Tuesday, May 28, 2024

My Take On the News


Let Us Daven for a Safe and Calm Yom Tov

I believe I have told you in the past that I once spent the Seder night in America, at the home of Rav Yisroel Green of Boro Park. Rav Green and his wife are outstanding practitioners of hachnossas orchim, and since he was a talmid in Yeshivas Beer Yaakov, his home provided regular accommodations for Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro and his family, as well as my father, Rav Moshe Menachem Yaakovson. The experience of that Pesach has remained etched into my memory until this day.

Pesach is a joyous time of year. Chazal tell us that the Yomim Tovim were given to Bnei Yisroel to enable them to learn Torah, and I have mentioned to you in the past that the Yomim Tovim and Chol Hamoed afford us in Eretz Yisroel the opportunity to attend numerous shiurim. A list of shiurim in the main shuls of every neighborhood is published before Yom Tov, and a nationwide schedule of shiurim, spanning seven or eight pages and sponsored by an organization known as Todaah, also appears in the Israeli Yated Neeman in advance of each holiday. (Of course, there is no newspaper published on Chol Hamoed, so the information is published in advance.) This makes it possible for every individual to find the names of the maggidei shiurim whom he wishes to hear and the topics that interest him, and all that he has left to do is to show up.

This year, however, a major question mark is hanging over Pesach. The Home Front Command is still advising citizens to equip themselves with supplies such as flashlights, batteries, and transistor radios, in case there is no electricity. Let us hope that nothing happens that will lead the government to ban public gatherings, a common practice here during times of security tension.

With all that in mind, let me express my best wishes for Jews everywhere in the world, both in Eretz Yisroel and in America, to enjoy a happy, kosher, and safe Pesach. May we reap all the spiritual abundance and light that this holiday has to offer.

The Murder of Binyomin Achimeir Hyd

This past Shabbos (the week of Parshas Tazria) was a difficult time for all of us. When Shabbos began, we were all aware that there was an ongoing search for Binyomin Achimeir, a youth from the Malachei Hashalom farm who had disappeared while shepherding a flock of sheep. The sheep returned to the settlement without him, and the community immediately feared for his life. When Binyomin was not located before Shabbos, rabbonim ordered the searchers to continue looking for him on Shabbos, and the missing boy’s mother, Miriam Achimeir, put out an emotional message to the public before Shabbos: “I call on anyone who is seeing me on erev Shabbos to help in any way you can. Everyone, please dedicate a good deed so that a miracle will happen and Binyomin will return to us today. When Am Yisroel unites for something, it has a tremendous impact in Shomayim. I believe in miracles, and I have faith that it can happen.”

Unfortunately, we were informed on motzoei Shabbos that Binyomin had been found dead, and it appeared that he had been bludgeoned to death. There were signs that Binyomin had fought with his murderers, but he had obviously been unable to overcome them. The young murder victim was only 14 years old! May Hashem avenge his blood.

Binyomin’s body was found by a drone operated by the army. As soon as the drone detected something unusual, the leaders of the search effort hurried to the spot: an IDF officer with the rank of colonel who lives in Eli and had joined the search, and Eliyohu Libman of Chevron, whose son is a hostage in Gaza. Libman informed the press afterward, “This was an extremely barbaric murder. The IDF drone spotted something unusual and sent the location data to us while we were searching the area nearby. We went to the spot indicated by the drone, and we made the tragic discovery of the boy’s body. It was very close to the area where Binyomin had set out, and it was a horrific sight. He was stoned, and there was a large stone covered in blood. Three meters away was a bloody knife and another bloody stone, and his cell phone was lying near him, smashed to pieces. It was pure cruelty.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu released a statement labeling the murder a loathsome and horrific crime. “We will find the murderers and their accomplices wherever they are,” he vowed, “just as we do when anyone harms the citizens of the State of Israel. The IDF, the Shin Bet, and the Israel Police Force in the district of Yehuda and Shomron are carrying out major operational and intelligence activities throughout the area and in Palestinian villages.” In response to the furious reactions from local Jewish residents, Netanyahu called on the public to allow the security forces to do their work undisturbed. President Herzog also called on the public to refrain from taking the law into their own hands.

Finance Minister Betzalel Smotrich released a particularly harsh statement. “We are dealing with Nazis,” he wrote. “There are Nazis in Gaza, and Nazis in Yehuda and the Shomron. The sooner we understand this and realize that we must take action against the enemy as strongly as possible, the sooner we will be able to restore deterrence against our lowly enemies. I wish to express my heartfelt condolences to the Achimeir family; the entire people of Israel are weeping and mourning along with you. In response to the terrorists who are seeking to harm the Jewish settlement and our hold on our homeland and the Jewish nation, I will say that we are now taking action to reinforce our commitment to settling every part of Eretz Yisroel.”

Anticipating Irans Revenge

Another sobering threat that hung over us as Shabbos began was the knowledge that Iran was about to attack Israel. America informed Israel last week that they were expecting Iran to attack within a day or two, and it soon happened. On motzoei Shabbos, Iran launched a bevy of ballistic missiles, drones, and cruise missiles toward Israel. The missiles had arrival times ranging from an hour or two to twelve hours after they were launched. We expected that the air raid sirens in Israel would begin sounding at around 2:00 in the morning, and sure enough, that is what happened. Sirens went off in residential areas throughout the country, although the Iranians claimed that they had targeted only military installations. The Home Front Command immediately released a series of instructions for the public, including a ban on public gathering and the cancellation of classes in schools throughout the country. We were all reminded of the events of the days before Pesach four years ago, when the outbreak of the Covid pandemic likewise led the government to shutter schools and outlaw gatherings.

According to reports in the media, Iran launched 185 drones, 36 cruise missiles, and 110 land-to-land missiles in an unprecedented attack against Israel. Most of the launches emanated from Iranian territory, although a small number were launched from Iraq and Yemen as well. The Israeli army and air force, with the aid of the American army, worked to intercept the missiles. During the Iranian attack, the Israeli air force downed over twenty cruise missiles and about 100 ballistic missiles, most of which were intercepted outside Israeli territory. A small number of missiles penetrated Israel’s air space, and an even smaller number actually landed. Three missiles stuck within Israel, two of which hit Arab villages and injured Arabs, while the third struck an air force base. All the remaining missiles landed outside Israel. It was an undeniable miracle!

On a more personal note, I can tell you about our experience in Yerushalayim. Like the rest of the country, we heard air raid sirens that night. You might expect that to mean that we sought refuge in our bomb shelters or safe rooms, but I will have to let you in on a secret: My apartment building does not have a proper bomb shelter, and the apartments are also not equipped with reinforced safe rooms. We had nowhere to go, and we were somewhat afraid. Our fear reached its peak when we heard loud booms from somewhere nearby, and we were able to watch the interceptions in the sky. Naturally, we began reciting Tehillim.

One thought that went through my mind was the fact that this country, in its foolishness, has been trying to destroy the greatest source of its protection: the spiritual “Iron Dome” created by Torah learners. In fact, someone calculated that the cost of Israel’s air defense on motzoei Shabbos came out to the exact sum that the country supposedly “saved” for the entire year by slashing the government budget for yeshivos.

Miraculous Interceptions

Israel dealt with over 300 missile launches from Iran and its proxies in Yemen, Lebanon, Iraq, and Syria. The majority of those missiles were intercepted by the Israeli air force with assistance from American, British, and Jordanian forces. Israel used fighter jets and air defense systems, including the Arrow 3 system, to down the missiles. According to the IDF spokesman, an army air force base in the south was lightly damaged by the Iranian attack. Dozens of rockets were also sent from Lebanon to the Galil and southern Golan, one of which landed in Katzrin and caused minimal property damage, while the other caused hysteria. But all in all, 99 percent of the missiles launched toward Israel were intercepted.

The big question is what will happen next. In a long telephone call, President Biden asked Netanyahu to refrain from launching a counterattack against Iran, and at least to notify America before making any move. Iran announced that it considers the tensions to be over. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations claimed that its attack on Israel was a reprisal for the assassination of Hassan Mahdawi in Damascus. The Iranians therefore claimed that the incident is now over, unless the Israeli regime makes “another mistake.” In that case, they warned that the response from Teheran will be far more severe. The Iranians also claimed that this should be considered a conflict between Iran and Israel that does not involve outsiders and warned America against getting involved.

The cabinet gave Netanyahu and the army a green light to do as they please in response to the Iranian aggression, but it appears that Netanyahu also seems to be satisfied with the fact that the threat from Iran, which as been a topic of discussion for the past 20 years, appears to have been proven to be relatively benign. This incident has actually left him in a favorable position: He has been warning about the threat from Iran since he was first elected, and he has been preparing the army for an Iranian attack. The long-anticipated offensive has now finally happened and was successfully thwarted, with Hashem’s help. Unfortunately, there are many high-ranking officials in Israel who boast about the country’s military might and forget Who is really managing these events. We hope and pray that this is the end of it and Hashem return bring us to a state of peace.

PreTom Tov Chessed

There is much for me to write about this week. I could discuss the preparations for the annual Lag Ba’omer festivities in Meron, which might be called off this year due to the security situation, or about the preparation of a new parking lot for visitors to the kever of Shimon Hatzaddik. I could write about the latest attempt to murder a soldier or about the group of young terrorists who were taken into custody in East Yerushalayim. Of course, there is also much to say about the draft crisis and the attorney general’s continued efforts to stymie the government at every turn. This week, Attorney General Baharav-Miara wrote a legal opinion asserting that all bnei yeshivos must be drafted immediately. She also denied the government’s request for separate representation at the Supreme Court, which is due to render its final ruling on June 2.

But let me begin with a few words about Pesach. In just a few days, we will all be reclining at the Seder, enjoying the festival of freedom as we commemorate our redemption from enslavement in Mitzrayim. We know that every person is obligated to view himself as if he personally left Mitzrayim and to transmit that sentiment to the next generation as well. At the beginning of the Seder, we declare that anyone who is hungry or needy may join us. But what happens to the people today who are actually struggling with hunger? How are their needs satisfied on Pesach? Do not make the mistake of thinking that this phenomenon does not exist in our modern world. I don’t know what happens in America, but there are many people in Israel who cannot afford the basic necessities for Pesach. What happens to them? The answer is that there are wonderful people who have turned this line in Ha Lachma Anya into their credo, and who work hard to provide for everyone in need.

Last week, I visited Rav Eliyohu Cohen of the organization Ohr Leah, as I do before every Yom Tov. Rav Cohen presides over a large kollel that operates in a bomb shelter in an area of Yerushalayim with which you are undoubtedly familiar. I doubt that there is a single American who has visited Eretz Yisroel and isn’t familiar with Avichayil’s bakery (which is closed on Pesach, of course), which is near the Zichron Moshe shul, closer to Rechov Yeshayahu. The building next door to the bakery contains a large bomb shelter that was allocated by the Yerushalayim municipality for the use of Rav Eliyohu Cohen’s kollel. Dozens of Sephardic yungeleit learn in this bais medrash every day, from morning until night, and the kollel is the site of a charitable food distribution in advance of every holiday. The chessed operation holds massive distributions not only before the Yomim Tovim but also in advance of Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, and the beginning of the school year, when knapsacks and other school supplies are distributed to needy families. But the largest distribution, of course, takes place before Pesach, including matzos, meat, wine, and numerous other products. (Since this is a Sephardic organization, the families also receive packages of rice for the Yom Tov.) But as impressive as all this may be, my main point here is to share a shocking fact that was conveyed to me by Rav Eliyohu Cohen: Without his organization’s work, many families would have no food at all for Pesach!

Large-scale distributions of Pesach products take place throughout the country, but I believe that the most voluminous such projects are in Yerushalayim and Bnei Brak. There are chessed organizations in these two cities that distribute enormous quantities of goods, with their operations taking over entire streets every year. Some of the distributions run like well-oiled machines, with the organizers’ years of experience contributing to smooth, effective operations. One particularly well-known organization is Karmei Ha’Ir, run by Rav Yehuda Azrad, who also operates a soup kitchen in central Yerushalayim throughout the year. With support from the Syrian community of New York, Rav Azrad is spearheading a massive kimcha d’Pischa project providing for families in the conflict zones in the north and south of the country. Another organization is Siach Emunah, which is run by Rav Yaakov (“Yanky”) Kanievsky, the well known grandson of Rav Chaim Kanievsky, and distributes products to thousands of yungeleit every year before Pesach. I will let you in on a secret: My son, who lives in Kiryat Sefer, is one of the beneficiaries of this organization. He told me that a truck laden with goods recently arrived in his neighborhood, and every family received seven boxes of food for Pesach–one box containing meat, another filled with fish, and so forth. “They made my Yom Tov for me,” my son told me. The organization distributes massive quantities of goods to thousands of families throughout Eretz Yisroel before Pesach and Sukkos every year. One of the organizers told me that it takes months to prepare for each operation, and that every distribution involves hundreds of vehicles that pick up the products at a logistical center where they are packaged and that deliver the goods to thousands of homes. They consider this to be a fulfillment of the wishes of Rav Yanky’s grandfather, Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Then there is of course what is known as the Rechnitz distribution which is handled by Rabbi Ephraim Stern’s Oneg Shabbos V’Yom Tov organization. Funded by the well known philanthropist and supporter of good causes, Reb Shlomo Yehuda Rechnitz, they supply over 18,000 people with their Yom Tov needs. To give you a picture of the size of this undertaking, they acquire 3,000,000 eggs, 150,000 bottles of wine, 52 tons of matzah, 2,5000 tons of vegetables and 3,500 cattle are shechted just for this distribution. The centers of their distribution are Yerushalayim, Bnei Brak and Beit Shemesh. Truly astounding and a credit to Reb Shlomo Yehuda and his great heart. May it be a zechus for him and his family.

Appreciation also goes to Rav Eliyohu Cohen, Rav Yehuda Azrad, and Rav Yaakov Kanievsky for their prodigious efforts. I can say that who donates to them, can be assured that they are fulfilling the halacha of kimcha d’Pischa in a magnificent way.


They Persecute Bnei Torah, and the World Persecutes Them

The entire world, including the United Nations and the White House in the United States, has taken up a position against the eternal people. The people of Israel are stunned by the blatant hypocrisy that is on display, but I would advise the country’s leading officials to take a long, hard look in the mirror before they examine the faults in others. Their own actions against the Torah community are just as reprehensible. Moreover, Chazal teach us that Eisov will always despise Yaakov, and there is no question that there is still a modern-day eirev rov masquerading as part of our nation, with elements of Amalek mingling with the Jewish people.

Rav Chaim of Brisk was once asked how Amalek can be identified today. “Anyone who wants to murder Jews without a good reason is Amalek,” he replied. Hatred for the Jews without any good reason lies at the core of Amalek’s being. It is said that Rav Chaim of Volozhin once traveled to St. Petersburg to meet with the czar and advocate for the Jewish people. While he was waiting for his audience, the czar’s son, who was a small child, approached him and hit him. Rav Chaim said, “My rebbi [the Vilna Gaon] taught me the identifying signs of Amalek, and all of those signs exist in this child.”:

In the year 1929, when the Arabs committed savage massacres in several places, the Chofetz Chaim was asked to explain those horrific events. He replied, “The novi says, ‘For I will make an end of all the nations.’ Why will all the nations be destroyed? This shows that they are all guilty. The Rambam tells us that the righteous among the nations of the world will be rewarded with a portion in Olam Haba; however, all the others will be condemned. The test of their worthiness will be whether they sit in silence while others shed the blood of innocent Jews.”

The Chofetz Chaim added, “If there is a League of Nations in this world and none of them has spoken out against the Arabs’ abominable actions against the Jews in their land, that is a sign that they are all deserving of destruction!”

A Conference on Chinuch

This week, a distinguished guest from America, Reb Eliyohu Schindler, was the keynote speaker at a conference on chinuch held by an organization known as Pele Yoetz. The conference catered to the faculties and principals of chassidish boys’ schools. Rav Schindler related to his audience that he had visited Rav Aharon Schechter before a previous conference and had asked the rosh yeshiva to define the responsibility of the mechanchim who would be hearing his address. Rav Aharon replied, “They are obligated to cause Hashem to be pleased with our chinuch and to see to it that He derives satisfaction from every talmid.” Rav Schindler added that every principal is obligated to make sure that not even a single talmid falls by the wayside. As Rashi explains, when Hashem warned Moshe that the people should not approach Har Sinai lest “many of them fall,” His intent was that even if one individual were to fall, He would view it as if many had been lost. Every individual talmid must be cherished.

Rav Shimon Rechtschafer, director of Pele Yoetz, reported to the participants that the number of school principals participating in the association had increased, which indicates its positive influence and the growing thirst for knowledge in the field of education. He also spoke about the privilege he had enjoyed of leading the Al Pi Darko project since its inception six years ago, which had led him to make the acquaintance of Mr. Schindler from the United States, whose powerful influence has been highly beneficial for Pele Yoetz.

Rav Tzvi Shapiro, a Man of Torah and Chessed

I will conclude this column on a somewhat personal note. Two weeks ago, a dear friend whom I considered like a brother was taken from this world—Rav Naftoli Tzvi Yehuda Shapiro, the rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos and son of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, my rebbi and the rosh yeshiva of Beer Yaakov.

Each of Rav Moshe Shmuel’s children and grandchildren was blessed with a significant portion of his personal virtues, whether it was his wisdom, his depth of understanding, his dedication to chessed or tefillah, or any of a number of other qualities. Anyone who knew Rav Moshe Shmuel, and certainly anyone who spent significant time with him, was aware of his profound positive impact on innumerable people. His son Tzvika, as his mother referred to him, inherited many of his father’s outstanding attributes, including his penchant for greeting others with extraordinary warmth and enthusiasm. When Rav Moshe Shmuel uttered the words “shalom aleichem,” the greeting emerged in a lilting melody that seemed to originate in a lofty spiritual realm. He would spread his arms wide, beaming radiantly as he enveloped the other person with warmth and compassion. And Rav Tzvi greeted others in exactly the same way.

I will never forget the sight of Rav Tzvi, as a young man, sitting with his father and his brother Rav Yaakov (yibadeil l’chaim) in the rosh yeshiva’s study, as all three men carefully reviewed the galleys of Rav Moshe Shmuel’s classic Kuntres Habiurim. This was the bein hazemanim activity of the rosh yeshiva’s sons. I also vividly remember the shiurim that Rav Moshe Shmuel delivered in the yeshiva, which could be fully grasped only by a talmid with prodigious knowledge and an excellent memory. After Rav Moshe Shmuel delivered his shiurim, Rav Tzvi would take his place near his father’s position and would review and recap every shiur klali for the bnei yeshiva, demonstrating the same depth of insight and breadth of knowledge that had characterized his father.

The niftar’s eldest son, Rav Benzion Shapiro, who is one of the roshei yeshiva of Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos, delivered a hesped for Rav Tzvi in the bais medrash of the yeshiva in Beit Chilkiya. His opening words were a heartfelt cry: “How is it possible that we are eulogizing a person who was so alive and vibrant?” During the shiva, someone surprised Rav Benzion by revealing that Rav Tzvi had used the same words to begin the hesped that he delivered for his own father, Rav Moshe Shmuel.

Rav Benzion went on to quote an insight propounded by his illustrious grandfather: When Moshe Rabbeinu was told to gather seventy men to form the Sanhedrin, Rashi explains that these were the Jewish police officers in Mitzrayim who showed mercy to their fellow Jews and received beatings in their place. The Midrash states that since these men went on to become the members of the Sanhedrin, we can conclude that anyone who commits an act of mesirus nefesh for the sake of his fellow Jews will ultimately receive honor, greatness, and ruach hakodesh. Rav Moshe Shmuel pointed out that there is something perplexing about this: Even if they were indeed deserving of honor, greatness, and possibly even ruach hakodesh, this does not account for the fact that they were also placed in the position of teaching Torah and rendering halachic decisions for Klal Yisroel. By what virtue did they merit that distinction?

Rav Moshe Shmuel answered this question by quoting the Gemara in Maseches Menachos: “Let the good one come and receive that which is good from the good One for those who are good.” The Gemara explains this to mean that Moshe Rabbeinu, who was good, received the Torah, which is likewise deemed good, from Hashem, Who is similarly good, and transmitted it to the “good ones,” a reference to Klal Yisroel. “Thus, we see that Klal Yisroel received the Torah because of their goodness,” Rav Moshe Shmuel concluded. “It therefore stands to reason that the zekeinim who were prepared to sacrifice themselves for their fellow Jews’ benefit should achieve greatness in Torah as well. By displaying their innate goodness, they proved themselves worthy of receiving the Torah’s goodness!”

In a similar vein, Rav Benzion explained, the niftar was a man of goodness and was therefore deserving of being blessed with knowledge of the Torah. Like the zekeinim in the days of Moshe Rabbeinu, Rav Tzvi Shapiro was prepared to make enormous sacrifices to benefit his fellow Jews. Everyone knew that he was a brilliant talmid chochom, but he made every effort to conceal his prolific acts of kindness. Those who were close to him were aware of it, and all the long-suffering needy people who gathered at his door and found their way into his heart were aware of it as well, but Rav Tzvi kept this dimension of his character carefully hidden from much of the world. Rav Tzvi gave to others with great generosity, while he had barely anything for himself.

Throughout his life, Rav Tzvi was a formidable presence in the bais medrash. His aspirations for greatness could be traced back to a young age. On motzoei Shabbos of the week of Parshas Shemini, after spending Shabbos in Bnei Brak, I traveled to Tel Hashomer Hospital with the intention of performing the mitzvah of bikur cholim. After I arrived, I was devastated to discover that my visit would have to serve the purpose of performing a different mitzvah: tending to the needs of a niftar. I was immediately enveloped in grief over the passing of my dear friend. On Monday, I traveled to his home in Beer Yaakov to pay a shiva call. This home was always a source of life and vitality for so many people, where Rav Tzvi and Rebbetzin Rivka engaged in staggering acts of chessed. And the rebbetzin’s role in his many accomplishments cannot be overstated; in the classic words of Rabi Akiva, much of what was his was actually hers.

Rav Tzvi was an outstanding talmid chochom, marbitz Torah, and baal chessed. Visitors at the shiva, men and women alike, sobbed with grief over his passing. It soon became clear that Rav Tzvi had supported numerous families, regardless of their level of religious observance. He gave them the desire to continue living; he offered advice, encouragement, and support; and he also gave them generous sums of money. He was only 70 years old at the time of his passing. His levayah set out on motzoei Shabbos from the bais medrash of Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos in Beit Chilkiya, where he was eulogized by the rabbonim of the community as well as his brothers, the yeshiva faculty, and his sons. Additional hespedim were delivered in the Ponovezh cemetery in Bnei Brak, where he was buried alongside his illustrious father, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro.



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