Jewish Personalities


Klal Yisrael is just emerging from the grim period of the Three Weeks, when we are summoned to process the loss of the Beis Hamikdash and the exile of our people some two millennia ago.
These three weeks are marked by restraint and reflection. Hopefully, in understanding the essence of churban, the nature of destruction and its antecedents, we can begin to move toward binyan, rebuilding, and our nation’s ultimate redemption.
Unfortunately, we are at a decided disadvantage. For in order to counteract the increasingly odious forces in our culture, we must be able to call upon noble forces, which are so little in evidence today. When indecent influences swell around us, Torah Jews must work even harder to fill the world with kedushah. In a time of corruption and ugliness, we need honor and magnificence.
Magnificence is defined as something that is “extraordinarily fine, superb, noble, exceptionally beautiful, sublime.” Although we can see this quality in the wisdom of Torah, it is imperative that we see it in those who live, breathe and practice Torah. The “living” Sifrei Torah, our spiritual exemplars, are the ones who enables us to prevail over the temptations of our generations.
One such person was esteemed father-in-law, Harav Yaakov Yisroel Twerski, the Rebbe of Hornosteipel, whose 43rd yahrtzeit was the day after Tisha B’Av.
The memory of this exalted human brings tears to the eyes of those who had occasion to meet him for even a moment. Words that might capture his essence don’t seem to exist; but in an effort to convey something of his greatness, I spoke to our son Rabbi Yankie Twerski of Monsey, who bears his name, and asked him if he could help me distill what he had learned about his grandfather into a coherent description.
My son said that what he had gleaned from all the comments he had heard about his grandfather suggested an analogy to the Aron, the Holy Ark that stood in the Kodesh Hakodashim, the most sacred space in the Beis Hamikdash. Curiously, our Sages state, the aron – the most hallowed symbol of service to the Ribbono Shel Olam – did not occupy any space, which seems completely counterintuitive.
The Aron, as we know, contained the luchos, upon which the Aseres Hadibros were inscribed. As such, we would have expected that the Aron would fill the Holy of Holies. Instead, when the space between the Aron and the walls of the sacred chamber were measured, it was discovered that the Aron defied measurement, as though it wasn’t there at all.
We also know that when Bnei Yisrael traveled in the desert, the leviim carried the Aron on their shoulders – but in reality, it was the Aron that miraculously carried them.
My son said that this was the image he had of his grandfather; like the Aron in the Holy of Holies, he thought of him as private, quiet, modest, and yet very grand. What’s more, like the Aron, he carried aloft all those whom he encountered.
Like the Aron, my father-in-law occupied no space He was deceptively simple, continually shunning the limelight. The pomp and ceremony that often attends leaders did not exist for him. At major gatherings that brought together prominent members of the Jewish community, he would sit inconspicuously in the back of the room.
My father-in-law occupied no space because he had no ego, no preoccupation with self. He always concerned about others, attending to the endless stream of people he touched so deeply. He shouldered their burdens and made them feel that everything would be all right. He did this for people regardless of their affiliation, beliefs or social status, no matter how rich or poor they were.
He believed in the goodness of all people. My father-in-law made us feel that we could rise to all challenges, that we were equal to life. He delighted in our achievements. His eyes twinkled, and his smile continues to warm our hearts 40 years after his passing.
My son pointed out that his name, Yaakov Yisroel, accurately represented his character. The name “Yaakov” derives from the root word eikev, meaning “heel,” and refers to the attribute of humility, while “Yisroel” contains the root war sar, meaning someone who is princely.
My father-in-law embodied both of these qualities. He was Yaakov – unassuming, someone who was “nechba el hakeilim,” his greatness hidden; he was like the heel, which draws no attention to itself. Yet he was also Yisroel – majestic and towering, a prince in Israel. These traits combined to create magnificence, a radiance that inspired thousands to combat the growing darkness of our generation.
In these long, disheartening days of galus, the memory of this resplendent human being continues to console us, giving us hope for a better future.
May Rav Yaakov Yisroel Twerski, whose presence was a blessing, be forever blessed in his eternal abode.
Rebbetzin Feige Twerski is the mother of 11 children and many grandchildren, bli ayin hara. Alongside her husband, Rabbi Michel Twerski, she serves as rebbetzin to her community in Milwaukee and counsels people all over the globe. The rebbetzin is a popular lecturer, speaking on a wide variety of topics to audiences in America and overseas. She is the author of Ask Rebbetzin Feige, and more recently of Rebbetzin Feige Responds.


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