Category Archives: Women

Taking Challah, Sara Yocheved Rigler

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I am reading a BOOK. And I don’t just mean any sort of book. I am reading something unbelievably inspiring and motivating and soul stirring. I have written elsewhere about Sara Yocheved Rigler’s book Holy Woman and it inspired me to read further – anything by this incredible woman whose life story is so vivid and striking. So, I am reading Lights from Jerusalem and I just had to share:

TAKING CHALLAH

I have been religiously observant for 18 years. Three months ago, a woman started giving a course in our neighborhood on the mitzvah of taking challah. In the Torah, God commands that once we enter the Land of Israel, when we bake bread, we should separate off a small piece of the dough and put it aside. This is one of the three mitzvot that are considered specifically given to women.

Not being the earthy type, I have never felt inclined to bake bread from scratch. With my bread maker, yes. With my husband (a pianist who loves to exercise his fingers by kneading) making the dough, and me just saying the blessing and breaking off a piece of dough, yes. But to take a ten-week course in the single mitzvah of separating challah, no thanks.

When a friend asked me why I wasn’t taking the challah course, I replied glibly that I’m all air signs, and I’m not the earthy, bread-baking type. My friend looked at me aghast. “Don’t you know that all the blessings of physical abundance come down into the world through the performance of the mitzvah of taking challah? The mitzvah also brings blessings of health and healing, emunah and protection.”

I enrolled in the course, wondering how there could be so much to say about a single mitzvah.

“The mitzvah of challah is cosmic in its effect,” the teacher proclaimed. Every week my jaw dropped lower as she expatiated on the mystic ramifications of this one mitzvah.

Then she announced that the following week a Rabbi Elozor Barclay would be coming in to teach us about the mitzvah’s specific requirements in Jewish law. This would take two hours.

Two hours? I couldn’t imagine how he could fill up two hours. And, of course, I already knew how to do the mitzvah.

I went to the class anyway. I discovered that I had been doing the mitzvah wrong.

The following week, our teacher announced, she would be demonstrating how to make challah. I came prepared for a Pillsbury lesson that I didn’t need because my husband has the world’s best recipe for whole wheat challah.

The demonstration was a life-changing event.

Now I make challah once a month, and it’s the spiritual highpoint of my month. I start by turning off the phone and announcing that no one is permitted into the kitchen until I’ve finished; this mitzvah requires total concentration.

Then I give tzedakah, so that all my prayers will be favorably accepted. Then I say a chapter of Tehillim, to open up the gates of heaven.

While sifting the flour, I sing, because joy is the foundation of all spiritual success. Then I add each ingredient consciously: sugar for the sweetness I hope to see in my family’s life; yeast so that each member of my family will grow and expand; water represents Torah; when measuring salt, which represents rebuke, I fill two tablespoons, then shake some back into the salt container because we should always give less rebuke than we think we should; and as I slowly pour in the oil, I “anoint” each member of my family by name, praying for his or her specific needs.

Kneading is the time to pray. My teenage daughter and I take turns, each of us thinking of people to pray for by name: single friends that they should get married; childless friends that they should have babies; sick people and terror victims that they should have a speedy and complete recovery; people struggling financially that they should have livelihood. My daughter reminds me to add the names of Israel’s missing soldiers and of Jonathan Pollard. On and on we knead and pray, with such spiritual focus and intensity, that the kitchen becomes charged.

Now the dough is ready to take the hallah, but the spiritual preparations to perform the mitzvah properly continue. Reading from a laminated sheet prepared and distributed by two Israeli sisters, I pray fervently that my performance of the mitzvah of hallah will repair the primeval sin of Eve. That just as she brought death into the world, I will bring life into the world, nullifying death, erasing the tears from every face.

Now the dough is ready to for challah to be taken, but the spiritual preparations to perform the mitzvah properly continue. Reading from a laminated sheet prepared and distributed by two Israeli sisters, I pray fervently that my performance of the mitzvah of challah will repair the sin of Eve. That just as she bought death into the world, my intention in the performance of this mitzvah is to bring life into the world, nullifying death, erasing the tears from every face.

Now I am ready to perform the mitzvah. I break off a small piece of dough, recite the blessing over the mitzvah, and with both hands lift the piece of dough above my head and proclaim: “Behold, this is challah!”

My hands are quivering with the spiritual intensity of the moment. With my hands still raised, I utter two more prayers — one that my taking challah should be considered as if I had brought an offering in the Holy Temple, that it should atone for all my sins and be as if I am born anew, and the other for the complete and final redemption of the whole world.

After all the prayers and intentions, it has taken me over an hour to perform this one mitzvah. I feel exalted, tremulous, ecstatic as I used to feel after hours of meditation.

For 17 years, I sporadically (and incorrectly) performed the mitzvah of challah, while having no idea of the profundity and spiritual potential of the mitzvah. I slid into second base, recited the blessing, broke off a piece of dough — and felt nothing. It did not connect me to God, except on the most rudimentary level.

The lack was not in the mitzvah. The lack was not in Judaism. The lack was in me.

The mitzvot are an unparalleled spiritual feast. Most Jews have barely tasted their sumptuousness. Connoisseurs know the difference between eating and dining. The latter takes time — and concentration on the taste of every bite. A connoisseur dining in a five-star restaurant will not complain at how long the food takes to prepare. Nor will he assess the quality of the restaurant by how full he feels when he leaves.

Connecting to Hashem through the mitzvot takes time, constant learning, and a commitment to moving ever deeper. Judaism is not a fast-food religion.

Guest Shiur by Yael Farkas

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A huge thanks to Yael Farkas for the guest shiur that she gave on Shabbas. It was fascinating!

To remind you all of its contents, I have uploaded the source sheet and provided a brief summary of Yael’s discussion points.

The topic of the shiur was ‘Sara Imeinu: A Misunderstood Matriarch, a Model of Feminine Leadership’.

Yael presented a detailed account of HOW Sara Imeinu is presented in the Chumash. The discussion focussed around the various ways in which Sara is perceived as either a leader or a follower. Naturally this provoked some intense discussion in our group.

1. According to the midrash, Eshet Chayil is Avraham’s eulogy to Sarah. We should note that Eshet Chayil appears in the final chapter of Mishlei, King Shlomo’s Book of Proverbs. The poem extols the virtues of the ideal Jewish woman and some interpret it to be Shlomo’s ode to his mother, Batsheva. A magnificent account of Eshet Chayil can be found in Rebbetzin Heller’s book ‘More Precious Than Pearls’.

2. Sara was known for her prophesy and her beauty. What we didn’t discuss on Shabbat was the fact that when we think of Sara we actually think of the line הִנֵּה בָאֹהֶל – she is in the tent. The implication here (according to Rashi) is that she exemplified modesty and despite her beauty, she was known for always behaving appropriately.

3. What we learn from Sara:

– How to develop a solid relationship with your husband.

– To always see the value in all situations. We are told that all of Sara’s years were equally good … even though it might seem as though being tormented by Hagar, not having children, losing her family might lead one to despair, Sara always approached life by appreciating every aspect of Hashem’s presence. We too should try to do the same. From Sara we learn that a ‘good life’ is not a life of comfort, but something far more valuable.

– To nurture a bond with Hashem. It is this that gave Sara the ultimate comfort and guided her through the challenges which she faced.

Sara Imeinu sourcesheet

Spotlight on Jewish Women: Rabbanit Kanievsky

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“Everything happens because of Hakadosh Baruchu … Hashem will help”

Rabbanit Kanievsky was not a typical Ultra-Orthodox woman. She did not stand in the shadows of her husband but lead a dynamic and vital following of women from dati (religious) and chiloni (secular) backgrounds. She was revered by all who encountered her and even a video interview with her illustrates her wonderful aura. She is described as “Bat Melech” , the daughter of a king – the allusion is that she is the ultimate daughter of Hashem. Her philosophy for living was centred around the phrases:

על התורה, על העבודה ועל גמילות חסדים

Rabbanit Kanievsky passed away over a month ago at the age of 79. Over 50,000 people attended her funeral. She was more than just the Rabbi’s wife, more than a Rabbanit, many called her “Admorit” (the feminine form of admor, a title of honour usually reserved for Hassidic leaders). Admor is an acronym for Adoneinu, Moreinu, ve Rabbeinu – meaning Our Master, Our Teacher, and Our Rabbi. Women from all walks of life flocked to The Rabbanit for brachot of all sorts: for marriage, health, wealth, children and more.

The story goes that a man who did not have children despite many years of marriage went to Rav Kanievsky for a bracha. While he was waiting in line for his turn to get into Rav Chaim’s room, Rabbanit Kanievsky noticed him, and that he seemed upset. . She asked him what he came for, to which he responded that he came for a bracha for children.

Rabbanit Kanievsky gave him a bracha that they would give birth to twins in the coming year. He answered amen, and took his turn to get a bracha from the rav as well.

The avreich told Rav Chaim about the meany years they did not have children and what they went through, and asked that Rav Chaim daven on their behalf. He also mentioned that the rebbetzin had just given them a bracha for twins.

Rav Chaim said “Why only twins? IYH, you should have triplets!”

Months later, the fellow came back to Rav Chaim Kanievsky reporting that his wife had just given birth to triplets!

When her husband, Rav Chaim once felt ill, he travelled to his father-in-law Rav Elyashiv, in Yerushalayim to ask for a bracha. Rav Elyashiv was surprised: “Ask your wife, my daughter for a bracha–her brachos are worth more than mine!”

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An fascinating article about The Rabbanit appeared in Hamodia Newspaper and can be read here.

The Bubbe of Klal Yisrael

By Jonathan Rosenblum, on November 16th, 2011

There are certain events of such impact on Klal Yisrael, that it is impossible not to comment, even if the writer fears he has nothing to add. The passing of Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky, zt”l, over Chol HaMoed Sukkos, was such an event.

Rebbetzin Kanievsky was the bubbe of Klal Yisrael. Just like a grandmother finds it almost impossible to resist the entreaties of her grandchildren, so Rebbetzin Kanievsky made herself available to any woman in pain who sought her assistance, whether in the form of advice, a berachah, or just words of encouragement. She was the first port of call for almost every religious woman facing difficulties, and for many not-yet-observant women as well.

My friend Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman of Passaic, New Jersey captured a poignant moment from one of his visits to the Kanievsky home. Rabbi Eisenmann was ushered in one night while the Rebbetzin and her husband the venerable sage Rav Chaim Kanievsky, l’badeil l’chaim tovim v’aruchim, were sitting alone at the dining room table.

In front of the Rebbetzin were piles and piles of small pieces of paper on which supplicants had written their requests for Divine intervention. On at least one of the small papers, the teardrops of the writer were still visible. Reb Chaim sat opposite her in a misbuttoned blue sweater. “The Rabbanit picked up each and every paper as if it were her child. She gently unfolded the paper, and with warmth and love she read each and every request to her husband. By the way the ritual played out, I could tell that this was a daily occurrence: the Rabbanit slowly reading the day’s requests for divine help and Rav Chaim responding with the appropriate tefillah (prayer).”

Who can possibly replace her? Who will offer succor to all those in need?

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The Passing of Greatness: The Rabbanit

Posted By Matzav Editor On October 23, 2011 @ 10:15 AM In Breaking NewsFeatured OpinionTorah World |

By Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman

As Shabbos Chol HaMoed came to an end I was shocked and saddened as I heard about the passing of Rabbanit Bat-Sheva Kanievsky- wife of the beloved Tzaddik, Rav Chaim.

I had the privilege of meeting and speaking to the Rabbanit – as she was referred to- many, many times.

In fact I do not think I ever visited her husband without exchanging a word or two with the Rabbanit.

Everyone I knew referred to her as The Rabbanit; not the ‘Rebbetzen’ as we refer to the wife of the rabbi in America.

However, Rabbanit Kanievsky was more than just another wife of a rabbi; she was ‘The Rabbanit” – a title of regality.

As always, I cannot speak for anyone other than myself.

I certainly did not know here ‘well’ and would never claim to have spoken to her at any great length.

Therefore, what I am about to present is nothing more than my personal recollections of my brief encounters with ‘The Rabbanit”.

For one thing she was not a woman in the ‘wings’ or a woman who lived in the shadow of anyone.

She was always there and she was quite visible; that being said she was the epitome of modesty and purity.

She attended Shul daily- always with her husband. She was there at four in the morning for Vasikin and she was there with him for Mincha.

(I must admit, I do not know first hand if she attended Maariv daily.)

The Rabbanit was a lively and potent woman; simultaneously powerful and productive; progressive yet passive; happily accepting her roll as the help-mate of her husband.

However, notwithstanding her devotion to her husband, she was aristocratic in her own right.

After davening she was the only rebbetzen I ever observed who was literally swamped and surrounded by women as she slowly made her way from The Ledderman Shul to her home.

Throngs of women clung to her and observed her every move.

In an era when so many young (and not so young) Jewish women are sorely searching for a role model and ‘hero’- The Rabbanit was there to fill the void.

When a young woman from America was seen in the women’s section early in the morning, The Rabbanit would make sure to shower her with even more love than usual. Every morning she went to all the women who arrived early for Shacharis and insisted that each and everyone recite their Brochus out loud so she could answer Omein.

She was mobbed by all types of women daily. Religious and not yet religious; Ashkenazim and Sephardim, young and old; all were drawn to her magnetic personality.

She warmly greeted everyone; waiting and standing long hours in the hot son dispensing Brochus to women in need and offering words of comfort and chizzuk to everyone.

I recall vividly the time I brought my oldest grandson to Rav Chaim for his first haircut. When we arrived she had stepped out of the room for a minute; however, when she returned and realized why we had come she rushed to find a candy to give him and made sure to add a few more for his siblings at home.

Each time I would arrive, I would inquire as to the welfare of her father- HaRav Elyashiv Shlita. She would tell me, “Baruch Hashem, he is well.” She would then add- “Please go to see him in Meah Shearim, he teaches a class in Gemara there nightly. You should go. You will gain from the class.”

Here was a woman whose grandfather, Rav Aryeh Levin Zt”l was known as the Tzaddik of Yerushalayim; whose father- Rav Elyashiv is the halachik arbiter of our generation; who husband is … Rav Chaim! And she is giving me encouragement with such love and such caring that I will be improved if I attend her father’s Shiurim!

On one of my first visits to the Rebbe, I asked one of the attendants if one recites the brocha for seeing a Talmid Chochom when one sees Rav Kanievsky. The man replied in the affirmative, however, before I walked into her husband’s room- The Rabbanit said emphatically, “Yes, you could say the brocha, however, do not say it. The Rav does not like anyone saying the brocha in his presence.” Of course that ended the discussion.

One day I arrived and only she was home. I asked where Rav Chaim is and she replied that he was busy now. By the look of my face- she could see that I was disappointed. She then looked at me and said, “Wait over there by the door. Soon he will be going to Mincha; if you wait there you can have a few minutes with him before he leaves the house!” Once again her care for the individual was prominent in her personality.

My most poignant and heartfelt memory of The Rabbanit was on a cold chilly night in December. I arrived and knocked on the door. Aryeh Kanievsky- their grandchild answered the door. Over the years Aryeh and I have developed a relationship and he motioned me to enter. As I walked into the house I observed a sight reserved for the angels above. There on the dining room table sat Rav Chaim in his crinkled and mis-buttoned blue sweater and across from him sat The Rabbanit. There was no other human being in the room. I was too scared to enter and therefore for the next few minutes I stood quietly as I took on the role of the proverbial fly on the wall as greatness transpired all around me.

The Rabbanit sat in her seat surrounded by piles and piles of small pieces of papers. Each one of ther scraps contained the heart and soul of a Jewish person. On one a woman had penned her request for a Shidduch- a soul mate. On another, a man asks for a recovery from cancer for his infirmed wife; on one slip is the request for children- the tear droplets are still visible on the moist paper. The Rabbanit picked up each and every piece of paper as if it was her child. She gently unfolded the paper and with warmth and love she read each and every request to her husband who sat across from her.

As I stood there I could not believe the sight which my eyes beheld. In front of me sat a man whose every second is precious and accounted for. And here is a woman who has many children and grandchildren to attend to; however, they are sitting together in the precious and rarely had private time together- praying for Jews whose faces they do not recognize and whose last names they do not know! If this is not greatness, what is?

By the way the ritual played out I could tell that this was a daily occurrence; the Rabbanit slowly reading the day’s requests for divine help and the Rav responding with the appropriate Tefillah.

Their care and their concern for all Jews touched me to my core.

This is Rav Chaim and this was The Rabbanit.

I saw greatness in the Rabbanit, and now it has passed.

I miss her.

{Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman-Matzav.com Newscenter}