You are on page 1of 7

A Tzadeikes In Our Time

A Tribute to Rebbetzin Yaffah Sternbuch A”H wife of Hagoan Rav Moshe sternbuch Shlita- Ravad Of Yerushlyim by her Daughter
Written by C. Levy and Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis Eishes Chayil

‫בס"ד‬

Chazal teach, that while the deceased is being eulogized, he is allowed back down to this world since it causes a spiritual awakening. That is both encouraging and obligating. It is very hard to do justice to all the special attributes that the Reb. Sternbuch exhibited and made her the giant she was. If only the very tip of her praise is exposed, it will strengthen all those assembled, which in turn empowers the speaker. According respect to a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) is greater than the actual studying of Torah. What are Chazal teaching us? According respect and valuing Torah, is greater than the actual studying. For what empowers a person to invest great effort, to dedicated ones entire being, to renounce everything else for the sake of Torah study? Only profound reverence for Torah and appreciation of Torah. This is the woman's part in Torah. She is obligated to revere and appreciate the value the Torah. When she encourages her husband to study, and she accompanies her children to cheder, she is motivating them to apply themselves to their study of Torah, by demonstrating her appreciation for Torah, their Torah Presumably, everyone who knew Reb. Sternbuch, will agree that this fundamental obligation was the focal point of her life's work. Yes, she was unique in her appreciation for Torah. She loved Torah from the depths of her soul, even as far back as during her adolescence. The story is told about a shidduch that was suggested. The young man was a talmid chacham, a boy who not only had the potential to learn, but one who studied. He was a lamdan as well. However, word had it, that during bein hazmanim he might help his father in the business. She wasn't interested. She wanted someone who would be wholly immersed in his Torah study, without any money-making prospects at all. Her father was the one who had introduced this lofty value to her and he repeated this anecdote to the Chazon Ish emphasizing that she was young, but adamant. She wanted Torah and Torah alone. The Chazon Ish replied that if that was what she wanted, that was what she'd get. Indeed, that was precisely what happened. In The Merit of Torah Every woman performs good deeds and mitzvos, such as reciting a bracha with the proper intention and various acts of kindness, that entitle her a part in the world to come. Every mitzvah she does, is a merit. However, in order to merit techiyas hameisim, she requires merits of a different nature. It is necessary to have a personal part in the Torah. How can a woman who doesn’t study Torah have a portion? Indeed, chazal ask: what is the merit of women? What insures her of arising, along with all those men who studied Torah? Chazal

offer three suggestions. Each one is an opportunity for a woman to have a share in limud haTorah. And Reb. Sternbuch excelled in each one and exemplified all three. The first thing chazal suggest, is accompanying her children to their Talmud Torah (place of learning Torah). When a mother accompanies her sons to cheder, she dismisses all of her own needs, everything that she has to accomplish, the functions of the day. She drops it all, and joyfully escorts her child to cheder, thereby ingraining the knowledge in the Rav, that his Torah is of primary importance to her. When Reb. Sternbuch lived in Yerushalaim, she walked her children to the Eitz Chaim cheder daily and then went to fetch them at the end of the day. She also regularly took the time to inquire after her children's performance in cheder. She didn’t think that it was a waste of her precious time to hold these mini conferences. Her children's rebbe, R' Shlomo Zalman Porush commented about her "I've been teaching here for forty years, and this is the first time I have encountered a woman with such dedication to Torah." R' Aryeh Levine, the spiritual mentor of the Yeshivah confirmed that. Once, upon being told by one of her children that his Rebbe was not testing him, she went down to the cheder. Peeking through the window, she was determined to see for herself if that was indeed the case. What she observed, confirmed the child's report. She went directly to the rebbe and began to cry. What would become of her son's Torah? If the rebbe didn’t test him how would he ever know how to study properly? That child testifies that those tears still flow in his blood, and have motivated him to study ever since. HoRav Sternbuch would tell about the tears that Reb. Sternbuch shed when lighting candles, entreating the One Above that her children and all their offspring should delve in Torah until the end of time. Reb. Sternbuch reviewed the chumash with her boys every afternoon. This included studying the teitch (Yiddish translation). However, since Yiddish wasn't her first language, she was concerned that she wouldn’t do the job properly. Thus, she went to the rebbe and asked if he possibly had some sheets form which she could study with the children. The rebbe was duly impressed and told her that he had his own sheets which she was welcome to copy. Perhaps this was the catalyst for the rebbe to print his sheets, which are widely used in chadarim today. A notebook with chiddushei Torah and teitch of a few parshios is still in the Family's possession today. Uninterrupted Learning Chazal's second suggestion for women to merit Torah, is to enable their husband's studying. Whoever knew Reb. Sternbuch could testify that this was her life. Her whole life was her husband's Torah. There is an amazing letter that she wrote to her future mother-in-law, after her engagement. Eagerness to support her husband's study of Torah is prominent in that letter. In addition, she displays keen sensitivity to her chassan's mother, who could not attend the engagement. This is the content of that letter:

My dearest, I have used an unusual salutation, but I feel that I cannot address you with your name, when soon I shall be calling you Mother. I want to say, that having gotten to know your son, I'm really looking forward to meeting you, and to express my feelings to you personally.

I'm sure you would have felt much more confident if you had been able to meet me and determine with the discerning eyes of a mother, whether I qualified, and only after that, give your approval to this monumental step in your son's life. I too should have preferred that. It is entirely possible that I don’t have the good traits attributed to me. And maybe there are negative traits in me, that people don’t think I have. However, I can reassure you of one thing. There is one trait that you will most certainly find in me. I shall always aspire to be that which my future husband wants me to be. And how she pursued that, with enthusiasm and joy, like a fresh bride on her wedding day – for the rest of her life She had an amazing standard in catering to her husband. There was a special room for the Rav in the house, which was his study room. Shelves were hung with his sefarim and a bed was made up for the Rav in case he needed to take a nap, having tired from his continuous studying. Why should he have to leave the room to lie down? She also had an air conditioner, which was not easy to come by in those days, installed in that room. But knowing that the Rav was sensitive to the B'nei Brak humidity, she insisted on insuring that he had the optimum peace of mind. The room was never locked, but entrance was barred. Reb. Sternbuch instilled the importance of keeping it closed, in her children and in all those who frequented their home. In order to make sure that the Rav would be allowed to study uninterrupted, there was a sign stuck on the door of the Rav's room for all those who might not be familiar with the rule, stating that the Rav was learning and that the door was not to be opened. A niece also mentioned that she remembered being told, that there must be no disturbance to the Rav and they must speak quietly. The door of their house however was never locked. There were no keys but there was nothing to fear, since there was very little around. Whoever wanted to, was welcome to enter. The Rebbetzin always prepared both hot and cold drinks in her husband's room. People recall that with amazement, but she did it quite naturally. She did everything naturally. She appreciated the Rav's Torah study to such an extent, that she would not allow as much as a minute of it to be squandered. If for example, she brought the Rav a cup of tea, and it was a cold drink he wanted just then, wouldn’t it be a shame that it wasn’t there to begin with? Spreading HoRav Shternbuch's Torah Reb. Sternbuch's most incredible and famous task was disseminating her husband's Torah. A short time after they got married, she noticed that he was writing many chiddushe Torah.. There were papers all over, and she was concerned that some of his Torah might get lost. So she did something that doesn't seem so incredible today, but then it was a colossal effort. She collected those papers and began to type them, on a typewriter. She, the fresh new wife, viewed her husband as a giant. Nothing was too hard if it concerned his Torah. It was not popular to print seforim then, but she would do it because his Torah was supreme. She simply collected his papers and copied them. His handwriting was illegible, no one could read what he wrote, but that was not a deterrent to her. She could do it. So she copied the pages and took them to a printer who prepared the proof. She scrimped on food in order to get that first volume of his shiurim printed. But it was all worthwhile, when after she presented the published sefer to the Rav, it gave the Rav the impetus to

keep on writing seforim. That is precisely what chazal meant. A wife's respect and appreciation for Torah, is what empowers the husband. With contagious joy, she pulled off this feat almost single-handedly. Even the proofreading was her job. Today, the computer does most of the checking, but not in those days and she wanted a meticulous product. She was the one who ran down to the printer to scan the proofs for printing errors, and at times the text was a complicated one. But nothing deterred her. The binding and cover were overseen by her too. She liked the seforim to look nice. It was a festive atmosphere that permeated the house upon the completion of a sefer! Whoever visited, was certain that they were celebrating some personal holiday. The truth be told, in that household, it was Yom Tov almost daily. There are those who remember how she would proudly point to those shelves of the Rav's seforim. They excited her, and each day she would rejoice over her husband's Torah anew. She would place the seforim in strategic areas, and she'd send them to the stores to be displayed prominently. So that people would see them and buy them. She also contacted Yeshivas all over the United States and Europe, to find young men who would be willing to sell the sefarm in their Yeshiva. She oversaw the entire distribution. She invested so much thought into distributing her husband's seforim. The whole home revolved around that. It was she who packed them up in boxes and then bound them with cord. Then she stuck on stamps and sent the packages off, so happily, to the post office. Letters would come in informing her that the supply was finished. When they came she sent out more and then some more. She included the whole family in this effort; it was all part of the atmosphere she created. The happiness with the dissemination of their father's Torah. At Her Husband's Side The third suggestion found in chazal, for women to implement in order to merit a part in Torah, is that they await their husbands return from the Beis Midrash. Rashi explains that this refers to the wife's allowing her husband to go study Torah in another city. But the Reb. Sternbuch surpassed that. She went along wherever she felt that there was a possibility of enhancing her husband's Torah study. The Rav did not make any conditions concerning where they would live. But Reb. Sternbuch had no need for conditions. It sufficed, when he told her, after the passing of the Chazon Ish, that he felt a lack for a mentor. There was surely Torah in B'nei Brak, but it was difficult for the Rav to stay there without someone from whom he could continue to receive more. In Yerushalaim, there was the Brisker Rav and the Tchebiner Rav. It would be easier for the Rav to delve into his studying, if he had someone to discuss it with. It was not a simple feat at all. Whoever is familiar with the Shechter family, (Reb. Sternbuch's family) knows how close-knit they are. They enjoyed living near each other, and that custom had spanned generations. It was symbolic of their family. Moreover, during those first few years after her marriage, a woman craves the closeness of her own family, their assistance, even physical help, and their moral support. It is so much simpler for her if she can go to visit with her parents often. Nevertheless, it was off to Yerushalaim.

Once her father gave the Reb. Sternbuch some money. This wasn’t nearly enough to cover their living expenses. However, she was extremely careful to convey that she lacked for nothing in her present Torah lifestyle. When her father came to visit her in Yerushalaim, she set the table lavishly, implying that hers was a life of plenty. For what was plenty, if not a Torah lifestyle? She sought to impress that upon everyone. She wanted everybody to know that Torah was everything. It was worth everything. Later ,they moved back to B'nei Brak, where she became very active in the community at that point. Working for taharas hamishpacha was one of her projects then. Women in that city remember her acts of kindness well, as most certainly will be noted. Those were some of her most productive years. Traveling To South Africa When the Rav was asked to go to South Africa, in order to strengthen Judaism there, she was there at his side. If she had a hard time of it, it was not apparent. This was when they had already married off most of their children, and she could have relaxed a bit, attended her family's simchas with unadulterated pleasure and enjoyed her family. But if the Rav said the word, she scrambled to his side, happily doing what she really enjoyed most. She had never wanted to leave the country while she was bringing up her children. She was a very conscientious mother, and she feared that taking them abroad would be detrimental to their chinuch. However, she did suspect that as soon as she passed that stage, she'd be going abroad. It took four days for that to happen. Her daughter got engaged on Thursday, and on the following Monday, the Rav and Reb. Sternbuch boarded the plane for South Africa. Where was she going exactly? To paraphrase the navi, she was following The Rav into wasteland. What was there in South Africa? What was in it for her? It would be easier to enumerate what challenges she faced there. She knew no one, she did not speak the language. How should she have known the language? She did speak from her heart though, and they all loved her there for that. Somehow, that bred a sort of communication and they were glad to have her. Naturally, she made a kiddush Hashem wherever she went there. Even here, in Eretz Yisrael, it is highly uncommon to see something like that. But there, the sight of a woman who showed such profound respect for her husband, such reverence for the Torah, had an effect on the people there. There were women who said that it was the Reb. Sternbuch's exemplary behavior that set them on their path of return to Judaism. The Crown of Torah The Reb. Sternbuch certainly took her cues from Rachel, wife of Rebbi Akiva, who encouraged her husband to leave town and go study for24 years. Upon his return, with the 24,000 disciples that he had amassed, he absolved his father-in-law, Kalba Savua, of the oath he had taken, disinheriting Rachel and her husband. Kalba Savua then gave Rebbi Akiva half of all his assets. Rebbi Akiva promptly went and bought Rachel a gold tiara engraved with the picture of Yerushalaim. Rebbi Akiva's disciples wished to know the reason for this purchase. Why weren’t their own wives, wives of Talmidei chachamim in their own right, deserving of that honor as well? Rebbi Akiva's replied, "For she shared my pain, as I toiled to study Torah.

The same can be said of the Reb. Sternbuch, who toiled along with her husband in his pursuit of Torah study. She too merited the crown of Torah, the golden tiara adorned with the image of Yerushalaim. The Badatz Upon their return from South Africa, Rabbi Sternbuch was offered the prestigious position of heading the Bais Din of the Eidah Hachareidis. The Rav didn’t have the heart to insist that his wife remove her wig, a necessary prerequisite for the post, and felt he must turn down the offer. But the Reb. Sternbuch would hear none of that. She, of her own volition, replaced her wig with a kerchief. Today that sounds like quite a selfless act. But then, it was outlandish to do something like that. However, Reb. Sternbuch was adamant. She would never allow a wig to get in the way of her husband's further advancement in the realm of Torah. Living Royalty If one were to emulate but one of this great woman's ways, it would make her a far better person. How can her totality be fathomed? How could one woman sacrifice so much for Torah? Indeed, Reb. Sternbuch did not sacrifice! A woman who does that, reaches the bursting point at some stage. Otherwise how would her husband recognize her sacrifice? Living with such an attitude, is not living at all. The Reb. Sternbuch lived for Torah. She didn’t view herself as sacrificing anything. She lived for her husband's Torah, and only that. And that was the secret of her dedication to the Rav and his ideal. To that end, although she had a finely honed business sense, having grown up in a family of businessmen, she never attempted to make money on her husband's seforim. On the contrary, she was appalled at the idea, that someone might not be able to buy her husband's books and would be denied the opportunity to study from them, because they were too expensive. Her profit was her husband's Torah and she practiced the words of Tehillim : "Your words of Torah are better for me than thousands in gold and silver". She related to her husband as to a king. She didn’t go to the Rav when he called, she ran. She ran joyfully. She was literally flushed with happiness when she could serve the Rav. She even removed her apron, before answering his call, as befits one appearing before a king. Once, during her illness, she was sitting in the kitchen and she heard the Rav calling her. Though unable to really understand what he was saying, subconsciously she felt she had to run to serve the Rav, and she did. It was that deeply ingrained in her. Many of those who knew her remember how she never let the Rav carry anything. Even when she traveled abroad with the Rav exclusively for his purposes, she carried the suitcases for the Rav. She said, a king does not carry his own luggage. That was the extent of her respect for the Rav. His Torah was so great.? Similarly, when he needed a taxi, she'd go down and hail one and only afterward, did she go back up and let the Rav know that the taxi was waiting. It did not befit the prince of Torah to have to wait for a taxi. Her interpretation of according respect for Torah, was her own. She had never been taught the stringencies and fine nuances, yet her elevated heart dictated what was suitable. She too was a queen by virtue of having crowned her husband.

Refined Attributes Reb. Sternbuch had myriad attributes aside from her life-long devotion to Torah. It was as if the words of Eishes Chayil were written about her. Her tznius for example, would not allow her to buy in excess. She shunned fancy things. Both her respect for her parents as well as that of the Rav's are legendary. She practiced acts of chessed with self- effacement, but with happiness. Who doesn’t remember her shoe campaign, and how she waited to see the children's eyes light up, as she handed them theirs. She thrust herself whole-heartedly into her projects although she had no personal gain from any of them. Such was her hachnasas orchim. A young man came to the Sternbuchs regularly on the days preceding Pesach. For some reason, he couldn’t go home and evidently, the yeshivah he learned at was not serving meals any more at that point. The family ate outside, on those last few days prior to the holiday. But not he. "He is a bachur who studies Torah, how can we allow him to eat outside?" So the boy was taken into the house and was served his meals inside, on the last days before Pesach. She was very meticulous about the language she used. This was an outstanding trait that she'd grown up with. And there was her joy of life and her ability to make do with very little. She wouldn't eat anything that her husband didn’t need. If he didn’t need it, then neither did she. Her acceptance of suffering with love served as the final indicator of who she was. Only a woman whose whole life constituted self effacement could reach those heights. In the Era of Moshiach To conclude, the following story is told in maseches yoma. Once , the Jews committed a terrible sin and it was decreed in heaven that they would have to pay a steep levy to the king of Persia. This particular decree included the talmidei chachamim as well, although up until then they were exempt like all other members of the clergy from paying taxes. Chazal add, that so terrible was this sin, that the Malach Gavriel, the advocate of the Jews, was banished from the Hashem's immediate presence, lest he interfere. However, the angel tried to defend the Jews from behind the scenes. What was his defense? He quoted the passuk from Tehillim which states:" it is in vain that you rise early…only to eat the bread of anxiety. Hashem gives his friends sleep." The malach that these friends are the wives of talmidei chachamim , who sleep little in this world and merit the world to come. Perhaps the Jews sinned and the talmidei chachamim were found guilty of neglecting to protest their sin. Why must their wives suffer from the indignity inflicted on their husbands? Why must they be made to see that their husband's worth is no more than that of the shopkeeper next door? They sleep few hours, having accepted the yoke of providing for the family, in addition to raising their children. What was their sin that the prestige accorded to the Torah is being denied to them?. This is the defense for women and should serve as a lesson for women. This is the difficult era of chevlei mashiach, when we experience harsh economic decrees, let us recall what chazal have cited. In whose hands is the ability to annul those decrees? It is in the merit of women's deep love for Torah and their demonstration of appreciation for Torah. May this be a chizuk for women all over to increase their devotion to those learning Torah, to revere talmidei chachamim, and may it serve as a merit for the tzaddeikes, Reb. Sternbuch who exemplified just that.