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Heart Smart

Faigy Peritzman

Not just in our heads — we need it in our hearts

Wednesday, March 07, 2018


"A nd every wise hearted person among you shall come and make everything that Hashem has commanded.”

(Shemos 35:10)

We learn from here that in order to do what Hashem commands, we have to be not only head-smart, but also heart-smart. A person who has a smart heart is smart inside, in his feelings. Take Bilaam, for example. The Gemara (Berachos 34b) says he was a prophet like Moshe. Yet he was wicked. He had wisdom of the brain, but not of the heart. (Rav Meir Rubman, Zichron Meir)

When we moved out of Yerushalayim with five little kids, I was leaving behind more than just Jerusalem stone. I’d been living next to my sister, and my nieces had been built-in babysitters, laundry folders, and last-minute Erev Shabbos help. I had no idea how I’d survive without them.

Placing an ad in the weekly bulletin of my new community, Sara came into my life. Sara was several years older than I, but decades more wise in the ways of sponja, salad-slicing, and sock-pairing. Over the years, my family has become hers and through snippets of conversation, I’ve gotten a picture of her family as well.

Sara was an only girl, and extremely close to her parents, both of whom had escaped war-torn Arabic countries. Whenever she taught me a tidbit about life or laundry, she’d always credit her mother.

She’d also send me warm wishes from her mother, adding, “My mother’s mitpallelet for you… My mother’s lighting a candle for you… My mother’s blessing you…” Though I’d never met her, I was drawn to this Aramaic-speaking Ima who cared so much for me.

Imagine someone who has a storeroom full of medicines — yet this is not enough to cure him. In order to be cured, the person needs to swallow the medication and allow it to enter his body.

So too with Torah. It serves as medication for a person, saving him from the yetzer hara, as it says in Kiddushin (30b): “I created the yetzer hara, and I created the Torah as an antidote against him.”

Torah cannot heal the soul unless the person internalizes it within his innermost emotions and his heart.

When Sara was marrying off her first child, I was looking forward to finally meeting this matriarch. However, as I approached the hall, I hesitated. The only person I knew there was the chattan’s mother, who probably wouldn’t have much time for me. Plus, I was probably going to be the only American there, and perhaps the only Ashkenazi too. But Sara’s smachot were mine, so I opened the door and stepped into another world.

The lights were bright, the clothing sparkling. The sounds of Sephardi voices rising and falling made a brilliant backdrop for the Eastern music of the band. I was swept along by the crush of the crowd until suddenly I was standing before Sara.

“You came!” Her hand came around my waist and she began introducing me to everyone, “This is my sister, Faigy.”

We pray every day before Shema, “Hashem, give our hearts understanding…” We’re begging Hashem, it’s not enough to have it in our heads — we need it in our hearts.

“And this is my mother.”

I turned and met warm brown eyes beneath a simple snood. Sara’s mother was bent and arthritic, her lined face bearing witness to the difficulties she’d undergone. But as soon as she heard my name, she enveloped me in a hug. Every other word was “Yishtabach Shemo” as she rubbed my shoulder and heaped blessings upon all my family and future generations.

The whole situation felt surreal, yet I didn’t want it to end. She reached into the pocket of her simple dress and pressed toffees into my hands. “Give them to your beautiful children! Sheyiheyu briyim! Yishtabach Shemo! Tell them they’re from Ima shel Sara!” When she finally released me with a last warm hug, I moved slowly, not wanting to break the trance surrounding me.

This woman had never learned to read or write. An orphan, she’d married as a teen, and had escaped Iran, raising her young family in a strange land. By today’s measures, she wasn’t accomplished or successful. Yet I felt truly fortunate that I’d been in the presence of one of the warmest, wisest souls I’d ever met, who knew the source for every blessing of life. Yishtabach Shemo.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 583)

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