The Woman’s Perspective: Rabbi Elyashiv’s Daughters and Daughters-in-Law Share Memories

The Woman’s Perspective: Rabbi Elyashiv’s Daughters and Daughters-in-Law Share Memories

I’ve read a bunch of articles about Rabbi Elyashiv since he passed away, but the truth is the article I REALLY wanted to read was one I wasn’t finding; an article about Rabbi Elyashiv written from a woman’s perspective. And then journalist Shiffy Friedman sent me this article based on her interviews with the Rabbi’s daughters and daughters-in-law during the shiva.

It’s a long article, but a wonderful one… here’s some of the parts that I found the most inspirational of all (I’ve highlighted these parts of the article in bold):

How Rabbi Elyashiv continued to learn Torah almost non-stop and with phenomenal concentration despite a broken leg as well as life-long physical ailments (reminded me of so many women’s determination to bring children into the world despite the physical discomfort of pregnancy and pain of childbirth). How he was his mother’s firstborn child after SEVENTEEN years of infertility (an inspirational point for women struggling from infertility). How his daughter calls her father a “normal genius,” a devoted Torah scholar who was also an attentive and loving father and husband, who showed special sensitivity to his daughters and daughters-in-law. Maybe most of all, what will stick with me from this article is Rabbi Elyashiv’s sensitive reaction to a daughter who moved back home after a single day teaching in a distant farming community….Enjoy!

by Shiffy Friedman
First appeared in Ami Magazine

My heart beats rapidly as I turn up the narrow streets of Meah Shearim toward Rechov Admon. I’m starting to think whether this was too daring a move, coming here by myself to the home of a venerated tzaddik to speak to his family. I’m excited and nervous, not sure of the reaction I’ll receive as a journalist.

As soon as I enter the tiny doorway I see the apartment is filled to overflowing with all kinds of people. I make my way toward the back of the house, where the women are sitting. I stand at the entrance to the room, suddenly shy, not sure if I should introduce myself or if it’s too obtrusive. I don’t want to be written off as “just another journalist.” I have come to learn about Rav Elyashiv and the legacy he’s left behind, and I really hope that the women will open up to me.

I look around the room. Two Elyashiv sisters, the only surviving daughters of the Rav, are sitting on low chairs, surrounded by women in sheitels, snoods, and tichels, along with some young girls. The sisters are speaking animatedly; they have so much to share. I immediately sense the positive atmosphere. This shivah house is different from any other I’ve ever visited. But then again, so was the deceased. And as I learn today, it was more than his Torah knowledge that made him the outstanding Torah scholar he was.

After I take the plunge, and introduce myself as to one of the helpers in the kitchen as a writer for Ami, she announces loudly, “Yocheved, seat this young woman next to you. She’s a writer and she wants to hear about the Rav.”

I’m glad a shivah house sports no mirrors (although I doubt this family ever owned one) because I’m feeling quite red-faced at the moment. All eyes are upon me as I make my way toward the front of the room. I’m graciously offered a chair near the Rav’s two daughters, Rebetzin Gittel Rimmer and Rebetzin Sarah Yisraelson, and very soon I realize that this visit will be well worth the initial few awkward moments.

First, I have the honor of speaking with Rebetzin Yocheved Elyashiv, wife of Rav Avraham Elyashiv, the Rav’s youngest son. Her eyes sparkle as she talks about her esteemed father-in-law, and the stories flow without effort.

“Did you attend the funeral?” she asks me.
“Of course. With my baby,” I say. Who wasn’t there?
“So you saw the masses of people. Did you realize that every type of Jew was in attendance?”
I nod my head.
“That’s because the Rav epitomized the Torah and the Torah is for all Jews-Chassidim, the Sefardim, the Ashkenazim, everyone. He never stopped delving into the Torah. He slept only four hours a night, and all of his other hours were spent on learning. Everything else was done as quickly as possible because the Torah tugged at his heart, and he couldn’t wait to reunite with his beloved sefer.”

Rebetzin Gittel Rimmer, wife of Rav Binyamin Rimmer, the Rosh Yeshiva of Kiryat Melech in Bnei Brak, nods her head in agreement. She adds, “I remember my father learning in every condition. Some winters, our apartment was freezing. The water froze to ice and there was no heat, but he would wake up at 2 a.m. and sit down to learn. He always learned like a young yeshiva student, until his last healthy day.”

One of the visitors listens in on our conversation. “This is the way of the Torah,” she says, quoting the verse from Avos.

“Yes,” the Rav’s daughter says, “that’s exactly how he lived. And none of this was done in pursuit of honor. He was the most unassuming person in the world. Despite his exceptional scholarship and influence, he never held an official title, neither as the head of an organization, yeshiva, or particular community. He didn’t go for those things.”

Rebetzin Yocheved Elyashiv continues in the same vein. “The Rav was always like that, even as a young child. The Torah was his life. People who grew up with him told us that even as a boy of seven he would find himself a little corner while his peers played in the courtyard. He’d spend hours in his little niche, covering Talmudic tractates as if he was studying with a group. He’d ask questions, answer them, and revel in the sweetness of Torah. Adults would take great pleasure in eavesdropping on this innocent budding Torah scholar’s private learning session.”

I ask if the Rav’s love of Torah was the result of nature or nurture. “Of course, his father Rav Avrohom was a great Torah scholar,” Yocheved replies. “But a lot of the credit goes to his mother, Rebetzin Chaya Musha, daughter of the famed Lithuanian ‘Leshem,’ Rav Shlomo Elyashiv. [Following the advice of the Chofetz Chaim, for immigration purposes the family adopted her maiden name as their surname upon their arrival to Israel.]

The Rav was born seventeen years after her wedding, so she could have been a sad and lonely woman after so many years of childlessness. But instead, she gladly allowed her husband to learn undisturbed. She truly understood the value of Torah, so it was naturally ingrained in her only child.”

On the morning after his wedding to Rav Aryeh Levin’s daughter, Rebetzin Sheina Chaya, Rav Elyashiv ate a quick breakfast and returned to one of his cherished sefarim. The Rebetzin immediately discovered whom she had been blessed to marry, and she accepted this lifestyle with love.

“Once,” Rebetzin Elyashiv shares, “I said to her, ‘So much of the Rav’s Torah learning is your credit.’ Do you know what this unassuming woman said to me? She answered, ‘What did I do? Nothing. I just didn’t bother him. He chose to do this, so I just went along with it.’ My mother-in-law was a very special woman.”

The room empties a little so Rebetzin Rimmer has a chance to share some more with me. “The Torah was my father’s oxygen,” she says. “It was a very special, emotional experience to see him make a blessing on the Torah.”

She stops to think for a moment and continues. “My father was a king. He was in control of his every limb. One Shabbos he fell and hurt his leg, but he dragged himself to the nearest chair so he could continue learning. He learned in peace for the rest of the day. After Shabbos we called the doctor. When he entered the room and saw my father learning so passionately, he insisted that the leg could not be broken. ‘If your father had fractured his leg, he would be screaming in pain.’ I guess the doctor didn’t know my father well enough, because after some quick tests he realized he was wrong. My father had in fact fractured a bone.”

It is obvious that Rebetzin Rimmer feels deeply privileged to have been born into this venerated home. “As he aged, every part of his body started to fall apart. There wasn’t a bone in his body that didn’t ache. From childhood on he was stricken with severe illnesses, yet he overcame his physical obstacles to keep up his rigid schedule of study, prayer, and involvement in all aspects of world Jewry.”

I wonder aloud what type of father Rav Elyashiv was and she’s excited to share. “It’s good that you’re writing,” she tells me warmly. “Let me tell you an illustrative story.”

“When I was about 18, I got a teaching job in the village of Komemiyut. Now, I don’t know if you were ever in that place, but let’s just say life is very different there. It’s very quiet, there’s no excitement like there is here, and the whole lifestyle was unfamiliar to me. Anyway, the job offer was good so I packed a suitcase and headed out. On my first day, though, after four hours of teaching, I realized I’d made a mistake. I couldn’t possibly stay there for even one night!

“So what did I do? I packed my things up again and headed home. The whole way back I was nervous. I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing, and I was expecting my parents to be angry. But as soon as I opened the door to our apartment, my father greeted me warmly. I was served a nice dinner and was made to feel very welcome. My parents didn’t say one word about my experience, and they didn’t question me accusingly.

“The next morning, after I’d had had a good night’s rest, my father said to me, ‘Perhaps you should try the job again?’ I couldn’t disappoint the man who cared for me so much. I went and ended up staying- and enjoying- a full year there.”

“Do you know how my mother called my father?” Rebetzin Rimmer asks me. “She said he was a ‘gaon normali,’ a normal genius. He knew so much- all of the most complicated shailos from around the world made their way to his shtender- yet he was so normal, so caring, such a loving family man.”

One granddaughter chimes in. “I still remember how Zeide played with us. The big Rav Elyashiv, this incredible genius, he used to run around with us and give us candy.” She smiles at the sweet memories, remembering a grandfather who was so saintly yet so accessible.

“For my father,” Rebetzin Sarah Yisraelson adds, “every minute was a world of opportunity. He never ever wasted time. I wish I were even a fraction as careful with my time as he was. There was no such concept by him of lying in bed and staring at the ceiling. From the moment he awoke, his feet were on the floor. He didn’t waste a second. When it came to things like eating and sleeping, he’d ‘get them over with’ as quickly as possible. But although he didn’t eat much, he always complimented our mother on every dish she served.”

Rebetzin Yocheved Elyashiv shares a personal experience. “One Shabbos, not too long ago, when we moved in with the Rav, there were lots of guests at the table, so I sat at the very edge of the bench. The Rav wouldn’t make kiddush until I moved closer. Then, when we went to wash, this tremendous Torah scholar, who wouldn’t otherwise waste a minute of his time, waited patiently until everyone returned to the table.”

“Once, after I had faced a medical issue, he constantly asked my husband as to my well-being. During my first visit to his home several months later, his eyes lit up when he saw me. He called me over warmly and inquired about my health, showing true concern and caring,” a daughter-in-law shares. He always noticed and commented on the tiny details for the sake of his family. He was a man of true greatness.”

I’m amazed at these bits of information. Of course, I had always known that Rav Elyashiv was the greatest scholar of this generation, well-versed in the entire Torah, but I’d never known much about his family life. To hear that he was so attentive to the feelings of his wife and children awes me.

I take a break from my scribbling and look around the meagerly-furnished room. Two bunk beds line one wall. “The grandchildren slept here when they visited,” a married granddaughter shares.

One visitor is crying profusely. Rebetzin Rimmer sighs. “Moshiach has to come. We thought he’d live until the coming of Moshiach. Who’s going to be here to greet him?”

“When I was expecting my third child, certain complications came up and I lost the baby,” a young visitor shares. “My husband came to the Rav, expecting to receive only a bracha because he knew thousands of names were brought to him every day. But the Rav did so much more. He asked for my full name and said he’d daven for me until I merited to give birth to a healthy child. It was a promise to us. Baruch hashem, it happened very soon afterward.”

“My father cared for every human being, like you said. His love for his fellow Jews was exceptional. It didn’t matter that he heard of so many personal suffering every day. Each story touched him.”

Another visitor stands up to share her tale, this time a dark-skinned, Sefardic woman wearing a snood. She tells the women of her sick daughter, who miraculously recovered after an encounter with Rav Elyashiv in the hospital. “This is my daughter today,” she says in tears, pointing to a young, healthy girl sitting on a plastic chair.

When the room becomes quiet again, I ask Rebetzin Rimmer about her family.

“We were 12 siblings, seven girls and five boys, one of whom was niftar in his youth. You surely know about my eldest sister, Rebetzin Batsheva Kanievsky. I don’t have to say anything about her. We still can’t believe she’s not with us anymore. Next is my sister Sarah,” she turns toward her only surviving sister. “Her husband was Rav Yisroel Yosef Yisraelson of Rechovot. The third daughter was Ettil, who was married to Rav Elchonon Berlin, Rav of the ‘Achva’ Shul, followed by Shoshana, late wife of Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Chief Rabbi of Ramat Elchanan in Bnei Brak. Leah, my fifth sister, was married to the son of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Azriel, who was my father’s right-hand man. Then comes me.”

Rav Elyashiv and his Rebetzin tragically lost a seventh daughter, Rifkah, to Jordanian shelling in 1948. They were no strangers to tzaros.

I ask Rebetzin Yocheved Elyashiv about the Rav’s last moments, wanting to get a peek into the end of a life well lived. “On the Rosh Hashana when he was already 100 years old, he still stood during the repetition of the standing prayer. Can you imagine?

But this past Shevat he suddenly collapsed while he was hosting people and from then on he was in and out of consciousness. But even when he was on oxygen, unable to speak, we knew he was with us. He mouthed prayers and words of Torah constantly and he learned until his very last moments.

“When the end was near, tens of people gathered in Shaare Zedek Hospital to participate in the holy prayers. Rav Shmuel Auerbach, shlita, led the shema and final viduy, and as everyone joined in prayer, the place was saturated with sanctity. You were able to feel the holiness in the air. As soon as it was over Rav Auerbach cried, “We’ve lost the last of our true scholars.” The large crowd said shema yisrael together and tore their clothing. These are moments I will never forget. We were watching a soul peacefully soar upward, to the place it longed for all along. The atmosphere was surreal. We felt like an angel was leaving us, because that’s what my father-in-law was. An angel of God.”

As I leave the tiny apartment that was privileged to house a greater-than-life being, I look back one more time. I hadn’t known so much about this unassuming tzaddik, I learned today, and I am deeply grateful for the tiny glimpse into his sanctified life, even now. I whisper a prayer as I walk away: May the good deeds engendered by his example bring an aliyah to his soul.

Shiffy Friedman is a freelance writer who currently resides in Jerusalem with her husband and baby son. Her eye for detail and love of life engender a deep gratitude to G-d, which she seeks to spread further through her writing and lectures.

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6 comments

  1. Thank you so much for this! I unfortunately have been hearing radically different reports recently. I was disturbed by the following from Mishpacha Magazine. B”H I am relieved by this account above, which counteracts it.

    Mishpacha Magazine (in Hebrew) had a whole section this past weekend devoted to R’ Elyashiv. One article dealt with R’ Elyashiv’s unbelievable hasmada in learning and had some stories which demonstrated his unbelievable hasmada.
    Here are 2 stories from the article:
    1. “When R’ Chaim Kanievsky was a young Avrech, his wife, Batsheva Kanievsky [R’ Elyashiv’s oldest daughter], complained to him that he didn’t learn the same way that she saw in her [father’s] house. There is no need to say that the Grach even then was one of the biggest masmidim of his generation and learned day and night. Even so, the Rabbanit said “You recognize the children and can identify each child by name. By us, when we were little children it was patently clear to everyone in the house that father [R’ Elyashiv] due to his tremendous diligence in learning didn’t recognize us and didn’t know our names”

    2. “R Yosef Shalom was not involved at all in the running of the house. He didn’t receive a salary from anywhere he didn’t preside over the Shabbos table and he had no idea where the money came from.
    The lack [of material goods, money] was so terrible that it literally became life threatening, one of the daughters was hospitalized because of malnutrition and almost died.”
    http://haemtza.blogspot.co.il/2012/07/inspiration-or-idiocy.html

    • JewishMom

      I also saw a really disturbing article with a similar message, so I was happy to see this alternative view of Harav Elyashiv

  2. Wow, that was an amazing article. Thanks so much for sharing!

  3. I loved this article. .

  4. Thank you so much for this article!

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