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Rabbi Kalmar's Sermon Vayechi 5781

“The Jewish People Have Lost a Great Leader: The Legacy of Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, A'h”

Rabbi Wes Kalmar's Vayechi Message

The Jewish people have lost a great leader.  Last Shabbos Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord lost her battle with COVID-19.  I know that perhaps many of you in Milwaukee may not have known much about this phenomenal leader of Klal Yisrael so I would encourage you to listen to the Levaya (funeral) that took place at Ner Israel Rabbinical College in Baltimore this past Sunday. To read some other inspiring testimonials to her character click here.)
 
Rebbetzin Weisbord came from a family of Torah royalty.  As the daughter of Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Shmuel Yaakov Weinberg z’tl and Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg a”h and the granddaughter of R. Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman z’tl she grew up with greatness.  As the wife of the Mashgiach of Ner Yisrael, Rav Beryl Weisbord ylc”t, she lived a life on Yeshiva Lane in Baltimore that kept her involved with the heart of the Torah world.
 
Dr. Weisbord was a licensed psychologist who treated patients for over 25 years.  Her specialty was family and marriage therapy and her focus was on helping the entire family deal better with life issues.  She was the Executive Director of SHEMESH, a Baltimore based Educational Support Group.  Before that she was the Executive Director of the Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister League and Jewish Addiction Services.  She served the Jewish community as well in leadership positions with Maalot Seminary, Jews for Judaism, and AJOP.  (She spoke to Jewish Action about what leadership is about in 2016.)
 
But the titles and community service and the family lineage do not begin to describe the greatness of Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord.
 
I first knew Dr. Weisbord as Shmop’s mom.  Shmop (Sholom Meir Pesach Weisbord) was a member of my class of boys at Talmudical Academy in Baltimore.  As our class had 40+ kids in it she was just one of the moms like any other.  It was only later in life that I would realize what a unique and special individual she was.  Dr. Weisbord had the ability to make you feel like you were the center of her attention.  She was an incredibly busy person, with a busy career, and many responsibilities to clients, Jewish organizations and her own large family to whom she was deeply devoted.  But when she was speaking to you, she made you feel like you were what was important.  With her delightful sense of humor, she would laugh, never at you but always with you, like you were both in on the joke.  She was a great person, descended from great people but had the knack of making others feel like they were equals, like she was just one of the group, a sign of her great humility.   She spent her life reaching out to people, and much of that time to people who were in distress, who were in trouble, who were down on their luck, who needed help.  She made sure that those people got what they needed and were taken care of.  Never in a condescending or a judgmental way, always in a loving and supportive way.
 
My mother, Deborah Kalmar, moved from Baltimore to Milwaukee four years ago which has been a tremendous bracha for our family.  I know the hardest part for my mom has been the distance from her beloved friends.  My mother counted Rebbetzin Weisbord as a friend, and they bonded over their friendship with Rebbetzin Frances Zywica, a”h, a very special woman in her own right, and an older relative of Rebbetzin Weisbord who passed away in November of this year.  My mother remembered her to me this way, “Aviva called Frances every evening, as she called so many other people who were alone.  This, as well as her full-time job and her family.  As you said, she was royalty, but she smiled with unhurried kindness to all.  Truly a tzadekess shel emes!”
 
In this week’s parsha the Torah begins by telling us that

וַיְחִי יַעֲקֹב בְּאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, שְׁבַע עֶשְׂרֵה שָׁנָה; וַיְהִי יְמֵי-יַעֲקֹב, שְׁנֵי חַיָּיו--שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים, וְאַרְבָּעִים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה

That Yaakov lived in the land of Egypt for 17 years and that the days of Yaakov were 147 years.
 
The very next verse tells us  

וַיִּקְרְבוּ יְמֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָמוּת, וַיִּקְרָא לִבְנוֹ לְיוֹסֵף וַיֹּאמֶר לוֹ אִם-נָא מָצָאתִי חֵן בְּעֵינֶיךָ, שִׂים-נָא יָדְךָ תַּחַת יְרֵכִי; וְעָשִׂיתָ עִמָּדִי חֶסֶד וֶאֱמֶת, אַל-נָא תִקְבְּרֵנִי בְּמִצְרָיִם

 
And the days of Israel drew near to death, and he called to his son Yosef…and do for me kindness and truth, do not bury me in Egypt.
 
At my weekly parsha class this week, my mother (a regular attendee to my classes) asked why do we get the name change here from Yaakov in the first verse of the parsha to Yisrael in the second verse? 
 
One of the members of the class suggested that there is a difference in emphasis, which I agreed with. We discussed the possibility that the name Yaakov focuses on the life of the individual, the son, the father, the husband, and the shepherd.  However, the name Yisrael is the name of the forefather, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel, the symbol, the great leader, the transcendent figure of the future.   After thinking about it for a little while, it occurred to me that right before Yaakov earns the name of Yisrael in Parshat Vayishlach, he goes back over the river, according to the Gemara (Chulin 91a) quoted by Rashi, to get ‘pachim ketanim’, little containers.  It occurred to me that there is perhaps a connection.  
 
Yaakov goes back to get the little containers, because Yaakov cared about the little details.  It is the fact that Yaakov cares about the little details that leads to Yaakov being given the name Yisrael – straight with God.  It is a hallmark and a defining character of Judaism that we care deeply about the details.  The details matter.  What makes Yaakov Yisrael, what turns a regular individual into a great one, what makes the ordinary individual into a groundbreaking person of destiny is the ability to care about the minutia of life and treat them with the seriousness that they deserve.   And if God cares about whether your potato was cooked in a fleishig pot or a milchig pot, or whether you heated your Shabbos food on a blech or on an open flame, certainly God cares about how we treat the feelings of the people we come in contact with.
 
In his eulogy, my friend Shmop highlighted his mother’s attention to details, from the need to take care of the little soaps and shampoos for the ‘guests’ who might stay in their home for weeks because they needed a safe and caring place to be, to the extra sandwiches and treats she would prepare for her family on outings to make sure everyone had what they needed. 
 
She treated thousands of people with careful attention to their details, with the ‘unhurried kindness’ that made them feel special and cared for and understood.  She cared for all of Klal Yisrael, assuming the role of a groundbreaker and a trailblazer and a modern day prophetess for her people, but doing so with the air of one who is doing what is necessary, what is natural and has to be done, or in her own words when speaking about her mother, Rebbetzin Chana Weinberg,  “seeing a need and stepping in to meet that need.”   
 
It is sadly ironic that Rebbetzin Weisbord wrote an article in the August 7th edition of Baltimore’s Where, What, When magazine entitled “So Maybe It Wasn’t All Bad” about this year of Covid-19. She wrote “It’s been almost five months, yet the Coronavirus still lurks among us. We’re getting used to living with a low level of anxiety. Will my family be safe and well? … We have no way of knowing, so sense of what tomorrow looks like.”   On Simchas Torah she was admitted to the hospital and despite a fighting spirit that brought her what seemed like a recovery, and millions of pesukim of tehillim recited on her behalf the world round, her soul was returned to her creator this past Shabbos at the too young age of 72.  It feels like she had so much more to do.  So many more souls to heal and nurture.  Yaakov lived to be 147 but his years were few compared to his father Yitzchak who lived to be 180 and his grandfather Avraham who lived to be 175.  Seventy-two was way too short a time for such a tzadekess (righteous woman) to be among us. 
 
 When Yaakov requests that Yosef bury him he asks that he do it “chesed vi’emes” – with kindness of truth.  Rashi explains that what he means is that taking care of the dead is the true kindness – one for which you shall never be repaid.   I believe that the legacy that Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord leaves for us is to act towards each other with true kindnesses, big and small, expecting nothing in return.  To pay attention to others troubles, to going back for the ‘pachim ketanim’, the small pekelach, and the tzaros, the small sufferings of our friends and neighbors and relatives.   To call those who are alone, to reach out to those in trouble, to give them the unhurried attention that they deserve and need.  This is the legacy that Rebbetzin Dr. Aviva Weisbord, an unassuming and great leader of our people, has left us.  May her memory and her legacy be a source of ongoing blessing and comfort to her husband, her children, her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren, her friends, her community, and to all of Klal Yisrael.

Mon, March 8 2021 24 Adar 5781