No Shortcuts to Great KidsYonoson Rosenblum
What was I looking for on that shivah visit?
Wednesday, April 03, 2019
hat I would make a shivah call to Rav Ariav Ozer, rosh yeshivah of ITRI, when he was sitting for his mother Rivka a"h last week, was never a question. We live on the same block, and I have been going to his shiurim for over a decade.
But I must confess I had an ulterior motive besides the mitzvah of nichum aveilim. I wanted to discover, if possible, the secret to producing a child like Rav Ozer, who was already a phenomenon in the world of Torah learning in his mid-twenties, and is today one of the most prominent younger roshei yeshivah in the world.
I wasn't interested in his genius. That's a gift from Shamayim. My subject rather was the pashtus (e.g., no frock), approachability and warmth to everyone he meets, and his hasmadah.
When I arrived, Rav Ozer's parents' apartment (above his own) was nearly empty. Perfect for my mission. Rav Ozer began speaking about two seemingly contradictory qualities of his parents. Until declining health forced them to move to Har Nof four years ago, they lived in an apartment built in 1933, in which nothing had changed since — not the tiles, not the sinks, not the glass in the windows. The beds were the same metal frames the Jewish Agency gave to new immigrants, with thin mattresses filled with straw. Only the original Amcor 6 refrigerator finally had to be replaced sometime after Rav Ozer's chasunah.
From the day they got married, the Ozers shared their apartment with Mrs. Ozer's widowed mother and, until his passing, her younger brother, who had suffered as a young child from a lack of medical attention during the family's peregrinations through freezing climes, from Lithuania to Eretz Yisrael via Syria. Thus Rav Ozer, an only child, grew up surrounded by adults and party to their deliberations.
As simply as they lived, Rav Ozer said, it never occurred to him that they were lacking anything, even when he noticed that his classmates lived in a different style. And indeed, the Ozer family was not poor. Rav Ozer's father was one of Israel's leading electrical engineers and headed a successful firm. The parents simply felt no need for anything more than their unostentatious apartment.
Nor was it frugality that explained the way they lived.
"My mother had something verging on a bulmus [uncontrollable desire] to give, both monetarily and physically," Rav Ozer said.
She had a present for every woman working at the checkout counters in the numerous stores where the family shopped, before every chag and upon any personal simchah. The minimum bar mitzvah present was a full set of Mishnah Berurah.
In addition to giving gifts, both Rav Ozer's parents devoted much time to helping the many Holocaust survivors of that era. (Rav Ozer mentioned that in those days in Tel Aviv, it was rare to see an older person without a number on his arm.) An older woman — one of the few survivors from Mrs. Ozer's hometown of Iliya, Lithuania, where her grandfather had been the rav — called Mrs. Ozer after her husband's passing. She was all alone in the world.
From that day on, the Ozers would visit her for hours every week, and, as a teenager, Rav Ozer would occasionally accompany her to doctors' appointments and the like.
One day the woman called up Rav Ozer's father and told him that she wanted him to take her to her lawyer to make a will. He agreed, until she told him she wanted to leave all her money to the Ozers. And he did not relent, despite frequent entreaties in the following months. Finally, the woman proposed that she leave all the money to Ariav. Again, Mr. Ozer refused.
Ariav asked his father why he was so adamant. After all, the visits, over a period of years, had been lishmah. But his father would not countenance the question.
"Don't you understand what a chillul Hashem it would be for us to benefit in any way from her? Her neighbors in Givatayim would say, 'See, the only reason those frum Jews came to visit a nonreligious woman all the years was just so she would leave them her money.' "
The most to which Rav Ozer's father would agree was that the woman designate part of her estate for his brother's kollel in Petach Tikvah. And even then, he insisted that rest of the estate go to the IDF, as her husband had been a career officer and would have wanted it.
In the course of speaking about his mother, Rav Ozer mentioned that she was absolutely incapable of uttering a false word, not even where it might be permitted "mipnei darchei shalom." As a boy it used to frustrate him that she would not sign a permission slip for a school trip if the form was reused from a previous year and not fully accurate.
Nor was that her only hakpadah in speech: "I never heard my mother say a bad word about anyone," Rav Ozer attested.
He also mentioned that his parents had left him ill-prepared for the ways of the world in another way, besides the inability to utter a false word or speak badly about another person: Growing up, despite his unique closeness to his parents, he had never known that it was any more possible for a husband and wife to argue than it would be for the walls of the home to suddenly start shouting at one another.
So did I find what I was looking for on the shivah visit? Not exactly. I was looking for one or two shortcuts to raising wonderful children that I could share with my own children and readers. And all I learned instead is that the likeliest path to raising extraordinary children is to be extraordinary oneself.
At one level, President Trump may benefit from the fact that Special Counsel Robert Mueller assembled a team of crack prosecutors, including many partisan Democrats, and still came up empty-handed in his quest for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. Yet there is little question that the president and the country was poorly served by the length of Mueller's investigation.
Andrew McCarthy, the lead prosecutor in the first World Trade Center bombing case and someone who has worked with and admires Mueller, asked in the wake of Mueller's final report: How long has Mueller known there was no Russia-Trump collusion?
According to former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe, absent the so-called Steele Dossier, commissioned and financed by the Clinton campaign, the FBI would never have filed a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) application to eavesdrop on Carter Page, who served briefly in a low level capacity in the Trump campaign. The FBI and Department of Justice filed three FISA applications alleging probable cause to believe that Page and perhaps others in the Trump campaign had coordinated with Russia in the latter's efforts to disrupt the 2016 presidential race.
Yet by the time Mueller was appointed, the FBI had already spent almost a year trying, without success, to verify the Steele Dossier. Even Peter Strzok, the rabidly anti-Trump FBI counterintelligence agent, who served as Mueller's original lead investigator, had already texted FBI attorney Lisa Page that he doubted there was anything of substance to the collusion allegations.
Four months after taking the reins of the investigation, in September 2017, Mueller declined to file a fourth application to the FISA court. McCarthy posits that by then, and certainly by the end of the year, Mueller knew that the collusion charge was bogus. If McCarthy is right, the last 15 to 18 months of the Mueller investigation, during which countless false rumors about the investigation of the president were broadcast nightly on CNN and MSNBC, were not about collusion at all, but about the president's possible obstruction of justice in firing FBI Director James Comey, a long-time friend and colleague of Mueller's.
The case for obstruction was highly implausible from the start. If there was no collusion and thus no crime — and Comey himself had assured Trump three times in private that he was not a target of an investigation — how could Trump have had the requisite criminal intent to conceal guilt? One cannot conceal what does not exist.
But rather than simply say so, Mueller treated the question of obstruction as a legal one and left it up to Attorney General William Barr to decide. Yet the entire premise behind the appointment of a special counsel in the first place is that the Justice Department has too many conflicts to render judgment. After nearly two years and the expenditure of $25 million, Mueller punted on the very task he had been hired to do.
And by leaving the determination up to Barr, a Trump appointee, knowing full well he could clear Trump on the obstruction charge — Barr had already written a memorandum on the subject of obstruction of justice for the Justice Department in June 2018, long before his appointment as attorney-general -- Mueller knowingly left an opening for Democrats to dismiss the attorney general's conclusion. So too the gratuitous statement in Mueller's final report that while it cannot be established that the president committed a crime, the report "does not exonerate him." Prosecutors never "exonerate": They either decide to prosecute or not.
In the end, Mueller could not bring himself to clear Trump of all wrongdoing and remove the shadow hanging over his presidency, as he should have.