There is much for me to write about this week: the new front that opened in the north, the rocket fire from both north and south, the daily revelations that keep adding to our understanding that the army was completely blind to the threat from Hamas, the plight of the many hostages in Gaza and the Israeli left’s exploitation of their predicament, the appointment of Brigadier General Gal Hirsch as the special coordinator for the hostage situation, the expansion of the government to include Gantz and his colleagues, the massive wave of volunteerism on the home front on behalf of the soldiers on the front line, the many stories of heroism that have come to light, the postponement of the elections for local governments, and, above all, the fact that yeshivos and kollelim launched the winter zman this past week and began learning with all their might. Every one of those topics deserves to be discussed at length. But in spite of all that, we are all still in shock and deeply traumatized by the recent turbulent events.
The numbers are simply impossible to digest. Over 1300 people were murdered in the heinous attack! This number has been rising, since additional bodies have been repeatedly discovered in places where no one had searched previously. For instance, bodies were recently discovered between the border fence and one of the nearby kibbutzim. Some of the victims were participants in the large music festival, who fled from the scene and were murdered in an open area, and it has taken time for the bodies of those victims to be found as well.
We all know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, but despite the enormity of that figure, I have always felt that telling the story of one or two individuals is a far more effective way to convey the scope of the atrocities. The concept of six million victims is simply too mind-boggling to absorb, and in this instance, it is just as impossible to grasp the fact that over 1000 people were murdered. Just think about some of the terror attacks that shook the entire country in the past: Twenty years ago, the bombing that killed Dr. David Appelbaum shocked the country. Seven Israelis were killed in that attack, including Dr. Appelbaum’s daughter Nava, who was scheduled to be married that night. That heinous murder of seven innocent people paralyzed the country with shock. Three years earlier, in the summer of 2001, sixteen innocent people were murdered in the Sbarro’s terror bombing, and the entire country was beside itself with anguish. And in the summer of 2003, a bus bombing took the lives of 23 people returning from the Kosel Hamaaravi. The pictures of children murdered in that bombing shook the entire nation. But now the death toll is fifty times as great. Over 1300 Jews were murdered al kiddush Hashem, and the country is reeling in shock.
This is a tragedy that our minds and our hearts are incapable of assimilating. No one even knows what to think or how to react. Should we seek vengeance, or should we leave it to Hashem to exact retribution? We know that everything that happened was decreed from Above. As the Torah states, such a calamity is a sign that “their Rock has sold them, and Hashem has delivered them”—that is, such a disaster was capable of occurring only because Hashem withdrew His protection from us. It also seems to be vividly described by a passage in Tehillim: “Behold, Your enemies have stirred and those who detest You have lifted their heads…. They said, ‘Come, let us destroy them from being a nation, and let the name of Israel not be remembered anymore.’” This same perek, however, continues with a vivid plea for Hashem to heap shame and scorn on our enemies, to plunge them into devastation and to let it be known that He is the supreme Ruler of the earth. May we see the fulfillment of this prayer soon!
Rav Meilech’s Moshol
This past Shabbos, numerous Torah leaflets, newsletters, and other publications found their way to our shuls and homes, presenting a wide array of thoughts and insights pertaining to the current situation. I would like to quote the famed, who always knows the right thing to say.
The Rambam says that when disaster strikes, it is cruel to attribute it to natural causes or to random chance rather than crying out to Hashem. We should not be thinking about the natural causes of this tragedy or searching for an explanation for it in worldly terms. Instead, we must have emunah that everything that occurs in this world is directed by Hashem, everything is calculated with hashgocha pratis, and there isn’t a single drop of blood that is spilled, or pain or suffering that is experienced, that hasn’t been ordained in Shomayim. This is a fundamental principle of Yiddishkeit, but at a time of such confusion and uncertainty, it is important to refresh our awareness of these ideas.
Rav Elimelech Biderman quoted a famous moshol attributed to the Chofetz Chaim: A man once entered a shul and heard the mispallelim reciting the words, “Shomer Hashem es kol ohavav v’es kol hareshoim—Hashem protects all those who love Him and all the wicked.” The visitor was shocked. How can the posuk possibly state that Hashem protects the wicked? He turned and left the shul immediately and then entered another shul, where he heard the congregation reciting the words, “Es kol ohavav v’es kol hareshaim yashmid—All those who love Him and all the wicked He will destroy.” Once again, he was shocked: Why would Hashem destroy those who love Him? The answer, of course, is obvious: This man heard only portions of a posuk, whereas the complete posuk states that Hashem protects those who love Him and will destroy those who are wicked. A person must see the entire picture if he wishes to understand anything.
Rav Meilech went on to quote the posuk, “Do not be like a horse, like a mule that does not understand.” When a mule or horse receives a slap on the back, he explained, it continues walking without looking to see where the blow came from. A person must not adopt that habit; any blow that we receive should be a catalyst for introspection. Rav Meilech related that the Kedushas Tzion of Bobov was once asked to explain why Hashem did not intervene to stop the horrors of the Holocaust. He responded with a moshol: A father warned his child not to enter a nearby forest, which was teeming with predatory animals, but the child refused to heed his father’s warnings. Time and again, he climbed the fence at the edge of the forest to explore the area, and his father repeatedly rescued him from the danger he had brought upon himself. One day, his father decided that he would teach his child a lesson, and he donned a lion costume. This time, when the boy entered the forest, the “lion” pounced on him. After what seemed to him to be a narrow escape, the terrified child hurried home and demanded, “Father, why didn’t you save me from the lion?” He did not realize that the “lion” was actually his own father, who had decided to frighten him out of his wits so that he would exercise greater caution in the future.
Yes to Hishtadlus, No to Fear
Rav Yitzchok Goldstoff, the publisher of the weekly newsletters Divrei Siach and Kovetz Gilyonos, also shared a relevant insight attributed to Rav Chaim Kanievsky. “There are some people who are always anxious about possible misfortunes such as diseases, wars, persecution, and the like,” Rav Goldstoff wrote, quoting Rav Chaim. “These people spend their lives in fear, trembling with worry over all sorts of potential mishaps. Some people allow these fears to deter them from traveling to other places; others are afraid even to leave their homes. This is not the correct way to behave.” Indeed, the streets of Yerushalayim have been desolate in recent days. People are afraid to leave their homes! When Rav Chaim discussed this issue, he quoted various passages in the Gemara that express disapproval of such anxiety, and then he continued, “All of this results from a lack of emunah. If a person believed that everything that occurs is ordained by Hashem, and that no one will even injure a finger in this world unless it is decreed in Shomayim, why would he feel fear?” Rav Chaim went on to explain the distinction between the requirement of hishtadlus (which he termed “zehirus,” or caution), which is both important and desirable, and the improper actions that stem from fear and anxiety.
I also received a copy of the Maamar HaTochachah, a shmuess delivered by Rav Dovid Povarsky on Sukkos 5734/1974, after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War fifty years ago. Ten years ago, this shmuess was printed and distributed in the Ponovezh yeshiva by Rav Gershon Edelstein and Rav Berel Povarsky during the military operation that took place that summer, Operation Protective Edge. Today, once again, the shmuess is as relevant as ever. I found it astonishing to read the words that were spoken fifty years ago, which could easily have been written specifically for the current day. Rav Dovid spoke about the atrocities committed by the Communists in Russia, who sought to stamp out Judaism and destroyed entire famous Jewish communities such as those of Minsk, Lutzk, and Bobruisk. Three million Jews were killed in this process, and then the Holocaust took the lives of another six million Jews. “Now,” he continued, referring to the days of the Yom Kippur War, “we are surrounded by an erev rav, by many nations whose only goal is for the name of Israel to be forgotten.”
At that time, Rav Dovid called for change in three areas. First, he said, if we remain calm at a time of immense danger, we must be concerned that we are afflicted by misplaced confidence in the might of the army. “Did any of you fast over this?” he asked the bochurim pointedly. Second, he exhorted them to share the pain of those who were wounded or who were fighting on the front lines. “Can a mother be capable of smiling today if her son was taken to the battlefield?” he asked rhetorically. Finally, he urged the bochurim to remain inconspicuous and avoid being seen in the streets. “If a father and mother see other young men walking around freely when their own children were taken to battle, and they have no information about their children’s well-being, it will cause them to transgress the sin of hating other Jews,” he said. “Those thoughts are inevitable for them; they are incapable of understanding things differently. After all, we cannot expect them to think like great people. Can we possibly expect them to understand the true function and impact of bnei Torah?”
Look in the Pesukim
On Monday night, Avigdor Kahalani gave voice to the sentiments shared by many Israelis, describing the events of this past Simchas Torah as a disgrace to the army and the government. “What happened here?” he demanded. “Where was the army? How could terrorists on motorbikes overrun the state? You watch the images and say to yourself, ‘Okay, in another five minutes a helicopter will appear and gun them down,’ but that doesn’t happen. Then you think that an army battalion will appear on the scene, but that doesn’t happen either. And then you begin to wonder if we have returned to the days of the Holocaust.”
Many maddening thoughts have been circulating in everyone’s minds since the events of this past Simchas Torah came to light, and especially since parts of the footage from security cameras were released. Thousands of murderers were able to cross the border in spite of all the fortifications and technologically advanced defenses that were ostensibly protecting it. A vaunted (and proud) army was defeated by a wild group of ruffians. A tractor broke through the fence, and then thousands of bloodthirsty Arabs raided the surrounding communities. It has never been more obvious that all the sophisticated defense systems, vigilant lookouts, and inside informants in the world will not suffice to shield anyone from harm if Hashem decides to withdraw His protection. Of course, the comparisons to the Holocaust were inevitable. The Zionists have often ridiculed the kedoshim of the Holocaust for going like sheep to the slaughter, as they put it. The founders of this state insisted that they would never permit such wholesale slaughter to take place again. But that assertion was itself butchered in Kibbutz Beeri.
In Parshas Haazinu, the Torah states, “How could one pursue a thousand and two drive away ten thousand, unless their Rock sold them and Hashem delivered them?” Rashi explains, “The enemies should have understood that Hashem delivered [the Jewish people into their hands], and that it was not they or their gods who were victorious, for until now their gods were not able to oppose our Rock in any way.” When the nations are successful in their nefarious plans, every intelligent person should understand that it isn’t a product of their acumen or ability; it is simply that Hashem decided to grant them the ability to harm Klal Yisroel. Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman points out that Hashem expects even the nations to recognize that everything is a result of His Providence. Unfortunately, not only do the other nations fail to grasp this truth, but even the Jews who win the battles sometimes attribute their victory to their own might. Let us daven that Hashem will avenge the spilled blood of His servants soon.
Stories of Heroism Begin to Emerge
Along with the details of the atrocities, many stories are beginning to emerge about the miracles, both hidden and overt, that occurred on that dark day. The country will soon discover many more heroes like Rachel from Ofakim, the woman who distracted the five terrorists who stormed into her house, threatening to murder her and her husband. Rachel managed to keep the terrorists distracted until a group of rescuers, including her son, arrived and killed the intruders. This Friday, she called on Jewish women to light candles and observe Shabbos. Indeed, a tremendous spiritual awakening is underway in Israel now.
Some incredible stories have emerged even from Kibbutz Beeri, the community that was had many victims in the massacre. The nature party that turned into a scene of slaughter will also have to be examined closely. Did the terrorists know about the festival in advance? Hundreds of Jews were slaughtered at this event, and a reckoning will have to be made!
It is also important to note the heroism of the ZAKA workers, who will never be able to forget the horrific sights they witnessed in the aftermath of the slaughter. Furthermore, many first responders, many of whom are religious, also risked their lives and rushed to the scene of the attack with great self-sacrifice. It has also been revealed that there were many bnei Torah among the soldiers, including some who were murdered, a fact that exposes the falsehood of the claims that no chareidim engage in army service. Many chessed organizations also hurried to lend their support, and numerous ordinary civilians on the home front began collecting items that would assist the soldiers on the front, from food to sleeping bags. I personally observed the work of two women, Mrs. Dassi Illouz and Mrs. Dassi Schwinger, who proved that they are capable of doing things that the government cannot do. A participant in my daf yomi shiur, Yisroel Sosna, also demonstrated an exceptional capacity to provide assistance. On Tuesday, I received a phone call from Binyomin Yiflach, who asked me to be in touch with customs officials and arrange the release of a container filled with hundreds of first aid kits sent from America. Naturally, I sent him to Yisroel Illouz. In short, this week we have witnessed a massive outpouring of generosity and kindness, which has naturally generated an enormous kiddush Hashem.
Then there were the tefillos! Thousands upon thousands of Jews gathered in many places throughout the country to beseech the Master of the Universe to save us from our enemies. Jews from all over Eretz Yisroel and the world have congregated to daven for the soldiers’ success, the recovery of the victims, and the release of the captives.
Generals in the Bais Midrash
Unfortunately, the State of Israel has prodigious experience enduring attacks at the hands of our enemies. I recently published portions of a war journal written by a onetime talmid in Yeshivas Mir. The collection of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz’s shmuessen also contains several lectures that were delivered while Yerushalayim was facing the threat of shelling. There is a famous story about an agunah who lived near the yeshiva and announced that she would forgive her husband for abandoning her and leaving her unable to remarry, if Hashem showed mercy to Klal Yisroel. During one round of fighting, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel announced in the yeshiva, “Rabbosai, we are living through a very difficult time, with violence outside and fear within. The war is growing steadily more intense and the danger is mounting with every passing day. At a time like this, every one of us has a task to perform, and every one of us must know that task…. We must toil over our Torah learning with all our might, while at the same time davening and beseeching Hashem for salvation with all our strength.”
At the end of Yom Tov Sheni, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel delivered a shmuess to the bochurim in Yeshivas Mir from overseas. “Hashem protects Klal Yisroel especially at a time of distress,” he said. “Hashem is present with us now with special hashgocha. Everything that occurs is precisely calculated. At this time, we must stand strong. The bnei Torah are the true protectors of Klal Yisroel. We have seen very clearly that if Hashem does not protect a city, the watchman stands guard in vain. We have nothing but the Torah, and it is the only thing that will protect us…. The yeshiva is making every effort to do all the necessary hishtadlus so that the bnei Torah will not be in danger. In fact, the yeshiva has a long history of miracles; this is the safest place in the world. It would be wonderful if all the bnei yeshiva came from chutz laaretz as well; that would provide extraordinary protection. Woe to anyone who absents himself at a time of war. If a bochur leaves the yeshiva at this time, it is akin to a general leaving the battlefield.”
The rosh yeshiva went on to announce that the winter zman was beginning immediately. A temporary dispensation was granted for the talmidim to carry cell phones in the bais medrash, so that their spouses or parents would be able to remain calm, but the most important thing, he stressed, was for every talmid to immerse himself completely in Torah learning, following the examples of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz, Rav Nochum Partzovitz, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and Rav Chaim Kamil, who did not let the vicissitudes of war distract them from the Torah, whether in Shanghai or in Yerushalayim. “When the voice of Yaakov is raised, the hands of Eisov become powerless,” he declared.
As the father of three yungeleit in Mir, I can tell you that the intensity of learning in every single bais medrash in the yeshiva has been exceptional.
A Speck on the Map
Every week, the chassidus of Sanz publishes a transcript of one of the shiurim on Chumash and Rashi delivered by the Shefa Chaim, better known as the Klausenberger Rebbe, during his lifetime. The Klausenberger Rebbe passed away 30 years ago, in June 1994, but while his shiurim were delivered many years ago, his comments sometimes seem to be so apropos for current events that one suspects they may have bordered on nevuah.
This week’s issue, which quoted a shmuess delivered in 1976, contained the following remarks: “If the Yaavetz wrote this in his times, it is certainly true in our days. When you look at a map of the world, you can see that Eretz Yisroel is barely visible; it is only a small speck on the map, and it is surrounded by large countries filled with tens of millions of Arabs who despise Jews and who banded together and conspired to destroy every last trace of the Jewish people. Boruch Hashem, we were not delivered into their hands. Hashem extends His canopy of peace over His entire nation and over Yerushalayim, to save us from all evildoers. I thought about this when I was in the holy city of Tzefas this week [the Klausenberger Rebbe paid a visit to Tzefas on Wednesday, 26 Tishrei 5737/1976] and I was just a short distance away from a place where the Arabs were fighting each other with weapons and many of them were falling and dying cruel deaths. Meanwhile, here in Eretz Yisroel, there wasn’t even the slightest sound of distress. Thanks to Hashem’s great chessed, Jews were able to be content and calm, learning in yeshivos and Talmudei Torah without interference. These are the wonders of Hashem, Who protects His people forever.”
The Rebbe added that a similar miraculous phenomenon takes place on the spiritual plane: “This wondrous miracle exists in ruchniyus as well, as the Yaavetz mentioned that throughout our long exile, not even a single letter or vowel in the entire Written Torah and all the words of the chochomim has been lost. This is a wondrous phenomenon that must be studied again and again. In recent generations, wicked people have set out to establish various sinful sects and have conspired to drive the Jewish people away from the path of Torah and to cause them to forsake their religion in many different ways. Today, we see the enormous chessed of Hashem, for the posuk that states that ‘as they afflicted them, they multiplied and expanded’ has been fulfilled in our times as well. From day to day, our yeshivos, kollelim, and botei midrash are continually proliferating. Today, we can also see that the agendas of all those sinners have been thwarted, and the light of Torah shines today even in those communities that were far removed from Torah and mitzvos. I recently saw a letter that was sent on erev Rosh Hashanah from the gabbai of the shul in Kibbutz Ein Charod, which has been known for its efforts to uproot Yiddishkeit altogether. Today, a spirit of purity has passed over that place, and there is even a shul there, as a testament to the fact that their wicked designs were thwarted.”
The Slotky Brothers
Every passing day brings us more stories of atrocities during the Hamas massacre, as well as more stories of heroism. The atrocities are impossible to digest. The stories of heroism, meanwhile, are stories of ordinary people who risked their lives to save others. And in some cases, those two topics intersect.
One such case is that of the brothers Noam and Yishai Slotky. As soon as the murderous attack on the residents of the south was launched, the two brothers hurried to the aid of the residents, fighting valiantly against the terrorist murderers who had invaded Kibbutz Alumim. Tragically, both Slotky brothers were murdered. Their grandfather, Rabbi Eitan Eisman, is a distinguished resident of the neighborhood of Kiryat Moshe, which is adjacent to Givat Shaul, and is a personal acquaintance of mine, which brought this particular tragedy home in an especially painful way. And this is only one of many stories of heroic self-sacrifice that are constantly coming to light.
Another profoundly meaningful death was that of Omri Michaeli of Nes Tziona, who was killed last weekend while fighting to repel the terrorists who hadn’t left the communities in the south. What made his story so special is the following: Nine years ago, during Operation Protective Edge, Michaeli became an Israeli icon when he was injured in battle and was evacuated on a stretcher with an Israeli flag wrapped around his body, after continuing to fight the enemy in spite of his wounds and while losing blood. He even put up a fight against the medics who tried to evacuate him. He later received the Chief of Staff’s Citation in recognition of his valor. His picture appeared on the front page of every newspaper at the time, and he became a wartime icon. Ten years later, he has been tragically murdered by terrorists.
As more stories come to light, we are discovering the powerful sense of kinship and mutual responsibility within Klal Yisroel, which stands in stark contrast to the murderous hatred and audacity of our Arab neighbors. May Hashem protect us all.
Shimon Alkabetz from Beer Sheva
Many feel a sense of connection to the victims of the Hamas massacre. After all, we are all Jews, and we all feel the pain of other Jews who are suffering anywhere on earth, especially in our own country. Moreover, we have all been personally affected by terror in recent days; there have been air raid sirens and missile strikes throughout the country. On a personal level, just as an example, I was very worried about my good friend Rabbi Yitzchok Kakon and his family in Sderot. Many Israelis were personally acquainted with some of the people who were murdered, wounded, or abducted by Hamas. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the entire country is enveloped in sorrow at this time.
Personally, I also mourned the misfortune that befell my good friend Shimon Alkabetz. Shimon is a traditional Jew from Beer Sheva who has always deeply admired the Shas party and Rav Ovadiah Yosef. We met when he was a young journalist in the south, and our connection continued when he became the editor of a local publication in Beer Sheva. He later became the commander of Galei Tzahal. When he was younger, he lost two family members to cancer, and I saw that he was shattered by his grief. He barely managed to survive the tragedy. I visited him in an effort to comfort him at the time, and we soon became good friends. When he visited the Knesset as the commander of Galei Tzahal, everyone was eager to curry favor with him. When he insisted on coming to my office to greet me, the Galei Tzahal journalists were shocked by the warmth with which we greeted each other. One of them, a naturally prideful man, said to me, “You never told us that our commander was such a good friend of yours.” After that day, that journalist began trying to ingratiate himself with me as well.
Sadly, one of the murder victims on Simchas Torah was Shimon Alkabetz’s daughter Sivan. May Hashem avenge her blood and comfort her grieving father. This time, I sent him a letter to express my condolences, since I was unable to travel to Beer Sheva to see him in person. He responded, “Thank you again and again. They murdered my little girl, my precious soul.”
Incitement Continues Despite the War
We are in the middle of a war, but the incitement against the chareidi community hasn’t ebbed. The hatemongering focuses largely on the issue of the draft, although it relates to government funding as well. It is quite possible that there will be no way to pass a draft law at this time, with negative sentiment about bnei yeshivos running high. There are also calls for all budgetary allocations for chareidim to be frozen and for the funds to be transferred to the victims of terror instead. Strangely, no one is calling for government funding for art or culture to be similarly diverted…. This antipathy is likely to grow. It is rearing its head in editorials and in political cartoons alike, as the chareidim are being accused of apathy toward the situation on the front lines. The community’s critics pretend that there aren’t hundreds of chareidim in the army already. The hatred for chareidim seems to transcend the current situation. Even in the midst of terror attacks, the chareidim seem destined to be slandered and reviled.
And yes, the incitement against Netanyahu is also continuing with full force.