By Rabbi Aryeh Z. Ginzberg
Every day for the past few months, the headlines have been about another famous personality toppled from the top of his field, becoming an outcast and even a criminal in some cases, following revelations of his denigrating and abusing women. We’ve watched many of the most powerful people in Hollywood, television, sports, politics, and finance–household names after decades in their industries–come crashing down.
These revelations may not be surprising to us, as society has degenerated to such a level of immorality and is filled with an attitude that anything and everything is acceptable, that there are no longer any boundaries that cannot be crossed. Still, the sheer volume of these accusations that are happening on a daily basis are overwhelming and are undermining whatever faith we had left in the morals of the world that we live in.
It is crucial at such a time to reinforce our Torah values, not only as a moral people, but as a nation that emphasizes the dignity and kedushah of a bas Yisrael. We are mandated not only to treasure and value the kedushah and the tzniyus of every woman in Klal Yisrael; the Torah itself refers to a Jewish woman in the endearing terms of “kol kevudah bas melech p’nimah.” The description of a bas Yisrael as a “princess,” a bas melech, is not just a metaphor, but an actual description of her greatness.
Our Chazal spared no effort in teaching us the proper way to treat a bas Yisrael. In his introduction to Even HaEzer (the section dealing with marriage), the Tur asks, why was Adam HaRishon created alone? All the animals, even the smallest insects, were created zachar and nekeivah (male and female); why not Adam HaRishon? And he answers that the requirement for a husband to his wife is “ha’mechavdo yoser me’gufo”–one has to honor her even more then one’s own body. It would be impossible to adhere to this if they were two separate people, so they had to be created as one, in order to be able to be as one guf and treat each other as such.
Our gedolim were the greatest examples for us as to how to respect and value our wives and appreciate all that they contribute to our physical and spiritual wellbeing. I once read an article from a lifelong Jewish secular feminist that provided me with great entertainment. She was railing against the Torah community that is dominated by men, with no regard to the valued contribution that their wives make to their lives. I think I actually laughed out loud reading that fiction. I don’t know which Torah leaders she observed or consulted with, but every single one that I was blessed to know not only appreciated the women in their lives but revered them.
A case in point was the relationship that the leader of the Torah world, gadol ha’dor Rav Aharon Leib Shteinman zt’l, who just passed away a few weeks ago, had with his late rebbetzin, zt’l. Rav Shteinman named the many sefarim that he wrote Ayeles HaShachar. The reason he chose this particular name was because the four letters in the word “Ayeles” encompass the three initials of his name, Aharon Yehuda Leib, as well as the initial of his dear and dedicated wife, Tamar, his true partner in everything that he had accomplished in his life, including the ability to write these amazing sefarim. Does that sound like someone who had no regard for his wife’s contribution to his success and accomplishments?
The late rosh yeshiva Rav Simcha Wasserman, zt’l, was preparing his will, which he entrusted to a few students, as he and his wife were never zocheh to have children. The relationship between them was legendary and inspired anyone who ever had the z’chus to be in their home. He was a humble man and wanted no hespedim made for him. However, he instructed them that if he should die first and his wife will be present at his levayah, then one speaker should give a hesped. He should say that Rav Wasserman had a share in helping others bring people closer to Hashem, so his wife would get a little comfort from that. And then he added at the end, “I have purchased two plots in Beit Shemesh for us; however, if I die first, please bury me on Har HaMenuchos, so it would be easier for my rebbetzin to visit me when she would want to come.” This is how a Yid who lived his whole life with guidelines that the Torah set before him treated and respected his beloved wife. It is light years away from the type of treatment and disrespect for women that we have become so accustomed to seeing daily from America’s heroes across the entire spectrum of society.
Another clear manifestation of the level of respect, dignity, and appreciation of the sanctity and kedushah of every bas Yisrael in our community is the building of an absolutely magnificent state-of-the-art mikveh, recently opened in our community. After several years of herculean efforts from a few dedicated Yidden, who spent literally millions of dollars raised from like-minded people in the community, mikveh experience for the women in our community has been elevated to a brand-new level. I invite every person in the community to make an appointment to come and see what kind of kiddush Hashem can be built in our midst, which is a manifestation of “zeh keli v’anveihu.”
Some people had expressed reservations as to why it had to be made so beautiful, so inviting for the nashim tzidkaniyos in our community, when it could have been made simpler, cheaper, and still be functional. The answer is simple. Would anyone question as to why a palace for the princess is built with so much detail and beauty? Of course not! She is, after all, the princess, the daughter of the King, and that would answer all our questions. A bas Yisrael is a bas melech, a princess. Even more so she is a queen and should be treated as such. This mikveh accomplishes this for them and for us.
In addition, we have the famous directive from the saintly Chazon Ish, zt’l, as to the guidelines for building a new mikveh. A community rav came to the Chazon Ish, zt’l, to ask him for a special berachah that his speeches should be successful, as he would be going to each shul in his community trying to raise funds to repair the antiquated mikveh in town. The Chazon Ish, zt’l, told him that instead of giving a thousand derashos about the importance of the mikveh, it would not accomplish as much as a beautiful spacious mikveh that they can use. When the rav told him that he didn’t think he could raise the funds for a new mikveh, the Chazon Ish replied, “Go to the pier, get on the next ship leaving to the States, and go door to door until you can get the funds needed.”
He explained that the mikveh is not just being built for now, but for the future as well. Maybe even one woman who is not yet religious will see a beautiful new mikvah and maybe she will then decide to use it. It will be worth all your efforts and all the money for this one woman in the future, because every bas Yisrael is an entire world.
This beautiful new mikveh in our community is our response to the world out there that has lost all direction as to the respect and dignity that every woman deserves. For a Torah Yid, every woman is a bas melech and must be treated and revered as such. This message of the beautiful new mikveh is not just for the women to understand, but for all of the men to internalize as well. This will go a long way to strengthen our own homes and families and allow us to be “mavdil bein Yisrael la’amim” in such a significant and lasting way. May it bring much kedushah and taharah into our community and prepare us for the coming of Mashiach when all of Klal Yisrael will be elevated as in the days of old.
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We all owe a great debt of gratitude to all the askanim who put their whole lives on hold for the last few years, leaving no stone unturned until their dream of offering such a magnificent mikveh to the community would be realized. A communal thank-you is in order as well to all the financial supporters of the mikveh–without their support, the project would never have been realized. Leading that effort were my dear friends Mendy and Barbara Silber, two of the most generous and humble people that I have ever been privileged to know, They have dedicated the mikveh building in the memory of Mrs. Rachela Scheiner, a’h, Barbara’s mother, who just passed away last month. The building will be named Be’er Rochel in her memory.
And finally, there are no words that my wife and I and my entire family can possibly find to express the depth of hakaras ha’tov to our dearest friends Shalom and Rena Vegh. They have dedicated the name of the mikveh itself to our beloved daughter Sarala, z’l, whose petirah has left such a void in our lives that can never be filled. Having Shalom and Rena dedicate the mikveh to be called Mikvah Sara in her memory has provided so much nechamah to us and to our entire family. We are forever indebted to them. May the great z’chus of this mikveh be a z’chus for Sarala’s neshamah and a great z’chus to the entire Vegh family.