And so we were off.
I tried to give the girls a quick tour of most of the famous holy places in Israel during a whirlwind kind of a week. Boruch Hashem, it was truly an amazing and inspirational trip.
On the morning of our last day of touring, I got a call from my wife insisting that we try to go to Bnei Brak to receive a bracha from Rebbetzin Batsheva Kanievsky. My wife had heard that the Rebbetzin is “open for brachos” often and she wanted us to give it a try.
I was skeptical and thought that it could turn out to be a waste of time. We didn’t have an appointment, it is probably too hard to “get in,” and besides, I really didn’t even know my way around Bnei Brak that well. “Let me show the girls a nice day of seeing more of Israel rather than a day of travelling that may conclude without seeing the Rebbetzin anyway,” I thought.
My wife didn’t want to take no for an answer and giving it a try for her sake was the least I could do in recognition of my wife’s mesirus nefesh at home while we were having a great time in Eretz Yisroel. (I have since thanked my wife many times for her push for us to go and just recently thanked her again after the Rebbetzin’s petirah.)
So, we found our way to the Central Bus Station in Yerushalayim, hopped on to a bus to Bnei Brak, davened to Hashem that the day will somehow work out as planned and that we wouldn’t get lost in Bnei Brak, and hoped for the best.
We got to Bnei Brak and tried to find someone who looked like he would know where the Kanievskys lived and could point us in the right direction. Given that their tiny and humble apartment was a site of pilgrimage for thousands, especially for the locals, we figured that it wouldn’t be too hard to find people who could direct us even if we got a little lost.
After a bit of a walk, we arrived at the apartment. We hoped that the Rebbetzin was home and well and seeing people at that early afternoon hour. We hoped against hope that, somehow, some way, on the spur of the moment, without an appointment, we could get in to see the Rebbetzin.
This is where our hour of inspiration witnessing the glory of the Rebbetzin began.
To say that there were women waiting for the Rebbetzin would be a tremendous understatement. There were tens and tens of women waiting for the Rebbetzin. This one wanted a bracha for a shidduch. That one’s mother wasn’t well. Another was beginning labor pains and wanted a bracha that her baby would be delivered easily. Tens and tens of people. Tens and tens of worries and problems that were about to be placed upon the Rebbetzin’s heart.
And we were witnessing only one day, nay, one hour, in the life of the Rebbetzin.
The heart that carried thousands of Klal Yisroel’s worries gave out while the Rebbetzin was saying Tehillim for Klal Yisrael on the afternoon of Shabbos Chol Hamoed Sukkos.
Did I feel uncomfortable standing there on line with my bas mitzvah girls among so many women? Perhaps. But I had no choice but to go forward with the mission. I had to try and get my girls to see and feel the kedushah of this holy Rebbetzin and receive her blessings.
We waited and waited.
Every so often, the door would open and people would try to edge their way in, trying to convince the “guards” at the door that their issue was so very important that they had to see the Rebbetzin right away.
There was a general policy of going in order of those who arrived first, but the line didn’t quite operate on a first-come first-served basis. If the “guards” deemed the problem vital and time sensitive enough, that person was given a turn regardless of where they were on line.
After watching the proceedings for a while, I began to realize that the “guards” had a special place in their hearts for bas mitzvah girls, and especially those who came from chutz la’aretz and could not easily come back at another time. No doubt they received their “marching orders” on this policy from the Rebbetzin herself, whom I had heard loved to meet, greet and bless bas mitzvah girls.
Not feeling comfortable to begin with on line, and especially not feeling comfortable speaking up for myself and trying to get the attention and permission of the door guards, I had to somehow get in the door – for the girls’ sake, for my wife’s sake.
So speak up I did. After a few times of the door opening and closing, we were finally let in.
Though the Rebbetzin had seen tens of thousands of people through the years and given tens of thousands of brachos, and although she had performed the same routine with tens of thousands of bas mitzvah girls, my daughters were made to feel very special and unique.
The Rebbetzin was exquisitely cheerful and made my girls feel like a million dollars. She smiled at them. She treated them as if she was their old bubby. She hugged and kissed them. She graciously posed for pictures with them. And she did so a second time when the pictures didn’t come out quite right. She gave them a wonderful, heartfelt bracha and even gave them a bas mitzvah gift: a sefer on chessed for one and a different sefer on tefillah for the other.
The Rebbetzin lovingly inscribed the seforim, reciting the beautiful and inspirational written bracha out loud (we can still hear her voice in our ears) as she wrote:
“Birchas mazel tov chama ulevovis l’(Atara and Estie) hayekara. Tichyeh la’arichas yomim tovim. Leyom kenisaseich le’ol hamitzvos. Yehi ratzon shetigdali tzadikah gedolah vehoreich hayekarim yizku liros mimeich harbeh nachas ruach. Bivracha vehatzlacha ube’ahava – (translation follows) A warm and heartfelt blessing of mazel tov to the precious bas mitzvah girl. May she live a long and good life on her entry into the responsibility of mitzvos. May it be Hashem’s will that she grows up to become a righteous woman and that her parents should receive great nachas and satisfaction from her. With wishes for blessing and success, Love, B. Kanievsky.”
We were awed and inspired.
And this was only one small glimpse into the life of this holy Rebbetzin. One small look at how she treated people with love and respect.
She gave up her life, each and every day, to see people, hear their problems, give them brachos, make them feel good, and daven for them.
This is how she spent her time. Hour after hour. Person after person. Problem after problem.
Can you imagine living your life the way she did? Each and every day?
She was the shoulder for the women of Klal Yisroel to lean on. The heart to bear all of their burdens.
And that heart gave out. Perhaps the burdens became too much for one holy woman to bear.
The lines of people waiting to see her. She cared for them all. She helped them all. She prayed for them all. She made them all feel like a million dollars. She gave them all hope.
What an irreplaceable loss for Klal Yisrael.
Where will they all go now?