06 Mar REMEMBERING REBBETZIN MIRIAM LIBBY WEISS A’H – PART 5 & 6
Let me share with you how it all started between Miriam Libby and me. My Hebrew birthday is the 12th of Av. On my 21st birthday I went to my Rebbe, Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, zy”a, and asked him if I should start dating. And, he told me no. (It is important to remember that this was not a general psak-halachic decision, but rather specific to me). So, when I was 22, I again asked him on my Hebrew birthday if I should start dating and once again he told me no. On my 23rd birthday, I was already inpatient, having friends who were already married with children. I think I was a little pushy and I said something like, “I should start dating by now, right?” And he gave me kind of a pareve answer, like, “Nu nu.” But I didn’t pick up on it. And that year I went out with a dozen young ladies to no avail.
On my 24th birthday, I asked him for a blessing and he gave me a hearty wish to become a chossen. At the same time, I had just come back from a trip to Eretz Yisrael, where I went to the Amuka, the grave of Rav Yonason ben Uziel, which is supposed to be a segula to become a chossen. Now, fasten your seat belts for what happened next.
I was in Camp Yeshiva of Staten Island, in Kerhonkson, New York, together with Rav Moshe. Families would come up for the weekend to spend time in the proximity of Rav Moshe, the beloved leader of world Jewry. One such family was the Saftlos family. They sent up their provisions ahead of time with the Zines family. The Zines’ vehicle caught on fire as it arrived at the yeshiva camp and all of the Saftlos’ possessions got burnt. Mrs. Malky Saftlos has a best friend in the yesheiva, Rabbetzin Yehudis Neuman. She was distressed for her friend, and went to Jamesway to replace what was lost. At that time, my father, A”H, Mr. Heshy Weiss, managed the Sheraton Regal Inn in Piscataway, New Jersey, which was owned by his brother, Helu Weiss, OBM. I got from my father blankets, pillows, and towels for the entire family. At the same time, as I was sort of in charge of the medical needs in the yeshiva, I administered First Aid to one of the boys who got burned in the car fire. Mrs. Saftlos, who had observed me in the past bringing food to Rav Moshe, was so moved by the blankets, etc., that she decided to try to make a shidduch for me. She had seen Miriam Libby when she was a second grade teacher in Torah v’Daas and knew about her reputation as a Baalas Chesed. So, she went to Rebbetzin Neuman who knew me and the two friends conspired and the rest is history.
Thus, a car had to explode so that acts of chesed could be connected and, as the saying goes, “MeiHashem yatzah hadovor – From Hashem came this match.” We should always realize that when we put ourselves out for people in need, Hashem will repay us magnificently as was the case in this match made in Heaven.
Now, let me share with you something personal about our courtship. My Rebbetzin was a stunning girl. If she wasn’t religious, she could have easily been a model or an actress. She was so pretty that I was afraid that my head was being turned by her looks and that maybe I might marry her for the wrong reasons. So, very early on, I did some investigating to determine whether she was kind – since I have always considered that to be the Number One Priority in a mate. The following story clinched the matter in my mind.
While we were dating, my future mother in-law, Mrs. Devorah Gelbtuch, a”h, was very ill and was being treated in Columbia- Presbyterian Hospital in Washington Heights. My wife would take a train from their home in the Lower East Side to the dangerous neighborhood surrounding Washington Heights. One of her acquaintances told me that one day Miriam Libby arrived by train, an arduous trip for a young girl, with a tuna sandwich for her mother. Her mom was very ill and not fully aware of the journey her daughter took every day in order to see her. That day, she enjoyed the tuna sandwich and asked Miriam Libby for another one. My kallah-to-be promptly got back on the train went back to the Lower East Side and then took another train back to her mom with another tuna sandwich. This story was such a raw example of pure kindness that it sealed the deal in my mind.
I’ve been asked by people who knew her more recently and by others who have read about her unique acts of chesed if she was always this way. So besides the aforementioned story, let me tell you another anecdote from her youth that I discovered just recently.
I received a letter from a woman in West Hempstead. She wrote to me that my wife was her babysitter on the Lower East Side around 38 years ago. One time, their mother made them a supper of sandwiches which she described as being rather foul tasting. Before leaving, their mother cautioned Miriam Libby, the babysitter, to make sure that the girls eat their supper. Afterwards, the girls begged Miriam Libby that they shouldn’t have to eat those sandwiches. “But your mother said you have to,” was my future wife’s reply. After insisting to her that they just couldn’t, Miriam Libby went ahead and ate all of the sandwiches herself so their mother shouldn’t be upset but the girls wouldn’t have to. This was the kind of unique chesed that my dear Rebbetzin practiced throughout her extraordinary life.
Recently I was asked by several people who observed our children during shiva and the sheer admiration and adoration that all six of them exhibited for my wife. They wanted to know what parenting technique she used to earn such raw amazing feelings from all of our children. Off the cuff, I answered that throughout their lives, she asked from them very little for herself, but gave to them with her entire neshama and all of her 252 limbs. Upon further reflection, while I believe my initial answer is true, there is another more Torahdig answer. The Fifth Commandment teaches us, “Kabeid es avicha v’es imecha ka’asher tziv’cha Hashem Elokecha lma’an yaarichun yomecha – Honor your parents, as Hashem your G-d has commanded you, in order that you should live long.” And we are taught that if we honor our parents, we will live to see our children honor us. I told you one story of her amazing honor for her mother. It was not an isolated occurrence. She adored and revered her parents. After we got married, her father lived with us for two years and she put her entire life on hold in order to take care of him. Hashem remembers these things and just like she cherished and was dedicated to her parents, so too her children admired and honored her.
May it be the will of Hashem that we exhibit respect and care for our parents and in that merit we should be blessed with the same from our children, from our grandchildren, and hopefully great-grandchildren, with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
MIRIAM LIBBY WITH HER MOTHER MRS. DEVORA GELBTUCH