Rav Bender correctly and properly realigned everyone’s perspective on the day’s event
The excitement in the room was palpable. It was an event marking the beginning of the learning of Mishnayos for the third-grade boys at Yeshiva Darchei Torah.
Parents and grandparents were all in attendance celebrating this son’s or this grandson’s first immersion into Torah shebe’al peh. Mothers were bursting with pride as they watched their sons standing on stage about to receive their first Mishnayos. Fathers became teary-eyed as they observed their sons following the path of the Torah, and recalled the special day when they, too, received their first Mishnayos.
The grandparents were also shepping nachas of their grandchildren’s achievements.
Rav Yaakov Bender, rosh yeshivah of Yeshiva Darchei Torah, presided over the momentous occasion.
The plan undoubtedly was for Rav Bender to thank Hashem and commend the boys on their accomplishments. The sefer of Mishnayos would be presented to each student, providing a special photo-op for every family. The event would conclude with refreshments and the wishes of mazel tov.
Yet Rav Bender veered from the well-choreographed and anticipated proceedings.
Rav Bender’s insightful eye had noticed an older woman among the assembled. The woman was certainly an octogenarian and perhaps could be classified as a nonagenarian. To the surprise of all assembled, perhaps most to the woman herself, Rav Bender insisted she join him center stage.
Assuming correctly that the woman did not originate from the Five Towns, Rav Bender asked her about herself. She had been born in Poland and spent the war in Siberia.
Soon after, another great-grandmother was called up. She was a survivor of Auschwitz, liberated in 1945. She had three great-grandsons participating in the simchah of Haschalas Mishnayos. She said she once asked her husband if, after the war, they could ever have thought they’d witness their grandchildren at such an event. Both agreed it would have been unthinkable.
Yet these two great-grandmothers were here, witnessing their great-grandsons in America learning Mishnayos. In the same manner their fathers had done in Poland one hundred years ago.
Rav Bender stressed how miraculous this event was. Who could have imagined Torah flourishing in America after the Holocaust? Who else but the Jewish People could rise again to such spiritual heights after Auschwitz? The celebration proved Klal Yisrael’s resiliency and the Torah’s immortality.
Yet by calling up these venerable great-grandmothers, Rav Bender accomplished much more than proving the Jewish People’s invincibility and the Torah’s potency. Rav Bender correctly and properly realigned everyone’s perspective on the day’s event.
Of course, our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren must be honored and recognized for each rung they climb on the spiritual ladder of the Torah. We celebrate our children’s accomplishments as we should. Our children represent our greatest dreams and our hopes for a better tomorrow.
However, as the famous Shibolei Haleket (13th century) writes in his introduction to his classic work on halachah, “We are as midgets who stand on the shoulders of the giants who came before us. All of our wisdom and Torah achievements are only because of them.”
When Rav Bender called up these frail, venerated, cherished matriarchs, he was doing much more than giving these heroines their well-deserved nachas. He forced all of us to remember that these sometimes feeble and often petite bubbies are the true giants and true honorees of the day.
For it is only by relying on their seemingly delicate yet surprisingly stable shoulders that we have survived, thrived, and arrived at where we are today.
To the untrained eye, these esteemed great-grandmothers were invited guests and observers, yet to the Torah-trained mind of Rav Bender, they were the main event.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 957)
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