However, all the following spoilers take place by page 65 out of a 540-page book that has so much more going on in it, I don’t think it will ruin the experience if you’ll be reading it for the first time.
But some people resent spoilers of any kind, so here's your fair warning: Spoilers ahoy, matey!
“I threw myself down, put my head on the floor and shouted: ‘Leichu, my Leichu, come back to me! Dovid, my dear husband up in Heaven, I implore you: Help me to bring my daughter back from the evil people who stole her from me…!”
Sheina Ruchel had been widowed twice, lost most of one arm to a life-saving amputation and lived in poverty in a remote village near the Carpathian Mountains of Hungary. Three children had distanced themselves from both her and Judaism. All she had in the world was her baby daughter.
And the people who'd volunteered to babysit her daughter had sold her daughter to a wealthy childless couple.
And every time Sheina Ruchel retold that part of the story, she would raise her remaining hand to Heaven and declare, “Ribbono shel Olam, Father of orphans and Judge of widows, repay this woman for the years of pain and anguish she caused me!”
Later, Sheina Ruchel often mused, “If I'd been a violent or hot-headed person…I might have even killed Mrs. Goldman that day.”
Yet at one point, she was able to give the benefit of the doubt to all the people involved:
“[T]hey felt they were doing the right thing—they felt that a ‘poor, disabled and widowed woman’ simply couldn’t bring up a child.”
But what about the large amount of money involved?
What about the people who acted as the go-between didn’t act merely out of a warped sense of compassion?
The amount of financial compensation they received was so large, they never told Sheina Ruchel where her daughter was, no matter how much she nor how much some rabbis begged over the years.
Regarding this issue, Sheina Ruchel explained sadly, “They could not resist the temptation they faced; a large sum of money is a very difficult temptation indeed...But it is not up to you or I to judge them.”
When Sheina Ruchel’s best friend, Rivka Klar was told of Sheina Ruchel’s refusal to judge these hard-hearted people, and also hears the conclusion that Sheina Ruchel must be a tzadekes (a perfectly righteous woman), Rivka Klar doesn’t respond right away.
(Rivka Klar herself was an incredibly good and kind person. You can read a little bit about her and her husband in How the Worst Turned Out for the Best: A True Story.)
After mulling it over, Rivka Klar insists,
“That is the correct way to look at this whole situation…I do not know if that makes her a tzadekes; she is simply acting as a person should, and as she always does, with honesty and uprightness.”
The Journey to Greatness
We repeatedly hear about the correct and heroic choices they made.
Yet we rarely hear about their starting point.
It just seems like they always made the right choices.
Sure, a really good biography may describes the righteous person’s dilemma, but in the end, the righteous person always makes the right choice (and never the natural, all-to-human choice).
And it’s obvious to me from reading the book that Sheina Ruchel truly was a tzadekes.
She proved this so many times, making a particularly heroic choice in the end, which saved her daughter's life.
Yet when the initial abduction occurred, Sheina Ruchel was understandably wild with rage and grief. She did not thank God for the good along with the bad, nor automatically accept it as Hashem’s Will, nor any other lofty ideal—nope.
She literally wanted to kill the person who’d given her baby up for adoption.
And then she asked God to curse that person. In fact, it sounds like, over the course of many years, she repeatedly demanded that God “repay” that person for the pitiless and greedy act.
And who can blame Sheina Ruchel?
Of course the people who knowingly participated in the unethical adoption behaved with great cruelty. Their lack of remorse or any attempt at rectification in the face of Sheina Ruchel’s pain—even years later—is truly incomprehensible.
Yet an emuna mindset knows that even this heart-breaking ordeal is from Hashem, that even this is somehow for the best in ways that seem unfathomable. We can’t know most of the ins and outs in this world (although growing up in the adopted family enabled the kidnapped girl to make connections that later saved her life), but we can at least claw our way toward the intellectual acceptance of everything as Hashem’s Will.
I do not know exactly how Sheina Ruchel crossed the wide gulf between her completely justified and understandable fury to finding a small speck of merit in those heartless people, even going as far as to refuse to judge their merciless greed.
Sheina Ruchel lived in poverty incomparable to those who buckled under temptation of immorally obtained money, while she herself never would have submitted to that temptation. So how could someone like her not judge someone like them?
Yet it’s clear in the book that she dealt with the issue spiritually. She frequently recited Tehillim, asked for blessings from Rebbes, and constantly poured out her heart to Hashem, speaking to Him in her own words as she would her own father.
And it sounds like she wobbled on that point.
It’s not entirely clear from the book, but it seems that while sometimes, she was able to rise above her natural feelings and see it all with perfect emuna, even to the point of refusing to judge the people who’d hurt her so badly, yet other times showed her as demanding Heavenly retribution against Mrs. Goldman.
The point is, she needed to work up to that lofty level.
And indeed, she became a very great person.
I think part of the secret is in the words of Rivka Klar:
“That is the correct way to look at this whole situation…she is simply acting as a person should.”
Wobbling to Find the Balance
And even if we can’t maintain the ideal state for more than a moment, the mere act of trying is still worth more than we can imagine and affects us in profound ways (even if we don't always perceive them).
Furthermore, it’s perfectly natural to wobble between a lofty state of emuna and a very human and understandable state of fury and resentment.
And it's perfectly natural to wobble like this for years.
Sheina Ruchel was truly wronged. There is no justifying what those people did.
And so, she spent years trusting Hashem, leaning on Him, praying to Him, clinging to Torah and mitzvot—while at the same time, hating and cursing those people and demanding revenge.
Yet eventually, she made it to the top (spiritually speaking).
And without being thrust into such a traumatic and excruciating challenge, she never would’ve been able to become the exalted person she eventually became.