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Inbox: Issue 988

“Are we, as a community, so small and superficial that we cannot admit this truth?”

Wife and Scribe [For the Record / Issue 987]

The mention of a paper shortage during the Israeli War of Independence in your article about Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer reminded me of my father’s visit to Rav Meltzer during that time.

My late father, the writer Rabbi Tovia Preschel, once wrote about his visit to Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer during the summer of 1948. My father, who had enlisted as a soldier, had been transferred from a camp in the central sector of Israel to the northern front. Since he had to pass Petach Tikvah, he decided to visit Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer. Rav Meltzer had been wounded in his leg during the siege of Jerusalem and was convalescing at the home of his son-in-law, Rav Y.M. Ben Menachem of the beis din of Petach Tikvah.

My father describes the humble and modest home being filled with warmth and friendliness. Rav Isser Zalman was reclining on a couch, his wounded leg resting on a pillow. Although he seemed to suffer some physical pain, his talk was affable and animated.

Rav Isser Zalman’s wife, Rebbetzin Baila Hinda, was sitting at the table. In front of her was a small pile of sheets of paper. Some of the sheets had been used for wrapping purposes, and by smoothing them, she made them suitable for writing.

She was copying Rav Isser Zalman’s Torah, preparing for print another volume of the Even HaEzel. My father writes that he could not believe what he was seeing. He had heard that she was copying the chiddushim. But he wondered: Since Rav Isser Zalman had so many talmidim who would have felt privileged to assist him, why was his wife doing this work?

My father writes that he believes Rabbi Isser Zalman Meltzer wanted to avoid being served and waited upon by talmidei chachamim.

My father had these thoughts when reading the chapter on Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer in the sefer Ishim Ve’shitot by Rabbi Shlomo Yosef Zevin,

Pearl Herzog

Lakewood, NJ


At Home with Rav Simcha [Building Worlds / Issue 986]

Thank you for your tribute piece on Rav Simcha Wasserman. Rav Simcha orchestrated a most admirable path of Torah-focused living in the lives of my father, Yakov Goldfinger, and uncle, Dovid Bass. He and his wife Rebbetzin Faiga were unassumingly powerful, positive influences on many in the relatively small Los Angeles frum Jewish community in the 1960s and 70s.

As a second generation beneficiary of this influence growing up in Los Angeles, allow me to share a few short stories.

It was 1980 and I spent 2 years in Eretz Yisrael learning, mostly in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh. This coincided with the Wassermans’ aliyah. As I entered their small dirah in Kiryat Mattersdorf on an Erev Shabbos, Reb Simcha greeted me with a warm handshake and a big smile.

As per routine, they hosted for the Friday night seudah young adults who’d been escorted from the Kotel by Reb Meir Schuster’s assistants. When it came time to wash for hamotzi, Rebbetzin Faiga filled up the washing cup in her tiny kitchen for one of the guests. This guest dunked her hands into the cup, having no idea how to wash for hamotzi. The Rebbetzin gently showed her the proper way.

One of the guests at the table commented, “Rabbi, at The Wall they tell us that you are a great man but few people know about it.” Reb Simcha quickly retorted, “Well then, how do they know about it?”

The Rebbetzin offered me an orange. I declined. She said, “I’ll peel it for you.” I ate it, of course. That night I slept on their living room couch as usual. They made me feel like a close grandson.

On Motzaei Shabbos I asked the Rav a question on a gemara in Bava Metzia. He pulled out a gemara and gave me an in-depth answer as if he had learned the sugya the day before. Parenthetically, he told me on more than one occasion that there was not one am-ha’aretz in the entire Kiryat Mattersdorf.

During Pesach of 1981 the Rav and Rebbetzin went to Netanya on a Chol Hamoed tiyul. While they were gone, I had the dirah to myself. Our family minhag is to lay Tefillin on the days of Chol Hamoed. I went into the Rav’s office, saw his tefillin (as well as an English dictionary), and put them on without a brachah. When he returned from his trip, he asked me if I had used his tefillin. I said, “Yes.” He gave me the biggest smile and said, “I’m glad it was you.” He realized that the tefillin hadn’t been wrapped exactly the way he did it.

Around that time I went on a tiyul with friends to Mearat Hanetifim, the Stalactite Caves between Yerushalayim and Beit Shemesh. We returned to the Rav’s dirah afterward. He was not happy with our choice of trip. Upon arrival to the site, at least at that time, visitors were shown a film. The Rav expressed his displeasure at the fact that secularists were espousing non-Torah views about evolution during the film and attempting to indoctrinate unsuspecting visitors with such a perspective. I never went back.

Years later I saw him in Flatbush, New York. It was Shivah Asar B’Tammuz during Minchah. The gabbai honored him with maftir. He was close to 90, if not older. He read the maftir methodically, every word audible. I was amazed at his stamina.

Eventually, when the Rav was ill and recovering from surgery at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, I went to visit him. The sign on his door read, “Please do not disturb the Rabbi.” I respected his privacy but did get a glimpse of him through a door left ajar. He looked peaceful, with his tzitzis draped over his frame.

Rebbetzin Faiga was nifteres right after getting up from shivah for the Rav. I was shocked when I heard the news. She wasn’t ill, to my knowledge. Later it dawned on me that they were really an inseparable couple. He needed her up in Shamayim.

Decades have passed but the Rav and Rebbetzin’s light still shines on my father’s and uncle’s families as well as all Klal Yisrael.

Moshe Goldfinger

Beachwood, Ohio


The Parents’ Responsibility [A Class of his Own / Double Take – Issue 985]

I see that you’ve received a multitude of letters on the subject of the extra bright kid in class. We’ve had six sons go through the yeshivah system. We skipped every single one. Two of them skipped two grades.

The idea that the skipped child will suffer socially is an illusion. The child suffers socially in his age level class, also.

One day my fourth son came home from his third-grade class and exclaimed, “Tatty, I am not going back to yeshivah. I am not going to keep my hand in the air for 45 minutes until the rebbi finally calls on me. And besides, in the one hour I spend with you (that is me, his father), I learn more than the whole day in school.” When I asked how the other boys get along with him, his answer was, “They just make fun of me and call me smarty-pants.”

That was enough for me. I was able to afford it, so I took him out of school for three and a half years and hired a rebbi to learn with him five, then seven, then nine hours a day. His mother home-schooled the secular studies, and he finished all his NY State Regents by age 12. His “first-year-back” ninth-grade rebbi made a real yeshivah bochur out of him. He had his bar mitzvah in the tenth grade and was accepted into a name-brand beis medrash at 15.

Every single one of our family friends, at some point, took time to chastise and tell us that we were mortally wounding the boy’s social skills, etc. I assured them that he was a middle child of a large, loving family and that we thought he was doing well. We were right. They were wrong. Today, this son is a major league talmid chacham with a wonderful wife and family — his brothers are no slouches either.

A regular yeshivah curriculum aims at the middle of the class or even slightly below it. The current hanhalos’ motto is that “no child should be left behind,” and frankly, I applaud them for their daily devotion to Klal Yisrael. But a child’s chinuch is the parents’ responsibility, not the yeshivah’s. It is unfair to throw your kid at the yeshivah and expect it to service your special needs. They do the best they can, but ultimately, it is up to the parents to make the right decision for their individual child.

When I grew up many decades ago, classes were aimed at the top of the class. The intent was to create leaders, as we were the first American-born children in an orphaned generation. Whatever the middle- and lower-level students got was good enough to get them through life, and that was that.

As time went on, as the schools got larger, they started separate tracks for higher and lower achievers. In the girls’ schools this was accepted, but in the boys’ yeshivos, the parents complained that their children would be stigmatized by being assigned to the lower class. Of course, this was a silly, jealousy-driven theme, but they killed a very good solution to the problem described in the Double Take story.

Finally, schools had the brighter children taken out for some hours of “enrichment.” That worked well, but alas, that idea has also gone by the wayside. As above, the only solution available to parents of gifted children — for whom the particular yeshivah does not provide a specific program — is skipping the child up to the next grade level. At least there, the child will be challenged. Instead of floating through school on his brains, he will learn to work for his grades.

Many of today’s children are, thank G-d, very bright, and we should be doing more to encourage and engage them, as opposed to simply managing our students — especially our top minds.

Dovid Green


Acknowledge the Sacrifice [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 986]

I am writing to express how disillusioned, hurt, and disturbed I feel after reading Yisroel Besser’s argument that yeshivah bochurim in time of war should receive the same recognition and attention as Israeli soldiers on the battlefield.

The act and value of learning Torah should ideally make a person deeper, more truthful, and multi-dimensional. Can we, as a community, be broad and truthful enough to acknowledge that while the cheftzah of Torah learning is the most valuable one in the world, those learning with the intense encouragement of their community and family are, for the most part, not sacrificing in the same way as those risking their lives on the battlefield — for the safety and security of Yiddishe lives in Eretz Yisrael?

Are we, as a community, so small and superficial that we cannot admit this truth? Must we self-righteously write articles about the equal dedication of yeshivah bochurim “when the dead are still lying in front of him?” Yisroel Besser, do you believe our community or yeshivah bochurim are that weak, insecure, or one-dimensional?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe acknowledged the soldiers’ true sacrifice, saying, “In one way, the soldiers are more holy than even the holy learners of Torah because they sacrifice their limb and life.” It is not that hard to be clear, truthful, and deep.

I need to believe that a community making Torah learning its central value is a community where appreciation of truth, depth, and intuitive sensitivity resides. This is why I feel so pained, hurt, and disillusioned. Yisroel Besser, I have always enjoyed your articles and respect your writing. You obviously have a huge audience who respects your voice. I implore you to please rectify the harm you have done by writing a public article degrading bnei Torah and portraying them as people who are small.


Rabbi Shmuel Gefen

Lack of Appreciation [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 986]

Dear Rabbi Besser,

I always enjoy your column and writing. Your relevant, blunt, and often amusing perspective gives us real food for thought. But your latest piece upset and angered me. More, it saddened me. I think I see the point you were trying to make. But in doing so, you showed a disconnect to so many of us in Eretz Yisrael.

You write of the sacrifice of the bochurim, you described them as they “squared their shoulders, hugged their parents goodbye, and boarded flights,” and stated that we need to be “at least as appreciative” to them as the soldiers.

I want to preface this with saying that I do absolutely believe that learning and tefillah is the source of our strength, and any victory will come through that. But in your wording, in your equivalence of their sacrifice of going back to a, yes, air-conditioned beis medrash with a bomb shelter steps away, you showed a lack of hakaros hatov and understanding of the mesirus nefesh of soldiers and their families.

For when these soldiers “square their shoulders” and hug their parents, they do so knowing they may not come back. Some have not. While I’m appreciative of those women who struggle through bath and bedtime routine alone yet again because their husbands are learning an extra seder for Klal Yisrael, it really doesn’t compare to those wives who haven’t spoken to their husbands for two weeks or more at a time, knowing they are under fire and trying to keep their children protected from that reality. While we appreciate and see the value of those shvitzing over a blatt Gemara, can we compare that mesirus nefesh to soldiers who haven’t showered in weeks or changed clothing or eaten a hot meal, and every day put their bodies on the line?

When campaigns for kollelim talk about the yungeleit being “on the frontlines,” to my mind this shows a distance from understanding what those words mean. Yes, they are the shield of Klal Yisrael, but the frontline is when you see the eyes and weapons of the enemy blow up in front of you.

Maybe I am a bit raw when I read this. I have spent a week in and out of the shivah home of a boy in our community who fell in battle. I watch a family so full of emunah and bitachon, a home full of chesed, not broken but now with a permanent hole.

We should all be raw from this. We should all be sensitive to this. Yes, we need to appreciate the Torah and the chesed and the tefillah. But in terms of mesirus nefesh, let us not kid ourselves into such complacency, equivalence, and disrespect.

Dalya Goldstein


Big Enough [Voice in the Crowd / Issue 986]

I appreciate the maturity and nuance of Mishpacha, and of the letters that usually appear in this space. That is why I was disappointed with the critical responses to Rabbi Besser’s “Voice in the Crowd” piece.

I assume that most readers of this magazine appreciate that Torah learning is a vital part of our spiritual arsenal. I assume that most also acknowledge the vital role played by the IDF soldiers. Everyone’s aware of the danger the soldiers face and everyone I know is davening for them. Rabbi Besser’s piece didn’t seem to downplay that; it just highlighted another demographic that is playing a role. Why have we turned this into an either-or situation?

One of the beautiful things we have witnessed over the last month and a half is the “bigness” of Klal Yisrael, the way people have expanded their inner horizons. This has happened in many demographics and in many communities. We’ve seen the anti-judicial reform lobby channel all their considerable resources into a hostage awareness campaign. We have also seen the global community of chareidim who see the IDF ideology and lifestyle as a real risk to their values take on a campaign of their own: to daven, advocate, cook, and raise funds for their fellow Jews who serve and are in danger. Baruch Hashem, we’ve seen how chareidim can be “big” enough to hold both realities at once — their less-than-positive feelings for the IDF ideology with their he’s-my-brother feelings for individual soldiers in danger.

Can we take it one step further? Can we acknowledge that in this current war, every Jew has been entrusted with some sort of role, and everyone can use encouragement — without ranking, comparing, or demeaning anyone’s contribution? Do we need a “sacrifice index” in order to lend support, encouragement, and appreciation to those who are exerting themselves for our continued survival? Must it always be one at the expense of the other, or can we value everyone for what they contribute?

We’ve proven that we can be big people. Let’s keep that up, and extend appreciation and love to all Jews who are playing roles in this battle, a battle that is taking place on both physical and spiritual fronts.

David Helenberg


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 988)

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