Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

19 Adar 5761 - March 14, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
Encouragement From The Distaff Side

by Avrohom Mordechai Kaufman and Yosef Gesser

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 in Cleveland.

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 Conservative temples.

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 his family.

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 stepped down.

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.

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