29 May REMEMBERING REBBETZIN MIRIAM LIBBY WEISS – PART 14-16
In Masechtas Sanhedrin, the Gemora informs us “Tchilas dino shel adom eino ela b’divrei Torah – A person is judged first in regard to his Torah studies.” The Gemora also tells us, in Masechtas Shabbos, one of the first things a person will be grilled about is whether they did their business faithfully and with integrity. It stands to reason that this refers to the judgement of a man. A woman, however, is not obligated to study Torah and is not required by a Kesuvah to support the family, and therefore she will have a different kind of interrogation. Since the Torah says she was created to be an eizer k’negdo, a helper to her partner, it is likely that her final reckoning will start with how she lived up to this responsibility.
As I walk down memory lane, my dear readers, let me share some of the ways my Rebbetzin excelled at being a helping partner so that we can learn by example. Of course, there is no firm syllabus on this subject. As Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l zy”a says, every marriage is like a ship at sea and has to chart its own course, and one has to design a helping strategy which is unique to the needs of their relationship. Even so, the reader should be able to glean important lessons from my wife’s examples.
It’s interesting that when I think of my wife as an eizer one of the first things that comes to mind is how she always made sure to wake me up for my shiurim, my Torah lectures. This is not as simple as it sounds. Many times I would come home after an arduous day and desperately need a nap before my night’s two daf yomis. So I would take a rest at 7:15 p.m. and she would have to shake me out of a deep sleep so that I could make my first daf at 8 o’clock. She would start at 7:40, then again at 7:45, and again at 7:50. Sometimes, I would do this between 9:10 and 9:40 p.m. with the same routine. Probably the hardest time was waking me up from a Shabbos nap on a short Shabbos after two plates of cholent so that I should be at shul on time for the 3:00 p.m. daf yomi, or waking me up for shacharis after a seder that ended at 4 a.m. And then there was the early days of our marriage when she woke me up sometimes at 12:30 a.m. so that I could get to WNYM radio in time for my 1:00 a.m. daf yomi. I’m making a big deal about this because in 34 years she certainly woke me up for literally thousands of shiurim. Furthermore in 34 years because of her dedication I did not miss a SINGLE shiur, solely due to her devotion! I bask in the knowledge that, for each and every one of these thousands of shiurim, she is now collecting eternal rewards for being a staunch and loyal partner. There were many times that if she woke up early from her nap, she didn’t risk going back to sleep so that she wouldn’t miss out on getting me up on time. It might not sound so special, being a human alarm clock and snooze button, but it meant the world to me. Remember anytime that you as a spouse are in a position where you and only you can provide a service for your partner-there is where you can make yourself indispensable and appreciated.
Here’s another example. When people would call up that I should travel to them and give shiurim, many would try to take advantage and not offer to pay me. She would step in as my right hand and take the phone and tell me, “Moish, let me handle this.” She would then get on the phone with the rabbi, the president, or the head of the Ladies auxiliary, and ask them, “Don’t you think that my husband also has to pay tuition?” Or she would say, “You do pay your plumber and your carpenter!? My husband also has to make a living!”
When reflecting upon how my wife helped me, I am also so grateful to her that she pushed me to do many extracurricular mitzvos. She would say to me when there was a nichum aveilim, an opportunity to comfort a mourner who I did not know, “Moish, you don’t know them but they know you and it would sure make a big difference if you visited them.” She did this many times when it came to visiting the sick or going to a wedding. In this way, throughout the decades, she caused me to do untold extra mitzvos. I couldn’t tell her no, since she never asked of me what she didn’t do herself.
I hope to continue this subject next week but in the meantime, my dear readers, think of ways that you can help your partner and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
In Yiddishkeit, we are not only rewarded for what we accomplish. Rather, it is also sometimes considered a huge achievement when we avoid doing certain things. For example, the Vilna Gaon, zt”l, zy”a, revealed that one of the greatest rewards possible awaiting the righteous in the Next World is the Ohr Hagonuz, the Hidden Ethereal Light put away for the righteous in the Afterlife. This light was considered so pleasurable and so wonderful that Hashem felt it could not be experienced by the wicked. So, although the wicked can bask in the pleasures of the Riviera, enjoy succulent gourmet meals, and other extreme sensual pleasures, the Ohr Hagonuz is just too good for them. Then, the Vilna Gaon asks further, “What does a person have to do to experience this awesome pleasure?” He shocks us by teaching that it’s not what we do but rather what we don’t do. For every moment that one could’ve spoken lashon hara, some nasty gossip about a colleague, and holds himself or herself back from divulging it, they will merit to bask in the Eternal joys of the Ohr Hagonuz.
Last week, I started talking about examples of how my beloved Rebbetzin, zt”l, zy”a, was an eizer k’negdo, a helpful partner to me. Upon reflection, I realized that it’s not just what she did, but, in a very great way, it’s what she chose not to do and the sacrifices that she made that helped me greatly throughout our marriage.
For many years, she made a very successful Chinese Auction in Staten Island for the wonderful Zichron Shlome Refuah Fund. She gave it her all, personally collecting the prizes, wrapping them by hand, advertising it, getting the entertainment and inspirational speakers. Every year, it was a huge success, raising a lot of money for children with cancer. It was very popular with the women and gave my Rebbetzin a huge amount of personal satisfaction. She could have easily decided to lend her expertise to the major Chinese Auction done in Brooklyn, or bring her success to neighboring towns such as Elizabeth and Edison, and it would have surely been thrilling for her to do so. But, I know that she decided once a year was enough so as not to take away too much time from me and the family.
In the same way, every week on Tuesday, the day I prepared my global chumash shiur (so I was busy anyway), she would go to a nursing home, take down all of the Jewish patients, and change their golden years for the better. Theses seniors would look forward to her visit the entire week. So did my Rebbetzin. It would have been perfectly natural for her to do a different nursing home every day, bringing her warmth, love, and good cheer to places like Leisure Chateau in Lakewood, and Chaim Solomon in Brooklyn. Once again, I believe that she didn’t want to drain her energies to the point that she wouldn’t have
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
the strength to be by my side – helping me with millions of tapes and CDs, helping me orchestrate my shiurim, and having meals ready for me no matter when my crazy schedule allowed me to eat. She knew where to draw the line, setting aside her personal fulfillment for her primary responsibility as a wife and a mother.
Although she derived great pleasure at helping people, she was at almost every bus stop waiting for the all six of our children all the years that they were growing up. Only when she had a baby would I be by the bus stop. I remember vividly how one afternoon she wasn’t feeling well and I waited by the bus stop and one of the children said to me, “Mommy had a baby? I didn’t even know she was pregnant.” That how rare it was for her not to be there.
Recently, I thought of an astounding fact. I believe that in her entire life my Rebbetzin never sent a single email or text. The idea was anathema for her. Why would she choose to type something if she could hear a person’s lovely voice? She loved the phone. It was her way to spread her love, warmth, and good cheer. It therefore was all the more surprising that she never asked me for a cellphone – even for a flip phone. I realized only after her passing that we never talked about why that was, but I believe in my heart that she felt that the cellphone would invade too much on our quality time with each other. And this was yet another example of what she sacrificed to be an eizer k’negdo. Rav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, zy”a, used to say that for a ship to operate at optimum performance it needs to have an excellent captain and first mate. If it had two captains, it would flounder. He said in the same way a successful marriage should have a captain and a first mate. My wife excelled at being my first mate, never letting her objectives interfere with my goals of harbotzas Torah and my many rabbinical duties.
This tightrope is the challenge of being a true eizer k’negdo, and is a lifetime example of how one can excel not only by what they choose to do but what they choose not to do as well. I know my Rebbetzin is being richly rewarded in Gan Eden, for the sacrifices that she made of pursuits that would have surely brought her personal fame, accolades, and great feelings of fulfillment in order to further my global Torah accomplishments. May we all be able to find the correct balance between our personal dreams and our marital responsibilities and in that merit may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Recently, the world mourned the passing of former First Lady, Barbara Bush. There was a lot to mourn. She was married happily for seventy-three years which alone deserves our standing up and applauding her. She married her first kiss which is also admirable. She proudly visited Israel and empathetically visited Auschwitz. But, I am gravely concerned, as it pertains to Torah Jewry, of the example she set with her passing. She made a worldwide proclamation that she was opting for “comfort care.” She was fully cognizant – as was widely reported – with a bourbon and a cellphone, and she calmly announced that she was dispensing with additional medical treatment and will go the route of “comfort care” alone. Comfort care is a sinister euphemism. It usually means (although not necessarily so in Mrs. Bush’s case, as the words comfort care are ambiguous) dispensing with blood transfusions, blood draws, T.P.N., and other life-prolonging treatments, concentrating on making the patient as “comfortable” as possible.
We must know that in most cases in Torah law such behavior is absolutely prohibited. In Hilchos Shabbos [siman 328], the Biur Halacha by the saintly Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, zy”a, writes that if someone was buried by an avalanche and is badly mutilated to the point that he will only live chayei sha’ah, a short amount of time, we still take heroic measures and desecrate the Shabbos on his behalf. Even to prolong a life for a few moments is worthwhile for in those moments one can repent and repair their eternity (Meiri). Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, zy”a, in Igros Moshe, Choshen Mishpat [2:78-7], writes that even if one is elderly and says that he is disgusted with life and wants to be left to die, one should not even contemplate withholding medical treatment. Contrast this to what one of the national groups proclaimed about Mrs. Bush’s decision, “Of course one wants to live more but there comes a time when one can say it’s enough.” Elsewhere in that siman, Rav Moshe states categorically that even if one is suffering, it is forbidden to deny the person food – even intravenously – and he writes the suffering will be a great boon for the person when they get to the Next World. I mention this because I am frightened that the national consciousness of modern society, which is holding meetings – as we speak – about doctor assisted suicide, should not seep into our communities.
My Rebbetzin, Of Blessed Memory, started having powerful pain in September, 2015. In November, 2015, she was given the dreaded diagnosis of inoperable pancreatic cancer with metastasis to the liver. One doctor said she had six weeks to live. Sloan-Kettering gave her an “outside shot” of eight months. Before Pesach of that year, when she was hospitalized in Maimonides Hospital with a devastating stool infection, I could hear the nurses talking amongst themselves of how she would never get out alive. She would live to see four new grandchildren and, this past Labor Day, walk down our last child, Rena Tzivia, with me to the chuppah and dance the night away. She lived to make thousands of brachos, do hundreds of acts of chesed, and make countless acts of Kiddush Hashem. But, it took thirty-two chemotherapies of seven different cocktails, and the superhuman effort of her family and friends, together with her wonderful Doctors, Dr. Azriel Hirschfeld and Dr. Yitzchok Kurtzer, to help her through this journey. I vividly remember the hospital trying to convince me about the benefits of “comfort care.” With our children and grandchildren becoming busier and busier with their own lives, if we don’t educate them in the value of every minute of life, it will be tempting for them to say, “I can’t watch my loved one suffer. Just make them comfortable.” We must know that that’s not our way.
Two weeks before my Rebbetzin passed away, more than two years after her diagnosis, she had an oxygen saturation level that was barely human. Hatzolah told me to be prepared for her passing within the hour. I held her hand for the next twelve hours telling her that Chanukah was the next night and that I hoped to light the menorah by her bed and make a She’hechianu on the menorah and on her. And that is exactly what happened. Then, on the second day of Chanukah, our daughter Devora gave us a new grandchild who we named Chaya, celebrating that Mommy was still alive. She rallied and started talking again, she sang Maoz Tzur and gave baby Chaya a bracha for arichas yomim, long life.
What was right for Barbara Bush is not what’s right for us. Although every case is certainly different and one must consult a very knowledgeable rabbi for end of life guidance, I’m writing this article so that you should know: Firstly, a diagnosis is not always right and, secondly, fight for every moment of life for the mitzvah of v’chai bahem, to live by them, is so great that it supersedes the Shabbos and Yom Kippur and almost every other mitzvah in the Torah.