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Facing Our Loss, Facing Ourselves

An exclusive pre-publication excerpt from ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications

Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, rosh yeshivas Mir, who didn’t allow Parkinson’s disease to slow his plans for his own personal growth or the development the Mir Yeshivah, would often tell people, “There’s no such thing as ‘I can’t.’” From anyone else, it may have been lip service. Coming from him, it was pure truth. While the following excerpts of ArtScroll’s upcoming biography of Rav Nosson Tzvi can’t paint the true picture of the gadol we lost, they are an inspiration and wake-up call to everyone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

rav nosson tzviHow Can I Leave Him Behind?

By Rebbetzin Sara Finkel

In the year 1957, before Rosh Hashanah, my husband and I took a trip to Eretz Yisrael. We took along Nosson Tzvi, who was 14 years old at the time. We traveled by boat, cabin class, to Paris, then we flew to the Holy Land by plane. Young Nosson Tzvi was just as eager as we were to visit Eretz Yisrael — to see the holy sights, to visit family, and to simply bask in the kedushah of the land of our forefathers. We left our younger son Gedalya with my mother.

For me, coming to Israel was a completely new experience. As we visited my husband’s uncles, aunts, and cousins, I felt like a bride meeting my husband’s family for the first time — and a very illustrious family they were. Among them were his cousins: Rav Leizer Placinsky, a prominent rosh yeshiva; Rav Eliezer Goldshmidt, a dayan in Tel Aviv; Rav Simcha Zissel Broide, rosh yeshiva of Chevron when it moved to Yerushalayim; Rav Dovid Finkel, the son of R’ Moshe Finkel, my father-in-law’s twin brother (Rav Dovid Finkel is survived by his wife Chana Finkel, who lives in the Mattesdorf area today); and especially Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, my husband’s revered and beloved uncle who headed the Mir Yeshiva in Poland and reestablished it in Jerusalem in 1944. I say, “especially” because my husband was very close to his saintly uncle, whom we visited frequently during this eventful visit to the Holy Land.

I remember that during that visit we spent Shabbos with our cousins in Bnei Brak, Rav Mordechai Shulman, rosh yeshiva of Slabodka Yeshiva, and his Rebbetzin, Chaya Miriam Shulman. One of the things that stands out in my mind is meeting Rebbetzin Shulman’s mother, Rebbetzin Guttel Sher, the daughter of the Alter of Slabodka and rebbetzin of Rav Isaac Sher. Rebbetzin Sher was bedridden because she had suffered a stroke not long before. I remember so clearly standing at her bedside. She raised her hand and stroked my cheek while repeating just one word: “fine, fine, fine.” She was unable to speak clearly because of the stroke. I understood this as her way of indicating her approval of me — her approval of her nephew’s American wife.

It was the day before Rosh Hashanah during that fateful first visit to Eretz Yisrael. I recall the Uncle (that’s how my husband referred to him), Rav Leizer Yudel, summoning me to his room to speak with me concerning a serious decision I had to make. He asked me in Yiddish to leave my son Nosson Tzvi in Eretz Yisrael to study in his yeshiva, the Mir. Before uttering a reply I thought to myself, What, leave my son, at the tender age of 14, across the ocean, thousands of miles away from home without his parents and his younger brother? How could I possibly do such a thing? When I hesitated he added, with a warm smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, “Du darfst hobben em unter dine fachtug? Do you need him attached to your apron strings?” To which I answered in Yiddish, the language I learned from my parents as a youngster growing up in St. Paul, “I will have to think about it.” I repeated, “I will think it over,” and I thought to myself, How can I leave him behind?

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah after Shacharis, following the reading in Parashas Vayeira that narrates the moving story of Akeidas Yitzchak, it was customary for the family to congregate for Kiddush in the apartment of Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz zt”l and his family. Their daughter Rivka, who was unmarried at that time and is today known as Rebbetzin Ezrachi, was a teacher in seminary then. She reviewed the parashah again in English. When I heard her repeat once again the story of Akeidas Yitzchak, I thought to myself, If our patriarch, Avraham Avinu, was willing to bring such a korban, to make such a profound sacrifice, why am I hesitating? It was precisely at that moment that I made my decision, which I later related to “the Uncle,” Rav Leizer Yudel: “I will permit Nosson Tzvi to remain in Eretz Yisrael.” I somehow felt at the time that I was giving him to the world; what a thought for a young Jewish mother.


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