Pope Benedict XVI's Visit to Israel

[Talk given in the yeshiva during lunch]

"And the bad angel will say: amen" (see Shabbat 119b). This is the Church which has been obligated to admit, reluctantly, that the State of Israel exists, since the fundamental claim of the Catholics is that they are the true Israel - "Verus Israel" in Latin. It is for this reason that they have murdered us throughout the entire course of their history: thousands of Jews, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands. They have never been our friends. They say that they are the true Nation of Israel and all of the prophecies concerning returning to Zion therefore refer to them. But with Hashem's kindness, we returned to Eretz Yisrael. In fact, before the establishment of the State of Israel, the Pope (Pius VII) sent a letter to all of the Christians in the world – Catholics and non-Catholics – urging them to prevent the establishment of the State of Israel because it would be the destruction of Christianity and a slap in the face to the fundamental theological principle of Christians that they are the Nation of Israel. Nonetheless, the State of Israel was established and was victorious. But they said that the State of Israel does not exist.

During the last visit of the Pope (John Paul II) in 5760, he already acknowledged the State of Israel, and many Catholic communities, such as in Poland, threatened him, that if he were to take another step in the direction of the State of Israel, they would disassociate from him and make a separate Pope. When Golda Meir was received by the Pope (Paul VI) at the Vatican in 5733 with the flags of the State of Israel, he was essentially acknowledging that we have a State, as it says in Sichot Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah (Yehadut Ve-Natzrut, p. 44) that this was a fulfillment of the verse "for darkness shall cover the land" (Yeshayahu 60:2), which is their shame at having to acknowledge us.

But this same Pope (Paul VI) did not acknowledge the State of Israel at all during the first visit of a Pope after the establishment of the State in the year 5723. The newspaper of the Vatican, L'Osservatore Romano, publicized that the Pope was preparing to visit the holy places. There was no mention of the State or the Prime Minister, but that he was coming to visit the holy sites. And how did he arrive? By way of Jordan. But there was no passageway from Jordan there, so they made a special hole in the border near Megido in order for the Pope to enter. He went in a roundabout way, as it is written: "The wicked go around" (Tehillim 12:9), and he entered the State through his hole and all of the heads of the State waiting for him there. At that time, there was only one Chief Rabbi of Israel, the previous Ashkenazic Chief Rabbi had passed away and his successor had yet to be chosen. There was therefore only the Sefardic Chief Rabbi: Ha-Rav Yitzchak Nissim. They told him: In the position of Chief Rabbi, you need to come and greet the Pope. He said: I am not going. If he wants to come to my office, I accept any visitor. I am not going to Megido to greet him. They said: you are obligated. He said: I am not obligated. They pressured him through Mafdal (a Religious-Zionist political party). He would not be pressured. They hinted to him: If you do not go there, they will replace you. He said: Let them replace me. In short: he did not go. The Pope entered through Megido and all of the heads of the State waited for him, but he did not greet them and did not even look even look at them. After he left the country, he sent a letter to the President and not the Prime Minister, and he sent it to Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem: thank you for hosting me. People said: Ha-Rav Nissim preserved the honor of the State of Israel. This is similar to: "Mordechai did not knee or bow down" (Esther 3:2) – Mordechai did not bow down because he was from the offspring of Binyamin, who did not bow down to Esav (see Me-Am Loez ibid.). Our Rabbi, Ha-Rav Tzvi Yehudah, sent him a letter: Yashar Koach!

Even before the previous story, there were all sorts of terrorist activities and we blew up some planes in the airport in Beirut. The Pope (Paul VI) wrote in L'Osservatore Romano that this was the blackest day in world history since we were brazen enough to penetrate the sovereign territory of another nation and cause desolation. Ha-Rav Nissim responded: Destroying planes is the blackest day, but them entering here and murdering people is fine! They said to him: You need to be gentle. One cannot express himself this way to the Pope. He said: one can express himself this way. They asked him: Write that you words were misunderstood and taken out of context. He said: My words were understood correctly and were not taken out of context. The media in Israel attacked him but the media outside of Israel attacked the Pope. In the end, the Pope released a statement that his words were misunderstood and were taken out of context.

May we be strong and strengthen ourselves in the merit of Ha-Rav Nissim!