A Chassidishe Vort in the Knesset Plenum


On a recent Wednesday, the Knesset discussed a motion for the agenda titled “The Need to Establish a Parliamentary Investigative Committee on the Subject of the Environmental and Health Situation in the Bay of Haifa and the Future of the Area.” The motion was submitted by Yael Cohen-Paran of the Zionist Camp, and when the Minister of Health concluded his response, the benches of the coalition were far too empty. As MK Chaim Yellin of Yesh Atid asked the chairman of the sitting, Meir Cohen, to begin the voting, someone motioned urgently for UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman to continue speaking.

“Would you like to hear about the parshah of the week?” Litzman asked.

Jackie Levi of the Likud party said, “The parshah? Go ahead. Say a devar Torah.”

“I will tell you a devar Torah from last week’s parshah,” Litzman responded.

“Because you have nothing else to say about Haifa?” Cohen-Paran asked.

“If you would, please listen to the devar Torah,” Litzman said. “Don’t you like hearing divrei Torah? The nationalist camp enjoys divrei Torah. I know Buji, and his grandfather always wanted to hear a devar Torah.”

“Don’t put on an act!” Nachman Shai called out.

Litzman said, “Then I will tell you a devar Torah. Last week, we read Parshas Yisro. Yisro had seven names.”

At that point, Amir Peretz and Nachman Shai asked for a brief pause so that they could don kippot. The Knesset plenum prepared for a shiur in Chumash from Reb Yaakov.

“The Gemara says, and Rashi quotes it, that the name Yisro alludes to the fact that he caused a parshah to be added to the Torah. Which parshah is that? The Gemara says that Yisro advised Moshe Rabbeinu to appoint officers for every thousand Jews, and other officers for every hundred Jews, and then the Gemara adds that since he gave sound advice, the parshah containing that advice was attributed to him. The Gemara refers to the parshah as ‘ve’atah sechezeh,’ the words beginning Yisro’s recommendation to Moshe to select these officers. But one of the admorim points out that the parshah actually begins with a different posuk, in which Yisro told Moshe, ‘The thing that you are doing is not good.’ Shouldn’t the Gemara have referred to it by these words instead?

“The admor explained,” Yaakov Litzman continued, “that criticism is not a way to build Torah. Telling someone what not to do is not a way to build Torah. Torah is built only by solutions. You tell someone to appoint officers over thousands or hundreds; you give him a concrete suggestion. Don’t just spend all your time shouting and telling someone that what he is doing is not good. That is not worth anything. The Torah teaches us that we must have something pragmatic, something concrete, to suggest.”

By this point, a commotion had begun in the Knesset plenum. Litzman turned to the leaders of the Likud party. “Should I continue?” he asked. They motioned for him to go on. He repeated the entire vort and then asked again, “Must I continue?”

“Yes, absolutely, continue,” said Dovid Azulai.

Meir Cohen took the opportunity to reprimand Betzalel Smotrich for directing his attention elsewhere while Litzman was delivering a devar Torah. “I’ve been listening. I can repeat the whole thing!” Smotrich responded.

Litzman went on to share another vort, despite the cries of protest from the opposition. “Tosafos asks on the posuk, ‘All the ailments that I placed on Mitzrayim, I will not place on you…’ Elazar, are you tired of this?” he asked suddenly, turning to Elazar Stern, who was making a racket.

“Mr. Minister, may we vote?” Cohen-Paran asked.

“As a believing Jew,” Yaakov Litzman continued, “I do not approve of screaming. Ma’am, screams will not convince anyone of anything.”

Litzman ignored the cries of protest from the plenum and looked despairingly to his left. His expression was like that of a desperate babysitter who has been waiting for hours for the parents to return home. “I will return to the devar Torah,” Litzman said with resignation. “The posuk says, ‘All the ailments that I placed on Mitzrayim, I will not place on you, for I am Hashem, your Healer.’ Tosafos asks: If Hashem does not inflict the ailments on us at all, then why do we need healing? Tosafos answers – I see that the coalition likes this devar Torah and wants me to continue, but…”

“What you are doing is religious coercion!” Essawi Frij of the Meretz party protested.

“Do not interrupt me during the devar Torah!” Litzman shot back. “Tosafos explains that everything is ordained in Heaven, other than tzinim upachim, a term for the common cold. Thus, Tosafos explains that the posuk means that Hashem will not inflict ailments on us, and if we become ill through our own doing, then He will heal us. But the Rambam… There is a story about the Rambam. The Rambam was the greatest doctor in the world in his day. He was the personal physician of the Sultan in Egypt.”

“The Rambam would have closed all the factories so that they wouldn’t contaminate the environment,” Ksenia Svetlova spoke up.

The grumblings of the opposition had turned into an uproar. They demanded that the chairman have Litzman removed from the podium. Meir Cohen responded, “Forgive me, but we operate here based on the regulations of the Knesset. The minister will speak, although there is a limit to that as well. Please do not shout. Mr. Minister, please conclude your response.”

“I will finish it,” Litzman said. “I am in the middle of a devar Torah. The Rambam was the greatest physician in the world. Once, the Sultan called him – after all, the Rambam was his personal physician – and asked him, ‘How can I know that you are the greatest doctor in the world? I have never been ill.’ The Rambam replied, ‘The very fact that you have never been ill is a sign that I am the world’s best physician, because I prevented you from contracting any diseases. Preventing a disease is a great accomplishment.’ And so the Rambam explained the posuk to mean that Hashem will not inflict diseases upon us because He is our Healer. Hashem is the greatest Healer in the world, and He knows not only how to cure diseases, but how to prevent them as well.”

Litzman finally received the sign he was waiting for: Everyone had arrived. He left the podium, exhausted from the experience, and the vote was held. There were 34 votes in favor of the investigative committee and 35 against.

The coalition had triumphed.

Tzvi Yaakovson – Matzav.com Israel