It was almost impossible to pin the Rebbetzin down. Even over the phone I could imagine her dashing here, there and everywhere, barely pausing to take a breath. She was scheduled for a lecture down south; a simcha up north; grief counseling in Jerusalem and the inevitable Shabbos guests to prepare for. But, true to her word, we finally got to talk, and when we did, I was astonished by her cheerful equanimity.
Rebbetzin Sara Meisels, a woman of renown, is the wife of Rav Yaakov Yisroel Meisels, rav and rosh yeshiva of Kiryat Bobov in Bat Yam, and daughter of the illustrious Bobover Rebbe, HaRav Shlomo Halberstam, zt”l. So much of what she says and does is a natural reflection of her privileged upbringing. I found her a veritable storehouse of wisdom for life.
My Father, The Rebbe
“I grew with gadlus,” says the Rebbetzin, her voice taking on a gentle tone. “It was such a zechus. My father was a king, and was always there for everyone. A malach Elokim.” The sight of her father in the living room corner, early morning or late at night, pouring over his Gemara with intense concentration, filled his children with a sense of security. The Rebbetzin never heard him raise his voice in anger, and mitzvah observance was demonstrated with abundant love.
As an adult in her thirties, on one of her trips back to the States, Rebbetzin Meisel joined her mother for breakfast. The Rebbetzin by nature eats like a bird and her mother cajoled her to fill up her plate. “It’s okay, Ma, I simply don’t like eating!” she said, trying to ease her mother’s concerns. “Sarah, I’m surprised at you!” her father said suddenly. ”Who eats because they like eating? We eat so that we should have koach to serve Hashem!”
This was the Bobover Rebbe’s raison d’être: “Ivdu Es Hashem B’simcha” – serving Hashem with joy. Like other rebbishe families, the Halberstam children ate the Friday night meal alone with their mother, while Tatty learned and then went to lead his tisch. But even when they ate together, it was apparent to all that every morsel her father took (he ate very little) was consumed l’kavod Shabbos Kodesh –in honor of the holy day.
In the Halberstam family, women were unaccustomed to shaking the Arba Minim on Sukkos; however, Rebbetzin Meisel’s mother was used to doing so from her father’s home. Rav Shlomo always encouraged them to follow their mother’s custom, saying, “Girls should do like their mother does,” in a voice suffused with love.
I get the feeling she could happily talk about him for hours. “My father was delicious!” is her affectionate way of putting it.
“The way he spoke to my mother, the kavod he extended her, the way he made brachos – all with such joy. We could see greatness.”
I ask whether they didn’t feel left out at times, due to the public role her father held. But in spite of his busy schedule, the Rebbe managed to create a warm bond with his daughters. “He was always interested in what we were doing…” Late at night, after completing his studies and his many communal duties, she and her sisters knew they could find a listening ear. Waiting up, they would approach him as he climbed the stairs and ask for his assistance. Tired as he must have been, he always willingly acquiesced. “12 am – that was when he was all mine. He would learn Chumash and Rashi with me when I didn’t understand, sending me to fetch the Medrash Rabba so he could explain it to me from the source. But we knew that most of the time he belonged to the kahal.”