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Entering the Gates of Greatness

Leah Gebber

Most of us only know greatness from afar. We observe our leaders, absorb their messages — from a distance. Some are fortunate enough to be born to giants. And then there are those who join an exalted family when they marry. Three daughters-in-law of great men share their experiences.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

The first encounter with one’s in-laws is enough to make any new kallah quail. And if those in-laws are leaders of the Jewish word, the trepidation is only compounded. Rebbetzin Dina Spira recalls her first meeting with her husband’s parents, the Bluzhever Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Spira, and his rebbetzin, Bronia. Although she came from a prominent rabbinic family herself — she descended from the legendary Thumim family, and her father participated in the 1943 rabbis’ march on the White House — she had never before spoken to a rebbe. “I hadn’t yet agreed to marry my husband,” she relates, “but he told me that I should come and meet his parents. No obligation at all, he said. I was in the area anyway, I may as well come by.  “I still remember walking up the narrow steps of Bluzhev. And how my future mother-in-law hugged me and said in Yiddish: ‘I’m giving you the key to the house.’ This was no obligation? I shot my future husband a look. The Rebbe stood behind her. He wasn’t wearing rebbishe garb, just his shirtsleeves, with suspenders — I only realized years later that he did that so that I would feel comfortable. In accented English, he said: ‘He’s a nice boy, yes?’ ” The Rebbe and Rebbetzin’s warmth set the timbre of a relationship that Rebbetzin Spira would cherish for decades. The daughter-in-law of Rav Yaakov Hillel, renowned Sephardic rosh yeshivah and mekubal, was first struck by how her in-laws’ home is a throwback to another era. “There’s nothing there that might be from the 21st century. Not even a radio. And the talk, too: My father-in-law will never, ever discuss politics.” Rabbanit Hillel describes her in-laws’ tangible respect for those who turn to them — it is this, she feels, which makes their home a bastion of peace. Rebbetzin Chana Bergman, who married the grandson of Rav Shach ztz”l, tells of how, as newlyweds, they were treated to a home visit by the gadol hador. Although the apartment was still not fully furnished, they did have a beautiful bookcase filled with seforim. Rav Shach walked inside and looked around. “You have a bookcase!” he said, with a wide smile. “That’s beautiful. When I married, I had nothing. I didn’t have a bookcase. I didn’t even have seforim.” ForRebbetzinBergman, this was a rare glimpse into another era — and intoRavShach’s joy at his grandchildren’s good fortune.

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