15 May Remembering Rebbetzin Miriam Weiss Part 11-13
REMEMBERING REBBETZIN MIRIAM LIBBY WEISS – PART 11-13
Since a wedding anniversary is a celebration of one’s union, Miriam Libby and I would do something special together every year. This past Shabbos would have been our 35th anniversary, so I was flooded with memories of anniversaries gone-by. As we would not go to Broadway shows or anything else outside of the boundaries of tznius, it took some ingenuity to celebrate in a special way. We both enjoyed going to restaurants, so I would plan our outings around places of fine dining. We would go to Manhattan spending an evening at a hotel and visiting the planetarium, or taking a walk, and enjoying the changing weather in Bryant Park. I would take her to window shop at her favorite stores and she would insist on taking me to a chess club and watch proudly as I would beat a ‘regular’ at speed chess. I remember a memorable anniversary when we went to Washington DC, enjoying a bus tour of our nation’s capital in the night and, since we are both children of survivors, spending a solemn afternoon in the Holocaust Museum.
One time we went up to the Catskills where we visited the Satmar Rebbe’s grave in Monroe, went shopping in the Middletown Mall, and dined in Monsey. Another time we spent two and a half days in Rhode Island enjoying sightseeing in the mansions, and she sat proudly while I recorded for Kol Haloshon the first ever Daf Yomi in the Touro Synagogue. Once, we spent a day walking leisurely through the Bronx Zoo where she insisted that the giraffe was communicating with me and another time we based ourselves in Camden, New Jersey, enjoying the aquarium with its Shark Tunnel and other marvels. I remember spending an anniversary in a hotel near Teaneck so that we could enjoy many of the fine eateries there and the wonderful shops that could be found there and another time in a cozy Hampton Inn, tucked away in South Plainfield, New Jersey, where there was a Burlington Coat Factory and a few other of my wife’s favorite shops.
My readers might wonder what purpose I have for taking them on this particular walk down memory lane. I’ll answer this with another timely question: How is it that chometz, leaven, which the entire year is considered good (as we refer to it in our bentching, “Hazon es ha-olom kulo b’tuvo – Hashem supports the entire world with his goodness,” which refers to bread, the staple of life), yet for seven days on Pesach it becomes more poisonous than pig or lobster? For, while pig and lobster are negatively prohibited, chometz on Pesach is punishable with kares, spiritual death. The answer is that while chometz is generally wholesome and nutritious, there is a toxic angle to chometz: That is that it comes about through delay. It will only come into being if one delays 18 minutes. If Hashem would have delayed on the night of the Exodus, we would have sunk to the 50th degree of contamination and we wouldn’t have worthy to be redeemed. When the Torah tells us “Ushmartem es hamatzos – we should guard the matzos from delay,” Rashi sites the Talmudic teaching, “Al tikrei es hamatzos, ela es hamitzvos – Do not read it as [just] matzos but rather to [all] mitzvos,” that we should guard all mitzvos from delay.
So I share with you, my dear readers: Don’t delay celebrating your marriages. I can’t imagine what would be if I didn’t have such wonderful memories or if I procrastinated celebrating anniversaries. To paraphrase the Mishna in Avos, “Al tomer li’ksh-efneh, shema lo tiponeh – Don’t say when I get the chance, maybe you’ll never get the chance.” And don’t make it a surprise for that robs your mate of the delicious joy of anticipation. How we would look forward to these delicious getaways! So, plan together and squirrel away money (and credit card points) for months so that you can make your special time very memorable. In the merit of strengthening our marriages and making them even sweeter, may Hashem grant us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
In the Hagadah, we read, “Vayishma Hashem es koleinu – Hashem listened to our voices (in Egypt).” Rabbi Frand, in his exciting new Hagadah (ArtScroll, 2018), comments that this teaches us that there is a lofty objective to emulate Hashem by listening to the voices of those who are suffering and those who are in need. He then cites a Gemora in Shabbos [55a] which relates that a woman once came before Shmuel and started to cry. (It was probably not the first time she came and furthermore she was likely restating an intractable problem that Shmuel could not assist her with.) Shmuel did not give her his attention. Rebbi Yehuda, his disciple, asked Shmuel if he was not concerned with the warning in Mishlei which says that one who shuts his ears from the cry of the needy, he too will be ignored when he needs something. Shmuel answered, “I will not be held accountable. Rather my Rebbi, Mar Ukva will be held responsible.” (Obviously Mar Ukva had the wherewithal to help her.) Tosefos cites a Gaonic tradition that in the next world there will be a reversal of roles and Shmuel will become the disciple, and Rebbi Yehuda the teacher, because of this lesson that he taught Shmuel – that even where you cannot help, one must still listen and give a caring ear to a person in need.
In previous articles, I already mentioned that my Rebbetzin considered her mother, Mrs. Devorah Gelbtuch, zt”l, zy”a, to be her primary role model. I remember over 30 years ago, when Rav Singer of the Bialystok Shul eulogized her, he lamented that with her passing the world lost one of the last great listeners. Nowadays, people don’t have time to give a sympathetic ear to distressed individuals. My mother in-law did just that and, as the adage goes, “Like mother, like daughter,” Miriam Libby was the same way. She was a great listener.
We are taught “Dagah b’leiv ish yasichena l’acheirim – If you have trouble in your heart, share it with others.” Sadly in today’s busy world there aren’t many available listening ears. One of the benefits of therapy is the advantage of a sympathetic, attentive ear. Unfortunately, that could cost a person upwards of $300 for 45 minutes. My beloved wife did it for free at all hours of the day and night.
To be a good listening ear, you have to have certain good qualifications. Firstly, my Rebbetzin was never judgmental. It was for this very reason that people felt that they could tell her anything and bare their pained souls to her. She truly lived the Mishnaic dictum in Pirkei Avos, “Al tadin es chavercha ad she’tagia l’mkomo – Don’t judge your friend until you’re in their shoes.” Secondly, she never divulged a secret. Even to me, she would never reveal a confidence. So people felt safe to unburden their troubled souls to her. The Torah teaches us this important trait when it says, “Vayidaber Hashem el Moshe leimor – And Hashem spoke to Moshe saying.” The word leimor/saying seems to be super
Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
fluous. The Gemora explains that it comes to teach us that only what we are given permission to say to others, may we reveal what was said. Otherwise, we cannot share it with others.
Yet a third important ingredient for a good listener is that one should rejoice with another person’s successes even if it’s something that they themselves do not have. People would make my wife their very first call when they had a baby or an engagement, a promotion or a good medical report for she was so effusive in exhibiting her boundless happiness over the caller’s good news. This is a true fulfillment of “V’ahavta l’rei’acha kamocha – Loving another man (or women) like yourself.” Just like you’re happy when you get good news, you should be happy with your fellow’s good news in the same way. I meet people who tell me that even now, they reach for the phone to call my wife for a listening ear or to share some good news.
I want to emphasize, as we learned from Tosefos on the Gemora in Shabbos, that many times my Rebbetzin did not have a solution for a problem. If a mother was overwhelmed with five little children, she would listen to the frazzled mother with great patience, and then simply tell her “You’re doing a great job. When I was your age I didn’t come close to your skills.” When someone was suffering with a difficult marriage, she would listen patiently and tell them “Call me anytime. I’m always willing to give you a listening ear.” It was that she was an incredible baal eitza, although she did have a vast arsenal of common sense. Rather it was her sympathy and concern that was itself a balm for a wounded spirit.
When she visited the elderly, who have a habit of repeating the same story over and over again, she would have no problem listening with rapt attention to the same repertoire repeated for the tenth time. She clucked sympathetically and said that she would say Tehillim and have the person in mind during hadlakos neiros, when they told her about ailments and pains. And you could see on her face that she really, really cared.
As Rabbi Frand pointed out, listening to a troubled soul is a fulfillment of V’halachta b’drachav, walking in the ways of Hashem, and in the merit of trying to become caring listeners , may Hashem bless us with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
When the children of Rav Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk were preparing his famous work on the Rambam (studied avidly in yeshivas all around the globe) for print, they wrote a preface. Before its release the Gri”z, zt”l, zy”a, had a startling dream. In the dream, his mother, Rebbetzin Lipshah, the wife of Rav Chaim, came to him and asked him why she wasn’t mentioned in, and given proper credit in the preface. After all, she stood by her husband’s side and aided him all her years. In those days, it wasn’t common to mention a woman so the Gri”z went to Rav Riger, the Dayan of Brisk, to ask him what to do. The Dayan said that she was correct and that by all means she should be mentioned in the preface. And so, this is what they did and if you look in the Rav Chaim in the Rambam, she is given prominent credit.
Rav Shteinman, zt”l, zy”a, wonders why Rebbetzin Soloveitchik visited this world in a dream to get some relatively paltry credit in the temporal world of Olam HaZeh, when she was already basking in the infinite pleasures of the Shechina in the Next World. He surmises that she did it not for the fleeting honorable mention in this world for herself, but rather to be mechaziek, to strengthen other wives of talmidei chachamim in this world. Of course, by doing so, her neshama automatically gets an aliya, an elevation, every time someone else is inspired from what is written about her. I too would like to share with you examples of how my dear wife was an incredible eizer k’negdo, a helpful partner to inspire with through her behavior, the many wonderful partners that are reading these articles.
At the second Seder this year, when I began singing Chasal sidur Pesach, I broke out in crying. The Seder was never easy on my Rebbetzin. When it came to the four cups, she had a hard time even with grape juice, and she had difficulty with eating a large amount of matzah and romaine lettuce, and she didn’t do well with the very late hour, on top of everything else. So, every year at Chasal sidur Pesach, she would whisper to me, “Moish, I did it. Now I’m going to bed.” As I escorted her to the bedroom, although it was a hard experience for her, every single time she would say to me, “Moish, what a beautiful seder you made.” This was her magnificent way! As it says about the Eishes Chayil, “Pihah pos’chah b’chochmah, v’Soras chesed al l’shonah – Her mouth opens with wisdom and the study of kindness is upon her lips.” Most people assume this means strategies of kindness like packages for Tomchei Shabbos and the making of Chinese auctions. But the literal meaning is to ‘know how to say kind things.’ It’s a game-changer in the quality of any marriage.
When the married children would call me for advice, she would say to me Moish, it’s such a compliment to you that the children know that they can call you.” When the girls would call me in the middle of the night with a medical question, she would say, “Moish, it’s speaks volumes that your daughters feel so close to you, that they could call you anytime.” When we would be sitting by a Shabbos or Yomtov table, and the children would give her a well-deserved compliment on her delicious cooking, she would say, “Thank your father. He works very hard to provide us with all this delicious stuff.” Similarly, when we would be enjoying the bungalow in the mountains, she would remind the children, “It costs a lot of money for your father to bring us up here! Never forget that.”
Shlomo HaMelech teaches us, “U’lshon chachomim marpei – And the tongues of the wise are healing and soothing.” I remember when I would get a pain or sensation she would tell me, “Nothing to worry about. You had this before, it lasted a few weeks and got better on its own.” For decades, I prepared on Tuesdays for my global chumash shiur. Sometimes because of other pressures, I got a late start. She would always be there, calmly reassuring me, “Moish, it’s going to be great. I remember many times when you started even later than this.” And how many hundreds of times did she come to me after a shiur and tell me “It was great. The crowd was mesmerized. They can’t stop talking about the shiur.” When she would see me help a couple either financially or especially in the area of shalom bayis, she would tell me, “I envy your schar.” I would be quick to reassure her that she shares equally in everything I do.
In the merit of going out of our way to compliment and say sweet things to our spouse, To use our smarts and our hearts to be a driving force in our mates confidence, happiness, and success. May Hashem bless us with a long sweet union, together with good health, happiness, and everything wonderful.
REMEMBERING REBBETZIN MIRIAM LIBBY WEISS – PART 11-13