In the beginning of November 2020, the Jewish world lost its foremost Halachic Posaik – one who decides and rules on Torah law – Rabbi Dovid Feinstein o.b.m. His greatness in Torah knowledge corresponded to his deep humility and unassuming character. He was the final address to rule on the most complex Halachic questions or dilemmas.
Rabbi Feinstein resided in the lower east side of Manhattan and it was there that he headed the famous Mesivta Tiferes of Jerusalem – MTJ. Reb Dovid assumed this position after his father the great sage Rabbi Moshe Feinstein passed away. Incidentally, today is Reb Moshe’s 35th Yahrtzait.
On Thursday night and Friday we will be celebrating the festive and spirited holiday of Purim. Purim is a very busy day. There is listening to the Megilla of Esther at night and by day; we deliver parcels of food – Shalach Monos to others, and we give Matonos L’evyonim – charity to the poor. We also enjoy a festive meal where wine is consumed.
People flock to the homes of rabbis to seek blessings and to celebrate, and the rabbis make sure that the money they were entrusted with for the poor finds its way to those in need.
Rabbi Boruch Stein, a close student of Rabbi Feinstein, told me the following story. It was early Purim morning and Rabbi Feinstein entered Gertel’s bakery on the lower east side to give Shalach Monos to Mr. Stern, the owner. Upon entering, Mr. Stern quickly ran over to Reb Dovid and said I’m not sure if I can accept the Shalach Monos from you – I just got off the phone and got news that my father passed away. (A mourner does not accept gifts of Shalach Monos.)
Rabbi Feinstein placed the Shalach Monos aside and took out a piece of paper and wrote up a document indicating that Mr. Stern is selling his business to Rabbi Feinstein over the course of Shiva so that the essentially needed bakery would function during that time. Rabbi Feinstein instructed Mr. Stern to go and tend to his family and focus on the funeral arrangements. “But Rebbe, who is going to tend to the store and oversee the workers?” Rabbi Feinstein responded, “Me. I’ll stay here until someone else comes and relieves me.” Mr. Stern left, and in an hour or two, Mr. Stern’s brother in law came to relieve Rabbi Feinstein.
Since Rabbi Feinstein did not share this story with anyone, the details of how he functioned while he was left in charge of the store is not known. I try to picture in my mind what time of the morning this happened. Did Rabbi Feinstein oversee the workers baking? Did he stand by the register and serve customers? I’m trying to think what the customers thought when they came in and saw the venerable Rabbi Feinstein behind the counter.
But of this I am certain, Rabbi Feinstein didn’t think it was odd for him to do what fell in his lap, because had he felt so, he had children, grandchildren and students who he could have called and they would have taken over for him in a heartbeat.
What we know about Rabbi Feinstein’s life is that he recognized that every moment, opportunity or situation was directed by G-d. If G-d placed him on the busy day of Purim in the bakery and the situation warranted that he stay there as proprietor, so be it, and everything would have to wait and would get done a bit later.
We see this idea so clearly in the Purim story. Here is Esther, a woman who according to one opinion, was 75 years old at the time Achashveirosh chose her as queen. The Talmud relates that she was not necessarily so pretty but she had a charm of Chesed that enveloped her. It was quite strange that she was taken as queen.
At Mordechai’s behest, Esther did not divulge her nationality or family origins. Deep down, Mordechai and Esther knew that there was a Divine plan.
Sure enough, when Haman decreed genocide against the Jews, Mordechai asked Esther to approach the king and intercede on their behalf. Esther was hesitant, explaining to Mordechai the grave consequence of death if she approached the king unannounced. Mordechai responded by saying, “Who knows if you were chosen for this position in order to plead the case of the Jews who are in a perilous situation.” Esther got the message, and called for the Jews to fast and repent, and her mission was successful.” G-d placed her where she needed to be – all with great sacrifice.
Covid hit us around Purim of last year. As we reflect on this year, it was challenging in many ways. We were all placed in compromised positions, our freedom was curtailed, our health was compromised, and anxiety and emotional levels rose. Loved ones and friends and acquaintances passed away, there were economic challenges, family were distanced, travel was restricted, there was an intense election, there were quotas on religious and celebratory participation and the list goes on.
As this Purim approaches it appears like there is some light at the end of the tunnel – with the grace of G-d, a vaccine is in the process of inoculating the masses.
Let’s think like Esther and Reb Dovid. G-d placed us all in this situation, for a reason. As we hopefully emerge, we should learn from this lonely, sad, and awkward time to use our renewed opportunities to better ourselves and our relationships with others, and take advantage of serving G-d and thanking Him with a new and energized outlook and perspective!