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Sifrei Torah in Flames

This time of year is known as the “silly season,” when journalists must search desperately for interesting stories to report. The summer, after all, is a time when everyone, including the Knesset, is on vacation and nothing of interest is expected to happen. In the State of Israel, though, there is no time of year when the newspapers have nothing to report. This country creates major stories at an incredibly rapid pace. Last week, the top news stories in the secular media dealt with the criminal investigations surrounding Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu. The news also reported heavily on the ongoing investigation into the submarine affair, which isn’t necessarily linked to Netanyahu.

What is new, you ask? The prosecution now has a state witness. The entire concept of a state witness is actually quite problematic. This is how it works: One of the members of a group suspected of a committing a crime is offered a deal – a light sentence in exchange for testimony that will incriminate the others. Many feel that these deals are unethical, and that it is improper for the government to sign an agreement of this nature with a criminal. Some also argue that it is unethical to allow one criminal to receive a lighter sentence in exchange for implicating others. Why should his blood be any redder than theirs? Furthermore, who is to decide which of a group of suspects may become a state witness and receive preferential treatment?

The government’s response, in general, is that these agreements are made with the most minor suspect in a group. That, however, is not always accurate. The government also maintains that it is appropriate to give one defendant a lighter sentence if it will make it possible for others, who are deserving of tougher penalties, to be adequately punished for their crimes. This is the argument made with respect to incriminating senior officers in the army, or senior politicians, especially Binyomin Netanyahu.

Another story that was widely reported in the general media was the stabbing in a supermarket in Yavneh, a city between Rechovot and Ashdod. The footage from the security cameras in the supermarket is chilling: The video shows a young Arab nonchalantly approaching the supermarket manager, who was busy arranging products on the shelves, and stabbing him over and over again with a knife, as the floor filled with blood.

There was also another horrifying event: a fire that ravaged a shul in Mevo Choron, near Modiin, and burned its Sifrei Torah. The shul, which was housed in a trailer, was almost entirely burned, and its three Sifrei Torah went up in flames. The levayah for the Sifrei Torah was attended by the two chief rabbis of Israel, Rav Dovid Lau and Rav Yitzchok Yosef, as well as by Dovid Azulai, the Minister of Religious Affairs. In the course of the levayah, many of the participants burst into tears.

Trouble Looms for the Commander of the Navy

In the submarine affair, meanwhile, the prosecution already has a state witness. His name is Mickey Ganor, and he was the middleman between Israel and ThyssenKrupp, the German company that sold the submarines. Ganor has been held for over a week under special conditions in the police academy in Beit Shemesh, intensifying the speculation that he had already signed an agreement, or was preparing to sign one, to become a state witness. Rumor has it that Ganor is already aware of what his sentence will be. It seems that his testimony will incriminate senior officials in the navy, perhaps even Eliezer “Chainy” Marom, who was interrogated at length about the affair.

With Ganor having become a state witness, the prosecution has made major progress toward cementing the allegations against Marom, the former commander of the navy and successor to Avriel Bar-Yosef, the onetime head of the National Security Council. Ganor’s testimony has also contributed to the allegations against Netanyahu’s close associate and attorney, David Shimron.

The police are focusing on uncovering the mechanism that was used for the transfer of money, as well as the key figures in the security services and the government who benefited from the alleged bribes. If even a portion of the allegations are found to be true, it will be considered a crime of the utmost severity. The purchase of submarines and ships from the German concern was a strategic process that should not have been influenced by any ulterior motives. That is the green light to enlist a state witness was given by two of the highest-ranking officials in the country – the commissioner of the police force and the attorney general, both of whom have been personally following the investigation.

A New Witness Against the Prime Minister

The latest bombshell is Ari Harow, a former chief of staff in the prime minister’s office and a man who was considered, until recently, Netanyahu’s close personal friend. Harow is now on his way to becoming a state witness in the cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu. Harow served in key positions in the prime minister’s office at two different junctures: In 2009, he was appointed to head the prime minister’s office, a position that he left after a year to engage in a private business venture. He returned to the prime minister’s office in 2014, this time as his chief of staff. Throughout the intervening years, investigators say, he maintained a friendship with the prime minister.

In late 2015, Harow was arrested by the National Fraud Investigations Unit on the suspicion that after he returned to the prime minister’s office, he continued operating a private lobbying and consultancy firm that he had pretended to have sold. Last summer, when the police investigation into Netanyahu began, Harow was taken to be questioned under warning immediately after his arrival in Israel early one morning. His interrogators confronted him with various pieces of information they had uncovered, which seemed to point to a criminal connection between Harow himself and the prime minister and his associates. That is how the system works: A person is told that he is suspected of committing a crime, and then he is offered leniency in exchange for incriminating a more high-ranking official – in this case, Netanyahu. The average person is bound to look out for his own interests first and to accept such a deal.

There are three investigations currently in the works. Case 1000 deals with the allegations that Netanyahu accepted gifts from wealthy friends in Israel and abroad. Case 2000 involves recorded conversations between Netanyahu and Nuni Moses, the publisher of Yediot Acharonot, in which the two seemed to be discussing a deal that would call for Netanyahu to limit the publication of Yisroel Hayom in exchange for less negative coverage in Yediot Acharonot. Case 3000, the submarine affair, hasn’t yet resulted in allegations specifically targeting Netanyahu. If Harow signs an agreement to become a state witness, it seems likely that he will provide enough information for Case 2000 to result in an indictment. Harow was the middleman between Moses and Netanyahu. He was present for some of their meetings, and he was the one who recorded their conversations. Netanyahu has claimed that he was merely trying to dupe Moses, but Harow can attest that that wasn’t the case. And if Netanyahu was serious about the deal, then it will be grounds for a criminal indictment. Ari Harow can certainly give the police the directions they need to pursue the case. And some claim that he has valuable information about the submarine affair as well.

One of Israel’s media outlets, which is always well-informed about police investigations, claimed that the prime minister will soon be questioned under warning in the context of a different investigation, which is still classified. That investigation relates to the alleged receipt of hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations from supporters in the United States, which Netanyahu did not report as required by Israeli law. According to the report, the donations were made both during the periods when Netanyahu was running for office and at other times. If this is true, then it is very likely that Harow is the source of the allegations.

Two Million Travelers in a Single Month

During the summer months, we always daven to be spared from tragedies. This is a time of year when tens of thousands of bnei yeshivos are enjoying their bein hazemanim vacations, and the northern region of the country resembles one large shtiebel. It is definitely a good thing that the yeshivos organize camp programs of their own, even though it puts a huge strain on their already depleted coffers.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Israelis are leaving the country, heading for various vacation spots throughout the world. Last week, a record was set when ten thousand people passed through Ben Gurion Airport in a single day. In fact, the month of July was a record-breaking month at the airport, with over two million travelers having passed through the terminal during the month. The current month of August is expected to surpass even that record. Amazingly, when the new terminal was built several years ago, many believed that it was too large. However, it has now turned out to be too small.

Where are all these people going? According to statistics provided by travel agents and by the Airports Authority, the leading destination for tourists is Istanbul, despite the shaky relations between Israel and Turkey, and despite the anti-Israel protests that were held in Turkey just this past week over the “takeover” of the Har Habayis. The next most popular destinations, in descending order, are Moscow (perhaps because of its large number of connecting flights to other destinations), Paris, Antalya, and Larnaca. The latter two owe their popularity to the fact that they offer less expensive vacations than Israel itself.

99-Year Leases About to Expire

Our next item is a story that is simply astonishing, and might be the type of thing that occurs only in Israel. This is actually something that should be of interest to everyone, especially a person who has real estate dealings in Israel – and there are many such people, even in America.

Is it possible for a person to buy an apartment with his own money, to live in it for many years, and then to discover that he doesn’t actually own it? In Israel, the answer is yes, and the reason is very simple. About eighty years ago, the Keren Kayemet L’Yisroel (Jewish National Fund), which is the body that owns most of the land in the country, purchased a large amount of real estate from the Greek Orthodox Church. The church didn’t want to sell the properties altogether, so it opted to lease the land for 99 years. At the time, this seemed like an eternity, and no one minded the terms of the deal. It was considered a lease in name only, but everyone understood that it was actually a sale. Nevertheless, that makes no difference today. By law, the lease is merely a lease, and the end of that 99-year period is now only 17 years away.

The Greek Orthodox Church would never have thought to ask for the property to be returned to them, since it was understood that the lease was actually meant as a sale. However, a number of businessmen recently offered to purchase the properties from the church. The church officials were unable to resist the temptation, and they sold the exact same lands that were “leased” decades ago. That means that in another 17 years, those investors will give notice to hundreds of homeowners in Yerushalayim, who have lived in the same apartments for 50 or 60 years, that they are required to leave their homes. One of the affected neighborhoods is Talbiya, near Rechavia, which is home to many of the members of Israel’s “high society,” including Supreme Court judges and families of the founders of the state. The president’s residence is also located in the neighborhood. This makes for a very troubling situation indeed.

This is where the attorney general stepped in. While the entrepreneurs hoped to rake in a fortune by purchasing the leased properties from the church, the attorney general has been working to promote a new law, which will enable every apartment owner to renew the 99-year lease on his property for a payment of 5 percent of the value of the land. If the law passes, then the investors will not only gain nothing from the purchase of the properties, but will probably lose money as well. At the beginning of the week, the JNF released the following statement: “The purchase of the properties was carried out in secret by anonymous investors, which creates the distinct suspicion that the purchasers’ motivations are not pure and that they intend to exert improper pressure on the residents. This is a national problem that threatens to affect thousands of residents of the capital and other places. In light of that, the JNF is working to resolve the problem.”

The Working Father’s Example

Toras Hamaaseh is a recently released sefer on the subject of leading a Torah life in the workplace. The author, who goes by the pen name “Avrohom Friedman,” is a yungerman who wrote the sefer with the guidance of one of the leading figures in the Torah world in Eretz Yisroel. The sefer deals with many practical issues, such as working in a secular environment, listening to lectures from chilonim, and halachic questions that arise in offices and other places of work. A number of chapters are also devoted to the importance of fostering a kiddush Hashem in the presence of chiloni coworkers. In order to give you a taste of the richness of both the content and the language of the sefer, I will quote just a few lines on that subject:

“Kiddush Hashem means causing others to understand the importance of living by the Will of Hashem, with higher values and with allegiance to the Creator of the world, and the misery of a life that is empty of meaning and spiritual goals. That is something that comes only from Jewish pride, from a profound understanding that the only way to live is by Hashem’s laws… I once heard an incredible example of this. A religious person who was working in a chiloni office was asked by a coworker, ‘Is it true that you have a week when you are not allowed to bathe?’ Instead of being apologetic or evading the question, the religious person responded, ‘Please show me one value in your life for which you would be prepared to refrain from showering for a week!’”

The sefer confronts the issues that confront working people. He says “Children of ordinary people have been known to become talmidei chachomim, while many children of talmidei chachomim are very far from following in their parents’ footsteps… Even in the outside world, the children of laborers sometimes become successful businessmen, and the children of doctors work in other fields. Children do not automatically follow their parents’ example. At the same time, we cannot entirely discount the importance of a personal example. In many cases, children are interested in emulating their parents. What is the rule of thumb? It is accepted that a child will do the things that he sees his father doing. If his father reads newspapers, then he will read newspapers as well. A child imitates the people around him, especially his parents… They say that a child does what he sees, not what he hears. But that is not true; the rule is different. A child does not do what he hears, nor does he do what he sees. Instead, he does the things that he believes and feels are worthwhile for him to do.”

Let me explain his approach in my own words. When a child imitates his father’s behavior, it isn’t merely for the sake of mimicking his father. It is because he believes that if his father does something, that means that it is a worthwhile thing to do. Children seek the things that are most beneficial to them. That leads to a simple, clear conclusion, which should be a guiding principle for all working fathers: A parent’s personal example stems not from the things that he actually does, but from the things that he values. When a parent shows that he appreciates something, that he loves it and values it, the child will desire it as well. If a father sits in his living room and learns with a bored or mournful expression, the child will internalize the idea that learning Torah is burdensome and unpleasant. On the other hand, if a father leaves for his work in the stock exchange – or in the Knesset – with a sigh, his children will absorb that message as well. All children, whether their fathers are kollel yungeleit or working men, are more intelligent than we realize.

What To Learn If You Have Little Time

Derech Hashem is a yeshiva founded by Rav Tzvi Greenbaum. Rav Greenbaum has spent the past thirty years involved in teaching Torah and educating numerous talmidim, fostering the growth of bochurim for whom many had foreseen a bleak future. He has taken young men who were reduced to mere smoldering coals, and he has transformed them into blazing spiritual flames.

After a lengthy period of displacement, the yeshiva has finally settled in a magnificent building in the neighborhood of Har Nof. At a reception celebrating its new home, the rosh yeshiva spoke about his objectives, which he termed “the mission of our generation: establishing a makom Torah and a place for regular learning even for those who have gone out to work.”

The rosh yeshiva shared a conversation he had with Rav Chaim Kanievsky, after the gadol wrote a letter in the Sefer Torah that was brought to the yeshiva’s new building. “If a person learns for only a small portion of the day,” Rav Greenbaum asked, “what should he learn?”

“Mishnah Berurah,” Rav Chaim replied.

“And if he learns for a bit more time, such as an hour and a half, how should he divide his time?” the rosh yeshiva inquired further.

“Two-thirds Gemara and one-third Mishnah Berurah,” Rav Chaim said.

In short, everyone must maintain a connection to Torah, the source of life. “The fact that you have gone out to work does not mean that you may disconnect yourself from the bais medrash,” Rav Greenbaum declared. “There is no exemption from learning Torah, and there is no way to live a Jewish life without maintaining a regular daily learning seder.” He is currently working on creating a learning program geared to fulfill the needs of working men. “Derech Hashem will be the framework that will connect you to the Torah,” he assured his listeners.

With a Sefer Always in Hand

Reb Meir Simcha Auerbach is a talmid at the yeshiva of Rav Dovid Soloveitchik and a resident of my own neighborhood of Givat Shaul. He is a talmid chochom who is constantly immersed in the study of the Torah, whether he is sitting in the bais medrash or standing in line in the supermarket. Every Friday and Motzoei Shabbos, he can be found diligently poring over seforim in one of the local shuls. And wherever he goes, at all times, Reb Meir Simcha always has a sefer in his hand.

Reb Meir Simcha was born in New York and learned at Yeshivas Bais Binyomin of Stamford, Connecticut. His parents still live in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn, near the former home of Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l. During his years in Stamford, Meir Simcha learned under the roshei yeshiva, Rav Simcha Schustal zt”l and ybl”c Rav Meir Hershkowitz. At a recent simcha in his home, I voiced my admiration for the fact that he can always be found perusing a sefer. He smiled graciously and then offered to share a story.

Rav Simcha Schustal, he related, always carried a sefer with him, so that he could learn at every spare moment. Reb Meir Simcha himself used to spend a good deal of time in his rebbi’s company, and he attested, “I often accompanied him to various events or weddings, and he always had a sefer with him. It was usually a Gemara, and in his later years, when his eyesight deteriorated, he had a particularly large Gemara.”

On that note, Rav Simcha Schustal’s grandson once told Reb Meir Simcha about an exchange between the rosh yeshiva and Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt”l. “My grandfather told me that he was once present at an event that was also attended by Rav Hutner. When Rav Hutner saw him carrying a sefer, he said, ‘Your thoughts are always focused on Torah anyway; you have no need to keep a sefer with you.’ He may have even said that it wasn’t proper for him to have a sefer with him, since he was thinking about Torah anyway. In any event, that was the general idea.”

“Well,” I asked Reb Meir Simcha, “did Rav Schustal take Rav Hutner’s advice?”

Reb Meir Simcha seemed flustered by the question. “I don’t think so,” he admitted. “But that simply means that there are two different ways to achieve the same goal. Both talmidei chachomim had the same idea in mind: that a person must always be focused on the Torah. Whether that is achieved by carrying a sefer or simply by thinking about it, the most important thing is for his mind to be completely focused on learning.”