Latest update: August 21st, 2012
I wasn’t sure if I should write something about the petira of Rebbetzin Kanievsky, z”tl.
My first reaction was who am I to write about such a great person? How could I possibly describe who she was? She was so great that mere words cannot do her justice.
But then I thought about all the people who did not have the zechut to meet her or to be hugged by her or be greeted by her big smile and even bigger heart, and I thought how will they know what we all lost.
So I decided to try to describe in a few words what my meetings with the Rebbetzin were like so that we can all mourn our loss properly.
We are taught that mitat tzadikim mechaperet - the death of the righteous brings an atonement for us, but that is only true if we take the death of the righteous to heart and try to improve our ways and to be influenced by their teachings.
I have the zechut of being in Eretz Yisrael a few times a year. During each visit my husband and I make time to go visit Rav and Rebbetzin Kanievsky to get a bracha and to give tzedakka. It is hard to describe the way the Rav and Rebbetzin live. Theirs is a small apartment in Bnei Brak, next door to the yeshiva. It consists of an entrance room, bedroom, living/dining room, a porch for a sukkah and a very small kitchen. The walls of the dining room are covered from floor to ceiling with sefarim. In this room is also the chair of the Steipler Rav z”tl (Rav Kanievsky’s father). Rebbetzin Kanievsky a”h would urge people to sit in this chair to recite tehillim and make bakashot. It is a very humbling experience.
I remember the first time the Rebbetzin told me to sit in the chair. I was hesitant. How could I sit in his chair? But very gently, with her warm smile, she insisted and I could not refuse. It is an incredible uplifting experience to sit in the Steipler’s chair and recite tehillim from the big sefer Tehillim open on the shtender. I felt as if my tehillim and bakashot were going straight up to shamayim with the assistance of the Steipler and his daughter-in-law.
The Rebbetzin’s kitchen was very small. Only 2 people could fit in it at one time, and even then they would have to coordinate their moves so as not to bump into each other. I was told that many people offered to buy them a newer, nicer and bigger apartment, but Rav and Rebbetzin Kanievsky saw nothing wrong with their home. For them it was big enough. It was just right. It was what they had, and all they needed. To me that was so hard to understand. That a couple living in such a small home, that was so very crowded, felt that it was all they needed. They were truly separated from anything materialistic.
But what was truly amazing was that in spite of the actual physical size of the apartment, it was huge. Everyone felt welcome and wanted. No one was ever told that there was no room for them. The Rebbetzin’s heart was big enough to care for the entire generation.
Whenever I was there, there were hundreds of other people there as well – all wanting a bracha from the Rav and the Rebbetzin. The problems they had were as varied as the people themselves. Jews from every walk of life – and in every type of attire – came to ask for brachot – for parnassa, health, shidduchim, shalom bayit – there was no area of life for which a bracha was not asked.
In the Kanievsky’s house there was true ahavat Yisrael. There were no Ashkenazim and Sefardim, religious and non-religious. There were just Jews and their problems. And if a Jew had a problem it was Rebbetzin Kanievsky’s problem – and it did not matter how well or how tzniusdik the person was dressed. The Rebbetzin greeted everyone with her big smile and listening ear. She gave advice and suggested certain perakim of tehillim to say and mishnayot to learn. I actually saw her listen intently as a mother described her sick child’s condition and asked for advice as to how to proceed. After shedding some tears and giving the mother some chizuk, the Rebbetzin told her that this question was too big for her, it was really a question to be posed to her father – Rav Elyashiv, shlita.
I was by the Rebbetzin right after Yom Kippur when a giyoret came for a bracha. She was 50 years old and had just converted. She came to ask the Rebbetzin to give her a bracha for hatzlacha and for a shidduch! Another woman there was pregnant and her baby was in a breech position. She wanted a bracha that the baby would turn. The Rebbetzin proceeded to massage the swollen belly while reciting some pesukim. She then gave the expecting mother a small booklet of tefilot to say every day. One thing is for sure, the mother left feeling ten times better than when she had first come in, knowing that Rebbetzin Kanievsky was davening for her. Other women were there asking for shidduchim for their daughters….
The Rebbetzin had a good sense of humor. One time I was in her kitchen when she was cooking fish balls for her grandchildren for yom tov. Her pot was so big it took up all four burners on her stove. She told me that she was cooking for all fifty of her grandchildren. She felt it was a zechut for her to do so since they were all learning in yeshiva and it is a zechut to feed yeshiva students. I told her that I only had six grandchildren so far, bli ayin hara. She immediately gave me a bracha that I too should need such a big pot one day. When I went to see her a few days before her petira, I reminded her of the bracha of the pot that she had given me (and that I am expecting some new grandchildren this year im yirtzeh Hashem), she laughingly told me that she already bought a bigger pot….
The Rebbetzin opened her home to all of the seminary students spending the year in Eretz Yisrael. I remember my daughters telling me of their wonderful experiences, of the Shabbos spent in Bnei Brak, davening and baking challah with the Rebbetzin and getting brachot from her. These are experiences that will stay with them forever. Who will fill her place? Who will open her home to all our daughters?
When the Rebbetzin gave you a hug or a kiss you felt as though your bubby was hugging you and telling you that Hashem will help and everything will be okay. And who doesn’t need a hug and some words of chizuk given with a smile?
Rebbetzin Kanievsky was truly a great person. It would be an aliyah for her neshama if we would all try to emulate the love and patience that she had for all of Am Yisrael.
I am very thankful to Hashem that I was allowed the privilege to meet and learn from such a tzadaiket.
May she continue to advocate for all of us on high.
About the Author: Shandee Fuchs gives a weekly parshah shiur for women in Flatbush.
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