A Mother’s Sacrifice that Created a Gadol Hador

A Mother’s Sacrifice that Created a Gadol Hador

I get a lot of reading done on the treadmill, and until this morning I had never thought of this as a particularly dangerous habit…But as I read the following excerpt from the forthcoming biography of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel zt”l (Artscroll) written partially by Rav Nosson Tzvi’s mother, Rebbetzin Sara Finkel, I feared I was going to asphyxiate from choked-back tears. Like Rebbetzin Finkel, I am also the mother of a 14-year-old child, so I can relate to the size of the sacrifice that the Rebbetzin made for the Jewish people when she allowed her American son to remain in Israel to study at the Mir in 1957, starting him off on the path that would lead him to become the Rosh Yeshiva of the world’s largest yeshiva and a Gadol Hador.

What a wonderful idea, to have a biography of a rabbi written by his mother! I cannot wait to read this book!

The following excerpt by Rebbetzin Sara Finkel from Rav Nosson Tzvi (Artscroll) appears this week in Mishpacha Magazine.

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 travelled 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.

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…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…

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 Shachris, following the reading in Parashas Vayeira that narrates the moving story of Akeidas Yitzchak…I thought to myself, If your 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.

My beloved son Nosson Tzvi zt”l came into the Mir, into the world of Torah learning, at the reading of Parashas Vayeira on Rosh Hashanah, and he left this world, and the Mir, also during the week of Parashas Vayeira. I often wonder what significance this amazing occurrence might have. Certainly, it cannot be a mere coincidence.

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3 comments

  1. I don’t presume to have the strength and the gadlut to do what she did. But as I was reading, I thought about how her decision sent him forward, rather than leaving him behind.

  2. Hadassah Aber

    Imagine that was in those days, no e-mail, no skype, international phone calls were so expensive that people rarely made them, and letters took about 10 days or more to get there. My sons have traveled to study Torah but we can keep in touch daily if we want.

  3. I wonder how long he stayed in Isael? I know that he graduated from Ida Crown Academy in Chicago (I saw a copy of the yearbook photo.) It listed many clubs and extra -curricular activities. Ironically under the heading “Ambition” it is written “none”. I wish we could all accomplish so much….

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