My Take on the News

Tragedy in Beitar Illit

This past week has been a painful time here in Eretz Yisroel. First and foremost, there was a terrible tragedy in Beitar Illit, in which the lives of the Ginsburg family were turned upside-down in a matter of moments. The Ginsburgs’ two-year-old son, Tzviki, and his five-year-old sister, Efrat, perished in a tragic fire. Every levayah is painful, but the levayah of these two small children was absolutely heartrending. The sight of their tiny bodies wrapped in talleisos and the two small graves in which they were , was utterly devastating. At the end of the week, a video was released in which their mother addressed the public. One of her requests was for the community to help the family recover from the tragedy. In addition to the loss of life, their home and all of their belongings were destroyed. “We have nowhere to go back to,” the mother said in her appeal to her listeners. “Please help me fulfill my promise to my surviving children that I will continue raising a happy family.” Listening to the mother was enough to make me burst into tears.

The Ginsburgs are grandchildren of the famed mashgiach Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l.

Rav Moshe Dovid Adler, the rov of their kehillah, Kehillas Bnei Torah, was shocked and grieving when he delivered his hesped. “This is a message for all of us to change,” he said. “We do not have the wherewithal to grasp this terrible tragedy, but it is clear that it places a major obligation on all of us to engage in introspection and to conduct a cheshbon hanefesh.”

This tragic episode led to some very harsh condemnations of the fire department. There has been much discussion about whether the firefighters arrived on the scene quickly enough, and whether they handled the situation appropriately. Some have said that the firefighters arrived quickly, but they had the wrong address. The other three Ginsburg children were saved by neighbors and other volunteers, while the firefighters were either fearful, weak or confused. This isn’t to say that it will help the Ginsburgs if some of the firemen are dismissed from the department, and, of course, we believe that everything that happens is decreed in Shomayim.

 

Levayah of Shlomo Efrati

Unfortunately, that was not the only piece of bad news this week. On Thursday, a Jewish man standing at a traffic intersection in the Shomron – Tzomet Hamaskit, between Har Bracha and Itamar – was stabbed by a terrorist. The terrorist managed to escape by car. I project that the army will investigate the incident and discover that the soldiers were ineffective in their response. A 26-year-old woman was lightly wounded when they fired at the terrorist.

Another levayah this week was that of Shlomo Efrati, a son of Rav Yosef Yekusiel Efrati, the right-hand man of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l. Shlomo endured many long years of suffering before his petirah last Wednesday. The levayah was held late at night, in keeping with the custom in Yerushalayim to avoid delaying a burial, and was even attended by Rav Chaim Kanievsky.

Rav Efrati is the head of the Bais Medrash L’Halacha and is considered the foremost expert on the halachos pertaining to Eretz Yisroel. He also runs a large kollel and is one of the poskim of the Degel HaTorah party. At home, meanwhile, he cares for his sick children.

Many years ago, I was asked by the administration of Ezer Mizion to organize a symposium for the counselors at a summer camp for children with special needs. I came up with a creative idea: The panel members could be two prominent public figures who had served as close attendants of the gedolei hador and could share their memories of those experiences – Yaakov Litzman, who had been a shamash of the Gerrer Rebbe, and Rav Efrati, who was known for serving Rav Elyashiv. (This took place when Rav Elyashiv was still alive.) However, I told Rabbi Chananya Chollak that while I would be able to persuade Litzman to come, it would be very difficult to me to convince Rav Efrati. I explained that Rav Efrati was known to be extremely reticent, especially about his relationship with Rav Elyashiv. Rabbi Chollak disagreed. “Rav Efrati will agree automatically,” he said.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because he has two children in the camp,” Rabbi Chollak replied.

And today, Rav Efrati is sitting shivah for his son Shlomo.

 

The Woman Who Was Saved from Murder

After the double murder in Barkan Industrial Park last week, someone called me and told me that I must write about an incredible story of Hashgochah Protis. Kim Yechezkel Hy”d, who was murdered in the Barkan terror attack, was the newly hired secretary of one of the managers at the plant. Just a few days earlier, a woman from the nearby city of Emmanuel had held the same job and had been sitting at the same desk. That woman, however, lasted for only a single day in the job. One of the senior managers at the plant saw her and asked where she had come from, and he was told that she had sent in her résumé and was hired. For some reason, the manager was infuriated – possibly because he hadn’t been consulted, or because he had a different candidate in mind for the job. The woman was let go after her first day on the job. Of course, she was terribly distraught, but she managed to persevere and to find a different job in the area. Just a few days later, she realized that the loss of her first job had saved her life. The woman who had taken over for her, and who had sat at the very same desk, had been murdered.

In order to confirm the story, I traced it back to its source: The person who had called me had heard it from a friend, who had heard it from his brother-in-law in Emmanuel. The brother-in-law in question was married to a sister of the woman whose life had been spared. Ultimately, I managed to speak with the woman’s sister, who confirmed the story.

 

Bidding Farewell to an Ambassador

On the international front, a major news story last week was Nikki Haley’s resignation.One Israeli newspaper featured a political cartoon that depicted Haley packing her belongings, with one of her aides calling out to her, “Hey, you forgot the flag!” In the picture, a small flag can be seen on her desk – not an American flag, but the flag of the State of Israel. That cartoon is a powerful illustration of what Haley meant to the people of Israel. In this country, she was viewed as a representative of Israel no less than America.

Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, released a statement lamenting her departure.

Ambassador Danon was the subject of another news item. Two years ago, the Israeli media accused Danon of criminal activity during the Likud primaries. Before he was designated the ambassador to the UN, Danon was a member of the Knesset and even served as a government minister – until Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to banish him to New York. Following the publication of that article, demands were made for the police to investigate Danon’s actions, and a criminal case was opened. This week, Danon was informed that the case against him had been closed.

 

The Winter Session Begins

The winter session of the Knesset began with a festive sitting on Monday afternoon. But despite the excitement, there was tension in the air. There is a significant chance that the current Knesset will be dissolved, and the elections for the Twenty-First Knesset will be held within the coming months. That is a decision that will be made by one man: Binyomin Netanyahu.

Incidentally, this past week saw the passing of former MK Avi Duan. Duan served as a member of the Knesset for Kadima between 2012 and 2013. Duan grew up in the Ramat Amidar neighborhood of Ramat Gan and studied for a master’s degree in social work and community administration at Bar Ilan University. In 2008, he headed Shaul Mofaz’s campaign for the Kadima leadership election. He was placed 33rd on the Kadima list for the 2009 Knesset elections; the party won only 28 seats. In January 2012, he entered the Knesset as a replacement for Eli Aflalo, who resigned after becoming co-chairman of the Jewish National Fund. He lost his seat in the 2013 elections.

 

It Pays to Work for the Knesset

If you had trouble reaching someone who works for the Knesset over the past couple of days, it is probably because he was at the beach.

Last week, the Knesset organized a retreat for its employees. Here is the schedule for the first day of the getaway: “12:15 – Assemble at the helicopter pad and group departure. 2:00 p.m. (estimated) – Arrival at the Royal Hotel at the Dead Sea, check-in and refreshments. 3:00 – Use of the hotel’s facilities. 5:00 – Address from the director-general of the Knesset, followed by a speech by mountain climber Doron Erel. 6:30 through 9:00 – Dinner. 9:00 – Live performance by Idan Amadi, followed by a reception.”

The schedule for the second day was less intense. It began with breakfast and checkout, followed by a choice of three different activities (a jeep tour, a guided tour of Ein Bokek, or relaxation at the beach) at 9:30 and lunch at 12:30. The group was scheduled to return to Yerushalayim at 2:00 in the afternoon.

 

Heroic Yeshiva Bochurim

Who are the people who actually keep the world going? We all know the answer to that question: the bnei yeshivos, regardless of their ages or backgrounds, all of whom left their homes last week to begin the winter zeman. Some young bochurim probably shed a few tears as they left the familiarity of their homes. But all of them made their way to the same places: the botei medrash of our country’s yeshivos. I am always enthralled by the sight of these bochurim flocking to their yeshivos, toting heavy suitcases and hats in protective boxes.

Then there was the bochur I spotted last Tuesday morning, at the bus stop next to Zupnik (or Pressburg) in Givat Shaul. He was not wearing a hat or jacket, signaling that perhaps he is a “mitchazeik,” or that he simply did not care much about “chitzoniyus.” But as he sat there, he was completely engrossed in a Gemara, as if he was in a bais medrash. A bus passed by, and he even forgot to check if it was the bus he was waiting for. I watched him and I felt a pang of envy. That young man is one of those precious bochurim who sustain the world.

 

The Zeman Begins in Bais Mattisyahu

As usual, I accompanied my sons to the opening shiur of the zeman at Yeshivas Bais Mattisyahu in Bnei Brak. When I arrived, I found hundreds of bochurim hurrying to the bais medrash to attend the shiur. The yeshiva is now learning Yevamos. As large as the bais medrash has become, it is still too small for the huge number of talmidim who have flocked to its doors. Incredibly, despite the difficult living conditions in the yeshiva, the interest on the part of potential talmidim is constantly growing. No amount of discomfort can interfere with these young men’s desire to be part of the spiritual defense force of our nation, the corps of “soldiers” who shield us from our enemies.

For the younger boys in yeshivos, as well as the yungeleit who learn in kollelim, it is not easy to fill their days with intensive Torah learning, but they put aside their own desires and comforts to do the Will of Hashem, following the call of their souls to dedicate themselves to the study of the Torah. They deserve to be praised, and the rest of us must recognize the existential debt that we owe them.

Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro once derived a remarkable lesson from a passage in the Gemara (Brachos 53a). The Gemara cites a dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel regarding who should recite the brocha of borei me’orei ha’eish when a candle is lit in a bais medrash: Bais Shammai state that every individual should recite the brocha on his own, while Bais Hillel rule that the brocha should be recited by one person on behalf of the entire assemblage, due to the principle of “berov am hadras melech.” Bais Shammai, meanwhile, maintain that the brocha should be recited separately by every individual in order to avoid bittul Torah. Rashi explains that if everyone in the bais medrash is required to listen to a brocha recited by one person, then they will have to recite “amein,” which will detract from the time available for their learning.

Rav Moshe Shmuel commented: “It is clear from the Gemara that Bais Shammai do not dispute the concept of ‘berov am hadras melech’; they simply maintain that the consideration of bittul Torah outweighs that idea. This illustrates the severity of the sin of bittul Torah, since even the possibility of a minuscule delay, for the amount of time required to respond ‘amein’ to a brocha, is sufficient reason for every person to recite the brocha individually, despite the halachic preference for reciting it as a group.”

 

Ehud Barak – Brilliant and Dangerous

The Israeli newspaper Maariv recently dedicated six pages to Ehud Barak’s blistering attack on Prime Minister Netanyahu. The most decorated former chief of staff of the IDF and the most abysmal prime minister in the history of the State of Israel, Barak condemned not only Bibi Netanyahu, but also his father, Benzion Netanyahu, his brother Yoni, and his entire household. He was incredibly convincing; Barak is certainly adept at choosing the right words to convey his thoughts. The issue, however, was the content.

Barak described what he views as the clash between two approaches: Herzl’s vision of a Zionist, democratic state (which he interpreted as a massive rejection of the golus mentality and of the belief in Hashem’s absolute omnipotence) and the vision of the current government, which Barak views as leading to chaos, and which is backed by leading rabbonim from the Religious Zionist camp.

Barak’s denunciation of Bibi was coarse, arrogant, and venomous. He demonstrated a phenomenal grasp of the details as well as an incisive understanding of the overall picture, and his eloquence was unsurpassed – but he was also tireless in his campaign of character assassination. He presented a scintillating analysis of Donald Trump’s dealings with Mexico and Canada, and he focused in particular on his approach to Iran and North Korea. He explained the problem of nuclear development in the two countries, and he also made his own predictions as to the next steps that Attorney General Mandelblit will take regarding the criminal cases against Netanyahu. He also delivered a fascinating account of the similarities between his own father’s experiences and those of the senior Netanyahu. This was yet another testament to Barak’s phenomenal memory.

“My father was born in the same year as Bibi’s father,” Barak related. “Benzion was born in Warsaw, but his family was originally from Lithuania, from a small village named Pumbia, 10 kilometers north of Ponovezh, on the road to Riga. My father also grew up in a small village that was mostly Jewish, Pushelat, which was 15 minutes away from there by covered wagon. They both came from the same place, the same village, at the same time. They were both three years old during the First World War. In a bizarre confluence of circumstances, Benzion and my father both received certificates to immigrate to Israel at approximately the same time, and both of them found themselves studying together at Hebrew University when it was in its infancy.” Barak went on to relate what his father had told him about Netanyahu’s father, but at this point in the narrative, I could not help but be amazed at his detailed knowledge of even the distances between the various villages. (That is, assuming that he was not merely making up the specifics.)

The primary thrust of Barak’s words was an excoriation of Bibi Netanyahu. “Within a few years,” he asserted, “[Netanyahu] has gone from being a person who preaches and threatens to one who does nothing at all. He does not know how to do anything. He doesn’t know how to plan an operation, how to begin an operation, how to end an operation, or how to act between operations. He does nothing other than to stir the sentiments of the public and to frighten them.”

It is clear from his analysis that Barak is brilliant – and that is precisely the reason that he is dangerous.

 

If a Person Believes, He Lacks Nothing

Nochi Dankner is an Israeli tycoon whose fortunes have taken a drastic turn for the worse. He was recently sent to prison for financial crimes – something having to do with the stock market. There was something impressive about the way that he entered the prison. Just before he entered the prison, Dankner said, “What is happening here today is very difficult for me and for my family… I believe that everything is for the best. I believe in Hashem.”

I recently heard a powerful vort: Dovid Hamelech states (Tehillim 34:11), “The wealthy will become impoverished and starve, but those who seek Hashem will lack no good.” The posuk does not actually state that those who seek Hashem will have everything that is good. It states simply that they will be satisfied with what they possess, for they will recognize that Hashem has given them what is good for them, and there is nothing that they lack.

 

The Happiest Person in the World

Rav Yitzchok Ohev-Tzion, one of Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s close associates, commented to him after Simchas Torah that it had occurred to him that the happiest person during the Yom Tov was Rav Chaim. “After all,” he said, “the rov completes the entire Torah every Erev Pesach, since he has daily sedorim in Bavli, Yerushalmi, Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah, Medrashim, and other things as well.” Rav Chaim merely smiled in response.

Rav Yitzchok added that Rav Chaim’s grandson – who is also a grandson of Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman – related that he had once heard Rav Shteinman declare on Simchas Torah, “Do you know who the happiest person in the world is? It’s Rav Chaim!”

Rav Chaim smiled in response and said, “He probably said that on Purim.”

 

Agudas Yisroel Moetzes Rules On Giyus Law

At its fifth meeting this year, the Agudas Yisroel Moetzes ordered its MKs to ensure that the government’s new enlistment law does not stop any yeshiva students who wants to study Torah from continuing to do so.

Noting that people who study Torah “shield Klal Yisroel from danger in all generations,” the decision emphasized that yeshiva students should not be drafted “even at the cost of mesirus nefesh.

MK Yisroel Eichler of UTJ clarified that Agudah would support the government’s draft bill so long as its language clearly states that no yeshiva student who wants to learn will be drafted. Another party source added that Agudas Yisroel planned to vote against the draft law if no changes were made but not break the coalition over the issue. The High Court ordered the government to pass a new army bill by December 2.

In a turnabout from recent insistence that not a word of the draft law would be altered, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman praised the Agudah decision as “levelheaded, smart and responsible,” adding that anyone who was looking for an excuse to move up the elections, should look for another excuse.”

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid stated, “There is no need to wait. The chareidim are afraid. There’s an opportunity here. The draft law can be passed as it is. Not one word may be changed.”

Mindful that the Moetzes instructing its representatives to resign from the coalition over the draft issue in June, Prime Minister Netanyahu called on Agudas Yisroel to support the bill before the meeting, warning that the chareidim would never get a better deal than the existing one and might get a worse one in a new government.

“If we wanted, we could go to elections,” Netanyahu said. “It could be done for all kinds of reasons. We don’t need the reason of the draft bill.”

MK Uri Maklev of Degel Hatorah agreed that early elections would be counterproductive.

Coinciding with the opening of the Knesset winter session, a survey made by the Midgam Institute for Channel 2 found that 42% of the Israeli public favor having an early election and 38% oppose it.