My Take on the News

Provisions for Pesach

Here in Israel, there are organizations in every neighborhood and city that distribute food packages to the needy in advance of the Yom Tov. Every year, we discover that there are many more needy people than we thought, as many of our friends and neighbors are not ashamed to stand in line and wait to receive packages.

In the past, the government would contribute subsidies to organizations that provided food packages. It covered only a small fraction of the cost of each package; the subsidies came out to about 10 dollars for a package worth $160. Nevertheless, it added up to a sum that was somewhat helpful to the organizations, and it was a decent amount of financial aid when compared to the government’s usual tightfistedness. In total, the government contributed about 14 million shekels to the organizations. But then, Ehud Barak came along and proclaimed that the chareidim should be given fishing rods rather than fish, so that they could learn to fish on their own. And then the Minister of Labor and Welfare decided that it was embarrassing to give actual packages of food to the needy and that they should receive vouchers for food instead. And rather than distributing the financial aid through the organizations, he added, the vouchers should be provided through the welfare departments of the various municipalities. The result was that the funding for the organizations was cancelled, and the government failed to distribute the promised vouchers. This year, there was a major uproar, and at the last minute, the Ministry of Welfare allocated the same sum that was distributed in previous years.

With that, I wish you an enjoyable Pesach. May we all absorb the spiritual influences of the chag.

 

Terror Before the Yom Tov

The government’s tight-fisted attitude is not our biggest problem. In fact, it pales in comparison to another hardship with which we are dealing: the ongoing terror attacks. In every generation, our enemies seek to destroy us. The Shin Bet knows that the terrorists’ motivation skyrockets in the period before a chag; they are particularly eager to ruin our festivities and thereby sow demoralization among the people. And that is indeed what every terror attack accomplishes. These acts of terrorism do not create fear or helplessness, but they certainly cause sadness.

It was heartrending to see the pictures of the two soldiers who were killed in a ramming attack in the Shomron, Ziv Deus and Netanel Kahalani. They were both wonderful young men. Ziv Deus lived in the settlement of Azor, near Cholon, while Netanel Kahalani was from Elyakim. We heard about the purity and sincerity of the two young victims. It was painful. The murderer had been released from an Israeli prison last year. There was also the terror attack on Rechov Hagai in the Old City of Yerushalayim, in which Adiel Kolman of Kochav Hashachar was murdered. The sight of his children reciting Kaddish was too painful to bear.

These days, we are observing intensive police activity in the Old City and throughout Yerushalayim. The police have increased their presence throughout the city. At times, there is heavy congestion on the roads for a short period of time. When this happens, one can deduce that it is the result of a warning received by the security forces of a terrorist who had set out to commit an attack. But in most cases, we are not even aware of such incidents. As we know from the famous vort on the posuk of “Praise Hashem, all the nations,” only our enemies know how often their nefarious plans are thwarted by the Master of the Universe.

For those planning to be in Yerushalayim on Pesach, let me warn you that there is extremely heavy traffic in the city because of the construction work that recently began and is scheduled to continue for the next four years. The area of the entrance to Yerushalayim has become as impassable as the center of Manhattan during rush hour.

 

Yochai Sherki and Birkas Ilanos

One of our government ministers accidentally revealed that many terror attacks that were planned in other countries were thwarted because of early warnings their governments received from sources in Israeli intelligence. Yet, despite all that, a lone terrorist was able to take a precious life. And now we must watch small children reciting Kaddish.

In truth, from a natural point of view, the problem is precisely the fact that the terrorist operated alone. The lone terrorists, who strike without coordination with any compatriots, are the ones who are capable of eluding the network of ubiquitous Shin Bet collaborators. They set out on their own to commit murder, without communicating with anyone around them, without acquiring explosive materials, and without ties to any organizations. Because of this, it is impossible to anticipate their actions. This has been the case in most of the car ramming attacks.

In Iyar 5775 (April 2015), Shalom Yochai Sherki was murdered in one such attack. He had been waiting at a bus stop to return to the community of Beit El, where he worked as a counselor in Yeshivas Bnei Tzvi, the yeshiva where he himself had learned. The Sherki family lives in the building adjacent to mine in Givat Shaul. I know the family, and I paid a shivah call after Yochai’s death. It was a time of great pain and sorrow. Yochai had raised fruit trees in their yard and always invited the neighbors to come to recite Birkas Ha’ilanos. After his murder, his parents posted a sign asking everyone who recited the brocha to have in mind that it should be an elevation for his neshomah.

 

The Police Are Waiting for Netanyahu

The police are waiting to interrogate Netanyahu again. Netanyahu is having a bit of trouble, since it has been revealed that Nir Chefetz, who was an advisor to the Netanyahus (specifically to Mrs. Netanyahu) asked Shaul Elovitch (the CEO of Bezeq and owner of the Walla news site) and his wife to erase the messages they had received on their cell phones from Sara Netanyahu. By law, that is considered obstructing an investigation, an act that may incur a penalty in its own right. Sometimes, when the police cannot find a specific crime with which to charge a suspect – for instance, in the case of the mafia – they find marginal offenses (such as tax irregularities, procedural violations, or even traffic offenses) to use as the basis for putting a person behind bars. They seem to be taking the same approach against Netanyahu. In any event, the police believe that Chefetz was instructed by Binyomin Netanyahu – or perhaps by his son Yair – to make that request of the Elovitches. According to the latest reports, Yair Netanyahu will also be interrogated.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that a driver working for the French consulate used his diplomatic papers to smuggle weapons from Gaza to areas that are under Israeli control. In other news, the Parole Commission decided to reduce Elor Azaria’s prison sentence by one-third. Azaria is now scheduled to be released on May 19. Azaria had hoped to celebrate Pesach as a free man, and his father hopes that the president will grant Azaria a modicum of extra clemency and order him released in time for Pesach.

The Israel Prize has also been in the news. One of the winners is Miriam Peretz, who lost two sons in the country’s wars. She has been widely praised, but the government was criticized for selecting her; the choice seems to imply to some that people who have lost only one child are not equally deserving of recognition. Natan Sharansky will also receive an award. After Pesach, I will discuss this issue in greater depth, and I will share a fascinating story that was told by a previous winner of the prize, Rav Ovadiah Yosef zt”l.

To me, all of these stories seem to be dwarfed by the most significant phenomenon of this time of year, the sight of yeshiva bochurim sitting and learning with great intensity despite the bein hazemanim vacation. Every year, both in Nissan and in Tishrei, I find myself inspired once again by the sight. The bochurim may be taken out of the zeman, but it seems that the zeman cannot be taken out of bochurim.

 

Olmert Settles a Score

This week, Ehud Olmert published a book that has already attracted much attention and frightened several people. Olmert, once the prime minister of this country, went on to become Prisoner No. 9032478. He was a person who stayed in the most luxurious hotels in Manhattan, who rubbed shoulders with the aristocrats of the world, and who made numerous life-and-death decisions in his position as the head of state. After all that, he was incarcerated in Maasiyahu Prison, where he became part of the rotation for menial jobs such as cooking and cleanup, and where he became subordinate to the wardens and subject to their every whim.

I first met Olmert when I was a yeshiva bochur. I was learning in the yeshiva in Beit Hakerem, and the apartment owned by the yeshiva where we slept was located in close proximity to his home.

The case of Ehud Olmert should be a lesson to everyone. No person, no matter how powerful he may be, should ever think that he is invincible. One must always maintain a sense of proportion, respecting the limits of power and resisting the temptation to become conceited. In short, even the most powerful person should always remain a human being.

In reality, although Ehud Olmert had a reputation for being arrogant and aloof, he was actually quite solicitous and dedicated to other human beings. If a friend needed help, Olmert was always there for him. He possessed a rare degree of kindness and sensitivity.

To illustrate this point, allow me to share a story. Thirty years ago, Rabbi Yossi Schwinger worked as an aide to Aryeh Deri, while the latter was serving as the director-general of the Ministry of the Interior. At that time, Reb Yossi’s father, Rabbi Naftali Hertz Schwinger, became ill and was hospitalized in Tel Aviv. The younger Schwinger remained at his father’s side at all hours of the day and night. It was a time of great hardship for the Schwinger family. One winter evening, when night arrived early, Ehud Olmert entered the hospital room. Olmert, who held the position of Minister of Health, made sure that the hospital was aware of his visit and that they would relate to the patient appropriately. He remained there for a long time, sharing the Schwinger family’s emotional burden.

And here is another story: Several months after Rebbetzin Malka Schwinger passed away (on Erev Yom Kippur in the year 5768), her son, Naftali Hertz, celebrated his bar mitzvah. Ehud Olmert was serving as prime minister. Since he was unable to attend the simcha, he invited the young man to his office, seated him at the head of the table, and conducted a “meeting” with him.

Today, Ehud Olmert is a former prison inmate and Naftali Hertz Schwinger is a charming yeshiva bochur, one of the foremost talmidim of the Yeshiva of Chevron and Yeshivas Shaarei Shemuos.

 

The Knesset Workers with Rav Grossman

The following message was circulated to the employees of the Knesset: “Dear Employees: In honor of Pesach, the Employees’ Committee invites you and your families to join in volunteering to prepare food packages for the holiday. This year, the volunteer work will be part of the ‘Holiday of Satiation’ project run by Migdal Ohr, the organization under the auspices of Rav Grossman, and will take place in the Sirkin Camp near Petach Tikvah… As you may recall, groups of employees of the Knesset volunteered in this program and others like it in previous years, and the experience left a powerful impression on the participants and the organizers. The activity will take place on Thursday, March 22, 2018, from 10:00 a.m. through 2:00 p.m. The Knesset speaker will be in attendance. Any employees who participate in this activity may count it toward four hours of their required work time. This requires filling out the attached form (on the day of the activity) and coordinating with the direct supervisor. Anyone who was scheduled for a vacation day at the time will be compensated with that portion of a day of vacation. Employees who wish to participate in the activity are asked to note whether they would like transportation from the Knesset.”

This is certainly a wonderful thing.

 

“Experts” Without Knowledge

Several newspapers have marked the end of the Knesset’s winter session by featuring overviews of the recently concluded session. This winter has certainly been an eventful time in the Knesset. There was Netanyahu’s “sour pickles” speech, in which he mocked the people who seem to have made a profession of complaining about his actions. There was the visit of Vice President Pence from America, and the punishments imposed by the Knesset committee on several members of the Knesset. There were plenty of conflicts, quarrels, difficulties, and false moves. The passage of the Supermarket Law turned out to be a process fraught with obstacles for us. Of course, the draft law was also a source of major friction. And let us not forget the ongoing battle over the Kosel.

I found myself laughing at some of the statistics that appeared in these articles. The greatest joke of all was in Yisroel Hayom, which announced that the “moral index” of the organization known as B’Tzedek positioned MK Sharren Haskel in first place, while MK Itzik Shmuli came in last. “The index analyzes 72 different socioeconomic bills that were submitted during the Knesset’s winter session,” the article explains. The selected bills, however, were merely placed on the Knesset table – and there were over 4,000 such bills.

“The B’Tzedek think tank publishes the ‘moral index,’ which is determined based on the content of bills related to the economy and society that were submitted during the Knesset’s winter session. The index awards points for 71 different bills dealing with socioeconomic matters, based on three main criteria: mutual commitment, personal responsibility, and liberty. The member of the Knesset who has led the legislative efforts in this area during the winter session is Sharren Haskel, who is situated in first place in the index, with 32 points. That is many more points than those of the two runners-up, Roi Folkman and Betzalel Smotrich. The members of the Knesset in the last place on the list are Dov Khenin and Itzik Shmuli.”

This means only that Haskel submitted bills that met with the approval of B’Tzedek’s judges. And all she did was to place the bills on the table; nothing else came of them. To make matters worse, I do not quite understand their criteria. Moreover, with all due respect to the concepts of responsibility and freedom, Haskel is the weakest and most obscure member of the Twentieth Knesset, not to mention the laziest, whereas Folkman and Smotrich are both outstanding in their diligence and seriousness. And Khenin and Shmuli are equally committed.

At the same time, I cannot really understand how anyone measures the diligence of a member of the Knesset. Is it measured through the number of speeches they deliver? Perhaps their diligence should be measured by the number of laws they propose, but there are many bills that serve absolutely no purpose. Do we measure a Knesset member’s commitment, then, by his participation in committees? There are some members of the Knesset who jump from one committee to another, basing their decisions on the media’s polls. In any event, Dov Khenin and Ro’I Folkman are two members of the Knesset who are universally viewed as being diligent.

The “social index” announced this week by the Mishmar Hachevrati (Social Guard) is equally nonsensical. This organization defines a socially active MK as one who votes for a bill that they consider socially oriented, and a non-social MK as one who votes against such a bill. But the members of the Knesset are bound by coalition discipline. Every Knesset member in the coalition is required to vote in accordance with the positions of the ministerial committee and the coalition itself. This means that the results are bound to imply that the members of the coalition are “not social,” and the members of the opposition are “social.” Yet it is an undeniable fact, as the report itself acknowledges, that Gafni and Maklev both voted against a socially oriented law on which they themselves were signed. The reason is simple: They are bound by coalition discipline, while their colleagues in the opposition are not.

Incidentally, the same report criticized many of the MKs from the opposition for failing to show up to vote on socially oriented bills. But then again, what reason is there for them to come? These bills have no chance of being passed by a majority.

There is only one fitting description for this report: fake news!

 

The Deadlock is Not the Goal

Abu Mazen has made news by assailing Ambassador David Friedman with derogatory epithets. For eight years, while Barack Obama was president, we davened for every day to pass without damage. Obama tried to force Israel to accept his positions and views, and Israel’s job was to survive. The years went by without any particular damage being done, but, of course, there was no diplomatic progress either. We are still contending with Arab violence. Now we have the Trump regime and Israel is celebrating.

I have to wonder, though, what is the reason for Israel’s jubilation. Should we be satisfied simply to allow the years to pass without suffering harm? Yitzchok Shamir was a champion at survival, but where did it get us? We are in a deadlock with the Arabs, and that is not an ideal situation at all. Abu Mazen is doing everything he can to become detested by the American regime. Here in Israel, that dynamic has engendered much excitement, but I cannot see a justification for that joy. For one thing, the situation can change at any moment.

As I pointed out, only the nations of the world know how much they have plotted against us. As the Haggadah states, it is not only one enemy who has sought to destroy us, but in every generation they have attempted to eradicate us. Incidentally, I never quite understood the way this passage is phrased. I would have understood it better if the Haggadah stated, “For not only in one generation have they risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us,” or perhaps, “For it is not only one who has risen against us to destroy us, but rather many.” The way it stands, the Haggadah contrasts two different things: It is not one enemy who has sought our destruction, but enemies in every generation.

 

Hashem Saves Us – Through Our Enemies

In the month of Iyar 5727 (1967), Rav Ovadiah Yosef related that a Jewish soldier who returned from the Sinai desert after the Six Day War had bentched Gomel with great emotion. When he was asked the reason for his brocha, the soldier explained, “When we were on the battlefield, an Egyptian shell struck our tank and the tank caught fire. We tried to escape from it, but the door had become bent by the force of the explosion, and we were unable to open it. We were trapped in a burning tank, and my friends and I began tearfully reciting Krias Shema, preparing ourselves for the worst. Then, to our surprise, another mortar hit the door of the tank, and it opened for us. We jumped out of the tank and our lives were saved.”

Rav Ovadiah said, “That is what the Haggadah means when it says that ‘Hakadosh Boruch Hu saves us from their hands.’ Hashem uses the very ‘hands’ – the actions – of our enemies in order to bring about salvation for us.”

On another occasion, Rav Ovadiah said, “As we know, during the Six Day War, the Jewish soldiers suffered from a scarcity of equipment. When they were fighting on the Syrian front, there was a severe shortage of weapons. Hashem, in His great mercy, caused the army to discover a huge cache of grenades on the Egyptian front, which the Egyptians had left behind when they fled from the Sinai desert. The soldiers took those bombs and used them against the Syrian army. This helped them destroy the Syrian fortifications. That,” he added, “is what the Haggadah means when it says that Hakadosh Boruch Hu saves us ‘from their hands’!”

 

Rav Moshe’s View on Learning with a Weak Bochur

Is a yungerman obligated to give maser of his time by learning with another yungerman who is less capable? Is a highly successful bochur obligated to learn with another bochur in his yeshiva who has trouble following a shiur klali? I have asked these questions to almost every gadol I have interviewed. The reply was always: “Of course!” How much time, I asked, should be allotted for this? The answer was that it is impossible to specify an exact amount of time, but it should ostensibly be “maaser” – one tenth of their time. Rav Yaakov Bender, the rosh yeshiva of Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway, once told me that he had received that p’sak from Rav Shmuel Berenbaum. He added that his experience has shown that when a bochur dedicates time to a weaker bochur, he himself gains from the act. It enhances his middos, it places him in a better position in shidduchim, and his Torah improves as well. This week, I discovered that Rav Moshe Feinstein was of the same opinion.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein was asked: Is a family obligated to dedicate time to a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s disease? Does it entail a mitzvah of kibbud eim? Does that obligation apply even if it will cause bittul Torah? And how much time should be given to her? The rov wrote in his response, “The doctors consider it an established fact that when others speak to a patient, it slows their decline… Regarding the family’s obligation, the mitzvah of speaking to a mother who is ill is not defined merely as kibbud. It is much more than that; it borders on pikuach nefesh.”

Rav Zilberstein, who is an expert in medical halacha, cited evidence for his contention from the Igros Moshe, where Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that a woman who was ill on Yom Kippur and who would lose her mental faculties if she fasted was permitted to eat. Even though her ailment did not pose a threat to her very life, the danger of becoming mentally incompetent also qualified as pikuach nefesh.

Regarding the amount of time that should be devoted to the cause, Rav Zilberstein noted that the Chazon Ish used to visit his mother every day and speak to her for about half an hour; he did not consider it to be bittul Torah. As for the amount of money that should be expended for that purpose, Rav Zilberstein has already written in Shiurei Torah L’Rofim that, according to most poskim, there is no obligation to spend more than one-fifth of one’s assets for this purpose. He explained that Rav Elyashiv reasoned that since the mitzvah of saving another person’s life is derived by Chazal from the mitzvah of hashovas aveidah, it is also governed by the same rules. Just as a person is not obligated to expend all of his money for the sake of returning another person’s lost object, he is also not required to give up all of his assets in order to save another life.

In his more recent teshuvah, Rav Zilberstein also cited Rav Moshe’s ruling regarding the obligation to learn with a weaker bochur or yungerman. In the relevant passage in Igros Moshe, Rav Moshe states, “I ruled that every talmid chochom, even if he is very great in his own right, is obligated to learn for at least part of his time with others as well, even if it takes away from his own Torah. I cited proof of this from the episode involving Rav Preida, who taught a talmid who had such difficulty comprehending that he was forced to teach him every subject 400 times, even though it would have been better for him to learn on his own during that time. For this, he received great reward: He lived for 400 years, and he brought his entire generation into Olam Haba. It seems logical to me that the requisite amount of time for this obligation is also maaser, one-tenth of the time that he has to learn Torah. Perhaps he can add more time, up to one-fifth. The precise shiur requires further analysis.” Based on that, Rav Zilberstein ruled that the family should devote at least one-fifth of their time to their ailing mother.

In any event, this passage reveals Rav Moshe Feinstein’s view regarding the obligation to learn with a less advanced fellow talmid. Every talmid chochom, according to Rav Moshe, must dedicate a portion of his time to others, even if it will detract from his own learning. And the shiur, Rav Moshe added, is either one-tenth of his time or one-fifth.