Country Yossi Magazine:
In response to our community’s outcry about the areas of emphasis that Rabbis choose these days: discussing esrog specifications instead of addressing the topic of agunot, for example. In their defense, I offer the following comments.
One of the places where Hashem speaks of the geulah is, “Vzacharti es brisi Yaakov v’af es brisi Yitzchok, vaf es brisi Avrohom ezkor, v’haaretz ezkor.” The immediate question is, why are the Avos in reverse order? This is also connected to the fact that the first brocha of Shmonei Esrei closes with “Magen Avrohom” and does not list the other two Avos.
As we all know, “Al shlosha devarim haolam omed: Al haTorah, al havodah v’al gmilus chasadim.” Each of the Avos personifies these pillars. Yaakov is “Ish tam yoshaiv ohalim” symbolizing Torah. Yitzchok is the one from whom we learn davening. When Rivka came it says Yitzchok went out “lasuach basadeh” and we learn that sichah was davening. Avrohom symbolizes chessed, with his tent feeding strangers, bailing out his nephew Lot, etc.
These three pillars also represent the three stages before the final redemption. First there will be a lot of Torah learning. Then that will die down and there will be a lot of davening. Then there will not even be any davening but there will be chessed – we will perpetuate our patriarch Avrohom’s kindness to strangers, community and family alike. Right after Avrohom in the pasuk about the Geulah, it says, “V’haaretz ezkor!” then I will remember the land, meaning Eretz Yisroel and the final restoration of our nation.
I would like to argue for our community leaders allowing us as congregants and followers to embrace observing our rituals to the most minute detail, while larger issues of bayn adam l’chaveiro are largely put aside. We are busy inventing Shabbos lights, but agunot remain trapped and unable to start new relationships.
On the issue of agunot, I would like to relate my story. I have a friend who was a classmate of mine for thirteen years. She married a man with a double identity. He was cool, but wore a streiml to please her family. In the end he was deeply troubled, he would sleep all day and stay awake all night. She finally left him, taking her two children with her and moved back in with her parents. A few years later she found out he would not be needing a get because he would not be pursuing an Orthodox marriage anyway. After waiting for four and a half years, she borrowed money to pay him off. He agreed to give her the get in exchange for the money, and her returning all the jewelry. He took the silver and all the furniture, and house items as well.
The morning of her get, her father’s car had a flat tire. So, after trying a number of people, my friend called me in tears. Her father ended up borrowing my car to drive his daughter to the get. That was the day her freedom began.
After being witness to this story, I decided I would have to handle my affairs at home more strategically. I had been married for almost ten years. My husband had recently started coming home at 4:00 am. When I asked him where he had been his response was, “You don’t trust me?” There were other issues as well. We had been to ten marriage counselors over a period of four years. I was no mental health expert but I sensed a paranoia about him. One Friday night at the meal I could tell he was seething about something. I finally got him to explain his upset. “You cleaned up the whole house for Shabbos except my bed.” Apparently, in my haste, I had left the dry cleaning on his bed when the delivery boy had brought it while I was in the middle of five different Shabbos prep activities. He just could not get over how insensitive I had been.
I knew I had to play my cards right or I could end up like my friend the agunah.
I knew that whatever I wanted, my husband would want the opposite. So, while I wanted a get very much, I pretended that I wanted to stay married. He would talk to me about getting divorced and I would say, “No, we have been through so much together. I love you too much. I could never go on without you.” I told my mother briefly of my plot. She totally could not understand me. “If you want a divorce, just go ahead and say so.” A few months later, he wanted to go meet with Rabbi Landesman in Monsey, who is a real expert on gittin. I refused for a week. Then I said I would go only if my mother and a family friend could come, and he could not bring anyone. He agreed. I remember that meeting so well. I remember the shocking stares from Rabbi Landesman and the others at the table when I said I wanted to stay married. I remember my mother squeezing my hand under the table. I remember how frustrated he was that I was adamant about staying married.
A few weeks after that, I called a very prominent rabbi who had spoken to my children’s father about refraining from hitting our children. He knew our case well. I told him “I want out. I want out now.” He responded encouragingly, “Give me two weeks.” He called my ex and told him that he finally was able to convince me to accept a get. Four weeks later the get was written. Two weeks later I had the get in my hand.
In between Yom Kippur and Sukkos I will celebrate eight years of freedom. I thank Hashem that I saw the misery and pain of my friend the agunah. I thank Hashem for giving me the foresight to play my cards right. I thank Hashem for the Rav who felt my pain and turned his compassion into relentless action on my behalf.
Recently I met with a prominent Rav who believes in perpetuating Rav Moshe Feinstein’s dedication to agunot. He told me he performs annulments for women who can not negotiate gets from men who are emotionally unstable or mentally ill. There is still more to be done in being dedicated to the plight of agunot. I heard a wonderful story about a Rav in London who tracked down a man for over 18 months and was finally able to secure a get for the wife who was living in Israel. She had waited five years for her get. These are wonderful examples of Rabbanim being compassionate to the plight of women. We need to increase the numbers of such Rabbanim exponentially if we are to make a dent in the agunot problem.
Indeed, it is human nature to look away from pain that is not ours. Remember the famous story about the woman who was not bothered that a child had been injured until she realized it was “her” Itzik. It is so much easier to assure yourself that you are doing everything you should when you daven three times a day, observe Shabbos, have the right size esrog, buy badatz shmurah matzos and stay up all night on Shavuos. What about the three attributes of the children of Avraham Avinu: Bayshanim, RACHMANIM and Gomlei Chassadim?
Here is an example of “misplaced spirituality:” I called someone for directions to their home once, when I was lost. I ended up calling her three times and I could sense she was getting annoyed, but that just made me more anxious and unable to find my way. Finally she said, “Look, I need to go, I have to daven mincha.” And she hung up. I was shocked. Sure, this is what G-d wants from her, to stand and daven mincha while someone needs some help with directions! I chalked that one up to pre-Pesach panic. To her credit, when I got to her door, she apologized profusely. She was extremely welcoming and gracious and said, “I am sorry I was curt with you. There is a lot going on here.” Within minutes, she apologized to a complete stranger and owned up to what she did. Her recovery was remarkable.
I remember our childhood home, where the study was lined floor to ceiling with my father’s seforim. One Yom Kippur we decided to count them but gave up after we hit five thousand. Seforim connotes in my head someone who is learned – and what is learning without middos?
I decided to take out some photos of our home and the seforim. I came across a photo of my father that just hit the spot! It is a photo of him wearing his Rabeinu Tam tefillin. He is outside in the backyard, on the ground you can see a pick and he is holding a shovel. The grass is partially tilled. My father was helping my mother till the earth for her vegetable garden. I was happy to be reminded of a man who was a Talmid Chacham, wrote seforim and had an enormous heart for his family. We also have a photo of him mopping the kitchen floor. The kitchen floor was white and whenever the boys came home from yeshiva, their shoes would leave black streaks on it. My mother would mop the floor sometimes three times a day. My father took one shift. Eventually, they changed the floor to make my mother’s life easier.
This season, let us extend compassion to our families, communities and especially strangers. Let’s do less patchking in the kitchen, less shopping, and more expanding the size of our hearts and souls.
Let us hear more speeches about reaching out to others, taking a stand for people in need, from agunot to shidduchim to those without jobs. Let us hear about how to act OUTSIDE of shul.
May our chessed bring the true Geulah, “Umacha Hashem dimah ma’al kol panim…”