Message from the
Desk of Rabbi Steven Burg
Dear Aish Family,
I take the writing of this weekly email very seriously. Each and every week for the last six years I pour my heart and soul into letting all of you know what is going on at Aish. I try to give you a window into my travels and the incredible things I see among the Jewish people. There is nothing more enjoyable for me than to receive emails back from Jews around the world commenting on my weekly email.
One of the biggest “fans” of my weekly emails was Rebbetzin Sara Finkel, of blessed memory. I was composing this week’s email from Detroit where I am attending the wedding of Aleeza Tolwin and Yehudah Biss. Aleeza is the daughter of Aish Detroit powerhouses Rabbi Simcha and Esti Tolwin, and granddaughter of Aish Detroit founder, Rabbi Alon Tolwin.
As I sat down to write, I received a message that Sara Finkel had passed away suddenly, at 101 years of age. The first time I heard from Mrs. Finkel was when she responded to my weekly about Rav Shmuel Kamenetsky, and the beautiful time I spent talking with him about the future of Aish and what we need to do to be successful. I titled that email “Consulting Torah Giants.”
On June 23, 2017 Mrs. Finkel responded with her own email:
Dear Rabbi Burg,
I very much enjoyed your letter today which appeared on my computer. It rang a bell for me – “Consulting Torah Giants” It reminded me of my late son, Rav Nosson Zvi, zt’l and the countless people who came to consult him on various issues. I also remember Rav Noach Weinberg, zt’l. He also left a remarkable legacy.
I would like to wish you continued success in your efforts to further Torah knowledge and emuna to countless people throughout the world.
Good Shabbos, Good Chodosh
I read the response carefully and then I realized that not only was Mrs. Finkel the mother of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, of blessed memory, the previous head of the Mir Yeshiva, but she was the grandmother of the current head of the Mir, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. I wrote back to her and we became “pen pals,” corresponding two dozen times over the last four years. Her last note to me was this past January:
I read your articles almost every week — almost every Erev Shabbos and I enjoy them very much.
May you have a pleasant and uplifting Shabbos.
I can’t fully put into words what receiving her supportive notes meant to me. Being a leader among the Jewish people is generally very lonely. You work hard and try your best, yet you never really know how much of an effect you are having. Generally, folks let you know often when they disagree with you. I read a study years ago that people are many times more likely to tell someone about a restaurant that they don’t like than one that they do like. I don’t know why that is, but folks are sometimes hardwired to be more negative than positive.
I re-read the many emails that I received from Mrs. Finkel and every one of them was like a ray of sunshine; letting me know that she read Rav Noach Weinberg’s biography and how much she enjoyed it; telling me that she appreciated getting a window into what US Ambassador David Friedman’s work was like; how much she appreciated our goal to get three million Jews to study Torah. She even sent me a portrait that she painted of Rav Noach after reading his biography! Her positivity was infectious. She was an avid painter and created many portraits of Torah giants over the years.
And, recipes from her published cookbook series, Classic Kosher Cooking have appeared on aish.com.
I began to realize how it was that she raised such an amazing Jewish leader as Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, who led the largest Torah teaching institution in Israel and where our own Rosh Yeshiva Rav Yitzhak Berkovits, shlita studied. Aish Director, Rabbi Dovid Rosman, reminded me that 11 years ago, our guys had the privilege of meeting Rav Nosson Tzvi in his home, and were blown away by his enormous joy for living, despite severe Parkinson’s. When the guys stepped outside, Mrs. Sara Finkel was waiting for them and gave them each an additional blessing.
A consistent positive outlook is crucial for all Jewish leaders. No matter how grim events concerning the Jewish people seem, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. We must focus on that light. We must obsess about that light. We must enable others to see that light. We must celebrate that light.
I will miss Mrs. Finkel’s emails. I will miss her encouragement and light. I can’t thank her enough for lifting my spirit over the past four years. To honor her memory, I would like to ask all of you to reach out to two people that you know who have had or are having a positive impact on your life and on the world. Let them know how much you appreciate them. My wife calls this having an ‘attitude of gratitude.’ You have no idea how much this will mean to them. The world lost a force for goodness this past week. Let’s continue where Mrs. Finkel left off.
Rabbi Steve Burg