Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

My Take On The News

 

Tzvi Yaakovson

A Traumatized Country

These are difficult times for the State of Israel. Chazal tell us that the beneficiary of a miracle does not recognize his own miracle, and that a prisoner cannot free himself from his imprisonment, and in a similar vein, I feel that it is very difficult for any person to properly evaluate his own mental state. I think, however, that I can make an accurate diagnosis regarding the country as a whole: The State of Israel is in crisis. The people—of the secular community, that is—are frustrated and are on the verge of losing their collective sanity. In the past, at least, they felt that they were able to rely on many things—the Supreme Court, the government, the Shin Bet, the IDF, and, of course, themselves. But October 7 (which is considered Israel’s version of September 11) turned all of these preconceptions on their heads. The people of Israel now feel that nothing is certain, no one is immune to anything, and it is impossible to rely on anyone. There is no sense of security, and there are no guarantees.

At this time, someone in the religious community might be expected to take the initiative of trying to bring comfort to the people and to offer them some direction, to illuminate the darkness with the truths of emunah and the hashkofah of the Torah. If Rav Avrohom Ravitz were alive today, he would be a likely candidate for this purpose; this is something that he has done in the past. Rav Uri Zohar likewise used to address the people during times of crisis. It is possible that the only person who is capable of taking the podium in the Knesset today and delivering an appropriate and eloquent speech, conveying the principles of emunah and comforting the people, is Aryeh Deri. He, too, has delivered some powerful addresses in the past, and the secular public trusts him and views him as the responsible adult in the government today.

Last week, an official from the Health Ministry revealed to the Knesset Health Committee that many of the survivors of the massacre at the music festival on Simchas Torah have since been forcibly hospitalized. I assume that you understand the significance of that point. These people reached a dangerous psychological low, yet they did not even understand that they needed help. As a result, orders were issued for them to be forcibly committed to hospitals. The survivors of the massacre in Kibbutz Beeri are likewise coming forward to reveal that they are in need of psychological help. In fact, anyone who is part of the broader circle of people affiliated with murder victims or hostages is unquestionably in need of such aid at this time, and there are many thousands of such people. But if you ask me, I would say that the trauma has spread much further. There isn’t a single individual in all of Israel who does not need emotional support at this time.

The Tzaddikim of ZAKA

Any discussion about psychological aid for people traumatized by recent events will inevitably turn to the subject of ZAKA. The workers of ZAKA were exposed to the full magnitude of the terrorists’ brutality, and some of them indeed collapsed under the strain. This subject was raised in the Knesset this week.

Do not make the mistake of inferring that the Knesset is back to its normal schedule. Israel’s parliament has been operating on an emergency schedule, albeit one that has already become a routine of sorts. After the massacre, virtually all ordinary parliamentary work was suspended, and the Knesset has been focusing solely on matters pertaining to the war. There has been a notable change in the Knesset’s schedule as well. All Tuesday sessions have been suspended, and on Mondays and Wednesdays the Knesset meets to discuss bills pertaining to the war. The Knesset has also held several discussions on Thursdays out of necessity. For the most part, when the Knesset convenes, it is only for a brief period of time. Committee sessions are also limited to dealing with urgent matters or with laws that have already been passed, such as those concerning the hostages, compensation for victims of the terror rampage, and the postponement of the local elections. The Knesset has even passed a law dealing with the identification of the deceased.

At first, it wasn’t even possible for urgent motions for the agenda or parliamentary queries to be submitted. These rules were subsequently relaxed somewhat, and MKs were permitted to submit queries or motions on issues pertaining to the war, evacuees, and the like, but only one subject would be approved at a time. Last week, the Knesset approved a discussion on the subject of providing psychological and financial aid to the volunteers of ZAKA. This topic was submitted for discussion by several members of the Knesset.

The MKs were barred from submitting new bills for a while, but the Knesset presidium later came to the conclusion that there was no reason to prevent them from doing so. Many bills made their way to the Knesset table, but as could be expected, many of them were drafted in response to the events of October 7 and the aftermath. Some of the bills are quite interesting. For instance, one proposed law would make it a crime to deny the massacre of October 7. Another bill calls for the Hamas terrorists and their collaborators to be brought to justice (similar to the call for Nazi collaborators to be held accountable for their crimes). The most heavily publicized of the new bills, which was spearheaded by Yisroel Eichler, calls for government payments to be made to the families of the missing, hostages, and captives. This bill was passed at lightning speed, having been signed at the outset by dozens of members of the Knesset.

Political Right Sinks in Polls

The Israeli political establishment is likewise being shaken like a ship on stormy seas. On the one hand, even the leftists are sobering up and discarding their beliefs in the potential for peaceful coexistence with the Arabs. Onetime peace activists are now openly proclaiming their understanding that the Gazan Arabs are human beasts who want nothing more than to slaughter Jews. They recognize that there are no potential partners for peace on the other side. Kibbutz Beeri, for instance, was a leftist stronghold whose residents always pursued relationships with their Arab neighbors; the community lived by an ideology that espoused maintaining warm relations with the Arabs. Considering what happened to the kibbutz on October 7, it should come as no surprise that the left is in crisis, having seen all their preconceived notions brutally shattered.

What is amazing, though, is that the polls are showing that the right is actually losing ground. The Likud is sinking like a stone, while Benny Gantz’s popularity is soaring. One would have expected the right to be skyrocketing in the polls, but that is not happening. Some experts argue that the polls are only reflecting the sentiment at this time, when the entire country is in turmoil and even the supporters of the right are turning on their own politicians out of spite, but that the coming elections will lead to a record victory for the political right. We can only hope that that will be the case.

In any event, the following were the average results of several polls conducted last week: The National Unity Party (led by Benny Gantz, who recently joined the government and cabinet in a move that was apparently applauded by the public) is shown receiving 42 mandates. The Likud party, which received 32 mandates in the election for the 25th Knesset last year, is shown with only 17. Yesh Atid, Yair Lapid’s party, which currently holds 24 seats in the Knesset, is shown shrinking to 14 mandates, while Shas will receive eight or nine. (According to one poll, the Shas party will even increase its representation, thanks to the hard work of its ministers over the past month.) Meanwhile, Lieberman is shown receiving eight mandates, while UTJ is generally shown maintaining its current seven seats. According to all the polls, the Labor party will not cross the electoral threshold and will instead be replaced by Meretz, which did not make it into the current Knesset. Overall, these poll results are not good news for the religious parties, since they indicate that the right-wing bloc will not be able assemble a government of its own.

This might explain why Yair Lapid has recently begun trying to ingratiate himself with the chareidim and has even announced that he has no objection to forming a government together with the chareidim. He has also called for the current government to be toppled and for Netanyahu to be unseated. This is a direct reversal of his own statement of just two days ago, when he declared that one does not play politics in the middle of a war. But no one should be surprised by that; we have always known that Lapid can make two completely contradictory statements not only two days apart but even with a space of just two hours between them.

In any event, let me emphasize again that most experts believe that these polls are relevant only in the present moment. They feel that when the election is actually held, the right wing will enjoy a massive victory due to the searing experience of the Simchas Torah massacre.

Thursdays Miracle

Terrorism is still continuing to rear its head on the roads of Yehuda and Shomron, as if we weren’t in the middle of a war. I imagine that most of you are familiar with the Tunnels Road, which is near Kever Rochel and leads from Yerushalayim to Gush Etzion and Beitar Illit. It is generally considered a fairly quiet road, with the exception of the area near one Arab village whose residents tend to harass motorists from Beitar Illit. Last Thursday, however, there was a terror attack on the Tunnels Road, at the checkpoint near the tunnels for which it is named. The attack claimed the life of Avrohom Fetena, a 20-year-old soldier from Haifa.

The incident began when the soldiers manning the checkpoint noticed a suspicious-looking vehicle and ordered its driver to pull over. The vehicle was occupied by three terrorists, who immediately opened fire, mortally wounding Fetena and injuring another five people before they were eliminated. According to the police, the terrorists had driven to the checkpoint from the area of Yehuda and Shomron. The car was found to contain a massive array of weapons and ammunition, and it is believed that the terrorists intended to carry out a major massacre in Yerushalayim (or, according to some sources, in Beitar Illit). The contents of the car included two M-16 rifles, two handguns, hundreds of bullets, ten cartridges filled with bullets, two axes, dates, and a fake IDF uniform. The presence of the dates indicate that the terrorists planned to spend a long time in the area of Yerushalayim; that was presumably the reason that they arrived equipped with food. The terrorists who invaded Israel on Simchas Torah were also carrying dates, presumably indicating their intent to remain in Israel for an extended period. Two of the three terrorists were identified as Hamas operatives; one of them was the son of Abdallah Qawasmeh, who served as the head of Hamas’s military wing in Chevron and was eliminated in 2003.

Terror has also been spreading to the seas, as is evidenced by the recent capture of a ship by the Houthis in Yemen. These oceangoing terrorists are the modern-day equivalent of pirates. The Shiite militia of Yemen seized a cargo ship carrying a crew of 22. The ship is owned by Israelis, but there were no Israelis on board. The Israeli government condemned the seizure of the ship as a serious international incident, and Netanyahu referred to it as Iranian terror. Perhaps I will write about this at greater length next week.

One Year Later: Terror Victim Aryeh Schupak

On the topic of terror, it has now been one year since the murder of Aryeh Schupak in a bombing at the entrance to Yerushalayim.

Last Sunday, I visited Yeshivas Harei Yehuda in Beit Meir, the yeshiva where Aryeh learned, to inquire after the well-being of one of the bochurim there. I sat down in the bustling bais medrash and took in the beautiful sight of yungeleit learning with the bochurim. The rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kahana, sat on a bench in the middle of the room, making himself available to any talmidim seeking his wisdom or guidance. I watched as the bochurim approached him with questions, and I observed that the atmosphere in the bais medrash was both serious and intense. This is a yeshiva that does not turn anyone away, a yeshiva with a large faculty of rabbeim who have room in their hearts for everyone. It might be appropriate for me to list all the rabbeim and yungeleit in the yeshiva, who deserve recognition for their work; however, I fear that I might inadvertently omit someone if I made the attempt. Nevertheless, I must make mention of Rav Shalom Karlinsky and Rav Akiva Orlansky, two outstanding members of the staff.

I remarked to Yosef Chaim, the bochur whom I was visiting, that I have come to admire the yeshiva greatly since the death of Aryeh Schupak, when I was first exposed to its outstanding faculty. Aryeh’s father, Reb Moshe Schupak, spoke very highly of the yeshiva, its rabbeim, and its talmidim. Yosef Chaim replied, “Aryeh was killed exactly one year ago. Tomorrow is his yahrtzeit, and we are all going to visit his kever together.”

Indeed, I was informed by Rabbi Eliyohu Rubinovich, a close friend of the Schupak family and Reb Moshe’s chavrusa for over a decade, that the bochurim and the family members visited the kever on Monday and then traveled to the yeshiva for a seudas mitzvah.

“What was the occasion for the seudas mitzvah?” I asked.

“Reb Moshe Schupak, Aryeh’s father, made a siyum on Maseches Sotah and Maseches Taanis,” he replied, “and the bochurim in the yeshiva held a siyum on all six sedorim of the Mishnah. It was an extremely emotional occasion. The bochurim sang and danced, and Reb Michoel Lassry came and delivered a drosha that was immensely uplifting for everyone.”

This elevating experience, especially during wartime, was an incredibly fitting memorial for Aryeh, who was so caring and so beloved among his peers. The Schupak family and Yeshivas Harei Yehuda are like twin rays of light in this dark period of time, having demonstrated a unique ability to take the pain of bereavement and use it as a catalyst for growth. This week, I heard an incredible insight regarding the posk that we often recite, “Min hameitzar karasi Kah anani bamerchav Kah—From the straits I called out to Hashem; Hashem responded to me with a broad space.” This posuk can be read as declaring that when we call out to Hashem and tell Him that we are in a narrow strait, He responds to us that we are actually in a broad space. All we need to do is open our eyes to see the reality of our situation. Alternatively, we can use that narrow strait as an impetus to create that broad expanse.

Last week, I attended a Sephardic Yom Kippur Katan service, and the words of the tefillos suddenly took on new meaning for me: “Your dove has reached the gates of death. He Who dwells between the kruvim, appear! … Remember Your sons in the land that is not theirs, and do not permit the stranger to approach them.” These words are an eerie echo of many of the tribulations that have afflicted us all in recent times.

A Disgraceful Press Conference

Last Friday evening, Tzachi Hanegbi held a press conference. The mere fact that the press conference took place is aggravating enough on its own, since it was held at the beginning of Shabbos. In fact, the association of religious journalists in Israel released a statement objecting strenuously to the move: “The Forum of Religious Journalists vehemently condemns the decision of National Security Council director Tzachi Hanegbi to hold a press conference at the onset of Shabbos, despite the fact that it is not a situation of pikuach nefesh. The only thing that must be done now to avert life-threatening danger is preventing fuel from being brought into the Gaza Strip. Holding a press conference at the beginning of Shabbos, which excludes the religious correspondents who are unable to work at that time, is not a matter of pikuach nefesh.”

As the journalists implied in their statement, the press conference was held for the purpose of explaining why Israel agreed—or, to put it more accurately, gave in to the American demand—to allow fuel to be brought into the Gaza Strip. Tzachi Hanegbi, the head of the National Security Council and a recent minister in the government, explained, “The decision that was made by the war cabinet was supported by the IDF and the Shin Bet. It was made in light of a special request from the United States to permit fuel to be brought into the area for the purpose of operating the UN’s water and sewage systems and thus preventing the spread of disease.” Hanegbi claimed that the danger of disease might affect not only the citizens of Gaza but also the soldiers of the IDF who are operating in the strip. According to the government decision, the IDF will permit two tankers to enter Gaza every day, to be used by the UN for the purpose of maintaining the infrastructure in the area.

Hanegbi also told the press that most of the rumors that have been circulated about negotiations taking place for the release of hostages are not correct. “There is no agreement at the moment,” he said. “I have seen many reports, but at this point there is no consensus on any of the issues that are part of the process. We are standing firm, strong, and united in our commitment that if a deal is made, it must ensure that many families will be able to reunite with their loved ones. The government has made a unanimous and unequivocal decision,” he added. “There will be no ceasefire without a massive release of hostages. We are committed to that, and we will not compromise on it.”

The bottom line, however, is that the press conference involved chillul Shabbos. For some reason, the secular politicians do not understand that the middas hadin is in force. They do not understand that the need for caution now is greater than ever. Their desecration of the Shabbos can only have negative results. When will they open their eyes and understand these basic ideas?

A Grating Protest

This leads me to a related topic, which is a very sensitive and very sad issue: the protest held by the families of the hostages, which likewise involved chillul Shabbos. First of all, I must stress that this protest wasn’t held by all the families of the hostages; it was only a subset of the families. As I have mentioned in the past, the Israeli left has taken up the cause of some of the hostages and is essentially exploiting them to advance its great animosity for Bibi. The protestors in Tel Aviv used to scream the word “shame” over and over in their demonstrations against the prime minister; now they have replaced it with the word “now,” indicating their demand for the hostages to be brought home immediately.

Last Friday, the families identified with the left staged a protest advocating for the release of the hostages and opposing Netanyahu. The mere fact that they are mixing politics into a simple humanitarian issue is problematic enough, since it causes many of the hostages’ families to avoid identifying with them. Much of the public is likewise alienated by their stance. The fact that the protest involved the desecration of Shabbos only served to antagonize many more people.

From my neighborhood of Givat Shaul, we could see the protestors marching near the entrance of the city while we were hurrying home from Mincha on Shabbos afternoon for seudah shlishis. Of course, the demonstrators were carrying loudspeakers and playing music, which grated on our sensibilities. They were on their way to the prime minister’s home on Rechov Azza. The cynical use of the hostages’ plight in a protest against the current government and the prime minister is dividing the country once again and has become a major topic of discussion and debate.

My conclusion in the previous paragraph is relevant here as well. The bottom line is that these protestors desecrated the Shabbos. They, too, do not realize that there is a need to be especially careful today, when the middas hadin is in force and we are all so desperately in need of Hashem’s mercy. If only we could educate them.

The Insights of Rav Chaim Walkin

This Shabbos, we will read about Rochel Imeinu’s decision to remain silent when her father gave her sister to Yaakov in marriage in her place. Daas Chaim U’Mussar, the collection of shmuessen delivered by the great Rav Chaim Walkin, whose first yahrtzeit has just passed, contains a beautiful explanation of the power of silence that Rochel demonstrated. Rav Walkin explains that it takes wisdom to be silent when one has something to say. This was the explanation for Rochel’s silence, and it was a trait that she passed on to her progeny, from Binyomin to Esther Hamalkah.

I also found some incredible insights in his sefer last week, such as his comment on Rashi’s statement that the tefillos of a tzaddik who is the son of tzaddik are superior to the tefillos of a tzaddik whose parents were wicked. “Many have been troubled by this,” Rav Chaim remarks, “for it seems to be even more praiseworthy for a person who is the child of a rasha, and who comes from a family of wicked people and a community of wicked people, to be a tzaddik nonetheless. Why, then, wasn’t Rivka’s tefillah accepted more readily than Yitzchok’s?”

Rav Walkin answers this question with a powerful moshol: Imagine that there are two doctors, one of whom grew up in poverty and managed to lift himself above his situation and worked hard to become an expert physician, while the other, whose father and grandfather were also doctors, had been raised in a wealthy home and had simply followed the path that had been laid out for him. Now, if a person is in need of medical treatment, which of those doctors would he choose? The logical choice is generally the second doctor, who hails from a family of medical professionals. One might choose to present an award for lifetime achievement to the doctor who grew up in a poor family and overcame his circumstances to receive his medical degree, but that does not necessarily make him more qualified as a physician. On the contrary, a doctor who hails from a family of doctors, who spent his entire life absorbing the standards and rules of the medical profession, is likely to be the more professional and better skilled of the two. In a similar vein, Rav Walkin explains, tefillah is a spiritual skill. It is an art and a craft that is more likely to be perfected by a person who spent his entire life steeped in ruchniyus than by someone who overcame an adverse environment to make spiritual strides in his own life. That, the mashgiach explains, is the reason that Yitzchok’s tefillos were considered superior to those of his wife.

To illustrate the concept that davening is a spiritual skill, Rav Walkin goes on to share another analogy, which he attributes to his father, Rav Shmuel Dovid Walkin. Rav Shmuel Dovid was the rov of Kehillas Bais Aharon in Queens; in his youth, he was a talmid in the Yeshiva of Radin and developed a close relationship with the Chofetz Chaim. He related that the Chofetz Chaim would daven while standing very still and exuding calm and tranquility; his davening did not involve any external motions or gesticulations at all. In sharp contrast to that, his son-in-law, Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levinson, habitually davened with visible fervor; his entire body would tremble throughout the process, and he repeatedly clapped his hands together. Rav Shmuel Dovid and his peers once questioned Rav Hirsch about the reason for the marked distinction between his style of davening and that of his father-in-law. Rav Hirsch replied, “I can explain it with a moshol: Two men once fell into a river. One of them was an expert swimmer, while the other did not know how to swim. The experienced swimmer managed to reach the river bank without even showing the slightest sign of movement or exertion; he simply glided through the water with his typical expertise. The other man, meanwhile, desperately flailed his arms and legs in an effort to avoid drowning.” In other words, there is a method and an art to davening, and a person must master that skill in order to be proficient at it.

For this reason, davening also requires precision. Rav Walkin continues, “I heard from my rebbi, Rav Mordechai Gifter, that Rabi Akiva Eiger once wrote that he had been asked to daven for someone who was ill but his tefillos hadn’t been answered, and he speculated that there might have been a mistake in the name. This turned out to be precisely the case. Similarly, when the nation of Amalek attempted to masquerade as Canaanim when they attacked Bnei Yisroel in the desert, the Jewish people realized that their adversaries were not Canaanim, and they therefore davened simply for the ability to defeat the nation that had attacked them. Had they davened specifically to be saved from the Canaanim, their tefillos would not have been effective.” Rav Walkin draws an important conclusion from this principle: “If a person is davening for someone who is ill, he should daven for their recovery in general terms rather than specifying the nature of the illness. In the event that the doctors did not diagnose the patient correctly, if he davens for the patient to be cured from an illness that he does not actually have, those tefillos might not be effective…. This can be explained with the analogy of a combination lock on a door. If a person does not know the correct numbers of the combination, he will not be able to open the door. As a general rule, one should daven with precision for the specific circumstance at hand. That is the reason that we have specific tefillos for every situation and every possible need.”

Rav Walkin adds that the Chazon Ish would say that tefillah is akin to a powerful staff: It is a highly effective tool that can achieve enormous things when it is wielded correctly.

Daas Chaim U’Mussar is a sefer filled with wisdom and important messages. (Credit must be given to Rav Chaim’s son, Rav Aharon Walkin, and his chavrusa, Rav Tzvi Pollack, for the tireless effort they invested in preparing these shmuessen for publication.) As a final comment, I cannot resist quoting the following powerful story, which appears in the section on Parshas Vayeitzei: “I heard from Rav Nochum Zev Dessler that his father, Rav Eliyohu Eliezer Dessler, the author of Michtov Me’Eliyohu, visited the Chazon Ish in his sukkah in 1954, on the final Sukkos of his life. When he entered the sukkah, the Chazon Ish rose to his feet in a show of respect for him, and Rav Dessler immediately turned around to see who else had entered the sukkah with him. This is an incredible story! Rav Dessler was at the height of his accomplishment at the time and was known throughout the Torah world as a giant of mussar, yet it did not even occur to him as a possibility that the Chazon Ish was standing to show respect to him!”

Davening for the Hostages

Rav Moshe Sternbuch was recently asked about the proper placement in Shemoneh Esrei for a tefillah for the hostages in Gaza. Is it best to incorporate such a tefillah of the brocha of shema koleinu, where one may include requests of any kind? Or, perhaps, should it be included in the brocha of refoeinu? Rav Sternbuch replied that the best placement for such a tefillah is in the brocha of teka b’shofar, in which we daven for all the Jewish people to be brought back to Eretz Yisroel.

This reminded me of a similar exchange involving Rav Elyashiv: Someone once asked Rav Elyashiv where to incorporate a tefillah in Shemoneh Esrei for a person who does not feel a desire to learn Torah. Should it be included in the brocha of shema koleinu, he asked, or is it better to place such a tefillah in the brocha of hashiveinu, in which we ask Hashem to facilitate our service of Him? Rav Elyashiv replied that the most fitting place for such a tefillah is the brocha of atah chonein, in which we daven for intelligence!

“The Rain Will Come”

This week, the winter rains finally began in Eretz Yisroel. As usual, the weather seemed to take the country by surprise; the drainage systems did not work properly, there were electric outages, and other mishaps were caused by the precipitation. This is par for the course in this country; it seems that everyone is surprised anew every year when the rains begin. In Bnei Brak, for instance, you could not cross Rechov Chazon Ish without a raft….

A story was told by Rav Chaim Kanievsky, dating back to the lifetime of his uncle, the Chazon Ish. One year, the winter rains were delayed and there was some uncertainty as to whether the tefillah of aneinu, which is recited at a time of drought, should be added to the davening. The Chazon Ish was of the opinion that we should no longer recite aneinu when there is a drought. The Badatz of the Eidah Chareidis announced that the time had come to recite the tefillah, and Rav Chaim, who was serving as the chazzan in the Chazon Ish’s minyan, asked if he should insert it in the davening.

“Why should we say it?” the Chazon Ish asked.

“The Badatz in Yerushalayim announced that it should be said,” Rav Chaim replied.

“It isn’t necessary,” the Chazon Ish said. “The rain will come.”

In the middle of chazoras hashatz at that very minyan, the rain began to fall.

“When I told Chazon Ish that he had performed a miracle, he laughed,” Rav Chaim added.

When this story was told to Rav Shteinman, he remarked, “It didn’t occur to Rav Chaim that his tefillos had brought the rain, just as he attributed the fact that missiles did not fall in Bnei Brak to the Ish’s brocha, rather than considering the possibility that it might be on his account.”

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