Thursday, Oct 28, 2021

My Take on the News

Bein Hazemanim Has Arrived

From a national standpoint, there is a lot going on in Israel. One of the top news stories is the contamination of the techinah produced by the company known as Hanesich, which has taken the place of Telma’s cornflakes on the front pages of the country’s newspapers. Another big issue is the question of which new taxes will be levied this coming year, and then there is also the appointment of a senior official who will be serving as the commander of the Shayetet 13 unit. That story made the front pages because that very same official was the winner of the International Bible Contest in his youth. The media is permitted to disclose only his initials, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to find the name that matches those initials in the Bible Contest records.

Incidentally, it is no coincidence that the army is appointing an officer with a kippah to this position, nor is this the first position for which they have done so. Recently, a religious officer was appointed to a senior position in the IDF’s Education Corps, after vying against a female officer who seemed certain to be the army’s pick, for several reasons, and whose husband, Yizhar Hass, is the director-general of the Conservative movement in Israel. But the Chief of Staff opted to appoint the religious officer to the position instead. This is an attempt to prevent the rift between the army and the Religious-Zionist sector from deepening – a rift that has arisen because of the rigidity and hostility with which the army has related to religious soldiers over the past few years. Apparently, the leaders of the army have realized that they have been shooting themselves in the foot, so to speak.

As you will soon see, there are a number of other subjects that have become stories of major importance on a national level. From our perspective, though, the most significant story this week is the beginning of bein hazemanim. For you in America, the transition is certainly less noticeable, since many of the younger yeshiva students on your side of the ocean have been in camps and bungalow colonies for over a month already. Here in Israel, though, it is different. In talmudei Torah (grades one through eight), yeshivos ketanos (where the talmidim are divided into three shiurim: alef, bais, and gimmel), yeshivos gedolos, and kollelim, the studies continued until Tishah B’Av, with three weeks of vacation beginning only the day after the fast was over. Now the talmidim in all these institutions will be on vacation until Rosh Chodesh Elul. A joint letter issued by a number of rabbonim in Eretz Yisroel just before bein hazemanim described this period as “the space between one parshah and another.”

The Value of One Moment in the Bais Medrash

During bein hazemanim, we contend with two challenges. The first problem is spiritual in nature: The time spent outside the walls of the yeshiva pales in comparison to that spent within the bais medrash. I once heard a fascinating thought from Rav Shlomo Wolbe zt”l to highlight the value of spending even a small amount of time in the bais medrash. Chazal tell the story of Yosef Meshisa, an apostate Jew who lived at the time when Eretz Yisroel was under Greek rule. When the Yevanim wished to enter the Bais Hamikdosh for the first time, they decided to have a Jew precede them, presumably due to their own awe of the holy site. Yosef Meshisa, a Jewish traitor, was therefore asked to enter the Bais Hamikdosh first. As an incentive, the Yevanim promised him that he could choose any item from inside and take it for himself. He entered the Bais Hamikdosh without hesitation and emerged holding a beautiful golden menorah. When the Yevanim saw the valuable menorah, they decided to take it for themselves, and they instructed Yosef Meshisa to return to the Bais Hamikdosh. “This menorah is not fit to be given to a simple person like you,” they said. “It belongs in the possession of a greater person. Go back in, and this time you may keep whatever you take.”

But Yosef Meshisa had begun to feel remorse, and he refused to enter the Bais Hamikdosh again. “Isn’t it enough that I angered my Creator once?” he asked. “Should I now anger Him again?” The Yevanim offered to exempt him from paying taxes for a period of three years if he would comply, but he remained adamant. “Isn’t it enough that I angered my Creator once? Should I anger him again?” he repeated. When the Yevanim saw that he would not relent, they sentenced him to death through brutal torture. He was placed on a table used for sawing boards and his limbs were cut off one by one. After each limb was removed, he screamed, “Alas, alas! Isn’t it enough that I angered my Creator once that I should anger Him again? Woe to me, for me I have angered my Creator!” He continued screaming in that fashion until he died.

Rav Wolbe asked: What was the difference between the first time Yosef was asked to enter the Bais Hamikdosh and the second? Why did he have no qualms about entering the Bais Hamikdosh the first time and taking the menorah, yet he was willing to give up his life rather than take another vessel out of the Bais Hamikdosh?

To that, the mashgiach answered: “That is the difference that a single moment in the Bais Hamikdosh can make!”

The second problem we face during bein hazemanim in Eretz Yisroel is the proliferation of dangers facing bochurim, especially young boys, on bein hazemanim outings. These bochurim have little experience hiking in the heat and the sun, nor are they familiar with the dangerous terrain of the hiking trails. Their place is in the bais medrash, and they lack even the most minimal knowledge of the perils of outdoor recreation. Unfortunately, every year there are tragedies during the summer vacation. Even this year, a yeshiva bochur was killed on the first day of bein hazemanim while riding a bicycle in Petach Tikvah. The exact circumstances are unclear, but that incident alone served as a warning.

Yeshiva Camps

It is precisely for this reason that the yeshivos in this country have taken to organizing camps for bein hazemanim. In many yeshivos, all the bochurim set out to spend bein hazemanim together in a particular location, along with the faculty of the yeshiva, including the rosh yeshiva himself. These camps, which generally run for a week, include various activities for the bochurim, all under the careful oversight of the yeshiva.

The talmidim pay a fee of several hundred shekels for summer camp, while the yeshiva must cover the remainder of the costs. Naturally, it is expected that when an entire yeshiva buys tickets to a particular attraction, the price will be significantly reduced for the group of 400 to 500 bochurim. Some yeshivos collaborate with each other to rent out water parks for an entire day. The bochurim have a blast, while the yeshivos save money. Of course, every yeshiva tries to offer the most enticing activities, with the result that there is significant competition between them. The rationale is that if the bochurim spend a week at a camp run by their yeshivos, they will not be averse to staying home for the other two weeks of bein hazemanim, and they will not set out on any independent trips of their own, especially since the approach of Elul begins to be felt during the last week of bein hazemanim.

This year, Aryeh Deri decided, in his capacity as Minister of the Negev and Galil, to grant special funding to any summer camps organized in the Galil, even if the organizers “happen” to be yeshivos. Deri remarked that even yeshiva bochurim should be familiar with the Galil region of the country. And so it was that dozens of yeshivos received government funding for their camps for the first time in history, which certainly made it easier for them to organize their summer programs. In some cases, the availability of those funds caused a yeshiva to choose to run a summer camp when it had not intended to do so at all.

Why I Stopped Running Symposiums

Special symposiums used to be among the attractions offered by the yeshiva-run camps. The yeshivos would recruit several public figures from various ends of the political spectrum and add an interesting moderator, and an entire evening would go by with the yeshiva bochurim delighting in the fierce exchanges. In recent years, though, this practice has been discontinued, precisely because the bochurim found it so entertaining. The more the panelists bickered, the more fascinating the bochurim found the symposium. But that made the panels a forum for actual issurim that were violated when the participants shamed each other – malbin pnei chaveiro and miskabeid biklon chaveiro. That is the main reason that the political panels no longer exist.

There is another reason as well. In order to pique the bochurim’s interest even further, the organizers began bringing politicians from chiloni parties, and even from Arab parties, to participate in the discussions. Of course, the purpose was to attack these politicians, but their presence itself troubled the roshei yeshivos, and so the practice was stopped.

I admit that I myself used to be one of the most sought-after moderators for those symposiums, until I made an abrupt decision to stop. There was one occasion when I made a joke that caused hundreds of yeshiva bochurim to laugh, but I felt very bad about it afterward. That very evening, I decided that I would never lead a symposium again. Every year thereafter, the organizers would contact me with a request to return, and no one could understand the reason for my refusal. But I remained adamant about it, even when they offered me substantial sums of money.

This is what happened: One year, I suggested to the camp organizers that instead of holding a symposium with a panel of squabbling politicians, they should invite the rosh yeshiva to be the guest at the symposium instead. It was something that had never been done before, but they accepted my idea. The rosh yeshiva himself was pleased with the notion; he would answer questions that the bochurim found interesting, and that could not be presented to him throughout the year. In camp, there is less formality and less distance between the faculty and the talmidim.

At one point in the evening, I surprised him with a question he had never dreamed of being asked: “When was the last time you cried?” The rosh yeshiva was startled. He thought for a few moments, and then it was his turn to surprise me. “When I heard that bochurim from our yeshiva had played basketball with bochurim from a different yeshiva in the middle of zeman,” he said. For this rosh yeshiva, that was a reason to cry.

The bochurim were shocked by his response, as was I. And then, in a moment of utter foolishness, I asked him, “You cried because your bochurim lost the game?” It seemed like a brilliant response at the time; the bochurim laughed uproariously, and so did I. But I regretted that comment afterward, and since then, I have never agreed to lead a symposium of any kind for any yeshiva.

Tainted Techinah

Last week, I mentioned that the cornflakes scandal was followed immediately by a similar episode involving a hummus company. This situation reached the point that the Ministry of Health decided to prohibit the company, Hanesich, from producing its techinah. This had an even more significant impact, since the techinah produced by Hanesich was sold to Shamir Salads, which controls a large portion of the market.

An official statement released by the Ministry of Health declared: “The company [Hanesich] conducted itself in a negligent, irresponsible, improper and unprofessional fashion. After a hearing that lasted many hours, the decision was reached to prohibit this company from manufacturing and marketing its products, and it has been required to destroy the contaminated products. The investigative process has not yet concluded. When it is over, the Ministry of Health will take the necessary legal actions.”

The public, meanwhile, is not waiting for the outcome of the investigation, and class-action lawsuits have already been filed against Hanesich and Shamir Salads. Even the retail chains that marketed the affected products have also been named as defendants. The amount of money sought in damages by the plaintiffs reaches a sum of billions of shekels.

This time, the Ministry of Health acted swiftly and forcefully, perhaps because it was accused of being too slow and forgiving in response to the previous episode. At that time, as I mentioned last week, the cornflakes company managed to hoodwink the Ministry of Health, and as a result the ministry itself inadvertently lied to the public. This time, the ministry has learned its lesson.

What is Happening in the Prime Minister’s Office?

Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has finally chosen a new cabinet secretary. His name is Tzachi Braverman and he is currently serving as an official in the municipality of Nes Tziona, an old community near Rechovot. He began his career in public service as the director of the electoral council of the mayor of Nes Tziona, and he went on to serve as the municipal spokesman. He is very close to the Netanyahu family, a relationship that everyone knows is the key to any appointment in the prime minister’s office.

Braverman’s selection was preceded by a flurry of rumors and whispered speculation. Netanyahu tends to have a problem finding aides and other officials to work closely with him; even those who are appointed to positions tend to leave them with amazing rapidity. Sometimes they simply quit, but there are some who practically slam the door behind them as they leave. Until recently, there was talk of the position of cabinet secretary being filled by a different candidate, David Sharan. In fact, Sharan was offered the position two months ago, but he informed the prime minister just last week that he was not interested in it.

This week, one of the country’s newspapers published a report on Netanyahu’s inner circle of officials, painting a bleak picture of the situation. There is an astounding turnover rate. It seems that Netanyahu has trouble either choosing the right people or relating to them after they have been chosen. His aides and employees do not stay with him for long. This is interesting only because it says something about the character of the man, who just happens to be the prime minister of the State of Israel.

Netanyahu Admits a Mistake

Here is another tidbit about Netanyahu, this time concerning the Public Broadcasting Corporation. The corporation has been the source of plenty of rancor in this country and was a major topic of controversy just a couple of weeks ago. The prime minister has now revealed that as far as he is concerned, the corporation will never be formed. Netanyahu made this statement in a meeting with reporters and news editors from the Broadcasting Authority, which currently oversees the media and has reached the point of bankruptcy. The new corporation was supposed to be its replacement.

During that meeting, which took place last weekend, Netanyahu said that the government had not invested enough time in developing the corporation, and the plan had not been developed as it should have been. He blamed the war with Hamas in the summer of 2014 for the lack of proper planning, and added that in any event, he would not consider it a tragedy if the corporation’s takeover of the media would be postponed. The corporation, which has already been named, was supposed to go into operation in January 2017, once a new team of journalists had been assembled.

That, in fact, is exactly the issue. Most of the news reporters who have been recruited so far are either staunch leftists or the opposite – deeply entrenched right-wingers devoted to Naftali Bennett. And Netanyahu fears both of them. This is also the reason that Aryeh Deri decided to speak up and demand an explanation for the lack of chareidi journalists. Deri was angered by the fact that many chareidi journalists had applied for positions, but had been rejected one after another.

Meanwhile, another news story was the apology issued by Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman. Lieberman recently issued a statement against President Obama, equating the nuclear deal with Iran to the Munich Agreement in 1938, wherein portions of Czechoslovakia were ceded to Nazi Germany. This statement enraged the State Department in Washington. I will not get into the details of the resultant exchanges – which seem to have taken place on Shabbos – but Lieberman ultimately released a “clarification.” In plain terms, it was an apology. No one wants to begin a dispute with America precisely at the time when an aid package for the next decade is being discussed, and only two days after the Israeli chief of staff returned from Washington following some highly productive discussions.

United Hatzalah Celebrates 30 Years

Last week, an event was held at the Arena Hall in Yerushalayim to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the founding of United Hatzalah. The hall is relatively new and was built by the Yerushalayim municipality, and the event was a show of appreciation to Hatzalah for its work. It has been thirty years since the Hatzalah organizations were founded, and ten years since they were united. Until ten years ago, each organization worked individually in its own city, with its own rights and privileges. Ten years ago, they united to form a single umbrella organization. United Hatzalah has become one of the most widely admired organizations in the State of Israel.

Rabbi Zev Kashash, the director-general of United Hatzalah, spoke about the tremendous progress that the organization has experienced over the past ten years, revealing that the Israeli government decided recently to grant it official recognition as a lifesaving organization. This recognition has many ramifications in many areas. The prime minister himself also wrote a letter in honor of the occasion, noting that his government had decided to grant official recognition to United Hatzalah. I learned during the evening that the organization prides itself on reaching anyone who calls their hotline within three minutes. Eli Beer, the president of United Hatzalah, added that his goal is to see to it that there is not a single street in the entire country without a volunteer from his organization.

It was an amazing evening. I learned a good deal about United Hatzalah, their commitment to serving the public and the scope of their activities. One of the most moving parts of the evening was the presentation of a gift to Eli Beer from the entire Hatzalah administration: a glass plaque engraved with the number of people who have benefited from the organization’s volunteer work thus far. The number was a staggering 1,974,825. Thousands of lives have been saved by paramedics from United Hatzalah who will go anywhere there is an emergency – in the desert, on the seashore, in the Old City of Yerushalayim or in the alleyways of Yaffo. The volunteers travel by helicopter, bicycle, motorcycle, or ambulance. They have even carried out rescue operations in the Kinneret. The director of the Teveria branch of United Hatzalah described how a child was once saved from drowning in the Kinneret by the organization’s boat. The event also featured a performance by Avraham Fried, which excited the entire audience, but that is another story.

A Child’s Innocent Worry

Yudi came home from cheder in a state of distress. His rebbi had told him that his friend Elkanah’s father had gone up to Shomayim; he had passed away. Yudi didn’t understand exactly what this meant, but he knew enough to realize that Elkanah did not have a father on earth anymore. Yudi’s own father, who was familiar with his son’s sensitive nature, tried to explain the situation in a more comforting way. “An orphan is a child of Hashem,” he said. “An ordinary child has a tatte here on earth and another Tatte, Hashem, in Shomayim. Elkanah now has two tattes in Shomayim, where they can help him much more.”

Yudi listened intently, taking in all the details, and gradually was reassured. He understood that his friend would be all right, but something was still troubling him. “Who is going to eat the crusts of the bread in their house?” he finally asked. As far as he knew, that is the main function of a “tatte” on earth.

Mussar from a Bounced Check

When a check bounces, it can be a very distressing experience. It upsets a person’s equilibrium and threatens his financial stability.

In Israel, the average person lives with constant awareness of his bank account. He knows how much money it contains and what it lacks, and somehow he manages to get through life. The most difficult days of the month here in Israel are either the first or the fifteenth, when the monthly credit card charges and mortgage payments are deducted automatically from our bank accounts. We all know to prepare in advance for these days: We may borrow a bit here and there, or we may tighten our belts a little bit, but we make it through those times and then wait for them to return again the following month, while our salaries or kollel checks are deposited in the interim. When a check bounces, though, it throws off our careful calculations, and it can be absolutely infuriating.

Imagine the situation: You were waiting for this check to arrive, and you planned to make it through the month based on the sum that would be coming to you. You deposit the check, and then you get a telephone call from the bank. “The check you deposited has bounced,” they tell you. “Your account is seriously overdrawn, and we are angry!” Actually, the bank doesn’t speak like that. They have their own language: “There weren’t sufficient funds to cover the check. You are in overdraft, and the bank will have to take certain steps.” But the result is inevitably the same: You, the recipient of the check, must hurry to borrow a sum equivalent to the value of the check, or else you will be placed in a most unpleasant situation.

Of course, you can call the person who wrote the check and take out your anger on him. Most of the time, though, that person will not be available to take your call. You may reach a voicemail system, where you will be tempted to leave an angry message. If you manage to reach him, he will tell you that it is impossible that the check couldn’t be covered and that there must have been a mistake. He will instruct you to try depositing it again, and you will have a reprieve of two days while the procedure begins again – until the bank calls again with the same bad news.

Recently, I had advance warning that a check I had deposited was in the process of bouncing. The day I made the deposit, my bank account showed that it had been credited an amount equal to that on the check. The very next day, the balance had been lowered back to where it had been before. I waited tensely for the bank to call to inform me that the account had insufficient funds. I prepared myself to sound incredibly surprised and to promise to investigate the matter immediately.

I could feel fury and indignation accompanying me like two destructive angels on either side. I tried to think of a way to give the person who wrote the check the benefit of the doubt, but I came up with nothing. When people write checks without having the funds to cover them, they generally know that the checks will bounce. And they always have a way to shield themselves from blame. “What do you mean?” they will say innocently when you confront them. “It can’t be. There must have been a mistake! Why don’t you come over? I’ll give you a check from a different account.”

In this case, I did think of one factor that could mitigate the check writer’s guilt. He is about to marry off his son, and he is supposed to be receiving a large loan with excellent terms from the neighborhood fund. Perhaps the loan was delayed, which tends to happen in gemachim, and the funds to cover his check didn’t come in on time. As I found myself teetering between feeling enraged and being forgiving, the man himself called. As he greeted me and I felt my innards churning with anger, he was completely calm, as if nothing had happened. It was as if he hadn’t plunged me into a whirlwind of anxiety, as if there was no reason to expect the bank to call within the next business day. I managed to restrain myself and answered him in kind, making no mention of the bad check.

The next day, the phone call from the bank came. “Hello,” said the voice. “I’m calling from the Kanfei Nesharim branch of Bank HaPoalim.”

I took a deep breath, bracing myself to sound serene and nonchalant. The caller continued to speak in a metallic monotone. “You deposited a check in the bank the other day,” he said. “You left the line for the payee blank, so the check wasn’t deposited in your account. Can you please come to the bank to fill it in?”

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