Thursday, November 12, 2020

Parshas Chayei Sarah 5781

 

 “RABBI’S MUSINGS (& AMUSINGS)”

Erev Shabbos Kodesh parshas Chayei Sarah 5781

26 MarCheshvan 5781/November 13, 2020

Mevorchim Chodesh Kislev

 

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SIMPLE GREATNESS

            You won’t find “Lower East Sider” in a dictionary. If you google those words, you’ll get some entries about prices of apartments and other various news about the Lower East Side. But for the tens of thousands of Jews who grew up and lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan there is significant meaning. In fact, those old timers take it as a great compliment to be a “Lower East Sider”.

            Lower East Siders possess a combination of simplicity, exuding warmth, extreme friendliness, being non-judgmental, and unpretentious. There was, and is, nothing fancy about the Lower East Side, and everyone seemed to know everyone else. It was the land of Gus’s pickles, China Town noodles, H and M skullcap, and the Williamsburg bridge. There were also countless shuls, but none were in competition with the other.

            I was born and spent my formative years on the Lower East Side. Both sets of my grandparents lived on the Lower East Side and it was exciting to be able to walk over on Shabbos to see them or eat a seudah at their apartment. Our family moved from the Lower East Side to Monsey in 1988.

            My Zaydei, whose yahrtzeit is this Shabbos, 27 MarCheshvan, was the Rabbi of the well-known Anshei Slonim shul on Norfolk street until it closed in 1974.

            My Zaydei had a warm relationship with Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l. The last gift my Zaydei left me is a set of Igros Moshe inscribed with a brief beracha from Rav Moshe. The inscription is dated 12 Kislev 5745 (December 1985). At the time I was five years old. Rav Moshe was niftar a little over a year later; my Zaydei was niftar less than three years later. It’s one of my most treasured seforim.

            Even after Rav Moshe was niftar, his sons, Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven, would attend our family simchos, primarily in honor of my Bubby a”h. I had the zechus that they attended my bar mitzvah and wedding.

            The Lower East Side was the perfect place for Rav Moshe and his family. Rav Moshe was the posek hador, and the gadol hador. His greatness in Torah was matched only by his incredible humility.

Those traits were personified by his son, Rav Dovid who was niftar this week.

            My aunt would often note that it was known that if you wanted to find Rav Dovid and Rav Reuven on a given day, you first checked the pizza shop on the Lower East Side, where they often ate breakfast together.

            If you didn’t know who Rav Dovid was and you passed him on the street, you would have no idea that one of the leading halachic authorities in the world, a man who was fluent in the entire Torah, and the Rosh Yeshiva who had succeeded his illustrious father, had just passed you.

            A few years ago, my father went went back to the Lower East Side for Shabbos to attend a simcha. During the kiddush, Rav Dovid walked over to him to say Good Shabbos.

            On one of our dates, my wife and I went to a restaurant in Boro Park. When our food arrived, I went to wash. (She probably ordered a salad and didn’t need to wash). When I returned to the table, she noticed a look on my face that she couldn’t decipher. When she asked me what happened, I pointed beyond her. She couldn’t figure out what in the world I wanted. After I said a beracha and took a bite, I told her not to back up too quickly. At the table behind us were seated Rav Dovid and his Rebbitzin, along with another couple.

            Rav Dovid was so great and yet he was so simple. He went shopping, he humbly walked the streets of the Lower East Side, and he was accessible to anyone who wanted. I look at the picture of him and his Rebbitzin from our wedding and marvel at the fact that he not only schlepped to Lakewood to attend, but also was willing to be in the picture with us. (The same is true about Rav Reuven and his Rebbitzin.) It was, and remains, very meaningful to us.

            In a world so focused on glamour and publicity, it’s rare to find people who are perfectly happy keeping to themselves and living a simple life. But I don’t know how one can do so when he is a leader of his people with earth-shattering questions and pressing matters coming to his door constantly.

            This week we celebrate the bar mitzvah of our son, Avi. Somehow, I hope we can convey to him some of the lessons we learned and gleaned from Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l.

            The nostalgic streets of the Lower East Side have lost some of their greatness, and Klal Yisroel has lost a quiet Gadol and leader. May his memory be for a blessing.

 

            Shabbat Shalom & Good Shabbos,

            R’ Dani and Chani Staum       

 

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