| In Sights |

In Full Control

That night’s events, and the lesson I learned, have stayed with me for more than 50 years as well

Photo: AEGedolimphotos.com

When I was just 14 years old, my rebbi, Rav Henoch Leibowitz ztz”l, was hospitalized and informed that he would have to undergo surgery the following day. And while ordinarily either the Rebbetzin a”h or more likely my father, Rav Avrohom Ginzberg ztz”l, the Rosh Yeshivah’s longtime right hand, would have spent the night with him in the hospital, they were both bedridden with the flu and could not be there. To compound the issue, the Rosh Yeshivah’s very loyal, dedicated doctor was sitting shivah, and so he was not available either.

Left with no other options, my father called and assigned the job to me. And so, at the age of 14 years old, I was given the responsibility of spending an entire night sitting at the bedside of the Rosh Yeshivah, who would be undergoing serious surgery in just a few hours. To say that I was nervous would be the understatement of the year.

The Rebbetzin knew I would be anxious and called to reassure me, telling me the Rosh Yeshivah would receive medication to ensure he would sleep through the night. My role was just to be there and call for a nurse if the Rosh Yeshivah needed or wanted anything.

I sat near the Rosh Yeshivah, and after no more than 15 or 20 minutes, he opened his eyes and saw me sitting next to him. Within minutes, he sensed how nervous I was. Determined to put me at ease, he asked me to help him sit up. He stayed awake the entire night(!), talking to me and sharing stories from his youth. Despite his total exhaustion, and, presumably, his apprehension about the impending surgery, the only thing that was important to him then was to make a nervous 14-year-old feel better about the situation he found himself in. No matter how many times I begged him to rest, he just kept on talking to me and putting me completely at ease.

When morning arrived, the surgical team came into the room to give some last-minute instructions and put some form of anesthesia into the IV. As the bed was wheeled out of the room, I could see the Rosh Yeshivah slowly falling asleep, but then he held up his hand for the orderlies to stop.

With herculean strength, he lifted himself up, turned around to me, picked up his hand to wave, and mouthed, “Thank you for staying with me last night, you really helped me so much.” With that, he fell back onto the bed, closed his eyes, and fell into a deep sleep.

When I returned home a little later, my father asked me how the Rosh Yeshivah’s night was. I told him what had happened, and concluded in awe, “The Rosh Yeshivah just isn’t human, he’s a malach.”

I remember my father’s response like it was yesterday. “What you witnessed last night was not the way a malach behaves, but rather the way a human who has worked on his middos with mussar for more than 50 years behaves.”

That night’s events, and the lesson I learned, have stayed with me for more than 50 years as well.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 994)

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