Sunday, Aug 1, 2021

My Take on the News

takeIn a posuk in Hallel, Dovid Hamelech declares, “Hallelu es Hashem kol goyim – Praise G-d, all the nations.” Some explain that we call upon the nations of the world to praise Hashem because there are many times when Hashem saves us from their wicked plans without making us aware of it. Therefore, the other nations can praise Him for all the good He has done for the Jewish people. This idea neatly captures the prevailing sense in Eretz Yisroel these days. We feel that something bad is happening in the world, but we don’t know exactly what it is.

Nonetheless, there have been some clues. The chief of staff of the IDF, Gadi Eizenkot, recently made a secret trip to Brussels to meet with the senior American general in Europe, who is also the commander of the NATO forces. The chief of staff and the American general had met three weeks ago, and the fact that they met again so soon indicates that something is happening. Perhaps it is related to the recent BBC report, based on information provided by a source in Western intelligence, that Iran has been establishing a permanent military installation in Syria. According to the report, construction of the base has advanced significantly in recent months, following a series of military victories by Assad’s army. A report last week relates that Putin has decided not to prevent Iran from operating in Syrian territory. This means that if intensive diplomatic efforts were made to convince Putin – and it is logical to assume that there were such efforts – they failed to achieve their goal.

Then there is another clue: The seemingly innocuous report that the Iron Dome system has been deployed in several locations in the Gush Dan region. The Iron Dome batteries are designed to protect the country from incoming missiles. The IDF explained that the system was deployed in response to threats from Islamic Jihad to avenge the deaths of their men in the terror tunnel that was bombed by Israel. We have no way of knowing, though, if that is the truth. Only one thing is clear: We must remember that we cannot put our faith in anyone other than our Father in Heaven. Whatever happens, it is His protection that we need.

 

Netanyahu Laughs at His Critics

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu has been kept busy dealing with the police investigations surrounding him. Police interrogators have come to his private home on Rechov Balfour in Yerushalayim to question him, and the investigation is still continuing. On Sunday, Netanyahu was questioned for the sixth time. Last week, there was also a special political discussion in the Knesset, in which the members of the opposition used a special clause in the Knesset regulations that obligates the prime minister to listen to their speeches. At the end of the discussion, the prime minister responded to the speakers and mocked them for demanding his resignation. I will quote a portion of his remarks along with the interjections of the opposition members, who heckled him constantly while he spoke.

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein prefaced his introduction of Netanyahu by announcing, “Anyone who disturbs the prime minister will find himself outside the room very quickly, because I want to hear both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition.” With that, he went on, “I am honored to invite the prime minister of Israel, MK Binyomin Netanyahu, to address the topic of this discussion.”

Let us skip to the end of Netanyahu’s address. “Yesterday,” he said, “I received a letter, a very warm letter, from another good friend, President Trump of the United States. He thanked me for our support for the position of the United States, which is opposed to the nuclear deal with Iran. In effect, he says that the deal must be either fixed or annulled. For the members of the Knesset who haven’t been following this, I would like to point out that this is the same position that I presented in Congress and later in the United Nations, as well as in private conversation with President Trump. It seems that I have had a certain influence….”

“For a prime minister who is under investigation by the police,” Tamar Zandberg of Meretz interjected.

Netanyahu continued, “The United States, Russia, China, Japan, India, Egypt…. All of these examples are just a small portion of an extensive network of international relations.”

“But they vote against us in the UN, so what have you accomplished?” demanded Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Camp.

“My friends in the opposition,” Netanyahu said, “when I listen to your impassioned speeches, to your words of censure – I must tell you, and I am saying this honestly, that there is nothing new about it. You want me to leave this position, and you have wanted that since the day I was elected for the first time, and then for the second time, and then for the third time….”

“That’s our job in the opposition – to replace you,” said Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin of the Zionist Camp.

“And then again the fourth time,” Netanyahu continued. “I wonder what will happen the fifth time. But it doesn’t matter. The prime minister is chosen in the voting booth, not anywhere else.”

“A corrupt prime minister should go home,” interjected Mickey Rosenthal of the Zionist Camp.

“Nothing is going to change,” Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, shot back.

“Let me explain this to you in all seriousness,” Netanyahu said. “In a democracy, the prime minister is not chosen by you, nor even by the media. The prime minister is elected by the public, and because of our tremendous accomplishments – in the economy, in society, in security, and in public relations – the public has chosen time and again for me to be standing here, and for you to be there [i.e., on the benches of the opposition]. Therefore, I would like to thank you, but most importantly I would like to thank the citizens of Israel. I am proud to be your prime minister.”

With that, something very unusual happened: The Knesset members from the Likud party applauded. That is an act that is forbidden by the regulations of the Knesset and is considered highly inappropriate. The Knesset speaker was shocked. “What is this?” he demanded. “What is this? This is simply unbelievable!”

 

Trouble Looms in the Supreme Court

We are still dealing with our ongoing struggle with the Reform movement over the Kosel Hamaarovi. This past week, the Supreme Court provided a rather discouraging glimpse into what might be expected from its future ruling, when it gave the Israel Police Force and the rov of the Kosel, Rav Shmuel Rabinovich, 30 days to explain why they are denying the Women of the Wall the right to pray undisturbed in the ezras noshim in the northern plaza at the Kosel. The court also demanded an explanation for the fact that the police and the rov of the Kosel have not made any moves against the individuals who regularly disrupt the Women of the Wall’s prayer services.

The court order was prompted by a petition from Reform and Conservative organizations, who complained that women at the Kosel have been interfering with the Women of the Wall when they come to daven, and that the police have done nothing about the phenomenon. This is not the infamous petition that began the case. It is merely a subsidiary complaint, demanding to know why the police and Rav Rabinovich aren’t seeing to it that the Women of the Wall can pray without disturbance in the ezras noshim. If the Supreme Court is now siding with the petitioners, that is certainly a sign of which way the judicial wind is blowing. Moreover, the Supreme Court has decided to increase the number of justices presiding over the case from three to seven. That is yet another ominous sign.

To this, we can also add the address delivered by President Reuven Rivlin at the annual General Assembly of the Jewish Federation, which took place last week in Los Angeles. Commenting on the Kosel compromise, which was frozen at our request, Rivlin said, “The symbol of unity, the wall of tears and joy, has become the symbol of division and disagreement. The formulation of the Kosel compromise was a very sensitive process conducted by the State of Israel in an effort to bridge a gap. I hope very much that we will reach a time when we can return to the table together and we can reach understandings on this subject. That is our shared responsibility and our shared interest.” That was a clear effort to ingratiate himself with the Reform movement. On the other hand, Rivlin did slip in a few words of criticism for the Reform: “We must all respect the democratic process in Israel, the process by which decisions are made. Whether we like it or not, in the only Jewish democratic state in the world, the subject of religion and state is a political topic.” We can only daven that we are not about to receive another blow from the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the Reform movement seems to be growing bolder. Last Thursday, a group of Reform people and Women of the Wall carried out a stunt that they had never done before: They arrived at the entrance to the “Ezrat Yisroel” section, which was designated for them near the Kosel, and then they entered the main Kosel plaza and began singing and dancing. The men and women formed a circle and danced together, with some of the women wearing tallisos and clutching Sifrei Torah.

 

Yariv Levin Laughs

Speaking of the Supreme Court, let us briefly revisit their recent ruling concerning the chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv. As you certainly recall, the court ruled that the Minister of the Interior does not have the authority to veto the bylaw enacted by the municipality. To be honest, we completely expected that ruling, although that expectation does not diminish our pain and anger. The Supreme Court of the State of Israel does not view Shabbos as possessing any special value. That is a shame, but it was also predictable. We knew that the previous chief justice, Dorit Beinisch, had used her final ruling to deliver a slap in the face to the chareidi community, and we expected Miriam Naor to try to leave a liberal imprint as her own parting shot as well. We hoped for the best and we davened, but we knew in our hearts that the chances of a favorable outcome were nil.

Nevertheless, there was a minority opinion among the seven justices on the panel, which disagreed completely with the outgoing chief justice. The judges in the minority felt that the petition should be accepted, and that businesses should be prevented from operating on Shabbos in Tel Aviv. Justice Neal Hendel wrote, “It would be a sad irony if the social and spiritual value of the rest day of Shabbos, which is anchored in the Law of Hours of Work and Rest, were to be harmed specifically in the State of Israel. The Jewish religion introduced the world to the social revolution – perhaps the first of its nature – represented by Shabbos. The idea of a weekly day of rest went on to be accepted and implemented by all of humanity.”

Noam Sohlberg, another yarmulka-wearing judge on the same panel, likewise felt that the petition of the small business owners should be accepted. “In the current legal situation,” he wrote, “a municipal government does not have the authority to permit businesses to operate on Shabbos… The intent of the law, as is very apparent from the history of this legislation and from any logical and sensible reading of the Law of Hours of Work and Rest, is for the prohibition anchored in the law to apply to business establishments but not to places of recreation. The prohibition is not personal in nature; it applies to the conduct of any business in a store on the day of rest.”

In a meeting attended by Aryeh Deri, Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni, and Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, Deri commented that there was one thing we gained from the Supreme Court ruling: We have now discovered that the judges’ rulings are based on their personal views and not on the actual provisions of the law. Therefore, he asserted, we cannot rely on the Supreme Court. Yariv Levin laughed heartily at that comment. “You mean to say you discovered that only now?” he said.

Incidentally, Levin is actually opposed to the law that has now been suggested, which would officially grant the Minister of the Interior the authority that the court ruled he lacks. This issue is currently under discussion in the Knesset.

Unfortunately, our situation is not good. Barely any progress is being made on several fronts. Netanyahu has made promises, but things have been moving slowly or not at all. That is true of the response to the Supreme Court’s ruling on the chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv, as well as the ongoing chillul Shabbos by the railway company. And then there is the court’s decision concerning the draft, which has necessitated a new law to protect our yeshiva bochurim. That law isn’t even visible on the horizon. The legislative process has begun on one law, though: a law that would require the issuance of Shabbos work permits to take into account the Jewish principles of Jewish law as well. The Minister of Labor and Welfare didn’t want to agree to such a law, but he was forced to do so. This week, the law was transferred to the cabinet for its approval. Let us hope that it succeeds.

 

Lessons from Sadat’s Visit

Last week, I mentioned that we are now commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the historic visit of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat to Israel. There is good reason for the ruling party to mark the occasion: The peace agreement between Egypt and Israel, which is still in force, is an accomplishment attributed to Menachem Begin, leader of the Likud party. There is no reason that the Likud party of today shouldn’t celebrate the achievements of its members at the time.

The Knesset has arranged for some unusual programs to mark the occasion. A plenary session was preceded by a series of symposiums featuring people who were present for Sadat’s visit: former ministers Moshe Arens, Moshe Shachal and Moshe Nissim; former cabinet secretary Aryeh Naor; retired Supreme Court Justice Elyakim Rubinstein, who served as an aide to Moshe Dayan, the foreign minister at the time; and Herzl Makov and Shlomo Nakdimon, who were close associates of Menachem Begin. Even the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, was scheduled to participate in the events. At the time of this writing, though, I still do not know if he will come down with a cold and be “forced” to absent himself…

Why is this of interest to us? Because the story of Sadat’s visit teaches an important lesson. On the day before his historic visit, Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Yadin requested an urgent meeting with Prime Minister Menachem Begin. At that meeting, Yadin asked Begin to call up a large number of soldiers in the reserves in case the purported visit was a trick and the Egyptian army planned to attack Israel while it was waiting for Sadat’s arrival. Yadin’s fears were based on the speculation of Shlomo Gazit, the head of the IDF’s military intelligence division, and Motta Gur, the chief of staff of the army. When Sadat disembarked from his plane, he walked over to Gur and whispered, “You see? I wasn’t lying.”

Begin refused Yadin’s request to call up the reservists. In fact, the idea didn’t even cross his mind. The reason is simple: Yigal Yadin had been unaware of most of the discussions that led to Sadat’s visit. Only Begin, Dayan, and the members of the Mossad who assisted Dayan were aware of those exchanges. Gazit, Gur, and even Defense Minister Ezer Weizmann knew nothing about the proceedings. Everyone knew that Begin had visited Romania, where he asked President Nicolae Ceausescu to convey a message to Sadat and to Assad that Israel was sincerely interested in peace. What was not known was that Moshe Dayan had also secretly met with the king of Morocco. No one was told about Dayan’s visit to Morocco, where he also met with Hassam Tuhami, the deputy prime minister of Egypt. Tuhami also met with Yitzchok Hofi, the head of the Mossad. Since the other officials were unaware of this chain of events, they were suspicious of Sadat’s visit to the point that they feared it was meant as a diversionary tactic while he prepared for war. Begin knew the truth, though, and probably smiled inwardly as he informed Yadin that he would not call up the military reserves.

This seems to be an apt analogy for our own lives: We often have questions and suspicions about the things that happen in our lives, but the reason for our confusion is simply that we do not see the complete picture.

 

A Calendar with a Message

The members of the Knesset and ministers of the cabinet are used to receiving all sorts of mailings, including various magazines and calendars, from a wide range of organizations. Government officials belatedly received copies of a calendar unlike any other. It does not give them any information about the upcoming year or help them manage their schedules, but if they are perceptive enough, it will certainly help them keep their priorities in order. The calendar contains no printed words, no boxes representing the days of each month, and, in fact, no images of any kind. There is a simple reason for this: It is written in Braille! The calendars were sent to the MKs and cabinet ministers by Amos Beer, the director of the Central Library for the Blind and Reading Impaired. This is a unique organization that has been operating for almost 70 years. The library has 9,300 registered members and serves a much larger population as well; in total, its services benefit about 24,000 people.

Merely fingering the raised Braille print on the pages of the calendar is enough to remind a person of those who are stricken with blindness and spend their days in darkness. Of course, that does not contradict the fact that their inner worlds may be far richer than ours. Who knows how many people live in an inner world of darkness despite of the fact that they are blessed with the gift of sight? Those thoughts should remind us that we must use our vision properly. We must harness the sense of sight for good things. As we say every year in Tefillah Zakah, “You created my eyes with the power of sight, to see what is written in the Torah and to sanctify them by seeing all the things that are holy…”

 

A Death Trap in the Heart of Yerushalayim

My next topic has nothing to do with prime ministers, ambassadors, and other politicians. However, it has plenty to do with a potentially life-threatening danger. The hazards that exist at the intersection of Golda Meir Boulevard and Rechov Bar Ilan in Yerushalayim are well-known to everyone in the city. The subject has been discussed in the Knesset many times, and the government seemed surprised each time by the statistics that were presented. On January 1, 2014, Tzipi Hotovely, who served as the Minister of Transportation at the time (her title today is Deputy Foreign Minister), admitted in the Knesset that she had been shocked by the statistics presented to her by her own ministry in response to a parliamentary query. That query, which was submitted by a member of the Shas party, was filed in the aftermath of another two accidents that occurred at the intersection. Hotovely was astounded to learn that it had been the site of hundreds of accidents.

Hotovely acknowledged that the intersection had become a death trap. “I must say that when I first saw the figures about the number of accidents, I was horrified,” she said. “The statistics are frightening… From 2008 through 2013, there were 754 accidents on Golda Meir Boulevard in Yerushalayim, of which three resulted in fatalities and 41 were very serious accidents. There were 197 minor accidents, and 512 accidents without any injuries… That is a frightening number of accidents, including the ones with fatalities. This is a hazardous intersection where the danger must be eliminated, and it seems that all the efforts to solve the problem through raising public awareness are not helping. I must say that in response to your question, this will be one of the places where we will focus on figuring out what can be done there in the best possible way. In all likelihood, we will have to make alterations to the street, and the public education that has been conducted will not be sufficient.” This was Hotovely’s response in January 2014.

I was reminded of the street this week when I read about a report released by the Ohr Yarok road safety organization: “Last week, Ohr Yarok released a list of the 15 most dangerous roads in Yerushalayim. At the top of the list was Derech Chevron, where 449 people were injured in accidents and two were killed. The next road on the list was Golda Meir Boulevard, with 446 wounded and one killed. In the third place was Derech Begin, with 225 injured and one fatality. In a letter to the municipality, Ohr Yarok noted that in order to improve safety on these roads, it will be necessary to take a multi-pronged approach, including modification of the roads, increased enforcement of traffic laws, and public education. The Yerushalayim municipality said in response, ‘The city of Yerushalayim is working intensively and advancing plans to fight the phenomenon of car accidents. The battle against accidents is at the top of our priorities, and the city is investing hundreds of millions of shekels to develop the roads and improve the safety infrastructure.”

This report relates to the years from 2012 through 2016, but something about it seems wrong to me. I believe that there must have been more than one fatality on the road during those four years. The last person to be killed, a boy named Chaggai Goldstein, was killed in 2017, but a pedestrian was killed in an accident there in November 2016 as well, and during the five years that Hotovely spoke about, there were three other fatalities. Regardless of the exact number, though, it is certainly dangerous.

The hazardous situation is due to a number of factors, each of which is sufficient on its own to pose a threat to human life. One of those issues is the lane in the middle of the street, which is designated solely for public transportation. The profusion of traffic lights at the intersection makes it difficult for anyone – especially a child or elderly person – to determine when it is truly safe to walk. At times, there may be a green light in the lane closest to the curb and another green light on the opposite side of the street. Who would imagine that the middle lane might not be open to pedestrians? An unwary pedestrian, confused by the lights, might find himself walking directly into the path of an oncoming bus. There are other issues as well, and experience has shown that the street is precisely what it has been called – a death trap. The Ministry of Transportation has promised several times that it will deal with the issue, and the municipality has also promised to step up its enforcement and to continue working to raise public awareness of the dangers at the intersection. Nevertheless, nothing has changed.

 

A Posthumous Miracle

Although Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s yahrtzeit has passed, I would like to share a story told by Rav Reuven Elbaz in a hesped he delivered for Rav Ovadiah last month. “Throughout his life, the rov cared for the community and for individuals alike,” Rav Elbaz said. “But we have now discovered that he cared for others not only during his lifetime, but after his passing as well. The following incident happened to Rabbi Shalom Saadon.”

Incidentally, Rabbi Saadon was the man who created the satellite broadcast system that was used to transmit Rav Ovadiah’s shiurim to hundreds of locations, both within Eretz Yisroel and abroad. For decades, he was one of the closest people to Rav Ovadiah.

One day, Rav Elbaz related, a woman called Rabbi Saadon and tearfully told him that she had a problem with her landlord. She had fallen behind in her rental payments, and the landlord was insisting that her family move out of the apartment. He was also demanding immediate payment of the full sum that was owed to him, which they could not afford. By that point, the landlord had filed a claim against them in court, presumably feeling that he had no alternative. Shalom Saadon listened to the woman’s story, but he could not understand why she had contacted him. “I am not involved in these matters, and I am not a lawyer,” he said when she had finished speaking. “Why did you call me?”

The woman’s answer astounded him. “My husband visits Rav Ovadiah Yosef’s kever every week on Erev Shabbos. In recent weeks, he has been begging Rav Ovadiah to help us. A few weeks ago, the rov came to my husband in a dream and told him that we should call you and ask for your help.”

Rabbi Saadon found the story hard to believe. “Who is your landlord?” he asked.

When the woman revealed the landlord’s name, Rabbi Saadon was shocked. The landlord was a very close friend of his – a fact that the woman could not possibly have known.

Rabbi Saadon leapt to the woman’s aid, enlisting other people to help him as well. The legal proceedings were dropped, and the landlord settled on a reduced debt, which the couple promptly paid. Ultimately, they left the apartment on good terms with the landlord and purchased a new home.

I asked Rabbi Saadon if the story is true and he confirmed it. “You are missing only the last part of the story,” he said. “On Sunday, I went to Rav Ovadiah’s kever and said to him, ‘Rabbeinu, I have carried out the mission you gave me.’’

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