Many of you probably already read parts of it in Binah magazine or read the entire masterpiece yourselves.
It's a very welcome appearance after all the years much of frum English literature presented a "real" Gadol as aloof, incapable of anything outside of the actual study of Gemara, and not a particularly good or sensitive or even spiritual person (including to his wife & children) — thereby making it seem like being a middot-challenged intellectual was the pinnacle for both aspiring Torah scholars & kollel wives desiring a real ben Torah.
In other words, all brain with very little heart or soul.
(I'm not saying the presentation was accurate, just that it was the presentation.)
Not all literature did this. Some valuable exceptions existed. But the above portrait was indeed bemusingly common for years.
Just as a side point to give the benefit of the doubt:
I think a lot of women's classes & rabbinical biographies (both books & articles) resisted presenting a balanced portrayal of the Torah world's great men because they wanted to provide pushback against the feminist influence (there are better ways to do it) & because they didn't want a wife to use the Gadol's lofty behavior as a weapon against her husband (i.e., "Rav Scheinberg used to wash all the dishes at night without his wife even asking him...so why can't YOU?") or to even feel resentment in her heart (i.e., "When Rav Yisroel Mendel Kaplan's wife felt weak, he tended to the children, including waking up with them at night, and then rocking them to sleep as he learned from his Gemara...but MY husband just SLEEPS!")
But better ways exist to deal with envy & resentment than pretending great rabbis weren't actually so great in their personal lives & character.
Aside from that, there are other reasons why an unbalanced narrative developed & took hold for a while.
But baruch Hashem, the frum world realized this & sought to correct the imbalance with much more realistic portrayals.
And it's great this writer came along to present us with a much more complete picture from a more feminine point of view (along with some of the sons' narratives too).
Bereft Rabbanim: Being Mother, Father...and Rabbi
Both the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah Rav Yehuda Zev Segal & the Bridder Rebbe Amram Taub of Baltimore lost their wives to illness when they still had children at home.
In fact, his wife's passing left the Bridder Rebbe with 9 orphans from age 2 to 18.
It was heart-warming & awe-inspiring to read how much they both strove to be both mother & father to their children, even as they upheld their high standards of Yiddishkeit (before it became easier to do so) and continued to serve their communities.
Both strove & succeeded in attending to their children's emotional needs as well as their physical needs.
When the Manchester Rosh Yeshivah's 14-year-old daughter let him know she emotionally needed him more at home, he immediately rearranged his schedule to accommodate her, which included meals with her & learning Chumash with her.
(The way the daughter told that story was also humorous.)
Both rabbanim made it a point to prioritize their children before others, regardless of how important or prestigious the others may have been.
In addition to the loss of the Bridder Rebbe's wife & single-parenting 9 children (plus his community work), the Bridder Rebbe struggled against his previous trauma: the murder of his first wife & their 5 children by the Nazis in Czechoslovakia.
He never spoke about his pain from that horrific loss, but one night in Baltimore, his oldest son heard the Rebbe crying out in his sleep, "Antloift, kinder! Antloift, kinder! — Escape, children! Escape, children!"
Nightmares frequently plague Holocaust survivors & one can assume the Rebbe was reliving that horrific moment when the Nazis came after his first family in Czechoslovakia.
But the oldest son was shocked to see how the morning following that nightmare, his father rose to rouse his children with his usual cheerful song: "Oifshtein l'avodas haBorei! — Arise to serve the Creator!"
His eyes sparkled with the same joy they did every morning upon greeting his children.
Their respective chapters reveal so many stirring anecdotes about their humility & genuine love for others, it was incredible to see what heights can be reached in the face of such overwhelming obstacles.
Great Men at Home
Furthermore, fathers have obligations toward their children, their children's chinuch in particular.
A father can not raise a child properly by ignoring the child.
Here are just a few heart-warming examples of just a few of the rabbanim featured in the book:
Rav Yisroel Mendel Kaplan
Because of his wife's physical weakness resulting from their living circumstances in Shanghai during World War II, Rav Yisroel Mendel Kaplan assisted his wife with the children as much as possible—including at night—and despite the hard physical job he needed to perform after immigrating to Chicago (before meriting a job teaching Torah).
Rav Kaplan remained attentive to his daughters' needs even after they became wives and mothers themselves.
For example, Rav Kaplan:
- wouldn't allow a pregnant daughter to bend down while sweeping; instead, he rushed to fetch the dustpan and bend down himself to collect the dirt.
- stocked a married daughter's home with the then-luxury of disposable diapers after seeing her use cloth diapers.
- would take out his grandchildren when their mother wasn't feeling well or when she needed to tidy the home.
Upon hearing a married daughter tending to a colicky baby at night, he insisted on taking over so this married daughter could sleep.
(Needless to say, he also showered chessed on his sons- and daughters-in-law, but because the book focused on the personal experience of daughters, we hear mostly about the daughters' experiences.)
In fact, the evening before he passed away, Rav Kaplan cared for his pregnant unwell married daughter by wrapping her up in a large down jacket & woolen socks, then serving her hot food.
The next morning, he got up with his grandchildren (who woke at 5 in the morning) so their exhausted mother (his daughter) could rest. He tended to them & fed them — only moments before he passed away (not in front of them) with a book of Tehillim in his hands.
Chessed until the very end.
Rav Avigdor Miller
For years, Rav Avigdor Miller created bedtime stories for his children in order to inculcate Torah values in an appealing way.
One series featured Jewish characters & their imaginary adventures in Africa while another series featured the exploits of a young boy hiding in a forest during the Holocaust, and a tzaddik in a cave.
In general, Rav Miller encouraged women with writing talent to author inspirational fiction & non-fiction to imbue the reader with yirat Shamayim because story creates such a great conduit for instilling values.
During hot summer nights without a fan or air-conditioning, Rav Miller stood over his children to fan them with a piece of cardboard. (This takes exertion & made him hotter as he made his children cooler.)
To help his wife, Rav Miller took their children to the zoo on chol hamoed Pesach, making an enjoyable Torah lesson out of it.
In the summer, Rav Miller took the children berry-picking & exploring — and used nature to teach his children about Hashem's deeds & kindness.
He kept a memorable prize box for his grandchildren while his wife kept an equally memorable nosh box.
When his daughters became grandmothers themselves, he routinely greeted them with, "Hello, Millionaire Bubby!" — to praise them for the children & grandchildren they raised.
Rav Chaim Pinchas & Rebbetzin Basha Scheinberg
After the birth of her own first child, Rebbetzin Basha Scheinberg also nursed the baby of a non-Jewish Polish neighbor who could not manage to do so on her own.
When a bout of pneumonia endangered the life of one of his young daughters, Rav Scheinberg vowed to refrain from speaking on Shabbat. (And she recovered.) Yet he upheld this vow with pleasantness, making it into a game by gesturing to his children what he wanted to say, so they experienced this vow of silence as fun.
Rav Scheinberg often declared "Chessed begins in the kitchen!"
Every morning, Rav Scheinberg gave his children breakfast to allow his wife to sleep longer.
He often washed the dishes, perching a Gemara where he could learn while he scrubbed.
Another time, he realized the weekly task of cleaning the floors for Shabbat might temporarily harm the health of a teenage daughter.
So without evening telling her, Rav Scheinberg made sure he got to work on cleaning the floors before his daughter even woke up.
Rav Elazar Menachem Man Schach
Rav Schach's daughters aren't in the book, but it's intriguing to know that sometimes he answered the door while holding a mop — much to the shock of his students. When his wife was sick, he cleaned the floors & brought her meals.
Rav Moshe Sherer
Rav Moshe Sherer made sure to visit his children at camp outside the official visiting days so he could spend time exclusively with his children without people coming up to talk to him or ask him questions.
At bedtime & during Shabbat afternoons, Rav Sherer invented engaging stories & funny songs about a brother & sister named Pinchikel & Chana Fufeleh.
Rav Aharon Florans (the author's father-in-law)
To assist his wife & create an example for his sons, Rav Florans washed the dishes after Shabbat.
Despite raising a family full of boys, he never raised his voice.
While working full-time, Rav Florans spent weeks up at night caring for each newborn so his wife could get some sleep.
(And the above doesn't even touch on all the Gedolim mentioned in the book — a lot is missing from this post.)
They did so much more chessed & humble heroism than described here.
Also, the book goes into the interactions with compelling detail & dialogue, plus their dealings with others outside their families.
Love, Joy, and Security
Whether they expressed their love in words or through actions & facial expressions, their children continuously described feeling extremely valued & cherished, like an only child, and so on.
These rabbanim proved phenomenal listeners with their children — anything the child of any age needed to talk about.
Also, those who ran an open home full of all sorts of guests refused to do so in a way that might endangered their children. Guests were surreptitiously screened under welcoming smiles.
(This point often goes lost amid the stories of hospitality for mentally unwell people. Even the great hosts of the world, the Machlis family in Yerushalayim, took care to maintain an open home in a way that would not risk their children's safety.)
The Effects of Reading about Such Great Fathers
The entire purpose of such stories should be to affect us positively, and hopefully inspire improvements in our own behaviors.
These portrayals also made me pay increased attention to how much I was focusing on interactions with my own children.
I found myself doing more to give full focus to even simple chatter from a young child & to be even more patient, pleasant, positive, and sensitive.
(Not that I was ignoring or always distracted before, but I'm on a path of continuous improvement, even as I stumble into potholes along the way...)
After all, if some of the greatest Torah scholars of the century related to their children that way, then it must be the correct way to parent & absolutely important.