Two Families in Pain
On the domestic front, we have been dealing with a large number of issues this week. Probably the most agonizing issue of all is the ongoing struggle of the Goldin and Shaul families to retrieve the remains of their respective sons, Hadar and Oron Hy”d. The families are demanding that any negotiation with Hamas, even if it is covert or indirect, and even if it concerns issues such as benefits for Gaza residents at the border, must deal with the return of their sons’ bodies as well. This past week, the families petitioned the Supreme Court to support their cause. This was not their first appeal to the court, and in the past they actually succeeded in preventing the return of the body of a Palestinian terrorist. In general, the approach to Hamas has become the subject of a conflict within the government.
Another major issue this week was a disease known as leptospirosis, or “achberet” in Hebrew. No one knows exactly who invented that peculiar name, but it is a disease that is contracted from water that has been contaminated by certain bacteria. A person can contract the disease if the water enters his body through his eyes or mouth, or even through an open wound. Recently, a few people who had entered certain streams in the north appeared at Poriya Hospital in Tzefas and were found to have contracted the disease. The government immediately announced a ban on bathing in all the streams and springs in the area, and samples of the water were sent for testing. The results showed that two streams had indeed been contaminated by the disease.
This week also brought us a controversy over Major General Yair Golan. The Minister of Defense is in the process of nominating several officers in the army as candidates to succeed the current chief of staff of the IDF. One of those candidates is Yair Golan. As soon as it was announced that he was being considered for the task, Golan came under fierce attack for a number of comments he had made that exposed his left-wing views. On one occasion, he claimed that he had observed signs of racism in the State of Israel that mirrored the atmosphere in Nazi Germany before the Holocaust. His critics included disabled IDF veterans and families of terror victims. In response, others condemned Golan’s detractors, arguing that it was inappropriate to speak against a major general in the IDF. Golan’s left-wing defenders were then reminded that they themselves had once tried to disqualify Major General Dan Chalutz for the position of chief of staff on account of his extreme right-wing views, and they had even petitioned the Supreme Court against him. (The court responded by demanding clarification of his comments.) The army issued an official statement that gave backing to Golan, declaring that “the attempt to slander Major General Yair Golan is inappropriate.”
In Yitzchok’s Hall at Me’oras Hamachpeilah
The month of Elul has arrived. In honor of Rosh Chodesh Elul, the entirety of the Me’oras Hamachpeilah, including Yitzchok’s Hall, was open to Jewish visitors. During the rest of the year, Jews are allowed only limited access to the tomb – only at certain times, and only in certain areas. Several prominent admorim were among the visitors this past week, including the Rachmastrivka Rebbe and the Sadigura Rebbe.
Netanyahu Apologizes to an American Visitor
We have now learned that Prime Minister Binyomin Netanyahu flew to Cairo two months ago for a secret meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Saeed Hussein Khalil el-Sisi. The two political leaders discussed the tense situation in the Gaza strip, and the Israeli premier asked his counterpart to do everything in his power to relieve the tensions.
In other news, American journalist Peter Beinart arrived in Israel last week. Beinart, a frequent visitor to Israel, came to the country for his niece’s bas mitzvah celebration. Upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, he was taken into a side room and questioned by officers of the Shin Bet regarding his views and his intentions on his visit. The incident led to a firestorm of criticism, to the point that the prime minister himself was forced to apologize to Beinart. But even that apology seems to have been ineffective, since the chorus of criticism continued even afterward. Ron Lauder issued his own protest, and it also came to light that Beinart is not the only person who has been subjected to such treatment.
Incidentally, Netanyahu has been questioned by the police yet again. Some claim that this was the last time, and that the police will now review the material they have collected and arrive at their conclusions.
Meanwhile, Arab terrorists are still continuing their efforts to murder Israelis. Last week, a Palestinian armed with a knife was apprehended near the settlement of Elon Moreh.
Scenes from the First Day of the Zeman
At the beginning of the zeman, I visited two yeshivos, Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu in Bnei Brak and the Radin Yeshiva in Netanya. Two of my sons learn at Bais Mattisyahu, and I brought them to the yeshiva for the beginning of the zeman. I also visited Radin late at night in order to offer some encouragement to a neighbor who has left home for the first time; he has just made the transition from yeshiva ketanah to yeshiva gedolah.
Photographer Shuki Lehrer presented a breathtaking gallery of photographs that he took at Bais Mattisyahu on the first day of the zeman. The photos depicted a bais medrash packed with yeshiva bochurim who had arrived to immerse themselves in the atmosphere of Elul. The talmidim of the yeshiva are blessed with the finest possible tools for spiritual growth. They learn under the guidance of Rav Boruch Weisbecker, the rosh yeshiva. Rav Boruch alone carries the full weight of the yeshiva and its talmidim on his shoulders and in his heart.
Shuki Lehrer’s camera seems to have a life of its own. It captures talmidei chachomim toiling earnestly over their learning, and it immortalizes world-class gedolim in moments of glory. Shuki visited Bais Mattisyahu to take pictures during the shiur klali, and I found myself enthralled by the images. The photographs seem to have captured the Torah itself, depicting the bochurim’s avid interest and thirst for spiritual growth. The photographs also show the upstairs gallery that was built in the bais medrash when the number of talmidim in the yeshiva swelled to the point that the ground floor could no longer accommodate them all.
I asked Lehrer why he had chosen Bais Mattisyahu. He explained that he had recently become aware of the fact that the yeshiva was a bastion of Torah learning upheld by a single, very unique individual. “I consider it a source of merit to draw the public’s attention to a massive makom Torah of this nature,” he said.
I arrived at Bais Mattisyahu on the same day, shortly before Lehrer’s visit, and I found myself sharing the excitement of the new talmidim who were taking their first hesitant steps in the yeshiva. They were well aware of the difficult yet wondrous journey that awaited them, an experience that promised to usher them into a life of sublime joy. They were prepared to contend with the challenges that lay in store for them as well.
This week, I attended a simcha celebrated by a former talmid of the yeshiva, who went on to establish several learning programs, including a Friday kollel and a kollel for Motzoei Shabbos. Wherever they go, the talmidim of Bais Mattisyahu tend to stand out.
A Magnificent Yeshiva in the Heart of Netanya
When I tried to find my way to the Radin Yeshiva in Netanya, my Waze device insisted at first that it was a journey of 2,695 kilometers. You see, it was identifying my destination as the town of Radin in Belarus! Finally, I managed to convince it to direct me to the yeshiva in Netanya, and it changed its tune. The drive became a 70-kilometer trip to the yeshiva located on Rechov Rav Yosef Elyashiv, in Kiryat Radin in Netanya.
When I arrived at my destination, I could not believe my eyes. The yeshiva complex was breathtaking in its beauty, and everything about it was remarkably well maintained – the air conditioning, the furnishings, the dormitory rooms, the cleanliness, and the wonderful atmosphere. It was clear that the yeshiva is overseen by someone who cares deeply about the talmidim, who pours his heart and soul into the institution and wishes to give the bochurim everything they need in order to scale great spiritual heights. The bais medrash was filled with energy as the bochurim’s voices blended together to form a loud, intense roar.
The Radin Yeshiva runs under the aegis of Rav Ovadiah Broide and Rav Michoel Gugig. As I mentioned, I know one of the new talmidim, a fine young man who had left his childhood home for the first time, like all of his peers in shiur alef, and was dealing with the usual sense of trepidation. The yeshiva is learning Makkos; the iyun seder is dedicated to the first perek, while the talmidim are learning the second perek during their bekius seder. I spoke with several of the bochurim, and I found myself captivated by the yeshiva’s charm. When I arrived, the third seder was just drawing to a close, but the bochurim were not in a rush to leave. On the contrary, every moment in the bais medrash infused them with delight.
Hypocrisy in Municipal Ordinances
Aryeh Deri, the Minister of the Interior, recently rejected a request submitted by five municipal governments that had attempted to pass ordinances permitting businesses to operate on Shabbos. The law requires the Minister of the Interior to approve any municipal bylaw before it can go into effect. As a result, Deri’s veto stopped these ordinances in their tracks. The five cities in question were Modiin, Rishon Letzion, Givatayim, Herzliya, and Cholon. Deri’s refusal to approve the bylaws was loudly protested by many critics, the most vocal of whom was Chaim Bibas, who spoke out in his capacity as chairman of the Union of Local Authorities of Israel. Bibas was undoubtedly biased on the subject, since he also serves as the mayor of Modiin.
I was shocked at the arguments that were voiced against Deri’s decision. The director-general of the Ministry of the Interior had already explained that the bylaws did not meet the legal criteria for validity. For instance, in order for a municipal bylaw permitting chillul Shabbos to be approved, the law states that there must be a vital need for the Shabbos desecration. The five cities did not prove that there was any vital need for permitting chillul Shabbos. Therefore, they did not meet the basic criteria for their ordinances to pass. But none of that is of any interest to the critics of the Minister of the Interior. As far as they are concerned, some laws are sacrosanct, but others are fair game to be violated or ignored.
But that is not all. These city governments hurried to enact the bylaws because the Knesset is in the process of finalizing a law that will prohibit them from doing just that. That law has already passed its initial reading, and the legislative process is nearing its conclusion. Thus, the local governments themselves are trying to circumvent a law that is on the verge of passing. Why shouldn’t the Minister of the Interior put them in their place?
I am not even addressing the issue of the sanctity of Shabbos. We all know the Chofetz Chaim’s parable about a store whose owner had fallen upon hard times and was struggling to keep his business open: As long as the sign remained over the door, everyone knew that the store was still functioning, but when the sign was removed, it was clear that it had gone out of business. Likewise, the Chofetz Chaim explained, Shabbos is our “sign”; if Shabbos observance is lost, then our identity as a people is lost as well. The members of these municipal governments do not understand that concept, but even through the prism of their own secular views, their actions should be deemed improper and hypocritical. Why are they not ashamed to admit that they feel free to make a mockery of certain laws of the land?
Palestinian Flags in Tel Aviv
It is amazing how the tables are constantly being turned against Prime Minister Netanyahu. Even when he does something good – certainly from his perspective as the leader of the Likud party – he comes under attack from every direction. Such was the case when the Druse were recruited in an effort to oust him from his position of power.
At the same time, Netanyahu sometimes benefits from things for which he was not responsible at all. When Netanyahu does nothing, Trump manages to boost his esteem. Who would have ever believed that the United States would wage an economic war against Iran on Israel’s behalf?
Likewise, another protest against the Nationality Law was held in Tel Aviv this past week, this time with Palestinian flags being brandished by the demonstrators, and the result was a dramatic reversal in the situation. Those few flags accomplished something that a thousand political advisors could not figure out how to do. The left was forced to lay down its political weapons, after its true leanings were exposed to the public. Min hashomayim, they had joined forces with the enemies of Israel and thereby destroyed much of their own credibility.
There is much mussar to be learned from the events that are befalling Israel as a whole and Netanyahu in particular.
Meretz Stands Up for the Eidah Hachhareidis
MK Mossi Raz of the Meretz party sent the following query to the Minister of Defense: “The Eidah Hachhareidis is an anti-Zionist chareidi community founded on opposition to the State of Israel and the idea of Jewish sovereignty in the Holy Land before the arrival of Moshiach. Since the inception of the state, the members of the Eidah Hachareidis have led their lives with as much separation as possible from the institutions of the state. They do not vote in elections, they refuse to accept government funding for their yeshivos, and they refrain from using the official religious services or institutions of the state. The separatist lifestyle and theological views of the members of the Eidah Hachareidis, with respect to the rest of the chareidi world as well, has an impact on their enlistment in the IDF, which their community considers an act that is prohibited to the point that they must give up their lives to avoid it. Despite that, the youths of the Eidah Hachareidis are not granted a legal exemption from the obligation of military service on the grounds of conscientious objection. Therefore, they are forced to choose between a criminal sentence in military prison and violating the dictates of their consciences. This is an abrogation of Israel’s commitment to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (paragraphs 18 and 27). In order to resolve this issue, the Committee of Members of the Old Yishuv appealed to the Ministry of Defense to grant a blanket exemption from the draft to the members of this community and to meet with representatives of the Eidah Hachareidis, but that request was denied.
“These are the questions: 1. Why is the ministry refusing to meet with the representatives of the Committee of Members of the Old Yishuv, and why was no meeting held with representatives of the Eidah Hachareidis before the completion of amendment 23 to the draft law? 2. Why doesn’t the IDF consider a person’s membership in the Eidah Hachareidis community, and a lifestyle in accordance with their unique theological views, to be sufficient justification for exemption from military service? 3. What sort of training process did the members of the military Conscience Committee undergo to make them qualified to assess the requests of the members of the Eidah Hachareidis for an exemption for reasons of conscience? 4. How are the Ministry of Defense and the army prepared to deal with a youth from the Eidah Hachareidis who claims that he cannot serve in the army because of the dictates of his conscience?”
The deadline for the minister’s response to this query has passed, but the Minister of Defense has not yet submitted his reply. I will try to monitor the situation and to inform you when the response arrives. I will be very interested in reading his reply. In any event, I am sure you agree that this parliamentary question – in light of both its content and the identity of the questioner – is very interesting indeed.
In Memory of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l
This past week marked the seventieth yahrtzeit of Rav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz zt”l. Rav Shraga Feivel, who passed away at the beginning of Elul 5708/1948, was one of the most pivotal builders of the Torah world in America. He began his life’s work in Pennsylvania, where he established a Jewish community of Hungarian immigrants and tried unsuccessfully to open a yeshiva. After the First World War, he returned to Europe to help his family emigrate. His ultimate intent was to bring them to Eretz Yisroel after a temporary stay in America. This time, he settled in Williamsburg, where his first order of business was to open a newspaper, Dos Yiddishe Licht. He knew that he had to give the American Jews an alternative to the non-Jewish newspapers. Chazzan Yossele Rosenblatt helped him raise the funds that he needed to launch the newspaper. His next move was to establish Kesher Chizuk Hadas, an organization in which all the gedolim of America were members. He later went on to found Mesivta Torah Vodaas.
Last week, in honor of his yahrtzeit, a number of documents from the archives of Agudas Yisroel in Yerushalayim (the offices of Rabbi Menachem Porush zt”l) were published, including correspondence between Rav Shraga Feivel and Rabbi Meir Porush, father of Rav Menachem Porush (whose grandson and namesake serves as the deputy housing minister in Israel today) and the most senior askan in Agudas Yisroel in Yerushalayim at the time. The letters reveal that Rav Shraga Feivel helped facilitate the founding of various Torah institutions in Yerushalayim. In a letter written to Rav Shraga Feivel’s family after his passing, Rabbi Porush included a picture of one of the Talmudei Torah that were founded in his name.
Rav Shraga Feivel once said that in order to succeed in being a kosher Jew and ben Torah in America, one must be armed with genuine mesirus nefesh. He also taught that it was necessary to learn Torah with the same intensive effort and exacting analysis as a scholar in Lithuania, to daven and serve Hashem with the same fervor and joy as the chassidim of Europe, to have the same dedication to the detailed observance of mitzvos as the Jews of Hungary, to toil over one’s own character refinement as the giants of mussar did, and to excel in politeness and good manners like the followers of Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch. His good friend, Rav Aharon Kotler, once commented that Rav Shraga Feivel himself embodied this blend of positive attributes. It has been said that Rav Shraga Feivel was the reason that Torah was not forgotten in America.
The Child’s Cry
Rav Moshe Goldstein, the rosh yeshiva of Ayeles Hashachar (the yeshiva formerly known as Shaarei Yosher), presented the following beautiful parable to explain the meaning and significance of the shofar: The son of a king once went astray. It did not happen all at once, nor did he commit the most heinous sins. At first, he began committing minor improprieties. In short, he had embarked on a gradual process that was bound to lead him down a slippery slope and into an abyss from which he might never emerge. Over time, his descent continued. He traded in his royal garb for the rags worn by the lower class, and his behavior steadily deteriorated. He barely realized that he had traded his royal status for the life of a vagabond. His callous disregard for the finer points of proper behavior had slowly led him to even more grievous misdeeds, and he was now wallowing in the lowliest conduct imaginable. His father, though, remained loving and concerned for his precious son.
Years went by, and while the king remained in the royal palace, his son drifted ever further from his royal origins. He became a glutton and a drunkard and turned into a highwayman, paying no heed to his prestigious lineage and his father, and even forgetting the language of his childhood. One day, when he had descended into the depths of corruption, the prince was caught while lying in ambush to attack an innocent traveler. The police placed him in jail to await his trial, and the prince and his friends knew all too well that he was bound to be sentenced to death, in accordance with the laws of the land. The prince was brought before the judges, who heard the charges against him and listened as he pleaded for them to spare his life. When he claimed that he was the prince, they laughed derisively. “Do you think you can delude us into believing that you are the king’s son?” they demanded, and the prince was sentenced to be hanged.
According to the country’s laws, anyone who was facing execution on the gallows was permitted one final request. “Bring me to the royal palace, my father’s home,” the prince begged.
The judges considered the bizarre request and finally agreed. The prisoner would be shackled and transported on a horse-drawn wagon to the gate of the royal palace. He would then be brought back to the region where he had committed his crimes, and he would meet his death on the gallows.
“What good will it do you to see the gates of the palace?” the guards asked the prince as they traveled. The prince, who was deep in thought, did not respond.
When they finally arrived at the palace, the prince cried out for his father’s help. However, since he was speaking a foreign language, no one could understand him, and his pleas went unanswered. Finally, he let out one last, desperate cry, calling out for his father as he had done when he was a child: “Totty!”
When the king heard this cry, he was seized by emotion. For so many years, he had yearned to hear his child crying out to him, and now that familiar voice was echoing from outside the gates of his palace. It was a tone that was used only by his beloved son; his only child, who had turned his back on his father so many years earlier, had finally returned. The king hurried out to his balcony to identify the source of the cry, and he was overjoyed to find that it was indeed his son who was calling out to him. He ordered his servants to bring the boy to him, and he hurried down to the courtyard, holding his arms out wide. “My beloved son!” the king cried. “I am here!”