By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
My dear Rebbetzin was a bas zekunim, a daughter born in old age. My father in-law, at her birth, was 59 years old so she was viewed as a last opportunity for my in-laws to give certain names. As such, she was named after two male ancestors. The ‘Liba’ was after her maternal grandfather whose name was Aryeh Leib, and the Miriam was after another zeida, whose name was Moshe. You might wonder how Moshe comes to be Miriam. My mother in-law was the secretary for the great poseik, Rav Henkin, zt”l, zy”a. She asked him about the two names and he first suggested Masha Liba. She didn’t care for the name Masha so she said what about Miriam, who was the sister of Moshe. Rav Henkin agreed with the stipulation that she always be called by both names and, indeed, all her life she was known as Miriam Libby.
At the funeral, Reb Avigdor Fried, the head of Bikur Cholim Staten Island, said that Liba in Yiddish means love. (It also has leiv, heart, embedded in it.) And as such her name can be rendered both Beloved Miriam and Loving Miriam. Indeed, both definitions described her perfectly. As Irving Fishbaum, a close family friend said, “If you didn’t love her it, means you didn’t know her.”
When Reb Noach Isaac Oelbaum came to menachem ovel me, he brought me a copy of a responsa from the great godol hador, the Noda b’Yehuda. In it he writes how broken he was at the loss of his wife and in praising her he writes that he challenges anyone if they ever had a negative word to say about her. The exact same challenge can be said about my Rebbetzin. The notion of someone bearing ill will towards her is preposterous. She never ever bore grudges and she was always concerned about the welfare of everyone.
The overwhelming love that her neighbors and her community had for her was borne out at her funeral, a mere twelve hours after her passing, which had over 1200 people, the largest funeral in the history of the Jewish Staten Island community. It is therefore understandable why the converse is also true, that she was the Loving Miriam. As the posek says, “K’mayim hapanim el panim, kein leiv adam l’adam – As a man’s reflection in the water (the mirror used in the past), so is the heart of man to man.” We reciprocate what we receive. Thus, it was precisely because she loved everyone that she was beloved by all.
First and foremost was her total love for myself and our children. Perhaps the most powerful illustration of this love is a mantra that she used to say when she was suffering, lo aleinu, from breakout cancer pain. Although I gave her a cocktail of extended release morphine, percocet and fentanyl, sometimes the horrific pain was even stronger. At those times she fervently said to me, not once but many times, “better me than you or the children.” I can’t think of a more powerful and heartfelt expression than that.
At least three times a year she would buy me a card: On our anniversary, my birthday, and on Father’s Day. In the card, she would add loving comments of gratitude, of how I’m such a good provider, or what a good father I am, or how proud she was of my great Torah accomplishments. I saved many of these loving cards and they are a source of great comfort for me now as I reread them with tears flowing freely down my face. When I told this to one of my cousins who is a very devoted wife herself, she thanked me and said I taught her that she should start writing such notes to her husband after seeing what they mean to me.
I remember that one of my talmidim in seminary told me that on her 18th anniversary, she didn’t have any money to buy her husband something that would express properly her love for him. So she sat down and wrote him a letter with 18 reasons why she is happy that she married him, signing it with a flourish, “With all my love on our 18th anniversary.” She told me that her husband later told her that this letter became his most prized possession.
In our next article, we will pick up on the many ways she showed her love for everyone else. In the merit of being loving, especially to our loved ones, my Hashem bless us with His love for long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Please learn, give tzedaka, and daven l’iluy nishmas of Miriam Liba bas Aharon.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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