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Building from the Shards

Yisroel Besser

One year after their daughter’s sudden death, Rav Aryeh Ginzberg and his rebbetzin explain how they refused to be people who never smiled again

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


TRANSFORMING PAIN The pain was intense, but as Rabbi Yochanan taught, a pain that can be transformed. Sarala’s memory would be the impetus for a flow of new ideas and initiatives (Photos: Amir Levy)


he was their “everything,” their lively, beautiful 17-year-old daughter. And then she was gone.

V’ha amar Rabi Yochanan, dein garma… This is the bone of my tenth son. (Berachos 5b).

The great Tanna would carry the bone with him, using it to notify others of his crushing loss and perhaps comfort them.

Why him?

The Gemara speaks of the shufra, the exceptional beauty of Rabi Yochanan (Bava Metzia 84).

And this might well be the message: He endured the most devastating blow possible, yet his radiance was undiminished.

So he would circulate with a bone, as if to say, “Yes, I’ve suffered. But look at me. It’s possible to endure intense pain and still show the world a face that glows.” 

A New Genre

Several years ago, when this magazine was still young, at a time before social media had done away with privacy, I met Rav Aryeh Zev Ginzberg of Cedarhurst.

His firstborn grandchild, a sweet young boy, was very ill and the dynamic rav and prolific writer took pen in hand and shared the experience with readers. He took us into the hospital with him, allowing readers to taste the panic and fear, the desperate hope for the ailing child — and always, always taking all that emotion and wrapping it in emunah, a clear, unequivocal faith in the Healer.

It was a new genre: chizuk, against a backdrop of suffering. It was honest, candid, and so effective.

Then the child, Alter Chanoch Henoch, was niftar.

The rabbi got back to work: He wrote about the gift of life and the value of every moment with that precious child.

And so my dear grandson, with the difficulties and challenges over the last 2 ¾ years, I never had the clarity of mind to truly thank HaKadosh Boruch Hu, for the great zechus that he gave us for entrusting our family and choosing us to care for such a precious neshamah that you were.

(A Letter from Zaidy, Mishpacha, November, 2012)

Later that year, Reb Aryeh Zev lost his beloved father, Reb Avrohom. The senior Rabbi Ginzberg had been the confidante and best friend to Rav Henoch Leibowitz, helping him build the vast Chofetz Chaim yeshivah network. Klal Yisrael mourned a builder of Torah, and Rabbi Ginzberg once again opened up his heart, discussing the pain of loss, sharing his reflections on the meaning of Kaddish: It was mourning, but with hope and uplift, a brand uniquely his own.

I’ll never forget the day early in the summer of 2014 when Jews all over went numb with grief at the stunning news that the three boys for whom we’d all been davening — Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali — had been found, murdered. Hashem yinkom damam.

There were no words.


And so we called on the rabbi from Cedarhurst, asking him to write something… anything, to give perspective to the intense national pain.

Had two weeks of prayer and soul-searching been for naught? His piece was classic: hashkafah and hope and practical guidance.

That was then.

 You know how when you see bad news, you immediately look away, willing it to disappear?

It can’t be. They say to daven, that there’s still hope. It’s a mistake.

Our Rabbi Ginzberg?

Sarala Ginzberg, just 17 years old, a vibrant, happy girl looking forward to her senior year in high school. Baruch Dayan Ha’Emes.

In the December 2, 2015 issue, our esteemed columnist Rabbi Eytan Kobre reflected on the bitter news with a few well-chosen words. “I learned of the passing of Sarah Chaya Ginzberg a”h, beloved daughter of Rabbi and Mrs. Aryeh Zev Ginzberg. As our readers know so well, her father has on many occasions been that reassuring uplifting voice to others in the midst of their tzarah.

When the three young men in Eretz Yisrael went suddenly, terrifyingly missing, never to return, it was Rav Aryeh Zev who found the words that needed to be said in the moment, conveying a desperately needed and deeply appreciated message of chizuk, of bitachon, of Imo Anochi B’tzarah.

But now, it is Rav Aryeh Zev himself, the pillar of tanchumim who sits in mourning over the beloved child taken from him. When the paragon of nichum for other Yidden mourns, who will console him?”

He wasn’t alone in asking the question. One could safely assume that the voice of strength and comfort would be muted, dulled by pain.

Intense pain, but as Rabbi Yochanan taught, a pain that can be transformed. Sarala’s memory would be the impetus for a flow of new ideas and initiatives.

And her parents, Rav Aryeh Zev and Rebbetzin Avigail? It’s the eve of the first yahrtzeit, 13 Kislev, when we sit down. Not really a plum assignment, this — sitting with bereaved parents — and yet their grace and dignity gives the conversation an appeal of its own.

We are a nation in mourning, each in their own way: Their words speak to all of us.

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