Thursday, Apr 18, 2024

How Will Your Children Remember You?

Chizuk for Neshei Chayil of Klal Yisroel A Pre-Pesach Conversation with Rebbetzin Sara Meisels It was both a pleasure and an honor to have a pre-Pesach conversation with my longtime acquaintance, Rebbetzin Sara Meisels of Bat Yam. Rebbetzin Meisels is the wife of Rav Yaakov Yisroel Meisels, rov and rosh yeshiva of Kiryat Bobov-Bat Yam and daughter of the Bobover Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Halberstam zt”l. A meyucheses of many generations of chassidishe rebbes, she possesses the regal presence of a fartzeitisher rebbetzin with her refreshing life view of a contemporary mother and wife. Once the conversation started, her vibrant personality spilled over and it was a non-stop narrative.
“As we mature and get older, with plenty of life experience under our belts,” the Rebbetzin tells me, “we realize not to make the toful the ikkar nor the ikkar thetoful. In other words, we must get our priorities straight. This concept is the key to shalom bayis and running a happy home.
“Don’t make the ikkar toful. Realize what is important and what is not. That means that when you have company for Shabbos or Yom Tov, don’t prepare fifteen kugels when two will be more than enough.”


 (The Rebbetzin added that she also loves to entertain and serve elaborate menus and try new recipes, but she has trained herself to just prepare one or two more creative dishes, rather than a whole variety at one time.)


“Erev Shabbos is often a time of tension in the home. Don’t exacerbate the situation. One husband came home onErev Shabbos frustrated to find his wife washing the clean floor for the tenth time that day. ‘Don’t do it anymore,’ he said. ‘It irritates me.’ His wife got the message and realized that she had her priorities skewed and stopped her compulsive cleaning.


“The number-one formula for a happy home is not to pass on your stress. Is it worth ruining your children?


“Ivdu es Hashem besimchah. It is ahavtachah from Hashem. The key to shalom bayis and the key to having good children is to do our avodah of running the home besimchah.”


The Rebbetzin remembers a neighbor who raised a large family of exceptional children. A friend asked one of the children what their mother’s secret was. She said that they never saw their mother yelling. As busy as the house was, their mother was always calm and in control. She managed to do everything, but she never did extra. She didn’t go overboard, yet everything was bakavodik.


“The atmosphere in our homes is directly related to the temperament of the children,” explains the Rebbetzin. “When it comes to Erev Pesach, the children will be permanently influenced by the atmosphere and mood they remember when they were younger.”


Rebbetzin Meisels avers that we are all human and all want to make another dessert, and, yes, we are pressured by being inundated with so many recipe books and magazines that feature all kinds of recipes and food styling that we simply can’t pass up.


“We have to make a point of not getting carried away,” she says with a smile. “Chinuch comes first. Children do not remember how many exotic dishes you served. They just remember your temperament.”


She remembers her mother, the Bobover Rebbetzin, as always being a happy person.


Rebbetzin Meisels grew up in the home of the Bobover Rebbe, Rav Shlomo Halberstam, in Boro Park. The home was like Grand Central Station, 24/7. People came and went around the clock, and yet her mother was always happy and never stressed. In fact, she says that her mother instilled in her children to always be happy and never be stressed.


“My mother also made a point of constantly reiterating to her children,‘Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu. We have the zechus to be a Yid and the privilege to do mitzvos.”


The Rebbetzin says that this love for Yiddishkeit has stayed with her since she was growing up in her parents’ house.


The Rebbetzin remembers a childhood friend who lived in a gorgeous home yet was not relaxed. The Rebbetzin could not understand why. The friend confided that her luxurious house was like a mansion, yet they did not really “live” in it.


“The only time they ate in the magnificent dining room was on the leil haSeder, the friend told me,” the Rebbetzin recalls.


Many women feel overwhelmed from Pesach preparations and are even more intimidated if they hear that their neighbor has been getting ready for Pesach since Chanukah.


“So your neighbor has 50 cakes in the freezer. Big deal! Trust me,” the Rebbtzin says with a grin, “probably half of them are left uneaten and thrown out! Just go back to the refrain: Always think about how your children will remember you.


“There is nothing more appreciated by a husband than seeing his wife smile. The tafkid of a woman is to set the tone in the home at all times, even during more challenging periods, like on Erev Pesach and throughout Yom Tov.”


The Rebbetzin says that her husband always says that things should be done calmly.


“Do less, but do it calmly. Don’t be harried. Bring in Yom Tov besimchah. It is an avodah with great rewards,” the Rebbetzin stresses. “The children will always remember and look to emulate the tranquility that reigned in their homes when they were growing up.


Al titosh Toras imecha. What mesorah are you handing down? One woman said that she dreaded Pesach, as this was the attitude she inherited from her mother, who approached Yom Tov with anxiety. Take time out with the children. Don’t yell. Ask your children to help in soft or moderate tones and you will get a much more positive response. Turn on the music and give the children a love of Yiddishkeit. Remember that you are an example to your children. What do you want them to think about on Erev Pesach when they are grown up? You want them to emulate the way you prepared with simchas Yom Tov and continue the mesorah of no stress and tension before Yom Tov. This can only be transmitted by example.”


Of course, the weeks leading up to Pesach are probably the most stressful time for women, but even when things are so busy, says Rebbetzin Meisels, it is important for women to take time out for themselves.


On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, Rebbetzin Meisels went out to give a shiur to be mechazeik women ahead of Pesach. Although she had just arrived back from New York, she went into a room to prepare for the shiur and then left, delivered the shiur, and was energized.


As a rule, when the Rebbetzin is preparing for her speeches, she turns off her phone and doesn’t take calls, so that she can totally focus. She tunes out everything else going on and is invigorated just from the preparation.


“Time out for yourself is a vital ingredient for a tranquil home,” she explains. “Don’t say that you don’t have the time. However busy one’s day is, if there is a mishap or someone is unwell, you will always make the time to go to the doctor. Taking time out for yourself on a regular basis is just as important. It is the antidote for getting bogged down.


“It is all about priorities,” she continues, dispensing her priceless guidance. “Eat well. Sleep well. These simple guidelines will make you more efficient and more productive. What is important to you, you will find the time for. If exercise is good for your health, don’t cut it out.Refuah lifnei hamakkah. Lo aleinu, when people are sick, if the doctor says, ‘Exercise and improve your diet,’ you will find the time and follow his instructions. Do these things now as prevention.”


The Rebbetzin runs a very busy home in Bat Yam. Bochurim from Rav Meisels’ yeshiva are in and out all the time. Every Motzoei Shabbos, thebochurim from the yeshiva come over for coffee and cake at the Meisel home. Cake as in homemade cake. They don’t want bakery cake.


The Rebbetzin met a lady in New York whose son was already married.


“What can I tell you?” the woman told the Rebbetzin. “My son just loves your cheesecake. He enjoyed going to your house and eating your cheesecake.”


The Rebbetzin responded, “The truth is that I was going to stop this tradition. Right after Shabbos, I have to start preparing.”


The woman said, “Don’t stop. It makes the bochurim feel so at home.”


A yungerman, married with a few children, met the Rebbetzin recently and remarked, “You have no idea what it did for me to come over on Motzoei Shabbos and eat homemade cheesecake in your house.”


Needless to say, as the wife of a rosh yeshiva and rov, the Rebbetzin has to drop everything for commitments and events she has to attend. She spends a lot of time traveling, whether it is to a wedding, a bris, a function or, r”l, a levaya. This goes on all year round, even on Erev Pesach.


One year, there was a levaya of a member of the community on Erev Pesach, and of course she left everything and went to Bnei Brak. She feels that this is all part of her tafkid.


Her parents ingrained in her to do, do and do. Her mother, the Bobover Rebbetzin, followed the motto of, “What you have to do tomorrow do today.”


“You have to be disciplined,” she says. “Don’t push things off and you will find that you have more time. Don’t procrastinate.”


Reflecting what it was like to grow up as the daughter of the Rebbe, Rebbetzin Meisels takes a deep breath.


“It is a zechus, a privilege, but also a big responsibility,” she relates. “As the Rebbe’s daughter, wherever you go, you must live up to that, even when it is hard. But you are always surrounded by Torah andavodah and ruchniyus.”


Her mother trained her children to conduct themselves with hachna’ah and shefal ruach.


“When you come up to Shomayim, they are going to say, ‘You come from such great generations of yichus and this is how you behave? Such an elevated child can lower themselves to this or that action?’ We got the message. We felt that if we did inappropriate things for a rebbishe ainikel, we were deserving of a potch in Shomayim!”


Her mother was also mechanech her children not to be haughty. She never walked around flaunting that she was the Rebbe’s daughter. Some of her friends were unaware for the longest time that she was the Bobover Rebbe’s daughter. When she would meet new friends, she would just say that her name is Sara Halberstam, with no further details.


As the wife of the Bobover rosh yeshiva, she always has to be available for whatever comes up. Her husband might bring home two bochurim who have missed supper in yeshiva and she serves them a meal.


She has tried to prepare herself for the constantly unpredictable number of guests. She now says to her husband, “Just tell me in advance how many bochurim are eating here on Shabbos.”


A bochur learning in Yeshivas Brisk in Yerushalayim was among her Shabbos guests. He was really appreciative and thanked the Rebbetzin for having him. The next thing she knew, she received a phone call from a young American girl. “Hi, my name is S. C. I am in seminary in Yerushalayim My brother just spent a wonderful Shabbos with you. Can I come with a few friends for Shabbos?”


“To be the daughter and wife of a rebbe or rosh yeshiva is a zechus,” she says humbly, “but you have to do your part. You always have to be ready and available for whatever comes your way and rise to the occasion. Even if you are not in the mood, because your husband is the rov you just do it. You do it with simcha,because that is your tafkid.”


The Rebbetzin says that is what she saw as she was growing up.


The Rebbetzin describes with nostalgia what it was like to be at the Seder of the Bobover Rebbe when she was growing up.


“It was malchus. Just phenomenal,” she says, the excitement in her voice almost palpable. “The Seder was held in the bais medrash. There were a lot of people.”


The Rebbe’s family was able to see everything, and until she was 12, she said the Mah Nishtanah by her father’s side. She would practice the Mah Nishtanah before Pesach until she knew it fluently, because she was told, “You will have to say Mah Nishtanah in front of so many people.”


“The malchus was in the atmosphere begashmiyus uberuchniyus,” she describes. “The most beautiful keilim. The Haggadah, the divrei Torah, the zemiros, berov am.”


Her parents received many gifts throughout the year, but her mother reserved all the nicest things for Pesach. For the ladies, she used the most exquisite tablecloths and keilim.


“It was like sitting in royalty,” she remembers.


In Bat Yam, they used to have American bochurim, so the rosh yeshiva and the Rebbetzin would make the Seder in the yeshiva. Now they make the Seder at home. It is usually just family, but the Rebbetzin is always ready for the unpredictable, unexpected guests and last-minute situations.


Like her mother, Rebbetzin Meisels sets aside and uses the nicest tablecloths and dishes for the Seder.


“This creates an aura of kedushah and malchus,” she says. “There is so much energy for more divrei Torah, more about sippur Yetzias Mitzrayim, zemiros and a united atmosphere of hisorerus.”


One of Rebbetzin Meisels’ tips for getting to the “finish line” in a calm frame of mind is, if possible, to get help in the house. Her mother used to tell her daughters to get one less outfit forYom Tov and instead hire help.


“We are five sisters and all of us do just that,” she says.


Rebbetzin Zahava Braunstein a”h used to say, “If I would have to do it again, I would take in more help.”


“Be mevater on other things and get help,” adds Rebbetzin Meisels. “It will make you and your home happier and healthier.”


One woman approached the Rebbetzin after a pre-Pesach shiur and said that she was feeling so overwhelmed. Rebbetzin Meisels told her to think positively. “Boruch Hashem, you are healthy and have nachas from the mishpachah and are zocheh to be able to make Yom Tov. If you undertake to make Pesach mitoch simcha, it will carry you through.”


The Rebbetzin has had her own personal challenges. She had a son who passed away from leukemia on Rosh Chodesh Nissan some years ago. They got up from shivah on 8 Nissan. That year, they were planning to go to New York for Pesach, but after they got up from shivah, her husband said that they were not going to New York to make “Tisha B’Av” for their parents, so they rolled up their sleeves and somehow made Pesach in one week.


(The day I conducted my interview with the Rebbetzin was Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the yahrtzeit of her son. The Rebbetzin was leaving everything to go and daven at theKosel in Yerushalayim.)


“You have to acknowledge and have an appreciation that, boruch Hashem, you are healthy and have the koach and are able to make Pesach,” continued the Rebbetzin, saying that she has to work on herself not to get nervous, especially before Pesach.


“Rabbeinu Bechaya says that you have a zechus for everything that you do. But then there is ‘extra credit.’ Another sefer zechuyos is open, where it is inscribed how you do the mitzvah. It’s avodas hakodesh. There is no greater reward than doing it mitoch simchah.


“Yehi ratzon,” the Rebbetzin concludes, “that we should all sit down to the Seder mitoch rov simcha ve’osher vechavod and feel the euphoria of simchas Yom Tov throughout Pesach and, im yirtzeh Hashem, we should be zocheh to the geulah this year in Yerushalayim.”




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