W hile Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber — the man responsible for saving hundreds of people through his volunteer kidney donor organization — faces prosecution initiated by Health Ministry bureaucrats, isn’t there some better way to come to an agreement over what can only be an extreme stretch of the meaning of illegal organ trafficking?

This past Chol Hamoed Succos, Rav Chaim Kanievsky, who had come to Jerusalem from Bnei Brak on a Shalosh Regalim visit to the Kosel, made a detour in his initial itinerary to the home of Rabbi Yeshayahu Heber, who has been confined to house arrest. Rabbi Heber is the founder of Matnat Chaim, a nonprofit organization that matches voluntary kidney donors with patients on a transplant waiting list independent of certain government protocols (for example, donors are allowed to choose their recipients or may specify that the recipient be Jewish).

Rav Chaim’s visit naturally attracted attention, but it made waves chiefly because it was essentially an act of public protest against stonehearted individuals in Israel’s criminal justice system who chose to sully the name of a man devoted to saving lives and put him in shackles. Through his organization, Rabbi Heber has raised the quality of chesed among the Jewish People, lighting the torch of the noblest form of volunteerism, and has given the gift of this special mitzvah to donors and recipients alike. Through his agency, hundreds of Israelis have donated one of their healthy kidneys to patients barely surviving on dialysis, desperately in need of kidney transplants to enable them to continue their lives. Incredibly, nearly 500 men and women from all over Israel have donated a kidney, in most cases to a complete stranger they met only when they entered the surgical ward for the transplant.

The donors come from all sectors of the population. Most are shomer mitzvos, although the desire to perform this act of giving has recently begun to burgeon among nonreligious Israelis as well. It all happens on an entirely volunteer basis, stemming only from a strong desire to do a special mitzvah whose only earthly profit is the pleasure of knowing that due to one’s altruism, a fellow Jew who stood at death’s door has returned to the land of the living.

Rabbi Heber and I are neighbors. We daven Minchah on weekdays in the same shul, and I’m always an attentive audience for his stories of the latest donor and patient shidduchim that never fail to move me. I can’t help but envy him, as well, for having merited to literally be mechayeh meisim. He glows with happiness when he tells his fellow mispallelim that kidney patient Ploni ben Plonis, whom we’ve been davening for, is doing well following a transplant and has left his hospital bed on his own two feet. We hear moving stories of donors who gave a kidney after an inner battle with their fear of the invasive surgical procedure. He shares stories, too, of families that refuse to allow a loved one to give up a kidney, of families that hesitate, and of families that warmly support a decision by their wife and mother, for example, to donate a kidney. It’s always both heart-stirring and spiritually uplifting to hear these stories of heroism in fulfillment of Hashem’s will.

One time he came to Minchah extremely excited, having just received a phone call from Germany. A Christian woman had read about his organization and wished to donate one of her kidneys to a Jewish person in need, which she meant as an act of atonement for the crimes of her grandfather, who had been active in service to the Nazi regime. After consulting with gedolei Torah, he’d decided to grant the woman the opportunity she requested. Every day before or after Minchah, we listened avidly to the latest installment of this unusual story. Eventually, Rabbi Heber told us how the German woman had arrived in Israel, about the warm reception she was given, how excited she was to make this very real, physical contribution to the Jewish People, and how the transplant saved the life of a very sick young woman.

Rabbi Heber has earned widespread recognition in Israel. His aim is to shorten the waiting list for kidney transplants to zero waiting time, and the progress he has made toward that seemingly impossible goal has been applauded by people from all sectors of the population. This publicity has triggered a synergistic response, widening the circle of lifesaving donors. One can finally imagine the long waiting list of patients in dire need shrinking to zero in the not-too-distant future, thanks to Rabbi Heber’s initiative.

But there are people who cannot bear to see such stunning success. And so, this burgeoning endeavor has been nipped in the bud by someone in a bureaucratic corner of Israel’s Health Ministry who decided to cook up a soup of allegations against Rabbi Heber, the black-hatted rabbi from Jerusalem chalking up accomplishments, saving lives, and winning praise, while government waiting lists remain bogged down by red tape. Matnat Chaim donors are allowed to give their organs to a recipient of their choosing or to an unspecified recipient, provided that “there is a medically suitable recipient for the donated organ,” but the Health Ministry has said the policy leads to possible discrimination, noting that at least half of Matnat Chaim’s donors request Jewish recipients.

The suspicions include managing the waiting list so as to bump potential recipients to the top in exchange for donations to the organization and paying compensation to potential organ donors, according to the police. But even a cursory reading of the allegations — an extreme stretch of the meaning of illegal organ trafficking — points to a deliberate and malicious campaign to bring down a perceived rival. These accusers may piously roll their eyes upward in reverence to the law, but they don’t mind putting the organization’s activities on hold, although the delay will cause terrible suffering or even death to hundreds of people — a modern-day illustration of the deadly power of jealousy and hatred first brought into the world through the story in last week’s Torah reading of Kayin and Hevel.

Although I expect it would fall on the deaf ears of those who have buried their consciences, this is what I would tell them: “If you had a Jewish heart, and if you were really so upright and fair, and if you were capable of restraining your feelings of envy, anger, and presumably also hatred toward the black-hatted rabbi who succeeded where you failed, and if, nonetheless, you believed his organization to be guilty of some illegality — the proper course of action would be to set up a meeting with the rabbi, discuss the alleged violation, and come to an agreement on what must be done to correct matters. But the way you chose — by filing a police complaint that has led to house arrest — is the way to destroy, to shatter a beautiful endeavor and to condemn many Jews to death. How good it would be if you could find the courage to crawl back and come down from your tree.” (Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 681)