Society imposes certain criteria by which human achievement
is measured. But all of us possess certain hidden reservoirs
of strength and skill which allow for individualized
criteria of success. Few of us in the course of our
lifetimes have an opportunity to perform a heroic act that
will attract the attention of the masses.
Yet deeds of heroism on a smaller scale, when there is no
human recognition and when there are no material rewards,
are in some ways more valuable. A strong sense of faith is
required to maintain the belief that one's small, barely
visible deeds are being watched, appreciated and recorded by
One Whose appreciation is infinite and Whose criteria for
judging deeds is impenetrably profound.
It is fundamental that in a home based on Torah, the husband
sets the pace regarding the spiritual standard which will be
present there, while the wife is generally given the role of
tending to day-to-day practical concerns of the home. But
women are equipped with a nature that craves to nurture, and
additionally, Chazal tell us that Jewish women are equipped
with a certain spiritual sensitivity (binoh yeseiroh)
which men lack. These qualities can produce special results,
as will become evident from the following two anecdotes.
* * *
Reb Ber Elya Gordon was a talmid at the Mirrer
Yeshiva in Poland in the 1930s in the closing chapter of the
saga of the great European yeshivos. He returned to the U.S.
prior to the outbreak of World War Two, married, and
ultimately settled with his wife in New York. The following
story came to light through Reb Ber Elya's brother-in- law,
R' Yitzchok Arye Scheinerman (his wife's brother), a former
chavrusa of mine from my days at the Telshe Yeshiva
One day in the early 1940s Reb Ber Elya was notified that a
wealthy uncle of his living in Cincinnati had passed on and
that his uncle's will designated him as the heir to the
latter's vast real estate holdings. However, he would have
to move to Cincinnati in order to effectively manage the
business. He and his wife were uneasy about making this move
since Cincinnati was hardly a center of Yiddishkeit,
certainly not to the extent that New York was, and they
were concerned how this would impact on a growing family
that they of course wished to imbue with Torah values.
Reb Ber Elya pondered the issue and came up with the
solution of going alone to Cincinnati to handle their newly-
acquired fortune and the responsibility that it entailed.
His wife and family would remain in New York and the plan
was that he would visit them periodically.
But his eishes chayil was not happy with the idea.
"If you were going off alone in order to learn Torah I could
make peace with the idea. But to be separated so that you
could make money is something else. I don't like it."
Reb Ber Elya and his wife decided not to pursue this venture
and instead of leaving for Cincinnati, he ended up going off
to Lakewood to learn, coming home only for Shabbosos.
(Lakewood in the 1940s and early 1950s, although already a
budding center of Torah study, had not yet evolved into the
thriving community of bnei Torah that it is today and
was thus not an appropriate place for raising children.)
Of course, this was an extraordinary sacrifice on the part
of Mrs. Gordon for the sake of her husband's growth in
ruchniyus. It should be noted that the properties,
not being actively managed by R' Ber Elya, eventually
dwindled down to nothing.
* * *
Moshe Goodman (the name has been changed) was an alumnus of
Yeshiva Torah Vodaas as well as Yeshiva University (the
first student who went there solely for Torah learning
without college studies). After receiving his smicha
from Y.U., he took a rabbinical post in a small town in
Pennsylvania. One day he was asked to participate in a
special meeting of his shul's board of directors.
There was an important decision which had been reached and
which he, as rabbi, had to be informed of.
Hesitatingly, but unequivocally, the members of the board
informed him that, in the interest of manifesting a more
progressive outlook and "keeping up with the times," a vote
had been cast and the congregation had elected to remove the
mechitza and to allow men and women to sit together
during services, as is the practice in Reform and
Needless to say, Rabbi Goodman was quite distressed by this
news. But he wasn't sure what action he should take. On one
hand, he felt that if he could not persuade the members to
leave the mechitza in place and thus retain the
status quo, perhaps he ought to resign and seek another
position elsewhere. Besides this compromise with halacha
which they had decided upon, who knew what would be next on
their agenda in the name of "progress"?
On the other hand, there was the uncertainty of how his
family would obtain their parnossa. He was torn
between his principles and the practical issue of supporting
Rebbetzin Goodman had a different perspective. She was
unequivocally against him continuing in this shul as
the rabbi. Both she and her husband had been fortunate to
receive a chinuch which espoused strict adherence to
halacha without room for concessions. No, she maintained
that there was no way in which they could remain there under
these circumstances. And, indeed, her husband ultimately
Rabbi Goodman's congregation's loss of a most worthy more
de'asra was my valuable gain for they relocated to
Philadelphia whereby I was fortunate to make the
acquaintance of this very special couple. And they did not
lose out in terms of their livelihood through making this
heroic decision to leave; after a short stay in
Philadelphia, the Goodmans moved to Montreal where Rabbi
Goodman established himself in a successful business.
Rabbi Goodman's experience was actually not an uncommon one.
An unfortunate trend in those years (1940s and 1950s) was
that many who received smicha were unable to find a
suitable post as a rav in a truly Orthodox kehilla,
and due to pressures of parnossa were compelled
to accept positions as spiritual leaders in Conservative
congregations, or those which were Orthodox in name only. Of
course, there were cases such as the Goodmans' where the
choice was made to buck the tide and maintain strict
allegiance to Torah, even where compromise would have made
things financially easier. Often, this steadfastness and
mesiras nefesh were largely due to the influence of
the outstanding noshim tzidkoniyos of our nation.