My Take on the News

The Space Center and the Soldiers

The top news story this week was the chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv in the course of an upgrade to the railroad, which has continued to generate controversy throughout the country. I have written a separate report to clarify the situation and to help you understand which officials are on each side of the dispute. The next story that preoccupied all of us is the collapse of a building in the Ramat Hachayal district of Tel Aviv, which led to some people being buried alive. The bodies of six construction workers were found. The accident took place at a parking garage that was under construction. Many people have wondered aloud what would have happened if the construction had been completed and it had begun being used by hundreds of people. The disastrous effects of a collapse at that point, chas veshalom, would have been unfathomable.

Then there was the Israeli space satellite that was lost in Florida. We can never understand the Divine calculations behind events in the world, but the facts in this case – especially the juxtaposition of events – lead me to wonder if this is somehow connected to the chillul Shabbos in Tel Aviv. In fact, even the Hebrew words are eerily similar: The space agency is known in Hebrew as chevrat challal, a phrase that bears a striking resemblance to the term “chillul Shabbos.”

In any event, one thing is clear. As the controversy raged over the ongoing construction work on the railroad, the entire country tried to channel public attention – and public hatred – toward the chareidim. Not only do the chareidim shirk their own army service, the media intimated, but they also are cruel toward those who do serve in the army; because of the chareidim’s insistence on Shabbos observance, countless soldiers were forced to wait for hours for buses to take them home, rather than being able to travel by train. All the elements of the story were ripe to maximize the potential incitement, as it seemed to boil down to the chareidim against the country’s beloved soldiers. But then came two shocking explosions, one at the space center in Florida and the other in Ramat Hachayal in Tel Aviv, that restored the Jewish people’s sense of proportion, even for the sworn enemies of religion.

Another news story was a poll that revealed that if elections were held today, the Likud party would drop from 30 mandates to a mere 22, becoming only the second-largest party in the Knesset. According to the results of the poll, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid would leap from its current 11 mandates to a total of 27, while Naftali Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi party would rise from eight to 14. Netanyahu was not overly disturbed by the poll, since it indicated that Lapid would be siphoning votes from the left, rather than from his party. The political pundits also hastened to point out that ultimately, the majority of the seats in the Knesset would remain with the right. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say that the poll did not affect anyone’s attitude, especially that of the prime minister, who lives by the polls.

Satellite Under Rabbinic Supervision

I didn’t understand much about the explosion of the Falcon-9 rocket belonging to the American company SpaceX, which was carrying an Israeli Amos-6 satellite when it exploded. But regardless of the details, it is easy enough to understand the extent of the damage: First, there was the value of the satellite ($200 million), and then there was the major drop in the stock value of the company that owned it, along with the very real concern that the company would lose many customers. The air industry, which manufactured the satellite for the company, has also suffered severe damage. Even NASA, which invested in the Amos-6 satellite, has been harmed by the incident.

Then there was also the disaster in Ramat Hachayal, which took place so very close to the site of the chillul Shabbos. This tragedy, like so many others, should be taken as an event meant to shake us up, not a political weapon to be used to settle accounts between various government officials. At the same time, ignoring its political dimension does not mean that those who were responsible, through their negligence, for the deaths of the victims should not be taken to task. Even if there is no legal basis for pressing charges against them, moral culpability for a loss of life should be no less a burden for them to bear.

Over the past two weeks, things have been topsy-turvy in this country. Somehow, a construction project on the country’s railroad system turned into a political battleground between an impetuous prime minister and an arrogant transportation minister. Time after time, we have seen that the decision-makers in this country cannot be trusted. In fact, there are times when they make decisions that are precisely the opposite of what logic and common sense would dictate. It appears that our government ministers’ reasoning runs on a track that will never intersect with actual logic.

Incidentally, it should be noted that the explosion of the rocket took place on Shabbos as well. According to the people in the air industry, though, the launch of the rocket on Shabbos was approved by Israel’s Ashkenazic chief rabbi, Rav Dovid Lau. The rov was given access to classified material, and it was explained to him that there was a potential for pikuach nefesh. The rov examined the facts and gave his permission for any urgent tasks to be performed on Shabbos, albeit under rabbinic supervision. For that purpose, he sent a member of the military rabbinate to Florida to be present for the launch. All of this has been confirmed by the office of Rav Lau himself.

Lost and Found at the Dead Sea

Allow me to share one last story from bein hazemanim. I spent one day of the summer vacation at the Dead Sea. There is a beach at the Dead Sea that maintains separate hours for men and women, for the sake of the chareidi populace. There are buses that travel to this beach from Yerushalayim, and for a relatively low price of 65 shekels, one can take a bus to the beach, spend several hours there, and then return to Yerushalayim. This is an excellent package deal, since a person who arrives at the beach via any other form of transportation is charged an entrance fee of 50 shekels.

At the entrance to this beach, one can always find minyanim for Minchah. After all, none of the vacationers wish to find themselves “stuck” without a minyan as shekiah approaches. Upon leaving, one can also find a minyan for Maariv. At that point, though, I had no need to daven there. I could always find a minyan at the Zupnik shul.

On the day I visited the Dead Sea, both the buses and the beach itself were packed with Americans, including many yeshiva bochurim. I was somewhat surprised to discover that several of those beachgoers recognized me from photographs in the Yated, and without lying outright, I tried to avoid confirming my identity. After all, I wasn’t particularly inclined to explain to people at the Dead Sea why I had refrained from asking a particular question to Rav Yitzchok Sheiner or why I had asked a different question to Rav Yaakov Edelstein. Nor did I feel the need to be questioned about which gadol I would be interviewing for the upcoming Sukkos edition of the newspaper…

In any event, there were two interesting incidents during my visit. First, I met a young Belzer chossid who revealed to me that he lives in Texas. I was surprised to learn that there were Belzer chassidim in Texas. The man explained to me that while Texas certainly isn’t New York, one can still lead a religious life there. Interestingly, he informed me that the Belzer Rebbe had personally granted his father permission to leave Brooklyn and move to Texas, a move that he made for the sake of parnassah. I am therefore sending regards to this young man’s father from his son, and I will add that the son acted and spoke in a way that was mekadeish sheim Shomayim even at the seaside.

One more thing, which is important to me to note: I found a volume of a pocket edition of Mishnayos Maseches Bava Metzia. Based on the name written inside it, it belongs to someone named Yaakov Gershon Langsam. There are two telephone numbers in the sefer, one with the area code 732 and the other beginning with 347. I have left messages on both numbers, but no one has returned my calls. I would be pleased if anyone who knows this tzaddik, who brought his learning with him to the Dead Sea, could inform me of how to reach him, so that I can fulfill the mitzvah of hashavas aveidah.

Danger Looms in Bnei Brak

The newspapers have reported that a complete overhaul is in the works for the public transportation system in Bnei Brak. According to the reports, the plan is for the bus system to be removed from the city, and for intercity buses to be replaced by shuttles. But I will not believe that until I see it. It reminds me of the promises made by the founders of the city of Emanuel, who spoke about having a train within the city and arranging for customers to make purchases from the local supermarket through their home computers.

One of the proposed reforms in Bnei Brak is the establishment of dedicated public transportation lanes. “The municipality of Bnei Brak has accepted Mayor Rabbi Chanoch Zeibert’s recommendation to confirm the agreements for the development of public transportation lanes on various streets,” the newspapers reported. Now, it is no secret that the streets of Bnei Brak suffer from terrible traffic congestion. There are times when it takes longer to drive from the Coca Cola junction at the city’s entrance to the Itzkowitz shtiebel on Rechov Rabi Akiva than it does to drive from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak. But despite that, I feel that it is a terrible mistake to create public transportation lanes.

The problem with these lanes is that they tend to cause confusion, leading pedestrians to step into oncoming traffic, with potentially fatal consequences. The middle lane on Derech Jabotinsky near Bnei Brak, for instance, was known as “the Road of Death” and was recently abolished. The planners understood that the damage caused by the lane far outweighed any benefits it yields. In Yerushalayim, the special bus lanes on Golda Meir Boulevard and the streets that intersect with it have become death traps, especially for children who do not understand that a green light does not mean that they can cross the street all the way to the opposite side. Hundreds of accidents have taken place there over the past few years, with the most recent one last Friday, when a young driver hit a small child, injuring him severely. Let us hope that the Bnei Brak City Council will exercise care with its plans.

A Jew Never Gives Up!

Let us move on to discuss a different municipality. This past week, I met all the chareidi members of the Yerushalayim City Council at a sheva brachos for a son of one of their colleagues, Rabbi Yisroel Kellerman. Reb Yisroel is the Degel HaTorah representative in the Yerushalayim municipality, and his son, Uri Shraga, got married this past week. The festive occasion attracted a large crowd. Many find the chosson’s very name to be quite moving. He is named for his grandfather, Rav Uri Shraga Kellerman zt”l, who was one of the heads of Yeshivas Kfar Chassidim and passed away at a relatively young age.

Being a chareidi city council member anywhere in Eretz Yisroel, and especially in Yerushalayim, is a major responsibility. It means being the person who any chareidi citizen will contact for help with any of his needs. An old joke used to say that the average Israeli citizen would call the fire department if he saw a fire, but a chareidi would call Rabbi Menachem Porush. This is the way we relate to all of our public figures, and Yisroel Kellerman is considered one of the politicians with the greatest record of success in helping the public. Reb Yisroel is a person to whom any citizen can turn for help, and he has assisted thousands of individuals, as well as numerous institutions, Chassidic courts, and the like. The vast, widespread admiration he has earned came to light during the course of this simcha, both at the wedding and at the sheva brachos. I noted that Rav Yitzchok Sheiner, Rav Yaakov Hillel and Rav Boruch Soloveichik were all seated at the dais at the sheva brachos. The guests included all the members of the Yerushalayim City Council, even those who are not chareidi.

Allow me to quote a vort that was shared by the mashgiach, Rav Chaim Walkin, at the sheva brachos. The Torah states that after Hagar was expelled from Avrohom Avinu’s home, “she went and was lost in the desert of Be’er Sheva.” Rashi explains this to mean, “She returned to the idolatry of her father’s house.” Rav Walkin related, “A bochur in the yeshiva asked me what Rashi’s source for this explanation of the posuk is. How did Rashi know that Hagar returned to worshiping avodah zarah?” The answer, he explained, is based on a posuk in Sefer Devorim: “For who is a great nation that has a god who is close to it, as is Hashem, our G-d, whenever we call out to Him?” He quoted a Medrash and recounted an astounding story about the Mirrer Yeshiva in Shanghai, and he concluded, “A Jew is never in a state in which he is lost. A Jew never despairs, for Hashem is always close to him. Therefore, if Hagar left Avrohom’s home and reached the point of being ‘lost,’ it must mean that she returned to worshiping idols.”

Olmert Cites the Justices in Washington

This may sound incredible, but it is true. Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is currently serving a prison sentence in Maasiyahu Prison in Ramle, has pinned his hopes for a reversal of his sentence on a decision of the United States Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of the United States recently exonerated the governor of Virginia, who had been convicted of accepting money in exchange for certain favors. The governor was convicted in the lower courts and sentenced to prison, but the Supreme Court accepted his appeal and reversed the decision of the lower court. If I understood correctly, the court ruled that if the governor’s actions were not motivated by the money he received, then the gifts cannot be considered a bribe.

Olmert is presently appealing his own conviction and sentence. Israel’s Supreme Court has already spent months working on its decision on the subject. Olmert’s lawyers recently filed a request to add the decision of the United States Supreme Court to the documents that will be considered by the Israeli court. Of course, the attorney general’s office in Israel, which is responsible for the prosecution, is adamantly opposed to the idea. “With all due respect to the American verdict, it is diametrically opposed to Israeli law,” the state responded to Olmert’s request.

Eternal Responsibility

I am certain that many of my readers learn Daf Yomi. This past week, I learned daf 92 (yes, I am somewhat behind), where I found an idea that can be connected to Lev L’Achim, the famous kiruv organization. Lev L’Achim has been inundating the religious public with pleas to heed the call of the gedolim to take responsibility for our irreligious brethren. The organization’s motto is taken from the pasuk in Parshas Vayigash, “Ki avdecha arav es hanaar – For your servant has taken responsibility for the youth.”

Now, Lev L’Achim has no need for my advice. Nevertheless, I would suggest to them to quote the Gemara we learned. The Gemara relates that Yehudah, the person who uttered those historic words, serves as an eternal lesson of the fact that a tzaddik’s curse is always fulfilled, even if it is conditional, and a nidui pronounced by a talmid chochom also takes effect.

It is only in Parshas Vezos Habrachah that Yehudah was released from his conditional excommunication. The Gemara states (Makkos 11b), “All those forty years that the Bnei Yisroel were in the desert, Yehudah’s bones were rolling around in his coffin, until Moshe rose and davened for him. He said, ‘Master of the Universe, who caused Reuven to confess [his sin]? Yehudah! ‘And this is for Yehudah: Hashem, listen to the voice of Yehudah.’ [In response to his prayer, Yehudah’s] limbs returned to their place.” The same idea appears in the Gemara in Bava Kamma, which we learned this past week.

Rav Chaim Shmulevitz questions why Moshe Rabbeinu’s prayer invoked the fact that Yehudah inspired Rueven to confess his sin, thereby clearing his brothers of any suspicion. Wouldn’t it have been more logical for Moshe to cite the fact that Yehudah himself confessed to a sin, thereby sparing Tamar and her unborn children from death? Based on this question, Rav Chaim concludes that a person earns more merit by causing others to act virtuously than through his own good deeds. And that is a fitting message for Lev L’Achim, an organization whose entire purpose is to guide others to the path of good.

This week, I visited a shul in Yerushalayim where I observed a highly unusual duo learning together. The men appeared so different from each other that I could not imagine how they could possibly be connected. But the gabbai resolved the mystery for me. “This is a pair of chavrusos from Lev L’Achim,” he revealed. “This yungerman learns with a man from Armon Hanetziv twice a week.”

Shaarei Teshuvah in the Summer

Not long ago, Rav Don Segal visited Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman at his home. I imagine that the rosh yeshiva asked Rav Don what he has been doing in America, and Rav Don probably shared a vort related to current issues, as he is capable of doing so masterfully.

Rav Don has always divided his time between Gush Shmonim in Yerushalayim and Boro Park in New York, but over the past years, he spent his time in America. On his recent visit to Eretz Yisroel, it was only natural that he would visit Rav Shteinman. But a sharp-eyed observer drew my attention to something that was probably noticed by very few people, if any at all. “Did you see Rav Don Segal visiting Rav Shteinman?” he asked.

“I heard about it,” I replied.

“But did you see the visit?”

I admitted that I hadn’t been there.

“Did you see a picture of Rav Don with Rav Shteinman?”

“Yes,” I replied hesitantly. I will not weary you with all of our lengthy exchange, but I doubt that any of you noticed the tiny detail in the picture that caught my friend’s attention.

“There were several seforim on the table in front of them,” my astute friend pointed out. “There was a Gemara, a Chumash Devorim … and a Shaarei Teshuvah.”

I located a copy of the picture, which was widely disseminated, and I saw that he was correct. He added excitedly, “Think about it: If Rav Shteinman is already learning Shaarei Teshuvah, what does that say about what we should be doing?” In fact, Rav Don’s visit took place on the Monday before Rosh Chodesh Elul. This means that while the rest of us were all busy vacationing, Rav Shteinman was already immersed in one of Hashem’s greatest gifts to His creations – the gift of teshuvah.

In light of that, what can we say for ourselves?

Rav Aryeh’s Secret

Rav Aryeh Finkel zt”l used to spend every Pesach in Givat Shaul, at the home of his son-in-law, Rav Saar Maizel. While he was there, his son, Rav Binyomin Finkel, always endeavored to arrange a minyan for him at the Maizel home. Once, on the day after the Pesach Seder, Rav Aryeh decided to join his son-in-law at the vosikin minyan where he habitually davened, as a show of respect for his gracious host. When he returned from the lengthy davening, Rav Aryeh knew that his son would soon appear along with several of his own sons and a group of other men who had been invited to the minyan. Consequently, instead of taking a rest, the rosh yeshiva waited in the living room for the minyan to arrive. Not wanting to cause them distress by revealing that he had already davened, Rav Aryeh proceeded to move his lips and pretend to daven along with them throughout the tefillah.

When the rest of the minyan finally reached the Shemoneh Esrei, they were surprised to discover that Rav Aryeh’s siddur was still open to Pesukei Dezimrah. Rav Binyomin signaled to the other men to wait, not only out of respect for his father, but also because the minyan had been arranged solely for his sake. It wouldn’t be proper for them to begin the Shemoneh Esrei without him. There was also another, very simple reason that they could not begin the Shemoneh Esrei: Since there were only nine other men aside from Rav Aryeh, they would not have a minyan until he began the Shemoneh Esrei. The men sat and waited, each of them immersed in his own thoughts or seforim. From time to time, they glanced at Rav Aryeh’s siddur, failing to understand why he was davening at such an unusually slow pace.

Rav Aryeh himself, meanwhile, scanned the room and saw that there were only nine other men present. Since he had already davened, he didn’t want to be counted as part of the minyan for the Shemoneh Esrei, and he decided to draw out his davening until a tenth man came, even if it meant that the others would have to summon an extra participant. And so they waited: Rav Binyomin waited for his father to finish Pesukei Dezimrah and to reach Shemoneh Esrei, while Rav Aryeh waited for another man to arrive. Even as the time ticked by, Rav Binyomin remained firm in his insistence on waiting for his father, to enable him to be part of the minyan that had gathered for his benefit. Finally, two latecomers arrived, and when the two of them reached Shemoneh Esrei, Rav Aryeh “somehow” managed to catch up with them and was ready to begin as well.

One of the few people who were aware of Rav Aryeh’s secret was his granddaughter, Digla Maizel (who is known today as Rebbetzin Rauchberger). “Zaide,” she whispered to her grandfather, “why didn’t you motion to them that you had already davened?”

Rav Aryeh looked at his devoted granddaughter and smiled his famous smile. Lowering his own voice to a whisper, he said, “How could I have done that? How could I offend all those people who made the effort to come here for my sake, especially my righteous son?”

The young lady kept her grandfather’s secret to herself, but the next day her uncle astonished her. “Do you really think I didn’t know that your zaide had davened vosikin?” Rav Binyomin asked her with a smile.

“But then why did you make everyone wait and cause Zaide to have to draw out his davening?” she asked.

Rav Binyomin replied, “How could I do that? How could I cause him distress, when he worked so hard to keep it a secret so that we wouldn’t be offended?”