How the Gadol Hador Showed Love To His Sons

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Frequent contributor Rabbi Dov Fischer offers what Rav Ruvain Feinstein shlit”a remembers about his father, Rav Moshe zatza”l:

In the New York winter, after waking up Rav Ruvain as a little boy, Rav Moshe would lay Rav Ruvain’s little winter jacket atop the floor radiator so that it would be toasty-warm when Rav Ruvain left for school.

At a summer bungalow colony, little Rav Ruvain one day interrupted his father, who was meeting with someone or learning Torah, because the “man with the hay ride” had just arrived. All the boys were going on the hay ride, and they needed something like a quarter or a nickel, or whatever, to pay the man. Rav Ruvain knew his dad would regard it as shtus, but all the boys were going, and he wanted to know whether, pretty please, Rav Moshe would let him go, too. His dad gave him the coin. Years later, looking back on how silly such a thing is, he grasped that, although his dad would have preferred that he be sitting and learning during those moments, rather than riding around in hay, his dad gave him the coin to ride in hay because he loved him.

Through all the years that all the famous and powerful people trekked through their modest home and sat at the Shabbat table of Rav Moshe, his father never allowed any visitor – no matter how wealthy, no matter how important or well connected or powerful – to sit in his little son’s chair, near father, at the dinner table.

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16 Responses

  1. Moshe Schorr says:

    I don’t have a written source for this story, I heard it from my Rosh Yeshiva, Reb Eliyahu Chayim Rosen.

    It’s about Reb Yonoson Eibeshitz. He was an iluy and gave a shiur in Gemoro in his town when he was 11 years old. One day, his “students” saw him riding on a donkey. (I can only assume that such riding was similar to the hay ride in Reb Reuven’s story). They said “You Rebbe, would do a thing like that??!!”
    He replied. “I’m an 11 year old boy. 11 year old boys ride donkeys”.

  2. Michoel says:

    Lawrence,
    Humane, yes. Doting, for sure not. But I think S.’s point is that by making a big deal about it, it makes it makes it seem more exceptional than it is. So while I generally agree with your views on revisionism, it could be that these maasehlach are effectively double-reverse revisionism to a small degree.

  3. Michoel says:

    Raymond,
    I was guest for many years and can certainly relate to feeling strange about about seemingly forced (as in unnatural) separation. If anything, it tends to cause thoughts about thoughts, more than actual thoughts, and makes the guest feel scrutinized and uncomfortable. I’m sure other baalei t’shuvah can understand what I am saying.

    However, I do not agree with your characterization of homes where a more strict approach to modesty issues is practiced. Particularly when there are teenage family members and guests of the opposite gender.

  4. Raymond says:

    In virtually all of the Orthodox Jewish homes I have been a guest in, the men and women interact pretty freely, engaging in very pleasant conversation. I do not normally give this much thought, as the underlying assumption seems to be that we are all adults with similar strong moral values and so we can trust one another at least to that degree. And when I have been at those very tiny number of homes when such interaction was not the case, it is almost inevitable that the women are treated as second class citizens. Such an arrangement accomplishes nothing but to push me away from ever living such a lifestyle, as I find such extremism repulsive.

    I also think it is ridiculous to have such a separation during any other time that Jews get together, such as the kiddush after davening, or when people are attending a speech from some out-of-town Rabbi. The only situation where I think such separation makes sense, is during davening itself, for obvious reasons. As far as I know, this is also the only situation where it is halachically mandated to keep men and women completely separated from one another.

  5. Benshaul says:

    As to seating arrangements, my wife sits next to me, and i find that there are times where more of our kids need to sit next to a parent, and it is also helpful in running a bust shabbos table with lots of kids and guests to have a parent at the opposite end of the table.
    As to a godol, I cant imagine a godol being a person who wasn’t humane.

  6. lawrence kaplan says:

    Comnon S. Do you really believe that all Gedolim were humane and doting parents?

  7. Shades of Gray says:

    “What is the point of these stories showing that Gedolim were humane and doting parents?”

    I see the point here that one can see a lesson and depth in the actions of Gedolim, similar to “sichus chulin” of talmidie chachamim; it also was in the context of explaining why R. Reuvein did not miss his father’s presence at his son’s Bar Mitzvah, which is a concept which might be novel. Indeed, if one sees the same depth in the parenting skills of any parent, that would also be worthy of a story.

    Your point itself is the subject of an article by Rabbi Simcha Feuerman(“Are “Gedolim Stories” Good for Chinuch?”):

    “Another one of the chinuch dangers of disconnection from feelings is an estrangement from our gut instincts in favor of strict adherence to technical ethical principles. This is an abandonment of what is sometimes referred to as “the fifth volume of Shulhan Arukh”. No system can function without using common sense to mediate and moderate between the dictates and principles of the system and how to apply them.
    Related to this point, I have noticed a strange phenomenon in regard to certain inspirational stories. Typically, the story will go something like this: So and so, a great sage, despite his high stature did an amazing kindness for someone of lower perceived social status. For example, we have the famous story about Rav Yisrael Salanter who went to hold a crying baby on Yom Kippur eve during Kol Nidre, or the story of how Rav Moshe Feinstein ran after a gentile delivery boy to make sure he received his dollar tip.

    Of course these stories model acts of compassion and decency, and deserve recognition. Sadly though, I fear there is a hidden and subtle message of surprise being conveyed along with these stories, as they suggest that basic human compassion and decency is an astounding ethical feat. After all, who would not show the basic decency of giving an expected tip, or who could be cold-hearted enough to ignore the cries of a baby on Kol Nidre night — or any night for that matter? So what is the real message here? Either we are surprised to see great people behave in a human and kindhearted manner, or we consider it to be an act that only a true tzaddik can achieve. Whichever message you choose, I submit for your consideration that this kind of thinking is a product of a culture that has difficulty embracing the full passion of its emotions when seen through the lens of Torah thought. Because, in the light of stone-cold Torah analysis without being informed by a sense of compassion, one might erroneously decide that praying is more important than responding to the cries of an infant, or that being sensitive to the needs of a poor delivery boy is irrelevant. And indeed, halakha must trump emotions. However no proper conclusion can be reached without consulting with all “five” volumes of Shulhan Arukh. Our chinuch messages must take that into account.”

  8. S. says:

    What is the point of these stories showing that Gedolim were humane and doting parents? Who would have thought otherwise? Conversely, who would have thought that this isn’t the way to parent?

  9. lawrence kaplan says:

    Michoel: Re th “hayride” — You took the words right out of my mouth. That Rav Moshe would have viewed a young boy wanting to take hayride as “shtus” and would have preferred he be learning at the time is an unfortunate distortion of a beautiful story– not a “frum” distortion, but a “frummie” distortion.

  10. Michoel says:

    Raymond,
    Some men (depending on personal nature and community social norms) feel uncomfortable sitting directly across from the woman of the house. Also, some women prefer to “fir tisch” with the other women an not be so involved with what the men are doing.

  11. Raymond says:

    This may be slightly off topic, but as a fortunate guest at the homes of several religious Jewish families, the one seating arrangement that I find difficult to adapt to is one where the Rabbi (or other male head of the household) is seated on the opposite end of the table from his wife. In such an arrangement, I feel that no matter who I pay attention to, I am doing the wrong thing because I am neglecting the other half of the main couple. The husband and wife really should be seated next to each other. As for whether I as a guest or the Rabbi’s children should sit closer to their parents, I think a valid case can be made for either point of view.

  12. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >learn a little anivus and tznius

    Just a pet peeve of mine. The more common word for humily in both modern and biblical (and mishnaic) Hebrew is Anava:

    צפניה פרק ב פסוק ג:

    בקְּשׁוּ אֶת-יְהוָה כָּל-עַנְוֵי הָאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר מִשְׁפָּטוֹ פָּעָלוּ; בַּקְּשׁוּ-צֶדֶק, בַּקְּשׁוּ עֲנָוָה–אוּלַי תִּסָּתְרוּ, בְּיוֹם אַף-יְהוָה.

    משלי פרק טו פסוק ל”ג:

    יִרְאַת יְהוָה, מוּסַר חָכְמָה; וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה.

    משלי פרק יח פסוק י”ב:

    לִפְנֵי-שֶׁבֶר, יִגְבַּהּ לֶב-אִישׁ; וְלִפְנֵי כָבוֹד עֲנָוָה.

    משלי פרק כב פסוק ד:

    עֵקֶב עֲנָוָה, יִרְאַת יְהוָה; עֹשֶׁר וְכָבוֹד וְחַיִּים.

  13. Dovid says:

    Rabbi Dr. Aharon Rackeffet tells that many years ago, the Maitcheter Ilui (Rav Shlomo Polackoff zt”l) was being driven from his home to YU on a Sunday morning in the spring, and they saw kids playing baseball in a playground. The Ilui lamented to the bochrim in the car that in Europe, he and his friends were (in his words) denied a childhood. They weren’t allowed to be children, to have fun and to play, and were instead forced to learn in cheder all day. And he said that they would have been better off had they been given a childhood.

    This story came to mind when I read about the hayride. There’s a lot to be said for allowing kids to be kids.

  14. Shades of Gray says:

    I have heard R. Pesach Krohn tell over the incidents mentioned with an introduction(as quoted from R. Krohn in the L’chaim publication of Chabad):

    “Rabbi Reuven Feinstein, the son of the late world-renowned rav and halachic [Jewish legal] authority, Rav Moshe Feinstein, was making a Bar Mitzvah for his son. The child’s birthday was mid-week, and so, a celebration would be made to mark the day when the boy would be called up to the Torah for the first time. A large celebration was scheduled for Sunday, when family and friends would be able to gather to mark the great occasion.

    Rav Moshe, however, had been scheduled to speak at a major rabbinical conference which was to take place on the same Sunday as his grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. He attended the mid-week occasion of the child’s birthday and aliyah to the Torah, but was unable to come to the larger Sunday celebration.

    A friend asked Rabbi Reuven Feinstein how he reacted to the absence of his illustrious father at his son’s Bar Mitzvah. His answer was indicative of the true greatness of his father, and shows how our every action and thought may be directed to establishing a bond of love between us and our children. He replied, “I didn’t feel bad, because my father loves me.”

    Of course, the obvious rejoinder was, “How do you know?” and indeed, that was the next question in this dialogue. Rav Reuven replied by describing three incidents in his childhood which had stuck in his mind as a constant reminder of his father’s great love for him…”

  15. Michoel says:

    noch a kashe, Reb Reuvain said that if the person was an adam gadol, a very prominent Rav or Rosh Yeshiva, then Reb Reuvain would give up his seat. It is inconceivable to picture Reb Yaakov coming to Reb Moshe’s house, and being seated one seat down with a (very choshuveh) yingel in between.

    When my wife and I were starting out a few years back, we gave a some thought to how to arrange seats for family and guests and this recollection from Reb Reuvain helped inform our decision. A child, like everyone else, needs a maamad. If there is a male guest, usually my wife will sit at the “other head of the table” so that the guest can have a seat next to the baal habayis, but our kids are not made to move. At the same time, they hopefully learn a little anivus and tznius from seeing their mother’s willingness to move.

    Just a few peripherally related thoughts that this post generated…

  16. Michoel says:

    I heard it personally from Rav Reuvain a little differently. Rav Reuvain Got up early every morning to learn with his father before cheder. Reb Moshe, who got even earlier to learn on his own, put Rav Reuvain clothes on the radiator, not his coat. This was because it was cold in their apartment on the lower east side.

    I don’t believe that Rav Reuvain said that he knew his father would think a hey ride was “shtus”, and I am quite sure that Reb Moshe, if fact, did NOT think such a thing was shtus. He probably thought is was age appropriate fun. Reb Dov took a beautiful maaseh and frum-ized it for no reason.

    Reb Moshe was not from this world in being a lamdan and masmid. He was also an incredible parush. But he was a very normal person according to everyone that has recalled knowing him.