuntresim, many of which deal with various minhagim, during his lifetime as well.

“I was very surprised by my father’s decision,” the baal simcha admitted, “but he was absolutely insistent. He did not explain the reason to me.” Rabbi Rappaport decided to investigate the matter for himself and approached Rav Sraya to question him. Rav Sraya explained, “If the pidyon were to be done during the day, they would certainly hold it after the vasikin minyan at the shul where I regularly daven. One of the mispallelim in that shul is an elderly kohen, and I am sure that if he did not receive the honor of redeeming my grandson, it would cause a twinge of pain in his heart. It might even be a bit of an affront to his honor. And what value is there to any minhag — such as the custom of holding a pidyon haben only during the day — if it is weighed against a potential breach of bein odom lachaveiro?”




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