A Demonstration Against Demonstrations
There were other stories, of course. For one thing, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been going about his business as if nothing out of the ordinary has been taking place, despite the criminal investigations surrounding him. He set out on an official trip to Russia in order to meet with Putin, although many here in Israel questioned what Netanyahu could ask from the Russian premier and how interested Putin might be in helping Israel at this time. After all, he is not exactly on our side. Within the ranks of the Likud party, the politicians are pleased that all the fuss surrounding the investigations and the state witnesses has subsided somewhat, and that Netanyahu can continue running the state – that is, if he can rightly be considered to be “running” it.
Within the Labor party, as you may recall, Avi Gabbai was the winner of the primaries, and he is now serving as the party leader. Gabbai is confident that he will win the next elections and defeat Netanyahu, although that seems to be a very remote prospect at the moment. Meanwhile, he is contending with his own internal problems. This past week, Gabbai announced that he intends to make several changes in the party, including inserting four prominent individuals within the top twenty positions on the party’s list. He explained that he expects the move to increase the party’s attraction to voters. The existing members of the party, of course, are incensed by his decision, since every new name on the list will come at their expense. With that, the infighting began. It will be interesting to see if the party will vote to carry out Gabbai’s demands
Then there is the issue of the demonstrations outside the home of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who lives in a quiet religious neighborhood in Petach Tikvah. Every week, a group of leftists gathers to protest against the attorney general, whom they accuse of adopting an excessively soft approach against Netanyahu. Their efforts actually tend to affect him in the opposite direction, since Mandelblit feels the need to demonstrate that the protests have not influenced him. Nevertheless, the leftists’ hatred for the prime minister is so great that this makes no difference to them. If you read my article in last week’s Yated about Netanyahu’s speech at the rally of his supporters, you may recall that he spoke about these protests. In any event, the Likud has grown tired of the demonstrations, and the party members finally decided to counter them with demonstrations of their own. The result was a massive commotion that infuriated Mandelblit’s neighbors, leaving the police no choice but to arrest protestors on both sides. It seems that these protests, which have taken place every Motzoei Shabbos for several months, will finally come to an end.
A Gathering of Roshei Yeshivos
This is it, the beginning of the new zeman. At the home of Rav Shalom Cohen, nosi of the Moetzet Chachmei HaTorah of Shas, there was a meeting of roshei yeshivos who serve as the administration of the Vaad Hayeshivos of Eretz Yisroel.
One of the problems discussed at the meeting was the subject of yeshiva bochurim who leave the country without receiving prior permission from the army. Upon their return, those bochurim often discover that they have lost the official status of bnei yeshivos, which leads them to receive draft notices. The bochurim protest this outrage, but they tend to forget that they themselves are responsible for their predicaments. There are rules, and according to those rules, a yeshiva bochur is forbidden to leave the country without official permission. That permission may be granted once a year or once every three years, depending on the bochur’s age. If a young man chooses to violate the rules, he should not be surprised when he suffers the consequences afterward. At the meeting, the roshei yeshivos asked the leaders of the Vaad Hayeshivos to raise the level of awareness of the importance of observing all of the rules.
I myself tried to challenge this rule in my youth when I demanded an explanation for the fact that yeshiva bochurim are not permitted to leave the country. I argued that it makes no difference whether a bochur is learning in Yerushalayim or in Flatbush. The important thing is that he is in a yeshiva, and he is therefore deserving of an exemption from the draft. The answer I received was very simple: By law, a yeshiva bochur is considered a soldier in the army whose draft has been deferred. Just as a soldier is not permitted to leave the country without permission from his commanding officer, the same applies to a yeshiva bochur.
In any event, as far as we are concerned, the beginning of the zeman, along with this gathering of roshei yeshivos, certainly constitutes the most significant event of this past week. On Tuesday and Wednesday, the days of Rosh Chodesh Elul, I delighted in watching as tens of thousands of yeshiva bochurim gathered en masse at bus stops and boarded the buses that would take them to their yeshivos throughout the country.
“Discrimination” in Yerushalayim
Several years ago, Tzipi Livni, who was serving as Minister of Justice at the time, established a committee that was tasked with examining “discrimination against women” in the public sphere. It began on Chol Hamoed, when signs were posted in Meah Shearim asking men to walk in the street and women to use the sidewalk, or something of that nature. As soon as those signs appeared, a number of enemies of Torah submitted a petition to the courts, claiming that the signs infringed on the rights of women. A committee was established, and it has gone on to make many senseless decisions. Among other issues, whenever there are events for chareidim that are advertised as exclusively for one gender – which is almost a weekly occurrence – petitions are immediately filed in the court against the events. There is one woman in particular in the Ministry of Justice who is seeking every possible way to cause trouble for people who seek to maintain separation between the sexes.
This past week, the agitators found a new target: the municipal libraries in Yerushalayim. The municipality of Yerushalayim tries to see to it that every neighborhood in the city has a library. In general, chareidi neighborhoods tend to be left out and are serviced only by a “mobile library” – a truck filled with books that comes to each neighborhood once or twice a week. Nevertheless, there are some neighborhoods that possess actual libraries, some more respectable than others. Naturally, these facilities include separate reading areas for boys and for girls. Now, several people who received the aid and encouragement of the media – have appealed to the city against these libraries, claiming that the separation between the genders is a violation of the law and decrying the discrimination involved.
Do Not Rely on the Israeli Mail
I don’t know if your postal system is reliable, but ours is terrible. Invitations tend to arrive months after simchos, bills show up only after they are due, and notices about various events, including court sessions, also appear in our mailboxes only after the dates have passed. In short, our postal service would befit a Third World country. When a letter is mailed from America, though, we can never know if the delays are caused by the American postal service or by its Israeli counterpart – although, to the best of my recollection, mail arrives in America itself shortly after it was sent. Certainly, such long delays are not the norm there. In all likelihood, then, our mail system is the culprit.
This week, I received an invitation to a wedding that took place last Wednesday. As much as I desired to attend, I did not have the option of doing so, since the invitation arrived only after the wedding had taken place. The wedding was to be held at Ateres Charna Hall in Spring Valley, New York. I know the father of the kallah, Rav Meir Chaim Zilber, very well. He lives in South Fallsburg today. The aufruf took place at Bais Medrash Kehal Yereim in Monsey, which is where the chosson, Nochum Yoel Neuman, son of Reb Mordechai Dovid, lives with his family. But as I said, I became aware of all of this information only after the simcha had taken place. I never had the opportunity to attend.
Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to my good friend, Reb Meir Chaim, and to his wife, as well as to the grandfather, from whom I learned a tremendous amount of Torah. Bli neder, I will participate in your next simcha. In the meantime, I send you my best wishes from Yerushalayim.
A Lesson from the Home of Rav Nosson Tzvi
I would like to share an observation on the transition from bein haezmanim to the beginning of the zeman. I have always wondered how it is possible for a Jew to detach himself from his summer vacation and make the transition directly into Elul, to segue seamlessly from a bungalow in the north or a beach in the south into a month of awe and teshuvah. One year, I found the answer to this mystery – at the home of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l. And I came to realize that not only is the transition not incongruous, but it is actually quite natural.
On that day, I was attending a siyum made by one of the yungeleit of Yeshivas Mir. The yungeleit of the yeshiva were always invited to hold their siyumim in the rosh yeshiva’s home. It was one of the ways that he sought to encourage their development. I arrived and positioned myself near the entrance to the room, where I was riveted by the sight of the yungerman making the siyum with Rav Nosson Tzvi seated beside him, his eyes shining with joy and love.
“It’s too bad you didn’t come earlier,” one of the other participants in the siyum remarked.
“Why?” I asked. “What happened?”
“We said Tehillim for the recovery of a yungerman who was diagnosed with cancer.”
For a moment, I was mystified. How could it be that the entire assemblage was weeping with distress as they recited Tehillim for a sick talmid chochom and then found themselves beaming with joy 20 minutes later?
With that, I understood the answer to my long-standing question. Not only is it possible for a Jew to make the transition between those two emotional states, but it is specifically a Jew who is capable of doing that. Only a Jew has that power, for it is only a person who subjugates himself completely to the Will of Hashem who will not differentiate between the joy of a siyum and the somber recitation of Tehillim: Both are merely facets of the Will of the Master of the Universe.
In fact, when I asked Rav Nosson Tzvi how the dramatic transition was possible, he responded in his labored fashion, “They are both obligations.” Moving from one obligatory state to another is a smooth transition, like moving from one room to another in a house. We cry because we must, and we rejoice because we must, but both are encompassed by the same requirement to do the Will of Hashem. And both emotions are merely means of serving Him.
A Misleading Report
The Globes financial newspaper recently published an article about the “flying MKs,” the members of the Knesset who have spent many days overseas, vacationing in various foreign locales. The newspaper provided very precise statistics on the subject – or, at least, that was their claim. The legislators who traveled most extensively were Tzipi Livni, Manuel Trachtenberg, Sharren Haskel, Ahmed Tibi, Merav Michaeli, Michal Biron, Michael Oren, Hanin Zoabi, and Chilik Bar, all of whom spent over 50 days abroad during the period between the middle of 2015 and mid-2017. Further down on the list were Yair Lapid, Anat Barko and Yitzchok Herzog. Most of the MKs who were listed were members of the opposition. That is only natural, since they have more spare time and less of an obligation to be present in the Knesset (while their counterparts are subject to coalition discipline). The list did not relate at all to the ministers and deputy ministers of the government, so the article presented only a partial picture of the situation. But there is much more to say about it than that.
First, it would be a mistake to think that this was some sort of special exposé. This information is accessible and easily within the reach of the average citizen. It is publicized by the Knesset Ethics Committee, which must approve the travels of any member of the Knesset if their trip is financed by an outside entity. But that is precisely where the report is missing information: It is possible that there are some members of the Knesset who stayed abroad for much longer periods of time, albeit at their own expense, and therefore they did not clear their vacations with the Ethics Committee. That means that the Globes report is practically worthless, since it is based on inherently incomplete information. Furthermore, what if a member of the Knesset received the committee’s approval for a planned trip and then ultimately decided not to take that trip? Any such travel would be included anyway in the Globes report. That is precisely what happened to Yaakov Margi. According to the report, Margi flew out of the country seven times (traveling to Croatia, Romania, Lithuania, Slovakia, Ireland, Argentina, Russia, and Taiwan), and spent a total of 37 days out of the country. However, one of those trips never materialized.
Globes also saw fit to make special mention of the chareidi members of the Knesset: “The chareidi MKs are notably absent from the list, which can be said to their credit. The only one who is included on the list is Yaakov Margi of Shas.”
Now, it should be noted that our absence from the list is not only because of our diligence and dedication to our work, but also because we are not often invited abroad. One reason for that is that most of us are not particularly fluent in English. Furthermore, in the departments in the Knesset that are responsible for assembling parliamentary delegations for trips abroad, very little importance is attached to the chareidim in general and to the Shas party in particular. In addition, the two entities that extend the greatest number of invitations to members of the Knesset to visit abroad are the American left and the umbrella organization of the Reform movement, neither of which have any interest in inviting chareidim. As far as they are concerned, it would be a waste of time and money to do so – and they are right. In fact, we would not accept their invitations anyway.
Back to Yaakov Margi: He is considered one of the most hardworking members of the Knesset and has a very impressive record of attendance both in the Knesset itself and in the Education Committee, which he heads. Margi was indeed invited to Argentina and secured the approval of the Ethics Committee, but he did not make the trip. I repeat: He didn’t go! And if we remove that single overseas trip from his own personal list, he will automatically be excluded from the list compiled by Globes. Furthermore, I examined the records of the Ethics Committee, and I found that all of his recorded travels, including the trip to Argentina, add up to a total of 28 days, rather than 37. If we subtract the Argentina trip, that leaves only 21 days.
The Globes report, then, is a case of journalism at its best.
An ATV Ride and a Vort on Elul
I was reminded of that experience this bein hazemanim when we visited Moshav Beit Chilkiyah at the end of our vacation and enjoyed a ride on an all-terrain vehicle. It was a thoroughly pleasurable experience, even though we became covered with dust as we drove through the vineyards. But my point in telling this story is to demonstrate how a person can move naturally from one emotional state to another, very different one. One moment, I was pressing down on the gas pedal in an ATV, and before long, I was listening intently to a vort about the month of Elul. This is how it happened:
After our ride, we were covered with dust and extremely thirsty, and we entered the moshav in search of some water to drink and to wash ourselves. Outside Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos, a Yerushalmi man motioned to us as if to ask for our help. Naturally, we stopped to see what he wanted.
“Have you davened Mincha yet?” he asked. “Would you be willing to help make a minyan for the rosh yeshiva?”
We didn’t know who the rosh yeshiva was, but we accepted his invitation. As soon as I entered the house that he indicated, I felt as if I had been there before. There was a picture of the Brisker Rov, another picture of Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, and a copy of Kuntres Habiurim. I was in the home of Rav Aryeh Shapiro, son of Rav Dovid Yitzchok Shapiro, rosh yeshiva in Be’er Yaakov, who is himself the eldest son of Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l. The rosh yeshiva who sought a minyan, I soon learned, was the father-in-law of Rav Aryeh Shapiro.
Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz had a son-in-law, Rav Moshe Bernstein. Rav Moshe, along with his brother-in-law, Rav Yaakov Moshe Leibowitz, founded the Kaminetz Yeshiva in Yerushalayim. After his passing in the month of Av 5716 (1956), he was succeeded in that position by his two sons-in-law: Rav Yitzchok Scheiner shlit”a and Rav Asher Lichtenstein zt”l. The latter’s son, Rav Boruch Dov Lichtenstein, succeeded his father as rosh yeshiva, and he is the father-in-law of Rav Aryeh Shapiro. When we encountered him that day, he was spending his vacation at his son-in-law’s home along with a group of talmidim from Kaminetz. It was they who had found us to complete the minyan.
“Yasher koach!” Rav Lichtenstein said to us after Aleinu and Kaddish. His face had shone with an otherworldly light during davening, and now it seemed as if he had returned from a loftier plane.
“Yasher koach for thanking us,” I replied, “but we would like something in return – a vort. That will be the ‘payment’ for our services.”
“A vort? With pleasure!” he declared, his face shining again. We sat together at the table and he began to speak.
“During the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah, we recite the tefillah of ‘zochreinu lechayim’ during the first bracha of Shemoneh Esrei. This is actually very strange, since Chazal tell us that we must begin by praising Hashem before we make requests of Him.”
The rosh yeshiva was referring to the Gemara’s statement (Brachos 32a), “Rabi Simla’i expounded: A person should always recite the praises of Hashem and then daven.” The Rambam therefore rules (Hilchos Tefillah 1:2) that our tefillos must begin with praises for Hashem, and the Raavad states (Avodah Zarah 7b), “Therefore, we are not permitted to request anything from Hashem until we have praised Him,” just as it is the standard practice to praise a human king before making a request of him. For that reason, Shemoneh Esrei begins with three brachos dedicated to praising Hashem, and only after those brachos do we begin making our requests for wisdom, forgiveness, healing, and so forth.
The question, then, is how we insert the prayer of “zochreinu lechayim,” which is a plea for life, before we have concluded the brachos dedicated to praising Hashem. Rav Berel Lichtenstein explained: “The usual rule that one must praise Hashem before making a request applies to requests of an ordinary nature. But when a person asks Hashem to grant him life, that is not the case. If he can wait until he has finished three brachos before presenting his request, then it means that his life isn’t truly at stake. When a person is pleading for his life, he may begin the brachos of shevach, but he will not be able to refrain from blurting out his request in the middle, because his very life is hanging in the balance.”
When a Minister Drives on Shabbos
This past week, reports circulated about a government minister from the Likud party who has been working to assemble an alternative government, which he will head, in anticipation of Netanyahu being ousted. On an unrelated note, I would like to quote an exchange between Ksenia Svetlona, a member of the Knesset from the Zionist Camp party, and Yisroel Katz, who holds the positions of Minister of Transportation and Minister of Intelligence, at least for now.
Svetlona easily managed to shatter Katz’s tranquility and to transport him back to his earlier days in the Likud party, when he and Tzachi Hanegbi were both excessively vocal. Since then, they have both adopted more staid, dignified public personas. Svetlona had submitted a parliamentary query on the subject of Kavei Lailah, the bus lines that run in the middle of the night. She quoted Katz’s statement in an earlier interview, in which he called this a “lifesaving service,” since it enables inebriated youths who return from their frivolous activities late at night to travel by bus, rather than driving their own cars. Svetlona demanded, “Why don’t the nighttime bus lines operate on Shabbos? Doesn’t pikuach nefesh take precedence over Shabbos?”
Katz was enraged by the question. He insisted that he had never used the phrase “pikuach nefesh,” and that she was misquoting him. “Perhaps you saw it in Russian,” he said mockingly, infuriating her in turn. And so the two livid members of the Knesset began trading barbs, accompanied by shouts from their audience in the plenum. “I am very meticulous about keeping tradition,” Katz insisted. “I always fast on Yom Kippur… I did not use the words ‘pikuach nefesh,’ and if I did, it was out of place.”
“The ministers of the government drive their own private cars on Shabbos, and there is no lifesaving danger averted by that,” Svetlona shot back.
“Now you are getting into ordinary, petty political squabbles,” Katz retorted. “That is most unfortunate.”
“Why is it petty?” Svetlona demanded. “You drive your own car, yet you are preventing our youths from traveling on buses.”
“Very well,” Katz said. “Your own superiors traveled in the same cars and sat in the same governments, yet they never changed the law, in their great hypocrisy.”
“They were wrong,” Svetlona said.
“I don’t know what party you come from,” Katz said, “and I don’t know who exactly your political forebears were, but they were all hypocrites. All of them sat in the government, and one of them even said that she would be willing to wear a shtreimel if it would induce the chareidim to make political concessions. The entire left is hypocritical about this, because they would be willing to give the chareidim one thousand times what the Likud had to give. Yet now you are talking about the ministers who drive on Shabbos…”
The two went on to debate which of them was more hypocritical, who was more of a demagogue, and whether a Knesset member or a government minister pays more for the use of a car. Katz insisted that he does not drive often on Shabbos. The argument was ludicrous and even embarrassing. Svetlona used her next parliamentary query (“The Cost in Blood of Highway 71”) to continue their verbal sparring. “Just try to take a bus from Yerushalayim to Beit She’an,” she said. “You will see the heavy traffic on the way to Tel Aviv. Try waiting for an hour for a bus in Modiin, a bus that generally doesn’t even show up… You call this a revolution in the transportation industry? It is an absolute disgrace!”
“This tone…,” Katz warned her.
“Your arrogance!” she shot back.
“I haven’t heard you using such an aggressive tone even when you spoke about a terror attack,” he said.“Your self-adulation crosses all bounds,” she insisted. “You are singing your own praises. Can’t you have a little bit of modesty?”
“Enough with your lies and hypocrisy!” came his reply.
With that, I lost all of my patience for the pair.
After that, Uri Maklev demanded responses for the chareidi public’s issues with the transportation system: the need for a more flexible monthly pass, discounts for students in special education, the problems with the “accumulated value” system in the Superbus company, and the fact that the Rav Kav card used for payment on buses is often charged for two fares at a time. Unfortunately, Katz’s answers were far from satisfactory.
A Lesson from Rav Pam
Not long ago, we marked the yahrtzeit of Rav Avrohom Pam zt”l. I have many stories that I could tell about him, as I visited his home many times. He passed away on the 28th of Av, 5761. In honor of his yahrtzeit, a publication by the talmidim of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman featured some of Rav Shteinman’s comments about Rav Pam after the latter’s passing. Because of his remarkable comments, I would like to share a short passage with you:
“I am not worthy of delivering a hesped. I would like to say only one thing: Chazal state that any person who is pleasing to others is also pleasing to Hashem. Everyone who knew [Rav Pam] knew that he was an extraordinary person in this respect, and that he was truly pleasing to everyone. I visited him twice, and I had the sense that he was a person who possessed incredible amounts of humility and love for others. It was evident that this man was an incredible oheiv Yisroel and a man of tremendous humility. He dealt with all of Klal Yisroel’s problems, and every individual Jew also felt that he was a close friend. The main purpose of a hesped is to learn from the actions of a great man, and that is something that we must learn in particular in our days, when there are so many hardships and diseases and such a great need for Divine mercy. Let us hope that we ourselves will be able to adopt his character traits.”