Latest update: November 15th, 2013
In Shir HaShirim 1:7, the Jewish people ask Hashem how they are to survive in the galut among the nations. The Jewish people point out to Hashem that this is a very dangerous time for them, as it is likened to grazing the sheep in the heat of the day when the sun is too strong for them to bear.
In the eighth pasuk Hashem answers the Jewish people by giving them advice on how to survive when they don’t have a leader and don’t know where to turn. Hashem tells them: “Tze’i lach b’ikvei hatzon” – look at the footprints that your forefathers and foremothers left you and follow in their ways. Hashem points out that our fathers and mothers accepted the Torah and kept its laws, and He guarantees us that if we follow in their ways, no harm will befall us in the long galut.
How fortunate we are to have footprints to follow on our long journey. I feel very fortunate to have footprints that are still fresh and clear. My grandmother, Mrs. Irene Klass, passed away three years ago after a long and full life, Baruch Hashem. She went through very long journeys during her life, and was zocheh to leave behind very large footprints. My grandmother paved the way for us, trying to make sure that we would have a path to follow on our own long journeys. No matter where life takes us or what comes our way, we can just look at how Bubbie would have handled the situation and it all becomes clear.
This is because Bubbie lived a life of Torah. She followed Hashem’s advice to us: accept the Torah and its laws, as our forefathers did. She even composed a song about it that she would sing often: “I love Hashem, I love his Torah and its laws, if you look in it you won’t find any flaws; it’s for you, it’s for me.” Bubbie had a great appreciation for Torah and just wanted to spread it to as many people as possible. My grandfather, Rabbi Sholom Klass, zt”l, shared her passion and it was for this reason that together they created The Jewish Press. She always wanted to learn and understand what the Torah’s opinion was on any topic in her life. When I would ask her for advice, she would tell me, “Let’s ask Zaidie, he will show us where it is in the Gemara,” since she knew that the Gemara would have an answer to any situation and that my grandfather would know where to find it. She was very proud that her husband was a talmid chacham, and always deferred to him.
There are many other footprints that Bubbie left for me. I will try to mention a few of the important ones that I think all of us can learn from. Bubbie was an incredible ba’alat chesed. Many times I wondered (as did my grandfather) how she knew of all these people who needed her help. I recently heard a d’var Torah about a pasuk in Mishlei that explained this to me: in Mishlei (27:19) it says: “As in water face answers to face, so the heart of man to man.” This pasuk means that just as water reflects one’s face, so too our hearts can connect with one another as a reflection. Rav Aharon Shteinman, shlita, asked why the metaphor of water is used in this pasuk to indicate the reflection of the face. The pasuk could have used a mirror to teach this lesson. He answers that it is because in order to see your reflection in water, you have to bend. When one looks in a mirror one is standing straight and is completely focused on oneself. However, once a person has to bend, his mind is already open to seeing things differently. Once a person has to bend, he can see other people’s faces as well. My grandmother took the time to see other people’s faces, and once she did, it was her heart to the heart of the other, as it says in the pasuk. That is how she was able to do such incredible chesed.
These are big footprints to follow, especially in our lives today when most of us communicate through e-mails and texts. We are losing the art of seeing someone else’s face. Yet it is only when we see the person’s face that we can truly understand what he or she is going through and what he or she needs.
Another footprint my grandmother left me was her davening. Bubbie had a special way of davening. She actually had a conversation with Hashem. Every morning she would stand by the glass doors to her porch, look up to the sky with tears in her eyes, and say most of the morning prayers as they are written in the siddur. But then when she was done, she would continue to stand there and literally talk to Hashem, telling Him how thankful she was for all the blessings He gave her. She would list her children and all of her grandchildren, and beseech Him for whatever anyone needed. It was obvious from the way she spoke that she firmly believed that He was present and listening. She understood that Hashem was the One and Only address that was worth talking to. She spoke to Hashem from her heart and always with tears in her eyes. I knew she was davening for me and I felt safe and protected. As I go through my prayers in my busy life, I try to envision Bubbie talking to Hashem, so that I might follow in her large footprints.
My grandmother also had a very strong sense of right and wrong. She didn’t believe in being “politically correct” when it came to moral issues. She was extremely honest and did not bend the truth. Something was either right or wrong. And anything that was right and just was worth standing up for and fighting for – and that is what she did. As she was a gifted writer, she often used the power of the pen and the press to fight for just causes. Bubbie would stay up through the night to make one more phone call or write one more letter or article. She just could not rest until she knew that she had done all that was in her power to bring about justice. She conducted every aspect of her busy life with honesty and sincerity.
Finally, my grandmother was a very modest woman as well. She dressed beautifully and stylishly, but always followed the halachot of tzniut. Her modesty was reflected not only in her clothing but in her speech and behavior as well. She never spoke a foul word and would refuse to listen to anything that contained language that was inappropriate. She would not hesitate to leave in the middle of a show (on Saturday night, when she was in a hotel) if she felt that the content was not pure, and couldn’t understand why any person who followed Torah ways stayed to hear the vulgar language.
My grandmother had many other wonderful talents, such as dancing and singing, but what I miss most of all is her Torah-sound advice, her clear vision in a world gone mad, and her honest way of telling it straight. The footprints she left for us are huge, despite her small physical size. My husband and I try, as Hashem advises us, to raise our family to follow in her footprints, to keep them fresh and clear for the next generation so that we, together with Klal Yisrael, may be zocheh to survive this galut and return to Eretz Yisrael, ushering in the final geulah, bimheirah b’yameinu. Amen.
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