11 Jul REMEMBERING REBBETZIN MIRIAM LIBBY WEISS – PART 19-21
Last week, I discussed how, with the passing of my Rebbetzin, her glow and shine is missing from the Tehillim group, from our Shul the Agudas Yisroel of Staten Island, and from our neighborhood. It goes without saying that her glow is even more missed by myself and my children. This past week, I had a small surgery to remove a lipoma (a lump of fat) from my back. On Tuesday, I had to go for pre-testing at Maimonides Unit on 64th Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Brooklyn. Tuesday is the day I prepare for my global Chumash shiur. There I was in an area where there is virtually no parking planning to lug five seforim and my notebook so that I could continue preparing while in the waiting room.
I looked helplessly at the streets full of garages with no spot to park on the foreseeable horizon. I looked Heavenward and said, “Hashem please help me.” And then I said, “Miriam Libby, you always assisted me on Tuesday so I could prepare my shiur.” Barely a moment later, a car pulled out from a parking space in front of me and I slipped into the spot. It was then that I heard my wife’s voice in my ear. It jolted me! I heard her say, “It’s the least I could do.” This was a common refrain that I heard from her. Whenever she did something from me, she would say, “It’s the least I could do.” Our tenant probably pays the lowest rent of all the tenants on our block. It’s hard for me to ask for a raise. So occasionally, with my blessings, she would go down and ask from the tenants a small incremental raise and then she would bounce up the stairs and tell me, “It’s the least I could do.”
This past Wednesday, our oldest son, Nechemia, made a bris on our new grandchild, Yeshaya Naftali. I saw Nechemia crying at his son’s bris and he told me how much he missed Mommy’s presence. Whenever she would come to a simcha by the children, she would have candy for all of the grandchildren and toys from the 99¢ store, handpicked for each and every one of them. She would also load the back of the car with small stackable chairs so that the children would also have chairs to sit on at the simcha. Although if we had a granddaughter, it would have been a name for her, everybody said that she would have certainly said, “Just be grateful that it’s a healthy child. What some people wouldn’t do to have a healthy child.”
When our daughter in-law, Rivki, went into labor, I reminded her that Mommy would have said, “Don’t be a martyr. Get an epidural. When you get to the hospital, tell them, ‘My name is Epidural. Pass me the epidural.’” She didn’t want any of her children to needlessly suffer. Everybody remembered at the bris how she would tell the kimpatur, “Stay off your feet. You just had a baby. Don’t strain yourself.” At a bris, she would remind spouses to make a sandwich to bring home to their partner who couldn’t come.
I mentioned before how she would load up the car with chairs for the kids. It’s interesting when I would go to get a new car lease, sometimes I would say to her that I’m thinking about downsizing since we had only one child left at home. She knew nothing about navigation systems, surround sound, leather seats, or anti-skid brakes. But, she wanted a big car so that she could fill it up with all kinds of stuff for the children whenever we went to Lakewood or with packages and books for her many chesed projects. Yet every Tuesday she would shlep back into the car all my recording equipment, while assuring me, “It’s the least I can do!” I remember when we would travel in the car to give a shiur perhaps in Baltimore, Boston, or Connecticut, she would force herself to stay awake to keep me company if I was drowsy. When I would thank her, she would say, “You’re doing all the driving. It’s the least I could do.” She would stay up the entire Tuesday night helping with the mailing of the tapes and CDs and, when I would thank her, she would say, “You did all the preparing and gave the shiur. It’s the least I could do.”
Oh! how I miss her kindness her sincerity and her giving spirit. May Hashem grant us the smarts to be kind and giving especially to our loved ones and in that merit may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
The Medrash tells us a fascinating story. Someone once came to his Rav and inquired whether the zarzir, a bird commonly translated as the starling, is kosher to eat. The Rav admitted to not knowing so he recommended that he investigate who the zarzir hangs out with. The man started doing some birdwatching and found that the zarzir was always around the raven. So the Rav told him, as is cited in Masechtas Chillin, “Lo l’chinam holaich zarzir eitzel oreiv – It is not for naught that the starling hangs around the raven.” Rather, just as the raven is not kosher, so too the staring is not kosher as well.
From this story of the sages was formulated the popular adage, “You can discover much about a person from seeing who their friends are.” If a person hangs around shady characters, he or she is likely to be a shady character as well. On the other hand, if a person keeps the company of ehrlicha people, then it is likely that he or she is also an upright person. If a person hangs around athletes, he is probably athletic and if he hangs around nerds, he’s probably a nerd.
But, what can you say about my Rebbetzin – who was friendly with all types of people from the greatest Rebbetzin to the community kvetch, or the neighborhood nogoodnik. What does that say about her? I believe that the answer is that it says about her that she wasn’t interested in herself, but rather in every other person. The Torah commands us that the Chasida the Stork is a non-kosher bird. The Gemara reveals that the Stork is called chasida the kind one-because it is kind to its friends. The Gemora explains further that the reason it is not Kosher is because it is only kind to its friends and to no one else. We are not suppose to just have our own cliques but are expected to be nice to everyone. My Rebbitzen upped the ante by being not only nice to everyone but was friendly to one and all!!
In a similar vein, the posuk says in Amos [4:13], “U’magid
l’adom ma seicho – And will tell a person what was his conversation.” From this verse, the Gemora develops the idea that from a person’s conversation, you can determine the nature of the person. A devoted mother is always talking about her children. A busy realtor is always talking about real estate, and a dedicated talmid chacham is always talking about learning.
What did my wife talk about? Whatever the other person wanted. She would talk about clothing to one, carriages to another, wedding plans to a third, retirement strategies to a fourth, jokes to a fifth, cataracts to a sixth, travel to a seventh, and the list goes on and on and on. Her conversations again revealed that her very essence was that she was into the next person and not herself.
Chazal give us another barometer to determine the character of another person. It teaches us that you can discover the character of a person by inspecting how they deal with three things, “B’kiso, b’koso, ub’kaaso – How they behave with their money, when they drink, and when they get angry.” My wife never ever drank, and she very rarely got angry. But how she behaved with money was the true litmus test. When I would ask her if she needed something, she would say with complete sincerity, “Moish, you give me everything.” But then she would say with a smile, “But if you want to give me some money… This child needs this… I could buy something for the grandchildren,” or, “I think I’d like to participate in this hachnasas kallah or help this single mom.” She would always say that if she played the lottery (not that she ever played) and won a million dollars, she would give $100,000 to maaser, $100,000 to each of her six children, and then to our shul, hatzoloh, bikur cholim, tomchei Shabbos, etc. She would never ever say she wanted anything for herself. Once again, her very essence was for the other person.
This is the true reason why Hashem created the world, as we say in the famous posuk, “Olam chesed yiboneh – The world was built to do kindness for others,” and it’s why the founder of the Jewish people, Avraham Avinu, set the tone for all of us, by being a pioneer of chesed, of kindness. May it be the will of Hashem that in our lives we find in our hearts a lot of room for the needs of our loved ones, our friends, our associates, and all who cross our paths, and in that merit may Hashem shower his kindness upon us and bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.
When Eliezer went to find a wife for Yitzchak to continue the building of Klal Yisroel, he declared that the woman who would not only offer him to drink but would say, “Gam g’malecha ashkeh – I will also give your [ten] camels to drink,” she will be a worthy mate for Yitzchak. The attribute of taking notice and being concerned about a stranger’s camels is the awesome trait of a caring spirit. This was the very definition of my beloved Rebbetzin. I mentioned that recently, baruch Hashem, I had a lipoma surgically removed from my back. When one of my wife’s good friends, Mrs. Chaya Glazer, heard about it she told me, “I’m so glad. Miriam Libby, although she was so sick, used to tell me how worried she was about it.” It’s just like my wife to never have mentioned it to me since she knew I couldn’t take care of it while I was caring for her and therefore she did not want to worry me about it. But although she was so sick and wracked in pain, she still had my concerns foremost on her mind.
When her end was drawing near and the pancreatic cancer was tearing her apart, I knew how much she wanted to talk to me about remarriage. One time, I remember, she grabbed both my hands and told me passionately, “Moish, listen to me…!” But I didn’t let her continue. I told her, “Miriam Libby, I have a long-term contract with you and we’re going to beat this thing.” I never wanted her to give up hope for Chazal teach us, “Ein davar omeid bifnei harotzon – Nothing stands in the way of a strong will.” I would tell her that Rav Reuven Feinstein, shlit”a, teaches, “We don’t have to pray for miracles. We just daven for what we say every day in birchas Krias Shema: that Hashem is a Borei Refuos, He creates cures.” I would point out to her that since she started getting chemo, new treatments, new immunologies, and new parp inhibitors had already come onto the scene. And I told her that more are surely on the horizon so hang in there.
(As an aside, every caregiver should know that it is most vital to strengthen the mental state of the sick patient. It is our very first concern. In the misaberach, when we pray for the betterment of one who is ill, we say first, refuas hanefesh, the health of the spirit, and only then do we say refuas haguf, the health of the body. I’ve seen in chemo labs, the patients who gave up hope were the first to die, even when their situation was not that critical.)
To get back to my Rebbetzin, when she saw that I would absolutely not speak to her about the topic of remarriage, she spoke to my children instead. For example, she told my oldest daughter, Chani, “Totti is baruch Hashem young. He can’t be alone. He’s going to have to remarry and you better be good to her.” (Not that any of my wonderful children needed to be told this.) When my children would afterwards tell me this, it awed me how caring she was to speak about something that had to be so painful as she was preparing to separate from all of us.
As the summer approaches and many in the tristate area are preparing to go up to the Catskills for a summer break, I remember how valiantly she tried last year to go there. Although she couldn’t take the noise and having lost over 90 pounds, her frail state did not make for a rickety bungalow stay. She told everybody how desperately she wanted to go up to the country because I needed the change. On a diet of morphine, Percocet and fentanyl, she was still caring about my R&R.
Although these are very personal recollections, I share them with you with the hope that in the routine course of our daily interactions with our loved ones, we should scout-out ways that we too should manifest caring and a generosity of spirit. In that merit, may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.