Monday, May 27, 2024

My Take On The News


A Deal with the Devil

It will surely come as no surprise to you if I tell you that Israel has been preoccupied this week with the hostages coming home.

To be honest, “coming home” might not be the most accurate term, since some of the returning captives no longer have a place to call home. In many cases, their homes were torched or destroyed. Even more tragically, some no longer have homes because their parents were murdered.

Twelve of the thirteen Israeli hostages who were brought back to Israel at the beginning of Shabbos are residents of Nir Oz. That kibbutz suffered a terrible blow, with 39 of its residents murdered and 75 abducted. The eleven foreign workers, mostly from Thailand, who were released on Friday evening were also from Nir Oz. While we were all overjoyed to see the hostages returning to Israel, we were also keenly aware that each of them carried a burden of pain, bereavement, and longing. Almost every surviving resident of Nir Oz has suffered the loss of at least one family member, and many of them are waiting for additional members of their families to return from captivity.

The plan was announced in advance: The first group of hostages to be freed under the deal with Hamas, which specified that the captives would be released in several waves of about 13 a day, would be freed at 4:00 on Friday afternoon. In Yerushalayim, Shabbos began at 4:01. As curious as I was to find out if the release had taken place as planned, I felt that it was a greater priority to be one of the first ten men at shul for Mincha. Of course, there was someone else in shul who had heard the last-minute news and was able to inform me after davening that the thirteen hostages had arrived.

On motzoei Shabbos, as could be expected, many people went home a little faster than usual to read and view the reports in the media. I believe that the most stirring sight was the video that showed young Ohad Mundar, who had been released from captivity along with his mother and grandmother, racing down a corridor in Schneider’s Children’s Hospital to embrace his father. I am sure that no one who saw the footage remained unmoved by that scene. The liberation of Dora Katz-Asher and her two daughters, Aviv and Raz, was also deeply moving. Not long ago, we were all touched when the girls’ father, Yoni, spoke at the European Parliament and ended his address by crying the words of Shema Yisroel. It was profoundly stirring to see the family reunited.

Joy Mixed with Pain

On motzoei Shabbos, Hamas began toying with us. Israel hadn’t completely fulfilled its end of the deal, the terror organization announced, and the group of hostages due to be released that night would therefore remain in captivity. Since I am writing this column on Sunday, I will keep this story short: In the end, another 13 hostages were released, albeit later than the terror group had originally agreed to free them.

Perhaps I should explain the basis of the dispute. Hamas had three complaints against Israel. First, they had been promised that a larger number of trucks carrying food, water, and fuel would enter Gaza. Second, they claimed that Israel had backtracked on its promise to release Palestinian prisoners in order of seniority. Finally, they accused the IDF of opening fire in Gaza in violation of the ceasefire agreement. Israel responded to each point: The additional aid trucks were delayed for unavoidable reasons, and there had never been a commitment to release Palestinian prisoners in order of seniority; it was merely an “understanding.” Finally, before Israeli soldiers opened fire, the IDF had warned Gazans not to enter the northern Gaza Strip. After negotiations mediated by Qatar and Egypt, the hostages were finally released at 10:00 at night (on motzoei Shabbos) rather than at 4:00 in the afternoon. You are probably already aware that Israel agreed to release three Palestinian terrorists for every hostage who would be returned.

In this case, it was perhaps nine-year-old Emily Hand, who was kidnapped from Kibbutz Beeri, who elicited the most tears upon her release, after the entire country had worried about her and davened for her well-being for weeks. Emily’s story is almost impossible to fathom. Emily was only two and a half years old when her mother died of cancer; she was subsequently raised by her father’s ex-wife Narkis, who lived on the kibbutz and was murdered on Simchas Torah. Emily’s father was told at first that she had been killed as well, and he burst into tears and exclaimed that he was relieved, since he imagined that she would have suffered unimaginable abuse if she had been captured instead. A few days later, he was informed that the original conclusion had been a mistake, and that Emily was actually alive and in captivity in Gaza after she had been abducted from Kibbutz Beeri. Her ordeal ended only now, when she was returned to Israel. The sight of the father embracing his daughter when they were finally reunited was moving, but it is also painful to think about the ordeal that this young girl endured, and how someone will break the news to her that the woman who raised her has been killed and that many of her friends and neighbors are likewise no longer among the living.

Emily isn’t the only released hostage who will have to face dreadful news. Chana Katzir of Nir Oz, for instance, was told this week upon her return that her husband had been murdered. (Hamas had falsely reported that Katzir had died in captivity; she was released on Friday.) Chana Peri of Kibbutz Nirim was likewise told that one of her sons, Roi, had been murdered, and her other son, Nadav, is in captivity. She hadn’t been aware of that, since the hostages were not all kept in the same place. And Yaffa Adar, the 85-year-old woman who was seen being taken to Gaza on her golf cart, returned home to discover that her oldest grandson, Tamir, is in captivity in Gaza.

The celebrations over the hostages’ return to Israel are therefore mixed with profound pain. In some cases, the former captives are still living in a nightmare. Hila Rotem, who will soon be celebrating her 14th birthday, returned in the second group of hostages to be released, while her mother, Raaya, remained in captivity, in violation of the clear agreement between Israel and Hamas that family members would not be separated. Hamas argued that this wasn’t an actual commitment on its part; it was merely an understanding that could be broken! They also claimed that they were unable to locate Raaya, but that is a very strange assertion, since Hila related that she had been kept together with her mother until two days before she was released and that Raaya was in good health. This isn’t the first case in which family members were separated from each other (for instance, Margalit Moses was freed on erev Shabbos but is still waiting for her husband, Gadi, to be released), but when it is a mother and daughter, it is even more painful and infuriating.

Biden Welcomes Release of FourYearOld Abigail

The release of the third group of hostages on Sunday night seems to have been the smoothest part of the process. Thirteen of the fourteen newly released hostages were from Kfar Azza, the kibbutz that I visited last week: Abigail Idan, age four; Ella Elyakim, age eight; Dafna Elyakim, age 15; Hagar Brodetz and her children Ofri (age 10), Yuval (age 8), and Oriah (age 4); Chen Goldstein and her children Agam (age 17), Tal (age 8), and Gal (age 11); Adrienne Aviva Siegel, who is 63 years old, and Alma Avraham, who is 84 years old. Alma Avraham, who lives in Nir Oz, is the only member of the group who is not a resident of Kfar Azza. She also did not arrive with the rest of the group; since she was found to be in serious condition, she was airlifted to Soroka Hospital.

Some of these hostages have also suffered losses: Chen Goldstein’s husband was killed, and Siegel’s husband is still in captivity. (Both Siegels are senior citizens who immigrated from America.) Another hostage, a Russian Israeli named Roni Krivoi, was released as a gesture to Putin. Finally, three more foreign workers were freed as well.

Once again, the hostages’ arrival in Israel was an intensely emotional occasion. It was painful to imagine the experiences of the four-year-old girls who were imprisoned in the dungeons of Gaza for fifty days. It was also painful to contemplate the fact that Abigail Idan is now alone in the world, after both her parents were murdered on October 7. It is important to note that she is an American citizen, and President Biden welcomed her release. Her two siblings survived the massacre by hiding in a closet for thirteen hours!

The father of the Brodetz family, who has now been reunited with his wife and children, met with Rav Dov Landau last week, who wept along with him. And Adina Moshe, the grandmother who was dragged to Gaza on a motorcycle by Arab thugs, has returned to her home.

Over the course of the past five days, a total of 60 Israelis and 18 foreign workers have been released. We must also remember that other hostages have previously been released: Yocheved Schwartz and Nurit Cooper, the two elderly women who were freed five weeks ago, and 59-year-old Judith Raanan and her 18-year-old daughter, Natalie, who were presumably released in a gesture of goodwill to President Biden. .

A Hostages Nobility

While the release of the hostages brings joy to us all, we cannot deny that the mere fact that Israel is negotiating with Hamas represents a new low, even if it is being done for lack of an alternative. Hamas is showing contempt for Israel and toying with the country while making a show of its own strength. The hostage deal has enabled it to squeeze out a few days of respite from the fighting, which will give the terrorists a chance to regain some strength. Aryeh Deri, as a member of the cabinet, recently commented, “I have never been in a cabinet that has been forced to make such tough decisions. No one should envy us.” Indeed, no one should envy the government, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, at this time.

There are always new stories, behind-the-scenes details, and personal accounts that emerge after such incidents, especially one on this scale. Here is one story that has already been reported: The current health minister, Uriel Bosso of the Shas party, has been heavily involved in recent events. On Shabbos, he walked from his home to the hospitals where the hostages had been brought. He related that he met Adina Moshe, the 72-year-old woman who returned to Israel from captivity, and she told him that she had argued with a terrorist when she was due to be released and had asked him to free another woman, who was older and in poorer health, in her place. Such is the heroism of the Jewish people! Bosso was also told about the conditions under which the hostages were imprisoned; they were kept in darkened tunnels and under difficult conditions, with barely any food to eat. One of the women told him that she had been preparing food for everyone, but in recent days there was nothing left to prepare. The foreign workers who were released likewise told him that they were barely given anything to eat.

I will try to present some of these touching stories to you, bli neder, in my upcoming columns. At the same time, let us all daven for the freedom of all the hostages.

The Warnings Were Ignored

In a separate article this week, I wrote about how Israel’s misconceptions blinded the country to the imminent danger from Hamas, in what was essentially an echo of the mistakes of 1973 that brought the Yom Kippur War upon us. I now have even more evidence of that fact. On motzoei Shabbos, it was reported that Unit 8200, an intelligence unit within the IDF, had actually laid hands on Hamas’s operational plan before the massacre took place. The information was shared with a senior figure in the Central Command and with the commander of the unit, who passed on the information to the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate. However, this official dismissed it out of hand and did not relay it to the chief of staff and the director of the Shin Bet.

This is exactly what happened in 1973, when the director of the Military Intelligence Directorate likewise turned a blind eye to the evidence of an imminent attack, as Ilan Kfir reports in his book From Directive 41 to Acapulco (published by Yediot). Binyomin Siman-Tov, an intelligence officer in the Southern Command, wrote a report at the time warning the government that war was imminent and that there were many signs of the impending outbreak of hostilities; however, the higher-ranking officials were convinced that the likelihood of war was extremely low, and his warnings were ignored. Not only was this mistake repeated now, but Hamas had apparently planned to carry out the massacre on the Seder night last year until the IDF spotted some warning signs and raised their level of alert. The terror group then canceled its plan and proceeded to keep most of its people in the dark about its further preparations, to prevent any more information from falling into Israeli hands. Somehow, no one in Israel suspected that the plan had merely been postponed and not cancelled, just as the defense establishment in 1973 thought that the Arabs were merely conducting exercises rather than preparing for war.

When I wrote that article, I wasn’t aware of yet another failure on the part of Israeli intelligence. This week, military commentator Amos Harel wrote, “Over a year before it began, the army held information about the plan of attack. Hamas began planning this attack years ago, but Israel repeatedly failed to analyze its actions correctly, and no one believed that it was a realistic plan. The Shin Bet shared most of the information, and at least some of it reached the political echelons.” But it seems that no one paid attention to the blatant warning signs.

Another commentator, Yoav Limor, was equally scathing in his criticism: “Unit 8200 had everything it needed to prevent the Hamas attack, but it simply did nothing with that information. It didn’t even pass the information on. All the commanding officers were asleep at the wheel.”

Conceit and Infighting Led to Tragedy

Ilan Kfir’s book discusses the individuals who were working in the Military Intelligence Directorate at the time of the Yom Kippur War, one of whom was Tzvi Neta, who wrote a small book titled Simonim Meidim (Indicative Signals, published by Yediot Acharonot) about Israel’s failures in 1973. Neta’s book paints an even more horrifying picture of the events of the time. According to Neta, one of the reasons that Binyomin Siman-Tov’s warnings weren’t relayed to the proper authorities was the fact that his direct superior had a poor relationship with him and therefore disregarded his report. Neta has withering criticism for that man, whose name will not be mentioned here, and expresses astonishment at the fact that he remained in the army and even reached the rank of brigadier general. He believes that the man should have been imprisoned for many years instead. He also takes a dim view of Eli Zeira, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, and reveals terrible things about General Gorodish on both a professional and a personal level. (For instance, he reveals that Gorodish once threw a radio at another officer in anger, and he also threw a bottle at Shai Tamari.) Neta considers the 8200 unit to be among those responsible for the failures of 1973. And it seems that history has now repeated itself.

Neta’s accusations are chilling. He pinpoints the causes of Israel’s failures in 1973: conceit and smugness, infighting between officials in the army and government, and the obstinate refusal to discard their preconceived notions. The book contains many details (all approved by the military censor) and reveals the degree to which arrogance and infighting led to thousands of soldiers being killed, wounded, or taken into captivity. Neta does not hesitate to expose details and names, even revealing the actions of officers who were his superiors in the army.

Tzvi Neta was discharged from the army with the rank of major general. He claims that the recommendations of the Agranat Commission were never implemented. He also explains that his book should be taken as a cautionary account, a warning to prevent a similar lapse from taking place again. “If key positions in intelligence are held by people who are not suited to them or are not experienced enough,” he warns, “it will be only a matter of time before a mistake is made, and it might be fatal.”

The introduction also seems prescient in light of recent events: “Can history repeat itself? Is the concern of being blinded by preconceived notions still relevant? I believe that it is. As long as human beings are managing the work of intelligence [in which many decisions boil down to a judgment call] it certainly can happen. Moreover, I am certain that it will happen, despite all the developments and technological advancements. That is why we must make sure that the most qualified people are the ones holding these positions.”

In 1973, the Agranat Commission determined that the key positions in the intelligence establishment were held by people who were not suited to the task. The officials were dismissed; even those who were not discharged from the army were nonetheless removed from the intelligence division. I have no doubt that when a commission is formed in 2024 to investigate the failures of 2023, it will reach the same conclusion.

A Call to Free Murderers of Arabs

There are some Jews, even in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak, who are absolutely maddened by the release of Palestinian murderers. Of course, we are all disturbed and saddened by it, but there is a small group of people who are even more distraught than many others. These people are the parents of men who have been convicted of murdering Arabs and who have been locked away for decades, seemingly with no hope for a normal future.

This week, these parents wrote a letter to the State of Israel demanding “social balance.” They presented their request as follows: “We are the families of Jewish security prisoners who are in Israeli prisons, serving various sentences for actions that they took against Arabs following murderous terror attacks against Jews. Some of our children were minors when the crimes were committed. Our loved ones have been behind bars for many years and are paying a heavy price for their actions. We must emphasize that we, the families, condemn and reject any form of violence. We abhor the actions of our family members and condemn any violation of the laws of this state. During this difficult time, when our thoughts are with the families of the 240 captives and hostages being held by the terror group Hamas in Gaza, we have learned that the Israeli government intends to release Arab security prisoners as part of its effort to recover the hostages.”

The families explain that they are opposed to releasing Arab terrorists, but then they add, “Nevertheless, when you release Arab security prisoners in the context of a prisoner exchange deal, we beg you to take into account our imprisoned loved ones and to make a gesture to restore social balance. Past experience has shown that Jewish security prisoners who were released did not resume their unlawful activities…. The number of Jewish security prisoners is no greater than thirty. Most of them were never imprisoned before, and all of them have expressed remorse over their actions. In the past, President Ezer Weizmann reduced the sentences of Jewish security prisoners and even released some of them in a gesture following an agreement that led to the release of a large number of terrorists.”

I do not believe that anyone responded to this letter at all.

There Is No Equivalence

Hassan Nasrallah disappointed the Arab world with his recent speech, which was delivered from a bunker rather than in front of an audience of thousands, and which was lackluster and meaningless. One of the lines in his speech was the following: “Our true strength lies in our faith, our insight, our awareness, our deep dedication to our goal, and the great willingness for sacrifice among our holy families.” This reminded me of a story from my own personal history.

About forty years ago, I received word from a family member of MK Moshe Zev Feldman, who was serving as head of the Knesset Finance Committee at the time, that he wanted me to interview him. I was quite surprised, since Rav Feldman generally avoided being interviewed by the press. I traveled to his home in Bnei Brak and he brought me into his study, where he launched into a sharply worded monologue. Feldman sounded deeply aggrieved.

It turned out that he was troubled by an opinion piece that had appeared in a newspaper, in which the writer bemoaned the spiritual decline of our generation and asserted that the power of mesirus nefesh, which is an inherently Jewish trait, had been transferred to the Arabs. Feldman, who had also served as a rosh yeshiva, cried tearfully, “This is absolute nonsense. How can he compare a Jew who is moser nefesh for kiddush Hashem to a goy who is willing to die for the sake of murdering Jews? There is no comparison!”

Nasrallah’s words triggered my memory of the late Rabbi Feldman’s distress at the time. Let no one make the mistake of somehow equating the Arabs’ twisted concept of self-sacrifice with the holy mesirus nefesh of our bnei Torah.

Coalition Crisis Brews Over Funding for Chareidim

There is much more to write about, but everything else seems to be dwarfed by the nail-biting tension that we are all experiencing due to the war and the negotiations over the hostages. Nevertheless, I will briefly mention a few important points here.

First, many questions are still lingering in the air: Will the planned ceasefire be extended beyond the initial four days? At the moment, there is talk of Hamas releasing an additional ten hostages on every added day of the ceasefire. What will the government decide? Well, think about it: What would you decide if you had to make the call? Would you agree to halt the operation for additional days to retrieve more captives?

Another item that bears mentioning is the recent letter written by the chief of staff to the soldiers operating in the field. While he finally quoted a posuk in his missive, he used it in a grossly distorted way.

In other related news, I mentioned last week that Benny Gantz’s party has been soaring in the polls in Israel, but I have an explanation for it now: It is simply an illusion. When the election is held, the results will be dramatically different. Perhaps I’ll write more about this in my next column.

On Sunday, Netanyahu visited Gaza. This was a bit of a dangerous move in the middle of a war, but the deed is now done. Meanwhile, another Israeli-owned ship has been seized by the Yemenite Houthis. I also have some stories to share from the Knesset, and I should write about Netanyahu’s meeting with ZAKA as well, but I will leave these topics for another time.

There is also a coalition crisis in the works. Netanyahu wants to proceed with the transfer of government funding that has already been earmarked for the chareidi community, mainly to pay the wages of chareidi teachers. However, these allocations are categorized as coalition funds, and all coalition funding has been halted during the war. The problem here lies in the basic premise: There is no reason for the well-deserved salaries of teachers to be considered part of the coalition funding, which is money used by the political parties for their own purposes. Nevertheless, since these funds have been designated as part of the coalition funding, special government approval is required for the money to be released, and Benny Gantz, who is part of the government now, is opposed to holding any discussions about government funding at this time. The issue has therefore hit a dead end.

Soldiers with TzitzisA Spiritual Revolution?

Let us conclude this column on a positive note. Last week, I wrote about the spiritual awakening that has been sweeping through Israel in response to the Simchas Torah tragedy. (See below for more on that subject.) Many such stories are continuing to reach us all, as we hear about many young people who are making the commitment to observe mitzvos such as Shabbos, tefillin, and many more aspects of Jewish observance. This phenomenon is even taking place at the front lines. The soldiers have been rejoicing over every visit from a rov, and they eagerly vie to receive brachos, segulos, and any other dose of spirituality that is offered to them. In this era of media connectivity, we have all seen countless videos from the front lines that show the soldiers singing, dancing, and conveying personal messages to the civilians on the home front. One cannot help but be moved by these displays of newfound closeness to the Master of the Universe. It is astounding to see bareheaded soldiers declaring their acceptance of Hashem’s Kingship, singing “Ein Od Milvado,” and crying out the words of Shema Yisroel, as well as begging the bnei yeshivos to daven and learn on their behalf. Yesterday, a video was released that shows a group of IDF snipers carefully aiming their weapons while the lookouts and other soldiers surrounding them sing “Ein Gedulah KaTorah.”

There is also another phenomenon that cannot escape notice: the widespread interest in tzitzis. Demand for tzitzis is at an all-time high, and chessed organizations have been churning out thousands of olive-green garments equipped with tzitzis to be worn by soldiers. Soldiers without yarmulkes are suddenly sporting tzitzis everywhere. Something incredible is obviously happening here!

Fake News in the Israeli Press

Let me make one last comment: I recently came across a headline in an Israeli newspaper that read, “Biden Believes Netanyahu’s Political Days Are Numbered.” This report was allegedly based on the word of an American politician.

Now, let us ignore Biden’s assessment of the situation for the moment. Given his condition, I wouldn’t necessarily put much stock in his evaluation of the matter. Let us also put aside the fact that it seems far more logical that Netanyahu will remain the prime minister of Israel than that Biden will remain in office as president of the United States. And let us also disregard the Israeli commentators who predicted many years ago that the end of Netanyahu’s political career was approaching. In fact, one of the most prominent figures in the Israeli media asserted many years ago that Netanyahu would be nothing more than a footnote in the pages of history. And just two years ago, the leaders of the government declared with confidence that the “Netanyahu era” had ended. Today, one of those men is sitting in his home in Raanana, while the other is in the opposition leader’s office.

Putting all that aside, I was troubled even more by the fact that this article was published after the report was fully debunked in Washington. On the evening prior to the article’s publication, Adrienne Watson, the spokeswoman for the National Security Council in the White House, denied the reports about Biden’s comment. “The description that appears in Politico is false,” she said. “This topic has not been discussed by the president and is not being discussed. Our focus is on the immediate crisis.” How could an Israeli newspaper publish such a report after it was denied by the Americans?

In fact, even the news sources who chose to publish the report along with the American denial were wrong in doing so. If the White House denies making such a statement, what is the purpose in publishing something incorrect, even if it is accompanied by a refutation? But the most egregious offense of all was publishing a fake report without quoting the response or giving any other sign that it was untrue.


Let Us Not Miss the Moment

Rav Avrohom Kahan, rosh kollel of Keser Torah in Toronto and nosi of Shaarei Tzion, is a prominent marbitz Torah and baal chessed. He recently delivered a shmuess to his talmidim on motzoei Shabbos, urging them not to miss the opportunity for a spiritual awakening, and stressing that the call of the hour is unity.

“It’s impossible for anyone to fail to make a cheshbon hanefesh after the tragedy that occurred in Eretz Yisroel,” Rav Avrohom Kahan asserted in a shmuess delivered to his talmidim. He also pinpointed the area in which he feels the most improvement must be made in the religious community: eliminating discord and promoting peace and unity.

Rav Avrohom Kahan is a prominent marbitz Torah in Toronto. In the interests of full disclosure, I will reveal that we have a familial connection: He is my mother-in-law’s brother. The Kahan family and my family have been connected for three generations already. My grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, was the rov of the Machzikei Hadas community in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Rabbi Eliyohu Kahan was one of the community’s leading dignitaries and was a close friend of my grandfather. Reb Eliyohu has a number of distinguished children, including Rav Zev Kahan, who serves as a rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Maor HaTorah in Rechovot (and is the son-in-law of Rav Dovid Zingrevitz, a mashgiach in Ponovezh) and is one of the gedolei Torah in Eretz Yisroel today. Another son, Rav Yitzchok Kahan, is the administrator of the Torah institutions in Zichron Yaakov.

One of Rav Eliyohu’s daughters is my mother-in-law, who married a bochur from Ponovezh named Reb Tzvi Tausky in Denmark. My father-in-law, Rav Tausky, was a righteous man who passed away not long ago; I have written about him and his two sisters at length in the past. It was very unusual for anyone in the Machzikei Hadas community to learn in yeshiva, but Reb Eliyohu had the good fortune of seeing all of his children become bnei Torah. Another of his sons is Reb Dovid Kahan, who is a prominent figure in the religious community of Antwerp.

Helping the Poor in Eretz Yisroel

The youngest Kahan sibling, Rav Avrohom, lives in Toronto. His home is known as a meeting place for chachomim and is open to the needy. He also invests tremendous effort in assisting the poor in Eretz Yisroel. Despite his own prominent standing, he does not consider it beneath his dignity to collect tzedokah and to send the funds to Israel for needy families. Many of the beneficiaries of his hard work are outstanding bnei Torah. I am writing all of this based on personal knowledge.

Rav Kahan is the type of person who is beloved by everyone, in spite of the fact that he is sometimes forced to take a firm stand against potential breaches in the bulwarks of halacha. When he does so, even if he sounds harsh, everyone knows that it stems from his concern and love for the community. He is also a master of machshovah, an outstanding talmid chochom, and a highly proficient orator. He serves as the head of Kollel Keser Torah, which consists of dozens of yungeleit of high caliber. The kollel is located in Zichron Shneur, a shul that is under the leadership of Rav Dovid Pam. Rav Kahan also serves as the nosi of the Torah institution Shaarei Tzion, which is headed by Rav Shmuel Elyashiv and serves the Bukharian community of Toronto. The institution has a magnificent building in Toronto, which is affiliated with their enormous complex in Brooklyn.

When he is asked what he considers the most important of all his activities, Rav Avrohom Kahan replies in all seriousness that he attaches the greatest value to his daily chavrusa with Rav Shlomo Eliyohu Miller, who is considered the gadol and leading posek of the Toronto community. I am sure that you are familiar with Rav Miller, and that there is little that I can add to your knowledge of him. I will only mention the well-known story about a man from Toronto who once visited Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv with a shailah. When Rav Elyashiv heard that he had come from Toronto, he asked, “If you have Rav Shlomo Miller there, why did you make the effort to come to me?”

The Harm of Discord

During his shmuess, Rav Kahan spoke about the spiritual awakening and the thirst for Torah and for the word of Hashem that are sweeping through Eretz Yisroel in the wake of the massacre on Simchas Torah. He quoted a famous statement attributed to the Bais Yisroel after the Six Day War: “We received a tremendous burst of inspiration from Shomayim. What a pity that the chilonim have taken advantage of it more than we have!”

“This time,” Rav Avrohom Kahan told his listeners, “we must not allow this opportunity to pass us by. All of us must wake up as well.”

Rav Avrohom voiced his opinion that the religious community should be focusing now on boosting its unity. “We need to work on the harmony among us, on building peace in our camp,” he said. “Forty years ago, I was at an event where Rav Shmuel Wosner spoke. He quoted Chazal’s statement about Shemini Atzeres that Hashem declares, ‘Kasheh alai preidaschem—It is hard for Me to part with you.’ For this reason, Hashem keeps us with Him for an extra day, so to speak, like a king who invited his sons to his palace for a specific number of days and then asks them at the end of their visit to remain with him for one extra day. But Rav Wosner said that there is another layer of meaning here: Hashem is telling us that it is painful for Him when we are separated from each other. Hashem despises machlokes!”

Someone remarked to Rav Kahan that the same idea had been expressed by Rav Dovid Abuchatzeirah that week. “It’s an amazing vort that has probably been suggested by many people,” Rav Kahan confirmed. “In fact, it’s such an incredible insight that it is likely written in earlier seforim as well. It also appears in the Nesivos Sholom, which states that Hashem says, ‘It is difficult for Me to see you divided and seeing evil in each other. You are allowed to disagree with each other and even to argue with each other, but never to despise each other.’ But I still remember Rav Wosner’s words as if I heard them just yesterday.”

The Precondition for a Brocha

“In Eretz Yisroel, everyone is speaking about bolstering our observance of Shabbos,” I remarked to him.

Rav Kahan replied, “That is directed at the secular community more than the religious sector. Besides, there is no contradiction between these two things. Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein has been exhorting everyone to work on their Shabbos observance since the beginning of the year, before the tragedy took place. He was probably basing this on the Minchas Ani, the sefer written by the Aruch Laner, which states that when the shofar isn’t sounded on the first day of Rosh Hashanah because it falls on Shabbos, it is important to work throughout the year on enhancing the observance of Shabbos. I spoke about this as well at the beginning of the year. Shabbos represents malchus (kingship), and it is very important. At the same time, in our own community, it is our achdus that requires the greatest attention.”

Rav Kahan’s shmuess concluded with a powerful insight: “In bentching, we recite the words, ‘So may He bless us, all of us together, with a complete brocha.’ This teaches us that togetherness is a prerequisite for Hashem’s complete brachos! We must be united with each other if we wish to benefit from those brachos.”



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