My Take on the News

Sukkos Touches Every Jewish Heart

Sukkos is here, along with Hoshanah Rabbah and Simchas Torah, and we have no need for polls and surveys in order to gauge the level of Jewish life in Israel. We see the masses of Jews streaming to the arba minim markets to select lulavim and esrogim. These are people who have no concept of the halachos of the arba minim or their spiritual significance. All they know is that their fathers in Morocco, Iraq, Tunis, Yemen, Georgia, and many other places in the Diaspora went to extraordinary lengths to fulfill this mitzvah. As a result, they keep up the sacred practice and spend large sums of money to procure the arba minim. And these are people who do not even wear yarmulkas on ordinary days.

Then there is the scene on Sukkos itself. All of the cities in Israel – not just the religious ones – are filled with a dazzling variety of sukkahs.

There is no other country that suspends its own laws during the holiday of Sukkos. Municipal inspectors do not issue tickets to cars that are parked in illegal spaces, since the regular parking spaces are occupied by sukkahs. Even the sidewalks are fair game. The Yerushalayim municipality notifies the public in advance that sukkahs may be built anywhere, including on public property. I don’t know if there is anything democratic about this, but it is befitting a Jewish state.

On Chol Hamoed, if you visit the Kosel, you will see a cross-section of the entire Jewish people. This is the Jewish people in all their glory. At Hakafos Shniyos, you can find Jews who appear to be far removed from Yiddishkeit, yet who will embrace and kiss a Sefer Torah with the greatest awe and passion and will dance until their energy has been depleted.

Then there are the yungeleit with their rabbinic frocks. In Eretz Yisroel, it is customary on the shalosh regalim for yungeleit to wear the frocks that they wore at their weddings. It is amazing to behold their expressions of ethereal joy as they stride through the streets, clad in their distinguished-looking frocks and clutching their arba minim. That sight alone is enough to instill joy in every heart. The Yom Tov milieu in Eretz Yisroel is the basis of a humorous explanation I once offered for the fact that Hashem added an eighth day to the festival on the grounds that “your departure is difficult for Me”: He saw how difficult it is for the yungeleit to part with their Yom Tov frocks and to slip back into their ordinary weekday garb, and He decided to add the holiday of Shemini Atzeres to the end of Sukkos.

The holiday of Sukkos is a wondrous time. Chazal tell us that it is a time of “simcha yeseirah,” and the festive atmosphere in Israel bears that out. Let us daven that the impact of this Yom Tov season will remain with us throughout the coming year and that tof shin ayin tes will become a year of ayin tovah.

 

Emunah, Teshuvah, Refuah, and Geulah

In the spring of 1995, I found myself in Boro Park in the company of Rav (and Professor) Pinchos Weiss zt”l, father of the famed dayanim Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Weiss and Rav Yitzchok Aryeh Weiss. Rav Pinchos had traveled to America for medical treatment and was staying in the Park House Hotel. I spent hours with him in the hotel lobby, and I learned a tremendous amount. He spoke to me about many things that he had seen and heard in his encounters with gedolim of the previous generation. He was blessed with a phenomenal memory and was a man of exceptional character, who was known in particular for his outstanding wisdom.

Rav Pinchos informed me that he had met the Gerrer Rebbe thanks to my grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev Yaakovson, who was one of the leaders of Agudas Yisroel and the right-hand man of Rav Yaakov Rosenheim. “It was in the year 1929. I was 20 years old, and I was learning in Pressburg, which was about 20 miles from the city of Vienna, where Agudas Yisroel was holding its convention. I had gone with a few other bochurim to see the gedolei hador at the Knessia Gedolah. Rav Meir Shapiro and Rav Elchonon Wasserman were there. What Jewish person could pass up the opportunity to see them? On Shabbos afternoon, I wanted to meet the Gerrer Rebbe, and I waited outside his door for a long time, but the gabbaim did not allow me to enter. After all, why should they permit a young bochur to meet the gadol hador? But then your grandfather, Rav Binyomin Zev, arrived, and they greeted him enthusiastically. Of course, he was allowed into the Gerrer Rebbe’s room without delay – and when he went inside, I snuck in with him.”

He also sought a brocha from Rav Binyomin Fuchs, the rov of Grosswardein, which was the town where his family lived. Rav Fuchs, who had also come to the Knessia Gedolah, was a renowned orator, and Rav Weiss recalled the response he had given when he was asked why the rov of Carei – who later became known as the Divrei Yoel of Satmar – did not attend the convention.

What is most relevant to us is an incredible vort that he shared with me at the time. The word “sheleimah,” Rav Weiss pointed out, is used in reference to four things: emunah sheleimah, teshuvah sheleimah, refuah sheleimah, and geulah sheleimah. All four of these things must be complete in order to have any meaning; there is no such thing as a redemption, or teshuvah, or healing that is almost complete. Above all, having partial emunah is essentially the same as having no faith at all; emunah must be complete and unblemished. These four things – emunah, teshuvah, refuah, and geulah – are represented by an acronym, the word “esrog,” for the requirements for the kashrus of an esrog are just as stringent. If even a tiny portion of an esrog is missing, it is completely disqualified. Likewise, if a person’s emunah is lacking even one iota, he is considered a full-fledged heretic.

 

Strengthening Our Emunah

Rav Shimshon Pincus recounted an incident that occurred on a trip abroad, when he delivered a lecture on the subject of emunah. His audience was riveted to his presentation, and one man in particular seemed mesmerized by his words. After the address, the man approached Rav Pincus to tell him how much he had enjoyed the shiur and how it had altered his perspective.

“Did you understand what I said?” Rav Pincus asked him.

“I understood everything except for one word,” the man replied. “What did you mean when you kept referring to ‘Hashem’?”

I remember a shmuess that I heard from my rosh yeshiva in Yeshivas Beit Hakerem, Rav Yisroel Kleiner zt”l. Rav Yisroel vividly described a young boy sitting beneath a table and imagining that he is driving a car. The rosh yeshiva described how the boy would pull the tablecloth down behind him and on either side of him, leaving only the space in front of him exposed so that he could see where he was “going.” He would then take a pot cover to serve as the “steering wheel,” he would close the imaginary doors of the car and pretend to open its windows, and he would embark on his “drive” from Yerushalayim to Bnei Brak. The child in this analogy will actually believe that he is on the road. If anyone attempts to step in front of him, he will explode with anger at them for “blocking” his way.

“That is the power of the imagination,” the rosh yeshiva told us. Then he asked, “What happened to that power when we became adults?” And he proceeded to answer his own question: “It is still with us. Sometimes, we imagine that we have emunah.”

This week, I received a copy of a sefer titled Sichos Nefesh. This sefer deals with all the doubts, questions and uncertainties that sometimes plague even believing Jews. What is emunah? Does it mean to have “knowledge” of Hashem’s existence? What does it mean to be a believing person? Is it possible – and perhaps even obligatory – to study the concept of emunah? How does one internalize it? Over the course of 32 chapters, the author of this sefer presents a detailed, clearly elucidated approach to the subject of emunah. Most of the book is written in the form of questions and answers. Every aspect of the topic is addressed and clearly delineated. With his tremendous experience, the author of this sefer understands how to equip every Jew with the tools that will enable him to answer all of these questions.

I doubt that there is a person who has never been plagued by doubts or uncertainties and has never felt that he is in need of direction. This sefer deals with topics such as the question of “tzaddik vera lo,” the principle that Hashem has no corporeal nature, and the fact that He transcends the limits of time. Sichos Nefesh sheds light on these subjects not only for the benefit of those who live in spiritual darkness, but even for the most devoutly religious, believing Jews. I certainly cannot do justice to describing the greatness of the author, Rav Moshe Goldstein, the rosh yeshiva of Ayeles Hashachar (formerly Shaarei Yosher) in Yerushalayim, who has taught many talmidim over the course of decades. Rav Moshe has prodigious experience helping his talmidim cleanse their souls and equipping them with the answers to the many questions that trouble them on the subject of emunah. He feels that our generation is in need of reinforcement for its faith, and this sefer is part of his effort to provide that reinforcement.

 

Threatening the Court

Sometimes, a jurist will make the harshest possible statement, but he will camouflage it in pleasant words that serve to mask its sting. Lawyers tend to be experts at verbal acrobatics. The recent statement made by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked to the judges of the Supreme Court, after we peel away all the gracious compliments and other pleasant words, boils down to a simple message: “You have been warned. If you dare to disqualify the Nationality Law, it will mark the end of your power. This time, there will be no gimmicks. If you try to overstep your authority, then you will be stripped of power!”

To be honest, even her actual words were quite sharp: “The dimming of the people’s image in the decisions of the Supreme Court is the culmination of a long process that has been taking place in the State of Israel over the past few decades and has changed its regime beyond recognition… From the familiar system of representative democracy, in which the nation is the master that designs its own laws through its representatives, Israel has been moving to a different system. This is a system that distorts the power of the people… The judges have begun detaching themselves from the law that exists and have come to see themselves as the designers of the law that they desire. Instead of its mission of interpreting the law, the court has turned itself into maker of policy.” She went on to assert that the Supreme Court had essentially carried out a “putsch” and had seized control of the country. “Judicial review of a Basic Law is an earthquake – not only legally, but also politically. It is an earthquake that will shake the regime,” she proclaimed.

Two days later, Shaked commented in an interview, “The Supreme Court is no longer a branch of the Meretz party.”

Her comments did not go unchallenged. MK Benny Begin denounced her statements as absurd. Dorit Beinish, the former chief justice of the Supreme Court, was seething with rage. “The minister doesn’t understand what democracy is,” she railed. “These are phrases that she has taken from other systems of government. Her comments are extreme and are detached from reality. She has crossed a red line.”

Beinish is not the only one who felt that Shaked had overstepped her bounds. Many agreed that it is improper to threaten judges while they are in the process of formulating a ruling. Nevertheless, most of the public supports Shaked’s comments.

 

Hundreds of Recordings

Shaked’s comments were made at a legal convention in Tel Aviv. The same convention was also addressed by members of the Ministry of Justice who are dealing with the investigations concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu. One of those speakers predicted that the decisions on those cases will be made in the beginning of 2019. He revealed that the investigations are taking longer than expected because one of the state witnesses, Nir Hefetz, provided the authorities with dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of recordings that were relevant to the case. According to the deputy attorney general, it was necessary to listen to all of the recordings, which amounted to hundreds of hours.

The speaker also disagreed with the argument that the investigations will have to be halted if the country goes to elections. He asserted that the same thing happened when Ehud Barak ran for the office of prime minister. He was under investigation even during the election campaign. The investigation, which found no reason to prosecute Barak, came to an end only after a new government was established.

 

An Interview with Ambassador Friedman

I would be remiss if I did not include a few words in this column about Yisroel HaYom’s recent interview with Ambassador David Friedman, held in honor of the new year. The newspaper, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, has a special relationship with the Trump administration. The chief editor, Boaz Bismuth, has already been granted two exclusive interviews with the president. In any event, David Friedman dropped a bombshell during his interview: He announced that America plans to recognize the Golan Heights as part of Israel.

The Golan Heights is an area that Israel conquered from Syria in 1967 and that Syria still perceives as its own territory. Now enjoying the support of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the Syrian government plans to invade the territory. It is a very complicated issue, and if America is taking a stance on the subject, it certainly has major significance. Friedman’s statement, which was made in the course of a much longer interview, was quoted by the media throughout the world, including the United States and the Arab countries.

The interviewer himself was clearly enamored with Friedman. In fact, the ambassador has become beloved by the entire Israeli public. The interview took place in Friedman’s office in the embassy in Yerushalayim.

 

Friedman Has No Doubt: Trump Will Be Reelected

During the interview, Friedman spoke eloquently. It was a vivid demonstration of the care with which a diplomat chooses his words and the skill with which he evades difficult questions. It also served to illustrate the power of a single word. At two points during the interview, it became clear that a single wrong word could change the entire meaning of a statement.

The first inaccuracy was revealed when Friedman was asked if Trump had indeed made the statement that has been attributed to him – that Israel will pay a “high price” for the transfer of the United States embassy to Yerushalayim. Friedman corrected the interviewer: “The president didn’t say that it would be a high price. Pay attention to his words. He said ‘a higher price.’” In other words, Israel might be expected to make more concessions in the course of a peace agreement. Friedman added with a laugh, “In this region, when you use the phrase ‘a high price,’ it sounds very bad, since you [Israel] tend to threaten the Arabs that they will pay a high price if they continue attacking.”

Meanwhile, Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy for Middle East affairs, clarified that America does not intend to “collect a price” from Israel for the transfer of the embassy to Yerushalayim. In addition, the United States has made another move that is connected to us: The Palestinian mission in Washington has been closed.

The interviewer also asked Friedman about a statement made by John Bolton, the National Security Advisor, that there is no discussion of America recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. If that were the case, it would mean that the United States has adopted a pro-Russian stance that should be a source of great concern to the citizens of Israel. Friedman replied, “Bolton said only that America isn’t considering recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights at this time. That was a simple statement of fact. The issue is not one of the things that is happening right now. That doesn’t mean that America isn’t prepared to consider it or that America doesn’t support it. It just means that it is not a matter of priority on the current agenda in Israeli-American relations.”

When he was asked about his government’s position on the issue itself, Friedman responded at great length, commenting that he could not imagine a situation in which the Golan Heights would not be a part of Israel. That is what sparked the diplomatic firestorm. But the point that should interest us is that John Bolton did not actually say that America would not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan. In fact, according to the ambassador, the opposite is true.

Friedman made several other comments that are worthy of quoting. Regarding Iran, he remarked, “It is the most dangerous and largest state in the world that finances terror.” He described China as a “major rival on issues of trade,” and when he was asked if the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia, he replied, “The special prosecutor has been working for a very long time, millions of dollars have been wasted, and there is no proof that it actually happened.” He also asserted that he has no doubt that Trump will be reelected in 2020.

 

Almost One Million Tourists from America

As the year 5778 drew to a close, the media reported that there was a 20-percent increase in the volume of tourism in contrast to the year 5777. This was a very encouraging statistic, which was bound to result in the Minister of Tourism giving himself a pat on the back. He proudly announced that 5778 was the best year for tourism in Israel since the country was founded, and that the number of tourists visiting Israel this year surpassed the previous record. In that, he is correct.

Although I hate to ruin a party, I believe that this increase was part of an upward trend that was taking place in any event. In 5775, there were 2.71 million tourists, and in 5776 the country was visited by 2.93 million tourists. The figure increased to 3.26 million in 5777, and then to 3.9 million in 5778. To make a long story short, it wasn’t just the year 5778 that set a record for tourism. Each of the preceding years also saw the volume of tourists reach a level that was unprecedented. Tourism is simply on the rise in Israel, and probably throughout the world as well. It is simply one of many phenomena that are increasing, along with technological advancements, crime rates, car purchases, birth rates, and global consumption.

There is one thing about which Yariv Levin, the Minister of Tourism, is correct: There is a connection between marketing and the number of tourists visiting Israel. This is very logical: If a tourist in Poland, for instance, is debating between different options for his vacation, it stands to reason that an advertisement about a mega-vacation in Israel is likely to sway him in that direction.

In any event, the largest number of tourists came from the United States (810,000, an increase of 15 percent over the previous year), France (318,000), Russia (315,000), Germany (248,000), and Poland (146,000). There were two other interesting statistics in the report, as well: The month with the largest number of tourists from France was that of Elul, and the period of the longest average stay for tourists – over 12 days – was during the Yomim Tovim in the month of Tishrei. It certainly seems that a large percentage of the tourists visiting Israel are religious. The Jews of France are religious or traditional, and the Reform Jews of America do not seem to be the ones coming to Israel. That should be some food for thought for the Ministry of Tourism and should guide it in selecting its target audience.

 

A Pact Between Two Hospitals

We are familiar with the concept of twin cities. Recently, this idea was expanded to include hospitals as well, as Sinai Hospital of Baltimore and Maayanei Hayeshuah Hospital of Bnei Brak signed an agreement to become sister institutions.

According to Maayanei Hayeshuah, the two hospitals have a number of commonalities. Each has about 400 inpatient beds.

The agreement was celebrated at a special ceremony that took place at the hospital in Bnei Brak and was attended by a delegation from Baltimore headed by Dr. Jonathan Ringo, the hospital director. Another doctor from Baltimore, Dr. Lerner, an expert in emergency medicine, has visited Maayanei Hayeshuah’s emergency room several times and has even treated patients there. The emergency room at Maayanei Hayeshuah deals with approximately 85,000 cases every year.

Maayanei Hayeshuah will soon be sending a delegation of its own to visit its counterpart in Baltimore. The doctors hope to return with additional knowledge in the field of emergency medicine.

 

Horses Join the Police Force

I recently read that Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan has introduced a law that would give any living creature serving in the police force the same status as a police officer. If this law is passed, a protestor who strikes a police horse will receive the same sentence that is imposed for assaulting a police officer – four years in prison. I would presume that the severity of the punishment would increase if the offender attacks a more high-ranking horse…