Thursday, Apr 11, 2024

My Take on the News


Fish in the Sea

Purim is drawing near, and this year, along with the joy and festivity of the holiday, we will also be marking the yahrtzeit of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. Rav Chaim’s passing has left a painful, gaping void in our world. To honor his memory, I would like to cite a few short pieces of his Torah that I recently came across (with thanks to the publishers of Siach Emunah).

First, we know that the mazel of Adar is dagim (fish). Chazal tell us that talmidei chachomim are likened to the fish in the sea: just as the fish open their mouths to take in raindrops that fall from the sky, a talmid chochom who hears a midrash or aggadah will likewise direct his attention to it (Pesikta Zutresa, Parshas Haazinu). The message of this midrash is that a talmid chochom always thirsts for Torah knowledge even when he has already amassed a great deal of it, just as a fish in the sea is surrounded by water yet responds with great excitement when another drop of water falls from the sky. A talmid chochom may have filled his mind and his heart with Torah, but when he hears a new dvar Torah, he will excitedly hurry to take it in as well.

Someone once commented to Rav Chaim, “I have a fish tank in my home, and when I lift the lid and pour in water to fill it, there isn’t a single fish that rushes to the surface to drink in the new drops. Doesn’t this contradict the maamar Chazal that tells us that fish open their mouths to drink in the rain?”

Rav Chaim replied, “The midrash states explicitly that it is referring to fish in the sea!”

Why would there be a difference between fish in the wild and those that live in a tank? Rav Chaim explained that fish in the sea are surrounded by vast quantities of water, and it is specifically those fish that thirst for every new drop of water. Fish that live in a tank, on the other hand, do not have a frame of reference that enables them to comprehend the volume of water in an ocean; therefore, they do not thirst for every drop that becomes available to them. This was the insight of a gadol who lived in his own ocean of Torah yet, like the fish in the sea, thirstily imbibed every new drop of Torah that came his way.

Here is another edifying anecdote: Rav Chaim was once consulted when a community wished to relieve a shochet of his position due to his age. Rav Chaim asked if they were concerned that the shochet might not be fulfilling the requirements of halacha, in which case there would be an actual Torah prohibition at stake, or if the community members were simply concerned about a hiddur. They replied that the issue at stake was a hiddur, and Rav Chaim ruled that the shochet should not be dismissed. “One should not practice hiddurim at another person’s expense,” he explained.

Then there is this charming story: Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky once asked her husband if a person is considered to have fulfilled the mitzvah of Sefiras Ha’Omer if he declares, “Today is the number of days of Sefiras Ha’Omer equivalent to the home address of Rav Chaim Kanievsky on Rechov Rashbam.” If the person wishes to count the omer in the normal fashion afterward, she asked, is he permitted to recite the brocha? Rav Chaim replied, “How would anyone know my address?”

“Everyone knows the address,” the rebbetzin told him.

“But I don’t even know it myself!” Rav Chaim replied.

Indeed, the rebbetzin attested that Rav Chaim davened fervently to forget anything that was not connected to the Torah. He wanted to keep his mind uncluttered and to devote every brain cell solely to learning and retaining Torah knowledge.

Ruach Hakodesh on Rechov Rashbam

I hope that you will find the next story as enjoyable as I did.

A man once visited Rav Chaim Kanievsky and posed a question that a friend had asked him to present: “Should a person proceed with a shidduch between a girl whose father’s name is Reuvein Yosef and a bochur whose name is Yosef?” Rav Chaim was known to take a very stringent view of such situations.

Parenthetically, I had an experience in which my daughter was offered a shidduch with a young man named Chaim Tzvi, which is also my name. Rav Chaim advised me against the shidduch due to the potential for ayin hara. “People will say that two Berels made a shidduch,” he said. I was a bit surprised by his wording, since the two Berels making a shidduch would ostensibly be the two fathers whereas my name was identical to that of the proposed chosson, but I did not ask that question. I did comment, though, that my name was originally Tzvi, and the name Chaim was added when I became engaged to my wife, whose father shared my name. (My father-in-law, Rav Tzvi Tausky, was the subject of several of my previous articles, including one that was written after his recent petirah). I was advised to take on a new name by none other than Rav Chaim’s father, the Steipler Gaon. I will add that I was young and a bit impudent (or foolish) at the time, and when the Steipler told me to take a new name, I objected, “Why should I be the one to have another name? Let him do it instead!”

The Steipler was amused but replied, “His claim to the name Tzvi by itself has been established for longer.”

“But he will have to tolerate the new name for less time,” I replied.

“What will you lose by adding the name Chaim?” the Steipler responded.

I shared this story with Rav Chaim when he gave me his psak, and then I added, “But now I am indeed losing something — a potential shidduch!”

This did not alter Rav Chaim’s decision in the slightest. “Do not enter into the shidduch,” he repeated firmly. “The Chazon Ish was very stringent about this. And I promise that you will not lose; you will gain from it.”

But I digress. When Rav Chaim was asked about the father named Reuvein Yosef and the boy named Yosef, he responded, “Shmuel Yitzchok and Yitzchok are two different names.”

“But it’s Reuvein Yosef and Yosef,” the father said.

“Shmuel Yitzchok and Yitzchok are two different names,” Rav Chaim repeated.

The questioner assumed that Rav Chaim was merely using the two names as examples, and he relayed the answer to his friend. To his surprise, he discovered that the names of the potential father-in-law and son-in-law were indeed Shmuel Yitzchok and Yitzchok. His friend had changed the names in his question, but Rav Chaim had used their actual names.

The obvious conclusion is that ruach hakodesh was at work.

Fears for the Hostages, Rockets Target Meron

This country’s regular litany of troubles has not changed. We are constantly hearing news of more soldiers being killed in Gaza, and every new death is heartbreaking. There is also missile fire in the north, which is hard for us to assimilate. It seems as if Hezbollah is making every effort to trigger an escalation on the northern border, but their motives are inscrutable. An IDF spokesman said on Sunday that about 35 rocket launches had been detected from Lebanon that crossed Israel’s border and targeted the Galil. Some of the rockets were intercepted, while others fell in open areas, and Magen David Adom reported that they did not receive calls about missile strikes or casualties. In other words, the country has experienced overt miracles; unfortunately, the IDF spokesman will never admit to that.

What has Israel done in response? The answer is that Israeli fighter jets bombed Hezbollah terror infrastructure near Ayta ash Shab, Maroun al-Ras, and Khirbet Selm in southern Lebanon. This has already become a routine exchange of fire: Hezbollah fires missiles into Israel and the army sends planes over the border in response. Interestingly, Hezbollah seems to have taken a special interest in Meron, possibly due to the IDF air base located on a nearby mountaintop. Hezbollah took responsibility for the barrage of missiles in the vicinity of Meron and claimed that it had launched hundreds of Katyushas. They also claimed that “the missile fire was carried out in response to Israeli aggression against the villages and civilian homes in southern Lebanon. In the last strike, which targeted a house in Khirbet Selm, a family was killed.”

In addition, the country is still grappling with the plight of the hostages in Gaza and the painful knowledge that Hamas is playing games with their lives. The terrorists have repeatedly changed their demands in the middle of the negotiations, altering the terms of a deal for the hostages’ freedom and then suddenly releasing information about the number of hostages who were killed — according to their version of the story — by Israeli air strikes. The families, meanwhile, are living with intense emotional pain, and we know that every passing day spells greater danger for the hostages. It is a terribly painful situation.

Ramadan Fears

The month of Ramadan, which generates its fair share of worry every year, has arrived. The enemies of Israel always try to goad the country’s Arab citizens into committing acts of terror during Ramadan, while Israel tries to be very cautious in its dealings with those same Arab citizens. We must all daven to get through this month in peace.

Speaking of Israeli Arabs, it was recently cleared for publication that a joint operation of the Shin Bet and the police in the northern district led to the exposure of a terror cell operating in the north, which had planned to launch attacks within Israel. Over the past few months, several suspects involved in the terror cell were taken into custody, including the cell’s leader, his second-in-command, and eleven other suspects, most of whom were residents of Sakhnin. The authorities confiscated four weapons, ammunition, and bulletproof vests that were meant to serve the group in their terror activities. One of the suspects, Mohammed Khaled Khalilah, was also discovered to have been in contact with Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The authorities learned that Hamas provided him with instructions for manufacturing explosives and ordered him to recruit more people to join his terror activities. The investigation found that in addition to their efforts to organize a terror group, some of the detainees had also taken part in throwing homemade explosives at the Israeli settlement of Eshbal during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May 2021. These Arabs are residents of Israel, who hold the same Israeli ID cards as any other citizen. In other words, they are full-fledged Israeli citizens who were collaborating with Hamas. That is a horrifying thought!

There Is No Reasoning With Hatred

The hateful campaign of incitement against bnei yeshivos is continuing unabated. This week, the Torah world’s enemies found new fodder for their hatred in a comment made by the Rishon Letzion, Rav Yitzchok Yosef, in his weekly shiur on Motzoei Shabbos. Rav Yitzchok commented last week that if the chareidim are forced to enlist in the army, they will leave the country instead. This shouldn’t have surprised anyone; the same statement was made by Rav Shach, as well as by Rav Yitzchak’s father, Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who said it on numerous occasions. I don’t know if the current Rishon Letzion meant it as a serious prospect or if he was simply trying to make the chilonim realize how seriously the chareidim relate to the draft deferment, but it certainly triggered a backlash.

Let me reiterate a distinction that I have often made. Some people are tinokos shenishbu — Jews who were raised without a proper understanding of the Torah’s values through no fault of their own. Some of them believe in the value of Torah learning but do not understand why so many people must be involved in it. They might truly, sincerely believe that it is possible to combine Torah learning with army service and that that should be done. But then there are others among the opponents of the draft deferment — the implacable enemies of the chareidi community, who will always be filled with hatred and are using this issue merely as a pretext to battle the religious community. There is also a third group: the anti-Bibi camp and other politicians who are exploiting the animus generated by this issue for their efforts to bring about a change of regime. These people have used every controversial issue that arose — the judicial reform, then the hostages, and now the draft of yeshiva bochurim — as an excuse to stage stormy anti-government protests in an effort to unseat Netanyahu. Some of them may also be driven by hatred for the Torah and religion. Today, the organization known as Brothers in Arms is beginning a campaign to promote a universal draft. These people are cruel to the religious community and are guilty of grave sins before Hashem.

It is very hard to reason with those who simply do not understand the value of Torah learning. It is forbidden for us to even try to reason with those who are driven by hatred. As for the politicians, there is no point in trying to reason with them. They will not be satisfied until they have achieved their political goals. Years ago, we all watched Ehud Barak run for the office of prime minister while malevolently calling for a universal draft. As soon as the Shas party won 17 mandates and Barak needed them to form a coalition, he dropped that demand. Gantz and Lapid today have similarly agreed to make concessions if the chareidim support their bid to run the government. All their high-minded talk of draft quotas, sanctions, and equality somehow falls aside when their goal of seizing power seems to be within reach. Benny Gantz, who is drunk on the polls’ prediction that he might become the next prime minister, proved this when he offered to pass a draft law acceptable to the chareidim in exchange for an election in 2024. There is no doubt about it: In their minds, the opportunity for power takes precedence over the principle of equality.

No One Is Concerned About the Chilonim Who Do Not Serve

The hypocrisy of the calls for chareidim to be drafted is utterly abhorrent. The same protestors who called for widespread refusal to serve in the army as a means of protesting the judicial reform, who insisted on boycotting the army because the state’s values were not in line with their own, nonetheless insist that the chareidim must serve in the army despite their own divergent values. A yeshiva bochur who does not join the army rankles them, but an Arab who doesn’t serve in the IDF doesn’t trouble them at all. And what about the secular draft dodgers? There are many of them, yet no one seems to take issue with it.

This week, General Dan Bitton wrote, “On the day when everyone speaks out against the many chilonim from Gush Dan who evade military service, I will believe that this [the push for a draft of yeshiva bochurim] is based on a desire for equality and not on political considerations.” Bitton added that he has calculated that over time, more chareidim have been enlisting in the IDF while the chilonim from Gush Dan have been evading army service at a mounting rate.

Bitton released the following figures concerning the year 2020: Draft notices were sent to 144,000 youths, of which 67,100 enlisted in the IDF and 66,500 did not enlist. The latter category breaks down as follows: 12,000 chareidim received a deferment due to their status as yeshiva students; 10,000 draft candidates opted to perform national service instead, and 44,500 chilonim did not join the army, most of whom were from the greater Gush Dan area. These astounding figures speak for themselves. Aside from exposing the critics’ hypocrisy, there is another point to be raised here: If the Supreme Court doesn’t order the draft of yeshiva bochurim but insists that they are not entitled to government funding, then the same should be true for the secular schools containing draft dodgers as well.

Yair Lapid, as usual, has been riding this wave of incitement. On Motzoei Shabbos, he attended a protest on Rechov Kaplan wearing a Yesh Atid shirt with the slogan, “We all enlist together.” Just keep in mind that Lapid’s parents were able to sleep well at night during his period of army service, even though he criticizes chareidi parents for being in the same position. In a certain sense, Lapid was the archetypical draft dodger.

The Second Round of Local Elections

Runoff elections were held this week in 24 localities throughout Israel. Almost half of those municipalities are Arab areas, and those elections certainly are of no interest to us. However, the Jewish cities where the elections were repeated are of great interest to us. Almost every city has a concentration of families of bnei Torah who are eager for a mayor who will be sympathetic to their needs and who wish to live in a city where Yiddishkeit is preserved in the public sphere. In many cases, the outcome of the local election determines whether the mayor will be their friend or foe.

Take Haifa, for example, where there were two candidates in the runoff election: Yonah Yahav and David Etzioni. Before the election, Yahav called on the city’s residents to go to the polls and vote to prevent Haifa from falling into chareidi hands, which he claimed would make it an undesirable place to live. Oddly enough, certain chareidi groups in the city supported Yahav’s bid for election despite this rhetoric. Perhaps that was a good thing, though, as it may ensure that he feels beholden to at least some chareidi voters.

The other mayoral races with importance to the chareidim included those in the community of Charish, which is one potential resource for housing for chareidi families in the future, and in the cities of Ramle and Rechovot (the previous mayor of the latter, a chareidi man named Rachamim Malul, was already defeated in the first round of voting), where the communities hoped that the new mayors would be sympathetic to them. The chareidim were also heavily invested in the election in Kiryat Gat, which may become a chareidi stronghold in the future. Almost all the chareidim there, with the exception of only one rov in the city, supported Kfir Suissa against Aviram Dahari, the incumbent.

Of course, the city of Beit Shemesh was also a focal point of chareidi interest. As you are certainly aware, the race began with three candidates: Shmulik Greenberg of Degel HaTorah, Moshe Abutbol of Shas, and the incumbent mayor, Aliza Bloch. The results for all three candidates after the first round of voting were very close, and Greenberg and Bloch were left to face off in the runoff election. The chareidi community, including the Shas party, rallied to vote for Greenberg against the previous mayor, who belongs to the dati leumi community. On the day of the election, dozens of prominent figures from all the chareidi parties visited Beit Shemesh to encourage the religious citizens to vote.

Time for Celebration in Beit Shemesh

The second round of elections was naturally less of a turbulent time, even though everyone who lives in a city with a runoff election tended to feel that life-or-death issues were at stake. For the chareidi community, the most important thing was to ensure that the elections were not won by people who are hostile to Yiddishkeit. Overall, one can say that there was a good deal of siyatta di’Shmaya in this area. Shmuel Greenberg was elected mayor of Beit Shemesh, and the community rejoiced over that news, largely because his success was the product of unity within the chareidi community that had been sorely lacking. It was only because all the chareidim decided to unite to support him that Greenberg managed to defeat the incumbent. Ger, Porush, Shas, Degel HaTorah, Vizhnitz, and even the so-called modern chareidim and the American community all voted for him. Greenberg received 59.3 percent of the vote, defeating Bloch by a relatively large margin.

Rechovot was another city in which the chareidim scored a victory. Matan Dil, who won the office of mayor with 59.7 percent of the vote, was supported by the chareidim in the race against a candidate backed by Yesh Atid and the Kaplan protestors. The other candidate had tried to frighten the residents with the prospect of a chareidi takeover of the city, but he was defeated nonetheless.

In Ramle, as well, the two candidates sparred over the potential of a chareidi takeover, and the election was won by Michoel Vidal of the Likud party, who was supported by the chareidim and received 53 percent of the vote. Yet another city where this scenario played out was Kiryat Gat, which is being widely touted as the next major chareidi stronghold; at present, a large chareidi neighborhood is scheduled to be built adjacent to the city. The previous mayor of Kiryat Gat had likewise tried to bring out the vote by stoking fears of a chareidi takeover, but he was defeated by his opponent, Kfir Suissa, who was supported by all the chareidim and received 52.1 percent of the vote.

Perhaps I should also mention Haifa, where the election was won by Yonah Yahav. Yahav has served as mayor of Haifa in the past and was defeated in the previous election by a member of the Degel party. He spoke against the chareidim yet was supported by certain chareidi groups, and he succeeded in defeating David Etzioni, who had the backing of Shas, Degel HaTorah, and most of Agudas Yisroel, with a majority of 62.6 percent of the vote. We must hope only that Yahav will not seek to get even with the chareidim for their refusal to support him.

Shabbos Belongs to Everyone

I sometimes observe that it seems as if two very different nations live in this country, and one of them has no understanding of the other. For instance, one of Israel’s secular newspapers recently carried the headline “Surrender to Chareidim Costs Billions of Shekels Even in the Transportation Industry.” This was referring to a recent incident in which the government agreed at the last minute to cancel construction on a highway that was scheduled to take place on Shabbos. The chareidi parties had asked for the work to be postponed since there was no justification for performing the construction on Shabbos. The article portrays the chareidim as extortionists, accusing them of exerting undue pressure on the government to postpone the project. However, I believe that it didn’t take much pressure at all. Transportation Minister Miri Regev is observant of Jewish traditions, and the chareidi politicians probably needed only to remind her that there was no pikuach nefesh involved in the project.

Unfortunately, Shabbos seems to have become a day for recreation in the eyes of the broader Israeli public. Most of them were sadly robbed of a Jewish upbringing, and they were never taught about the sanctity and meaning of Shabbos. When it is necessary to repair a highway or transport a turbine, they consider it the most expedient and logical course of action to schedule the work on Shabbos, when the roads are generally empty. But they do not seem to realize that this is not a purely chareidi issue. Shabbos belongs to the entire Jewish people, and when the government agreed to delay the construction, it wasn’t a surrender to “the chareidim” at all; on the contrary, it was a show of respect for Shabbos and for the Creator of the world. Just as the rest of Israel does not understand the meaning of Torah and the value of Torah learning, they also lack an appreciation for Shabbos and do not comprehend the value of Shabbos observance.

Moshe Roth Speaks Out Against the Police

Last week, I reported that MK Avrohom Betzalel had protested the police force’s use of skunk water, which has caused significant property damage and harm to innocent people. This week, Public Security Minister Ben-Gvir announced that he had ordered the police to stop using skunk water altogether. Let us hope that this will come to pass.

Two other speakers addressed the same Knesset session whom I feel should be quoted. One was MK Ofer Cassif (yes, the same member of the Knesset who was nearly impeached), who enumerated several instances of indiscriminate violence perpetrated by police officers. “On January 20, 2024,” Cassif said, “in Teddy Stadium, sports fans were assaulted by a plainclothes officer whose personal record was, shall we say, somewhat questionable. The victims included the journalist Chaim Levinson; the policeman choked him and crushed his eyeglasses. On February 6, a chareidi woman was walking with her children in Yerushalayim when the spray of skunk water was aimed directly at her, causing her serious harm. The next day, Rabbi Noach Brandwein was seriously injured when he was trampled by a mounted police officer during a demonstration. On February 9, police officers violently assaulted protestors at the Almog Junction in the occupied territories…. Police officer Meir Suissa [also] threw a stun grenade at a protestor and damaged his ear during a protest in Tel Aviv against the judicial reform.” Cassif blamed the public security minister for these incidents. “These problems are not new,” he said, “but under the auspices of a minister who is lawless, racist, violent, and a convicted terrorist, that brutality has become a policy.”

Another speaker was Moshe Roth of Agudas Yisroel, who had done his homework. “Thank you, Mr. Speaker,” Roth began his remarks after he was introduced. “Honored minister and members of the Knesset, today I would like to bring up a very important and painful issue, an issue that causes both physical and emotional pain. That issue is the violence of the police against civilians. In the rest of the world, the police are generally seen as a force that protects the people; however, in the State of Israel, the situation is unfortunately very different. True, some police officers are good, worthy, and balanced, and we salute them with great appreciation. Unfortunately, there are also violent police officers who give a bad name to the Israel Police Force, and this is especially true of their interactions with the chareidi public. Here we must ask with anguish and pain: What makes the chareidi community different? Why is it acceptable to mete out collective punishment to the chareidi community? Why is the cannon with skunk water used only against chareidim? What do you feel when you see a police officer pulling a Jewish man’s peyos?

“Listen to this story,” Roth continued. “Three years ago, a very unusual incident took place in the tranquil city of Bnei Brak. Two young men broke the window of a car occupied by police detectives, which is an act of vandalism that deserves to be condemned and punished. But what did the police do? The Israel Police Force sent 300 officers armed with clubs and stun grenades to beat any Jews with a chareidi appearance. Anyone who looked chareidi was beaten that day. Innocent people were beaten simply because of their religious appearance.

“Police brutality is a scourge that must be dealt with,” he declared. “Chareidim are suffering from the brutality of the police because they have a more distinctive identity and affiliation with their community. They are easy prey, and they do not have officials like Ami Ashad to protect them. We are especially pained by the innocent chareidi pedestrians who stumble onto the scenes of protests and are harmed by police violence. The Shulmans, an elderly chareidi couple, were standing at the entrance to Yerushalayim when they were hit by a painful spray from a water cannon. This should have been a warning to the police, but it wasn’t, and their brutality is still rampant. I now turn to my friend, Public Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir. Fortunately, we have a minister today who is familiar with this subject. You have been fighting police brutality against chareidim and against settlers with kippot and peyos for many years. I am certain that you will take action to put an end to this brutality and that you will cooperate with the desire of the members of the Knesset to suppress it. We demand, first and foremost, that the use of water cannons against civilians who are not suspected of terror activities be ended immediately. Second, there is a need for violent police officers to be severely punished. Third, the police should be given workshops and special training on how to behave when they come in contact with the public. Fourth, at chareidi events with potential for police brutality, an official in the police force with proper judgment should be stationed to protect the chareidi community.” Thus ended Roth’s highly eloquent and carefully crafted presentation. His case was solid, and his demands eminently reasonable.

The Password Law

I have been monitoring the new laws introduced by the members of the Knesset. Last week, a bill was introduced that I found to be original and interesting. This bill, which passed its preliminary reading by a unanimous vote of all 24 Knesset members who were present that day, received high praise from the Knesset speaker and the justice minister. In a nutshell, this law would require the passwords and PINs belonging to any person who passes away to be revealed to the heirs. The requirement would pertain to passwords and codes of any kind, for any purpose ranging from access to a bank website to operating a personal cell phone.

MK Erez Malul, who sponsored the law, explained, “When a person passes away and leaves assets behind, his heirs will usually be able to locate his property. This is not the case regarding property that must be accessed with a password or PIN. If the family does not make arrangements for such access ahead of time, these assets are likely to be lost to the heirs. This is an ethical failing that this law is intended to rectify. We cannot permit a situation in which technological companies will take possession of the memories and creations of Israelis who have passed away.” Malul cited the cases of the cell phones of soldiers killed in action as a poignant example of the need for this measure and then thanked the various individuals who had encouraged him and helped him prepare the bill, including Justice Minister Yariv Levin and his own aide, Roi Avraham. These names were part of a much longer list, which is a startling indication of the large number of people involved in preparing a single bill.

“I will allow myself to congratulate you on authoring this important law,” Amir Ochana announced. “It will certainly be helpful to many families.”

Yariv Levin remarked, “The bill proposed by my colleague MK Erez Malul is a groundbreaking law of tremendous importance…. I applaud you for dealing with this subject and for the highly professional and very correct way, in my view, in which you are advancing it.”

Chipping Away at PA’s Pay for Slay

This Monday, the Knesset approved another law that took aim at the pay-for-slay stipends handed out by the Palestinian Authority to murderers of Jews. This law, once again, is an initiative of Sander Gerber of New York, who visited the Knesset to be present for the vote. The bill, titled “Proposed Law of Damages for Terror Victims,” was presented to the Knesset by MK Yinon Azulai on behalf of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The new bill rectifies a historic injustice perpetrated against terror victims and their family members, who encountered many hurdles in their efforts to file lawsuits against the perpetrators and sponsors of terror. The bill sets a predetermined sum for damages to be paid to the victims and allows the money to be collected from the frozen assets of individuals involved in financing terror. This is meant to address the fact that various entities are able to support and encourage terror through economic incentives. The idea is based on a comment of Supreme Court Justice David Mintz, who felt that forcing the sponsors of terror to make punitive payments may have a deterrent effect that will prevent the PA from continuing its policy of paying wages to terrorists. Yuli Edelstein, chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, was absent from the Knesset due to illness, and this left Azulai, as a member of the committee, in the position of presenting the bill for its second and third readings in his place.

The bill was drafted by MK Yitzchok Pindrus, who collected the signatures of over sixty additional Knesset members as well. The bill also received the support of Justice Minister Yariv Levin and Yuli Edelstein, thanks to the influence of Sander Gerber, a man suffused with ahavas Yisroel who is deeply pained by every terror attack that occurs in Israel and is highly motivated to take action against the phenomenon.

After reading aloud the comments that had been prepared for him by the professionals in the committee, Azulai looked up and said, “I would like to conclude with a word to Mr. Sander Gerber of New York, a man whose love for Israel and sense of the eternity of Israel burn within his very essence. He is sitting here today, and this law is his. Welcome to the Knesset, my friend. Let us also welcome his companions, and let us also mention the late Rav Boruch Weisbecker, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Bais Mattisyohu, who had a profound sense of responsibility for Klal Yisroel. This law was first conceived in the rosh yeshiva’s home when he was visited by Sander Gerber and the attorney Asher Stub, who helped him significantly. The representatives of Shas and Degel HaTorah were there as well. At that meeting, it was decided that MK Yitzchok Pindrus would be the man to spearhead the initiative. Sander enlisted the support of Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Yuli Edelstein as well. Thank you to all of you.”

Azulai added, “This is the third law that Mr. Gerber has advanced in his struggle against the Palestinian Authority’s policy of financing terror. In 2018, he introduced the Taylor Force Law, which was passed in Washington, as well as the Offset Law, which was approved in the Knesset several years ago. The law that we are approving now is another step in the battle against the financing of terror and is focused on the victims of terror; may Hashem avenge their blood.”

The bill was approved by a broad majority, and many of the Knesset members then made their way to the VIP gallery to congratulate Gerber on his achievement.

That night, before they returned to New York, Sander Gerber and his wife hosted a group of terror victims in their home in Yerushalayim, who had come to display appreciation for his work on behalf of the broader family of terror victims in Israel. The guests included Meir Schijveschuurder, who lost five members of his family in the bombing of the Sbarro pizzeria in August 2001, and Mark Belzberg of the One Family Together Chairty, which works to rehabilitate victims of terror. Another visitor was Mrs. Shemesh, who recently wrote a book about the Palestinian pay-for-slay stipends. The guests greeted Rav Avrohom Paley and his wife, the parents of eight-year-old Asher and six-year-old Yaakov Yisroel, who were killed in the terror attack on the Ramot Road in February 2023 that served as the catalyst for the new law. Rav Tzvi Weisbecker and Rav Yehuda Weisbecker of Yeshivas Bais Mattisyohu in Bnei Brak were also present, carrying on their father’s legacy of friendship with Sander Gerber. Friends of the family and members of the Knesset, who have been following Mr. Gerber’s activities with great admiration, were also in attendance.

The Promise of a Son

This week, Rav Yitzchok Zev Ovadiah, who served until recently as a well-known mechanech and marbitz Torah, relayed a fascinating midrash to me. The posuk states, “Who preceded Me? I will pay. Everything beneath the heavens is Mine” (Iyov 41:3). The Midrash Tanchuma (Emor 7) comments that the posuk alludes to the fact that an unmarried man who pays the wages of the teachers of Torah and mishnayos in his community will be rewarded with male offspring. The commentary on the midrash explains that a man without a wife and children is technically exempt from contributing to the teachers’ wages but is rewarded for paying for the children of the poor to receive an education. Although he may appear to be “preceding” Hashem by paying the teachers in His place, that is obviously not true, since no one can truly “precede” Him; nevertheless, Hashem promises to reward him for it.

Rav Ovadiah told his listeners, “This isn’t just a segulah or a good omen for having a son. It’s a simple mathematical equation! A bachelor who hasn’t been blessed with his zivug, and presumably a married man who hasn’t been blessed with children, should pay the wages of the teachers of Torah and mishnayos, and the midrash guarantees that Hashem will reward him with a son.” Rav Ovadiah added that this midrash was shared with him by Rav Ephraim Weingot, a wonderful baal chessed who has previously served as the director of the yeshiva department in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

I later discovered that the Yalkut Shimoni (siman 927) echoes this teaching: “Who could precede Me by circumcising his son when I did not give him a son? ‘Who preceded me? I will pay’ This refers to a bachelor who lives in a city and pays the teachers of Torah and mishnayos. Hashem then says: ‘It is incumbent on Me to pay his reward.’”

A Source for Kiruv in the Gemara

Kiruv was a cause that was extremely close to Rav Uri Zohar’s heart. Whenever Rav Uri felt that he could bring another Jew closer to Hashem by speaking with him on the phone, meeting with him in person, or even traveling to visit him, he allowed nothing to stand in the way of that goal. He often quoted Rashi’s comment on the posuk (Yirmiyahu 15:19), “If you extract the precious from the vile, it will be like My mouth.” Rashi explains this to mean that if someone “extracts” a worthy person from a wicked person, meaning that he influences the wicked person to repent and become worthy, then he will be “like My mouth,” i.e., capable of calling for Hashem’s decrees to be rescinded.

“When Hashem makes a decree, a person who is involved in kiruv has the ability to overturn it,” Rav Uri often said. Rav Uri had a large repertoire of midrashim and teachings of Chazal that were relevant to the value and impact of kiruv, as well as other sources in the meforshim on the Torah and the Zohar. He often reminded us of Chazal’s explanation that Yaakov Avinu was punished for withholding his daughter Dina from Eisov since she might have been a positive influence on Eisov.

Rav Uri also attached tremendous significance to the Ohr Hachaim’s interpretation of the posuk, “You shall not see your brother’s ox or his sheep astray and disregard them; you shall certainly return them to your brother” (Devorim 22:1), which describes the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah. The Ohr Hachaim explains this passage as alluding to the obligation of tochacha — the requirement to reprove one’s fellow Jews and to direct them onto the proper path. The “ox” and “sheep” invoked in the posuk are a metaphor for our fellow Jews, while the “brother” represents Hashem. The Torah thus commands us that when our Jewish brethren have gone astray, we must steer them back toward Hashem.

We once learned a Tosafos (Shabbos 87a; thank you Rav Aharon “Arik” Lev for identifying the source) that questions why Moshe Rabbeinu chose to break the Luchos rather than delivering them to Klal Yisroel. The Gemara explains that Moshe reasoned that since a mumar (a brazen habitual sinner) is forbidden to consume the korban Pesach, which is only one of the many mitzvos in the Torah, it was certainly improper to give the entire Torah to the nation after they had worshipped the egel hazahav. Tosafos questions this argument, pointing out that there was another reason to give the Torah to bnei Yisroel: The light of the Torah could have steered them back onto the proper path and motivated them to do teshuvah. When Rav Uri read this question, he almost broke into a dance; he was overjoyed by the discovery.

Rav Uri also frequently quoted a statement from the Gemara (Shabbos 55a; thanks to Rav Yitzchok Zev Ovadiah for locating it) about the obligation to speak out against wrongdoing. He considered the requirement of tochacha a major precedent for the obligation of kiruv. The Gemara states, “Hashem said to Gavriel the malach, ‘Go and place a tav of ink on the foreheads of tzaddikim so that the angels of destruction will not have power over them, and a tav of blood on the wicked so that the angels of destruction will have power over them. The middas hadin asked Hashem, ‘Master of the Universe, why are they different from each other?’ He replied, ‘They are complete tzaddikim, and they are complete resha’im.’ It said to him, ‘Master of the Universe, [the tzaddikim] had the ability to protest and did not do so.’ He replied to it, ‘I know that if they had protested, they would not have heeded them.’ It said, ‘Master of the Universe, even if it is revealed before You, is it revealed to them?’”

This argument led Hashem, so to speak, to reconsider His intent to save the tzaddikim. When Rav Uri spoke about this, tears welled up in his eyes.




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