Monday, May 27, 2024

My Take On the News

 

Elad Katzir Murdered in Captivity

It’s hard to know where to begin. Should I start with the news of another hostage who was found to have been murdered? Or should I begin with the gathering of roshei yeshivos last Friday? Or perhaps with the sad news that greeted us at the beginning of the week when we learned that another four soldiers had been killed? On Sunday, the IDF published the names of an officer and three soldiers who fell in battle in Khan Yunis. All four served in a commando brigade and were on patrol when a group of terrorists emerged from a tunnel shaft in the ruins of a building, opened fire on them, and then fled in the direction of a booby-trapped shaft. The tragic deaths created an atmosphere of despondence throughout the country.

Of course, the country is still focused on the hostages in Gaza as well, and every report of a hostage who was found to have been murdered adds to the general sense of despair. This week, we were informed that Elad Katzir, another hostage kidnapped on October 7, was found to have been murdered in Hamas captivity. His body was retrieved and brought back to Israel in an operation conducted by the IDF. According to army intelligence, Katzir was murdered in the middle of January. His body had reportedly been buried in Khan Yunis and was exhumed by IDF forces. The extraction operation took place near the area where the commando brigade was fighting Hamas terrorists. The operation was very complicated; the soldiers spent an entire night digging in the ground to find Katzir’s body. They also had to fight a fierce battle against Hamas terrorists merely to reach the body’s location, and many terrorists were eliminated along the way.

There were also reports of terror attacks in Israel, as well as attempted attacks that were thwarted. The authorities even caught a terror cell that was planning massive attacks, including an assassination attempt against Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir!

Hostage Deal Talks Move to Egypt

Mossad chief David “Dadi” Barnea, Shin Bet director Ronen Bar, and General (res.) Nitzan Alon traveled to Cairo, the capital of Egypt, this Sunday, following a decision of the war cabinet to “significantly” expand their mandate in the talks with Hamas, in response to a demand from President Biden. This “expanded” mandate probably means that they are now authorized to compromise on issues such as humanitarian aid for Gazans, opening the border crossings, and possibly even releasing more Palestinian prisoners. And all that is because Biden has been pressuring and threatening the Israelis.

There has been significant tension between Biden and Netanyahu in recent days. After an extended telephone call between the two, Biden boasted last week that he had made several demands of Netanyahu and that the latter had relented. Netanyahu gave a slightly different account of the call. We will know the truth when the recording of the call is made available to the public.

The Israeli team in Egypt met with Abbas Kamel, Egypt’s intelligence director; William Burns, the director of the CIA; and Prime Minister Al Thani of Qatar. In all likelihood, it is the Egyptian intelligence chief who is leading the negotiations at this point, which means that Qatar’s importance in the talks has been significantly reduced. That is because Qatar’s influence extends only to the political wing of Hamas, which is not connected to the military wing. A Hamas delegation is due to arrive in Cairo as well, and the talks will be conducted through intermediaries.

Netanyahu Insists That Israel Isnt Blocking a Deal

It is worth quoting Netanyahu’s comments at the beginning of this Sunday’s cabinet meeting, which marked the passage of half a year since the massacre that triggered the war in Gaza. “We are a step away from victory, but the price that has been exacted from us is painful and heartbreaking,” the prime minister said. “Our accomplishments have been great. We have eliminated nineteen out of the twenty-four Hamas brigades, including many of their senior commanders. We killed, maimed, or captured a substantial number of Hamas’s terrorists, we purged Shifa Hospital [which has been serving as a nerve center for the terror group] and we eliminated numerous terrorist command centers. We destroyed rocket production facilities, Hamas war rooms, and caches of weapons and ammunition. We will finish eliminating Hamas throughout the Gaza Strip, including in Rafah. We will guarantee that Gaza will no longer pose a threat to Israel.”

Netanyahu went on to address the issue of the 133 hostages being held captive by Hamas. “We will never forget the heinous crimes committed by the monsters of Hamas, who are still holding our brothers and sisters hostage,” he said. “To date, we have brought home 123 hostages, and we are committed to bringing all of the others home as well. I have made it clear to the international community that there will be no ceasefire without the return of the hostages. It simply will not happen, and I am pleased that the Biden administration made it clear the other day that this is still their position as well.

“Israel isn’t the one preventing a deal,” Netanyahu added. “It is Hamas that is preventing the deal. Their extreme demands were intended to bring an end to the war while leaving them in existence, guaranteeing their survival and rehabilitation. A surrender to the demands of Hamas will enable them to attempt to repeat their crimes of October 7 over and over. Hamas hopes that pressure from within and without will cause Israel to give in. But that will not happen. Israel isn’t ready to surrender. Our war has exposed to the world what Israel has always known: Iran is the power behind the attacks against us. Since October 7, we have been attacked on numerous fronts by Iran’s proxies: Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis, the militias in Iraq and Syria, and others as well. But we will fight back against anyone who harms us or plans to harm us. Israel is prepared for any attempt, no matter where it may come from.”

Israel Strikes Iranian Facility in Damascus

Israel is in a state of panic, and there is no reason to try to hide it. Last week, an attack took place in Damascus, killing the commander of the Iranian forces in Syria and Lebanon, the highest-ranking Iranian official to be killed since the assassination of Soleimani by the American army in Baghdad in January 2020.

Of course, the attack on Damascus was attributed to Israel. The missile strike hit an Iranian diplomatic building, which was reduced to rubble, killing several other individuals along with the Iranian commander. The Iranians immediately vowed to take revenge. It was reported that numerous Israeli diplomatic officials have been instructed to refrain from appearing at public events, and some have even been told to temporarily move to different residences to protect them from harm.

That is not the only daunting aspect of this situation. The IDF prohibited soldiers from leaving the country and has beefed up security at the border crossings, presumably out of fear that a war may break out in the north. The army insists, however, that they do not anticipate such a war actually happening. The IDF has also made it clear that there has been no change in the instructions of the Home Front Command: No new restrictions were announced, and no guidelines were published for stocking up on emergency supplies. IDF spokesman Daniel Hagari said, “The instructions of the Home Front Command have remained unchanged. There is no need to buy generators, stock up on food, or withdraw money from the banks. Just as we have done until now, we will continue informing the public of any official, organized change…. We are on high alert in every area, and we are constantly monitoring the threats and thwarting them. We conduct constant situation assessments and we take every statement and every enemy seriously. When there is a need to increase our deployment, we do that. When there is a need to increase our readiness, we do so. My only recommendation is for everyone to be alert and responsible and to look out for any changes.”

Fears of Iranian Retaliation

Israelis will be Israelis. As soon as they were told that there was no reason for concern, Israelis flocked to stores to snap up every generator, flashlight, battery and water bottle that could be found. There is a general feeling that something unpleasant is about to happen. Add to that the comments (which were very foolish, if I may say so) of General Aharon Chaliva, the head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, the division of the IDF that proved to be a complete failure on October 7. Chaliva recently declared, “It isn’t clear that the worst is behind us.” The IDF hurried to contain the damage caused by his statement by explaining, “These comments were made in a closed forum within the intelligence directorate. It is better for us to take a broad and pessimistic view of some possible scenarios so that we can prepare ourselves as much as possible, since we are still at war. The intelligence director’s comments were made in the context of his telling his staff to adopt a broad perspective. That is what is expected of us as an organization: to look and to identify. That is how this matter should be viewed. If there is anything concrete to notify the public about, we will do so.”

Despite the army’s efforts to assure the public that there is no danger, municipal governments are preparing for disastrous scenarios. The local government in Tel Aviv released a message to the city’s residents that informed them, “The State of Israel is still at war. Unfortunately, the threats have yet to abate. Therefore, every one of us must remain prepared and alert for the purpose of dealing with a scenario of escalation…. It is important to be aware that the city of Tel Aviv is prepared for various scenarios and is constantly conducting exercises with the Home Front Command. We are reassessing ourselves and our readiness every day. The municipal departments in every area—security, operations, engineering and unstable buildings, community services, welfare, public health, education, and more—are preparing for the most challenging situations that we can anticipate.”

The Herzliya municipality likewise released a set of instructions for the residents, calling on them to “take a few minutes to ensure that you have appropriate supplies for an emergency situation that includes extended power outages.” The message from the municipality advises residents to make sure they have a slew of supplies, such as “water and food that does not require refrigeration or cooking, such as canned preserves, pre-charged portable power banks for phones, first aid kits and medications, battery-powered emergency lights, a battery-powered radio, other means of receiving warnings such as the Home Front Command application on a cellular phone and the national emergency portal on a laptop computer, board games for children, and hygiene products.” The letter added, “Residents are advised to stock up in advance on additional necessities in accordance with the makeup of the family, such as food for babies, special equipment for people with disabilities, provisions for pets, and so forth.”

Other cities likewise disseminated their own instructions to local residents. To make a long story short, one can certainly define what is happening in Israel as mass panic. As much as the army tries to reassure the public that there is no cause for concern, they seem to be merely causing the opposite reaction. While the army is trying to allay everyone’s fears, the municipal authorities are preparing for every possible emergency situation that is suggested by the Iranian threats, which might include rocket or missile strikes, terrorist infiltrations, and damage to civilian infrastructure. The preparations conducted by the local governments are taking place in full coordination with the Home Front Command and the relevant government ministries. The Federation of Local Authorities in Israel has announced the purchase of about 600 satellite phones for communication in the event of a disaster in which cellular phone networks are temporarily disabled. This is part of the doomsday scenario that they are envisioning. Meanwhile, the National Security Council has posted travel advisories warning Israelis against visiting a number of countries. And after all this, the government expects that the public will somehow refrain from panicking.

Roshei Yeshivos Gather in Bnei Brak

As far as we are concerned, the most significant event of the past week was the gathering of the roshei yeshivos of Eretz Yisroel, which took place on Friday at the Heichalei Malchus hall in Bnei Brak. The apprehension that is holding the Torah world in its grip was palpable. Rav Dov Landau, who gave the word for the kinnus to be held, implored his listeners, “Let us call out from the depths of our hearts to our brethren who have not had the privilege of experiencing the taste of Torah: Please, allow us, those who tremble in fear of Hashem, to continue learning the Torah of the Creator of the world. Allow us to protect ourselves and you. As the posuk states, ‘Do not touch My anointed ones.’ Please, do not puncture the [figurative] boat in which we are all traveling on a stormy, furious sea.” He added, “Allow us to continue living our way of life, for it is the length of our days. We are bound to the Torah with cords of love. Do not cut us off from the source of our vitality. We are brothers, and the voice of the blood of your brothers is crying out to you. Leave us alone; do not sever the continued existence of Klal Yisroel. In that merit, may we be saved from all our enemies who seek to harm us, and may we experience only peace and tranquility.”

The roshei yeshivos later released a letter which stated, “We announce that we will stand firm against all efforts to hamper the continued existence or growth of the Torah world, including any economic harm or the like. We will continue training legions of bnei Torah and talmidei chachomim, for the Torah is our life and the length of our days, the foundation of our existence and our living souls.”

Their letter also conveyed a firm message to the talmidei yeshivos: “You must stand strong against every effort [to obstruct Torah learning] and hold on to our mighty fortress, the pillar of the holy Torah, while bolstering and adding to your diligence in learning Torah without interruption and with great exertion within the botei medrash, and banishing anything that would interfere with it. Anyone who accepts the yoke of Torah upon himself will be freed from the yokes of the government and of earning a livelihood. For practical guidance, one should heed the instructions that will be publicized by the Vaad HaYeshivos of Eretz Yisroel.” The letter concludes with a brief discussion about the upcoming bein hazemanim vacation and a call for philanthropists abroad to help support the Torah world at this time.

 

Words of Encouragement from Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein

This past Shabbos, before birkas hachodesh, Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein stood at the front of his bais medrash in Ramat Elchonon and delivered a special drosha to his community. “We are frightened about what might happen now, after the elimination of senior Iranian officials in Damascus,” he said. “After this military operation, people have grown worried, and even though some have tried to calm us, these fears are still gnawing at our hearts. I would like to quote the words of the mashgiach of Lakewood, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, who wrote very clearly on this subject.

“We are living in a fateful era for the Jewish people,” Rav Zilberstein continued, “in special times that carry unique meaning for us. However, it is important to realize that in spite of the sense of fear that naturally beats in the heart of every Jew, we should feel great joy and tremendous inspiration. The mashgiach’s words that I am about to quote were spoken at a time when everyone was talking about dangers that were liable to affect the world. The mashgiach delivered a shmuess to the bnei yeshiva on that subject, and he asked in bewilderment, ‘How is it possible for a ben Torah to be afraid? A person who is completely detached from the nations should not fear any danger! He will be completely saved from harm of any kind. There isn’t even room for doubt on that subject! There is no doubt about it. There is no reason to be nervous. It is one hundred percent certain that all the bnei Torah will be saved, albeit on one condition: that they remain separate and apart from the nations.’”

Rav Zilberstein went on to tell a story concerning Rav Shlomke of Zhvill. “I heard this story from Rav Shlomke’s shammash, Rav Eliyohu Roth, who was also a rebbe,” he said. “The Zhviller Rebbe once passed through the city of Shechem on his way from Yerushalayim to Meron. This city has been a place of misfortune since ancient times, and it was similarly unfriendly to this holy man. As he passed through its streets, the Arabs attempted to attack his convoy. The Rebbe told his driver to continue driving and to pay no heed to the Arab rioters whose expressions betrayed their thirst for blood. ‘Have no fear,’ he said. ‘If they approach us, I will fight them and defeat them.’ Indeed, when the Arabs approached the car, the Rebbe emerged from the car and waved his hand threateningly, shouting at them that any Arab who did not leave the area immediately would suffer harm. Amazingly, all the murderous rioters fled at top speed from the area, and the street became empty in the blink of an eye. This was in spite of the fact that the Rebbe had spoken in Yiddish, and the Arabs certainly had no way to understand him. The Rebbe’s companions, who witnessed this incredible incident, later asked him why he hadn’t been afraid to confront the murderers and how he had managed to drive them away. The Rebbe replied, ‘By nature, a goy has no control over a Jew. However, Hashem conditioned this inherent nature of a goy on the Jew remaining a Jew. When even a bit of the goy enters a Jew, he has no advantage over the gentile. When these Arabs began assailing us, I removed from within myself all the thoughts and feelings of Amalek that might have remained in my heart, and then the Arabs had no power over me.’ The Zhviller Rebbe later added that even the thoughts that take root in a person’s mind sometimes stem from the power of Amalek and the force of arrogance. ‘When a person is told two or three times that he has reached a certain madreigah, he might already begin to absorb the trait of arrogance, which is the attribute of Amalek,’ he warned.”

Yeshivas Mir Leads the Way

There is a mood of despondence in Eretz Yisroel during these days, but the situation has also engendered an atmosphere of complete trust in the Master of the Universe. Perhaps that is why the religious community feels tremendous frustration: Specifically at this time, when the Jewish people sorely need zechuyos and Heavenly mercy, the malevolent Supreme Court have decided to remove the spiritual “Iron Dome” that protects us—the Torah learning of our country’s bnei yeshivos. As the roshei yeshivos wrote in their proclamation last Friday, “Throughout all of our exiles, the survival of Yiddishkeit has been guaranteed by the holy yeshivos that were dedicated to pure Torah learning unadulterated by any foreign influences. Any attempt to harm the yeshivos is akin to plunging a sword into the heart of our nation, and will have destructive consequences for its survival.”

I am reminded of the famous moshol about the ship passenger who drilled a hole in the floor of his cabin and was perplexed about why it disturbed anyone else. The Supreme Court justices are drilling their own hole, so to speak, in the integrity of this country.

Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel wrote a letter that was posted in the yeshiva. He expressed his admiration for the thousands of learners who have just reached the end of the winter zman, and then he added, “In light of the call of the gedolei Yisroel to strengthen our immersion in Torah during this bein hazemanim vacation more than any other, and as a chizuk for our yeshiva, in consultation with the gedolei hador, I ask the yungeleit to gather during the first week of bein hazemanim, from the first through the third of Nissan, for the morning seder in the bais medrash of our yeshiva. And anyone who does even more than that will be praised.” He went on to write, “There is no doubt that the scheme to weaken the power of the Torah will not succeed and their plans will be thwarted, but everything depends on the mesirus nefesh that will be shown by the bnei Torah.”

This was followed by a notice informing the talmidim of the schedule of learning sedorim during the first days of Nissan. The yeshiva’s transportation system for its yungeleit, which is a magnificent feat of logistics, will continue its operations as well.

Renewed Efforts to Pass a Draft Law

We are living in the shadow of the fierce opposition to Torah learning and the hardships currently faced by the yeshiva world, as well as the ongoing war and the general atmosphere of fear, and it is impossible to predict what will happen next. At times like this, I feel that the best reassurance can come from a famous comment of Rav Ovadiah Yosef, who used to quote the Yerushalmi’s statement that Bnei Yisroel were divided into four groups at the Yam Suf. One of those groups declared that they should simply leap into the sea and drown, another expressed their desire to return to Mitzrayim, the third group suggested that they should fight the Mitzrim, and the fourth group called for the nation to daven for salvation. Chazal identify a response to each of these groups in the posuk, but Rav Ovadiah used to make a poignant observation: It certainly seems as if there was no possible option other than these four courses of action. No one considered the possibility that a fifth scenario might take place. But that is indeed what happened: The Yam Suf split. No one had even dared to dream of such a possibility, and that is a message for our times as well. Let us leave it up to Hashem, in His omnipotence, to resolve this situation for us. After all, nothing is impossible for Him. We do not need to come up with the solution on our own; we need to recognize only that He can provide the answer to all of our problems in the blink of an eye.

On that note, Netanyahu has been spending hours on the effort to come up with a new draft law, and he hasn’t yet given up on it. Following the instructions of their rabbonim, the Degel HaTorah representatives met with Netanyahu to hear him out. At the same time, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs (whom you may recall from last week’s article, in which I discussed his long letter to the judges of the Supreme Court) decided that the government will seek separate representation before the court and will submit a report of its own in addition to the attorney general’s letter. The problem with this plan is that any such move must be approved by the attorney general. To make a long story short, the efforts to resolve the draft law crisis have been taken to the next level. The dealings with Defense Minister Gallant and with Benny Gantz have been left to Aryeh Deri. Let us hope that we will experience Hashem’s salvation soon.

Hypocrisy Exposed

As the Knesset prepares for its Pesach recess, permit me to quote a speech delivered by MK Avigdor (Avi) Maoz last week. Every one of Maoz’s speeches is worthy of being quoted; every address is a masterful presentation that succeeds in demolishing the arguments of the foolish and malevolent.

“Mr. Speaker and honored Knesset,” Maoz began, “I would like to address my brothers who are leading the campaign for equality in sharing the burden. I’m sure that you are in favor of equality in sharing the burden, even though you are not troubled by the threats of Brothers in Arms and the air force pilots to refuse to serve. You want everyone to share the burden, but you have no problem with the fact that Arabs have rights without obligations. You want everyone to share the burden; somehow, that explains why Lapid managed to stop the rise in chareidi enlistment eleven years ago with his own campaign for equal sharing of the burden. You want everyone to share the burden, but you do not want the chareidim to reach positions of significant influence in the army, just as there is a glass ceiling for anyone whose views are too nationalistic or Jewish for your taste. How did the senior officers in the education corps put it when they spoke to Rav Yigal Levenstein? ‘We love your motivation, but we will not tolerate your ideology.’

“You want everyone to share the burden,” Maoz continued, “but only on the condition that all the new recruits remain subject to a monolithic General Staff made up of graduates of the Wexner and Mandel foundations. You want everyone to share the burden, but if the IDF were a chareidi army, then there wouldn’t be a chance in the world, MK Mickey Levi, that you would send your children to serve there. You would be too concerned that they might become baalei teshuvah. Yes, you want everyone to share the burden, but only if it serves your true goal: to bring down the right-wing government. You want everyone to share the burden, but you are frightened to death that the chareidim might actually enlist, both because of their influence on the army and because you will no longer be able to exploit this cause for your own interests.”

His piercing comments cut directly to the core of the opposition to yeshiva deferrals, powerfully illustrating the hypocrisy of this ongoing campaign.

Two-Faced Lapid

Personally, I find it ludicrous that some people are criticizing the Knesset for taking a break. “Is this really the time for a vacation?” they demand sanctimoniously, but I have to ask a question of my own: Don’t they have Pesach as well?

I find Yair Lapid especially laughable. With a carefully made-up face and his dyed hair immaculately groomed, he pompously stood before an audience and exclaimed, “This week! This week the Knesset is going on recess, in the middle of a war!” Lapid stood in silence for a moment to enjoy the reactions to his show of outrage, and then he continued, “This is utterly absurd. We tried to fight it. We said to them, ‘The reservists aren’t on vacation, and the hostages in Gaza aren’t on vacation. Why should the Knesset go on vacation?’ But it didn’t make a difference to them. As far as they are concerned, the living people are invisible, the dead are invisible, and the civilians are invisible.”

As usual, this was a speech filled with malevolent invective, but it fails to hold together under the slightest scrutiny. To whom did Lapid convey his objections to the Knesset recess? To the committees? To the prime minister? To the Knesset speaker? To the coalition whip? And when did he say this, considering that he has barely been present in the Knesset? Indeed, his chronic absences are openly revealed in the statistics.

In my opinion, Lapid ought to be studied by professionals. He does not even blush when he utters his lies or ludicrous statements. How can a person who sets records with his own absences from the Knesset speak with such pathos against its recess? Any ordinary person would be ashamed to display such blatant hypocrisy, but Lapid shows no discomfort at all.

Incidentally, Lapid traveled to Washington this week. I wonder how much damage he will do there….

On that note, let me wish you a Pesach kosher v’someiach. I have mentioned in the past that the Knesset is the only workplace in the world where people wish each other a Pesach kasher v’sameach after Purim, and a shanah tovah after Tisha b’Av.

The Two Letters

As a postscript to this week’s column, I would like to share a meaningful story. I can attest that this is true, since I am personally acquainted with the father and with the story.

At a bris in Bnei Brak on Monday morning, the father was delivering a speech thanking Hashem for his simcha, while the child slept peacefully. “I am holding two letters in my hand,” the father said. “One of those letters is from Rav Chaim Kanievsky and contains a single line: ‘brocha v’hatzlocha; a male child, b’ezras Hashem.’ The other letter is from the world-class medical specialist who treated us, and it contains an unequivocal medical determination written in English. The basic gist of the letter is very simple: The outlook was not only bleak but impossible. From a medical standpoint, there would be no children; there wasn’t even the slightest chance. But as the Gemara states in Moed Kattan, ‘Who rules over me? A tzaddik! I make a decree, and he overturns it.’”

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