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Exploring the Jewish Woman's Unique Potential

By Mrs. Leah Kohn

Part I:


In the days of Rav Meir Shapiro's boyhood - the last decade of the nineteenth century - Jewish learning took place at home. Families would hire a tutor, who would live with the family and leave only for holidays. Such was the case in the home of young Meir Shapiro. One late night - the night after Pesach when the family tutor should have already returned from his vacation earlier that day - Meir awoke to the sound of his mother crying. He found her in tears, reciting psalms and praying that the family tutor should return immediately. Meir tried to console his mother, suggesting that the tutor would surely come back soon. His mother refused to be comforted, responding that even a single day of Torah study foregone is like losing something precious that can never be retrieved. What's more, she mused, perhaps the family had not paid him enough and for that reason he had not returned. "For such a great and mighty Torah," she concluded, perhaps their sacrifice had been too small, even though financially it had always been difficult to come up with the tutor's stipend. Such was this woman's profound attachment to Torah, which she communicated to her son.

The lasting impression of his mother's words is evident in Rav Meir's two great contributions to Jewish learning, not to mention his scholarship and personal righteousness. Rav Meir's "Daf haYomi" (literally, "daily leaf") resounds with her conviction to daily Torah study. (Daf Yomi is a program of learning the entire Talmud one leaf a day - two sides of a page, with a full cycle completed every seven years.) Today, tens of thousands worldwide participate in this process, which was inspired by the maternal advice Rav Meir absorbed about how a each day carries it's own unique and irretrievable opportunity for Torah knowledge. He is quoted as saying, "We have to spend time with Torah every day, by studying the daf yomi, because every day that goes by without Torah study is something precious lost that can never be gotten back; and who knows what the next day may bring?" In gaining support for Daf Yomi, Rav Meir proved to be truly his mother's son. What's more, he was vociferous about the fact that it was his mother who had provoked these great accomplishments.

Rabbi Meir's second creation - the Yeshivas Chachmey Lublin ("The Yeshiva of Lublin Scholars"), founded in 1924, gained world renown as an institute of Torah learning that produced top scholars and Talmudists. In promoting the school, Rav Meir made full use of his mother's sense that no effort - financial or otherwise - is too extreme, given the greatness of Torah. In fundraising, when a potential contributor of means offered a modest sum, submitting that business was not good or the like, Rav Meir would respond, "But, my dear sir, for such a great and mighty Torah, this is too small a sacrifice." Again, his mother's voice remained a guiding force, and the adult Rav Meir always credited her influence.

In terms of maintaining a significant hand in Rav Meir's development, his mother used both intellect and emotion. In this regard, her approach was distinctly feminine, inasmuch as goodness was mingled with clarity and consistency of action. Thanks to this approach, her message of strength was articulated in a way that was palatable to Rav Meir's young mind. In his biography of Rav Meir, A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom, Rav Yehoshua Baumol writes, "[his mother] used to speak directly to his heart, in a variety of ways that his heart would absorb and remember." As women, may we never forget that each of us has the potential to speak and influence others straight from the heart.

Please Note: A portion of the information in the preceding essay was taken from: A Blaze in the Darkening Gloom: The Life of Rav Meir Shapiro by Rav Yehoshua Baumol Feldheim Publishers

Text Copyright 2004 by Mrs. Leah Kohn and



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