Baruch Hashem, it’s been an ultra-busy week. Bnos Avigail went to Bnei Brak for Shabbos. We stayed at Batei Avot, a dormitory that was originally donated to the Ponevitzh Yeshiva by an upper-class English woman who was willing to help the Ponevitzh Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman in his efforts on behalf of Israel’s kids. After the war, there were literally thousands of orphans who needed a roof over their heads, and arguably something more crucial for their genuine survival and their ability to build a future for themselves, a Torah education that would give their lives meaning. She was not observant, nor did she admire those who are. She made a condition, “I don’t want to donate a building that will house boys who wear yarmulkes, and have tzitsit. I don’t want to bring them back to the ghetto”. The Rav didn’t bat an eyelash. He agreed wholeheartedly with her stipulations and kept them. He built a home for girls.
When I was in school, the war was long over, and the orphans had gone on to marry and build their own homes. The building then became a dormitory for students who wanted to go to Bnei Brak’s esteemed seminary, and who didn’t live in Bnei Brak. It hasn’t changed much since my times. The curtains are new, and the portrait of the Lady is gone, but otherwise it is identical to the dorm I lived in. I wanted the girls to experience Bnei Brak the way I did, as a place where doing things right is not viewed as extreme, and where idealism is as normal as breathing air.
We were fortunate enough to visit Rebbitzen Berman. She told us a story that was unbelievably moving.
Her husband’s grandfather was the famous Steipler Gaon, and she was very much part of the Bnei Brak that I wanted to share. She began by asking if we think happiness comes from the inside or the outside. We all said (not surprisingly) that it comes from the inside. That set us up for her story.
The Steipler Gaon, Rav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky was the acknowledged Gadol of his time. He had three sons in law, one of whom was Rebbitzen Berman’s father in law. When her father in law moved his young family into the house where the young Rebbitzen Berman now lives, things were very different than they are today. No one had boxes or crates. When you moved, you spread a sheet on the floor, put all of your belongings onto the sheet, and then tied the corners together, and repeated the process until all of your earthly possessions are in makeshift bundles. You then hire movers (not that there were actual professional movers, they were usually itinerant Arabs looking for whatever work they could get). They carried your bundles into your new home, dropped them on to the floor received their wages and left you to unpack.
The day the Berman’s moved was exactly as described. Their kids were young and loved the almost indescribable chaos of moving day. One of them got bored, and began playing with his toys. He threw one of the pieces into the toilet, which immediately became blocked and began to overflow onto the floor where all of the sheets were spread.
What would you do?
I would freak out.
To make things worse, Rabbi Berman looked at his watch, and realized that 60 young men were waiting for him in the Beit Midrash of Ponevitzh. “Should I go?” he asked his wife. “Go! I’ll manage” she said, not believing that this was really happening to her. Moments later the door opened. It was her father in law, the Steipler Gaon, a man who rarely looked further than his Talmud. He immediately grasped the situation without her saying a word. He took off his hat, laid it on the table, and then took off his coat and did the same. He went for a plunger, unstuffed the toilet and took the sponja stick and began sweeping the water out. What made this a lesson for life, is that he did this this all with a smile.
She knew why.
He knew he was doing exactly what the situation demands, He was doing what Hashem’s will for him was at that moment.
A person like that is always happy, because nothing on the outside can change his sense of being on the path, and being beloved for it.