"B ut if he is poor and cannot afford (these sacrifices), he shall take… two turtledoves or two young doves, according to what he can afford…” (Vayikra 6:2)

There are some who measure their spiritual status by comparing themselves to their friends. They assume they could reach the same high levels of spirituality if they were able to utilize all their abilities. This thought is not correct. (Chofetz Chaim on the Torah)

The first levayah sent me reeling. My childhood memories of Rebbetzin Eisemann stretched back to when, every year, my family went to Ner Israel’s Yeshiva Lane for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We’d pile into the Eisemanns’ small apartment, spreading sleeping bags on the floor and settling comfortably into our normal Yom Tov accommodations.

As a child, I thought nothing of it. As an adult, I’m awed at how Rebbetzin Eisemann took it all in stride, welcoming us year after year with warmth and a smile, her lovely English lilt always hinting at a laugh. She’d sit at one end of the long dining room table, Rabbi Eisemann at the other, with guests of all ages and walks of life in between. To me, she always embodied a proper English lady—royalty at its finest — yet I took her gentility for granted, the small child in me not knowing what a precious rarity this soft-spoken matriarch was.

If a rich person brings a poor person’s korban, he has not filled his obligation. Only the truly poor person who cannot afford to bring an animal may bring two turtledoves. Someone who can afford to bring a full animal must do so. A person’s obligations are measured according to his abilities.

The second levayah knocked me backward. If Rebbetzin Eisemann epitomized my childhood memories, Rebbetzin Eisenberg was the voice of my single adult years. In hindsight, my years on the staff of Bais Yaakov Baltimore were among the most memorable of my life. (Of course, a little prophecy assuring me that I would get married one day would have helped me enjoy them more at the time.)

Rebbetzin Eisenberg and her daughter were both on the staff then, and I spent many a late hour in that small Yeshiva Lane kitchen debating philosophy, education techniques, and hashkafah. Whether we laughed or cried, every conversation mined the deepest parts of my brain and soul. I admired Rebbetzin Eisenberg for her brilliance, and sharp wit, her energetic vibrant approach to life, but most of all, for her rock-strong backbone that taught me no matter what life brings, you’ve got the strength to shine through it all. She embodied koach — a fiery power that originated within.

The greater the person is, the more will be demanded of him to complete his mission in full. Therefore, talmidei chachamim are obligated to fulfill the mitzvos exactly and carefully, commensurate with their wisdom and elevated spiritual level.

Someone who decides that he’s greater than his friend is in danger of living life under the wrong assumption. He believes that he’s spiritually rich — but his spiritual offerings are actually on par with a pauper’s. His lack of awareness will keep him from achieving his unique potential, which is determined by his own spiritual ability.

In the weeks after these two losses, I’m walking around slowly, gingerly feeling my way. My generation’s at the stage where our life’s mentors are slowly being taking from us, leaving us groping and shaky. My children turn to me for guidance, but I’m a child myself. What can I say that hasn’t been said so much better already? How can I step into shoes so much greater than mine? When I was young, I thought I’d change the world. Now I am at a loss how to even change myself. I’m too insignificant, too trivial.

Yitzi woke up just now with a nightmare. I sit at his side, lulling him back to sleep, my presence a small bastion of strength in his little world. When it’s my time to present my accomplishments before the Heavenly Throne, I will be bringing a bird. A small offering representing my puny efforts to fill greater footsteps than mine. I pray it will suffice.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 588)