This eulogy was delivered at the funeral of Mrs. Toby Rabinowitz (Bubby), beloved wife of Rabbi Jacob Rabinowitz, by her grandson, Nathan Safran. Mrs. Rabinowitz was the mother of Fayge Safran-Novogroder of Teaneck, Rabbi Baruch Rabinowitz of Brooklyn, Rabbi Yosef Rabinowitz (deceased), Dovid Rabinowitz of Brooklyn, and Mrs. Esti Shulman of Brooklyn. She is survived by numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren across the New York area.
I want to talk to you today about agriculture. It’s only natural that we take for granted how hard it is to actually grow something. Part of the change after Gan Eden was b’zeiat apecha tochal lechem, by the sweat of your brow will you grow bread, which means actually growing something has become a delicate balance and conditions must be perfect. The amount of rain must be just so, the sunlight has to be right, the soil conditions must be conducive to growth, the insects must be managed, and diseases that threaten plants must be considered. It truly is by the sweat of your brow will you eat bread.
It will come as no surprise to us that the parsha we read this past Shabbat was the story of Yaakov looking for a wife. We can imagine the state of mind that Yaakov might have been in. His forefathers had begun down a path that was profoundly different from the idol worshippers of his time. They had discovered God, and not just any God: a God of kindness and goodness.
They had succeeded in finding the perfect spouse for themselves and had raised children of pure holiness. They had passed every test given to them and had set up the next generation to succeed.
Now the baton had passed to Yaakov. He was charged with finding the right spouse, no small task in that day and age. There was no jdate.com or Saw You at Sinai. In fact, the odds of finding someone who could continue the legacy his forefathers had begun were astronomically stacked against him. Where Eliezer had handled this task for his father, Yaakov was meant to accomplish this himself. It’s reasonable to imagine that Yaakov was filled with fear and trepidation at his ability to achieve this and live up to the legacy of his father and grandfather.
In describing this journey, the Torah tells us that Yaakov came to the land of Lavan and he came across a well covered by a large stone. He asked the shepherds there why they were not watering the sheep and they explained that it was because they need multiple shepherds to roll the stone off the water. In that moment Rachel came up with her father’s sheep. We all know what happened next.
Vayehi ka’asher ra’ah Yaakov et Rachel bat Lavan achi imo, v’et tzon Lavan achi imo, vayigash Yaakov vayagel et ha’even me’al pi habe’er vayeshk et tzon Lavan achi imo.
And it was when Yaakov saw Rachel, the daughter of Lavan, the brother of his mother, and the sheep of Lavan the brother of his mother, and Yaakov came close and he removed the stone from the mouth of the well and he watered the sheep of Lavan, his mother’s brother.
Vayishak Yaakov leRachel vayisa et kolo vayeivch.
And he kissed Rachel and he raised his voice and he wept.
So what happened to Yaakov?
Perhaps in that moment, with the weight of the next generations on his shoulders, with the odds so profoundly stacked against him, and knowing he could not possibly ensure the continuity of the next generation by himself, that he could not access the Torah of his father and grandfather on his own, he took one look at Rachel and perceived deeply with his primary middah of truth that there was in fact a partner for him. That there was an individual with whom he could nurture the plants and grow them into trees that bear fruit.
This is why the first thing that he did was to roll the stone off the well, to access the water. The Torah—which we all know is signified by water—of his father and grandfather was now accessible to him because he was now in the presence of his partner and enabler.
Knowing who Bubby was and the kind of person she was, perhaps our beloved Zeidy experienced something similar in a deep way when he first met Bubby—a recognition that he had found his partner, whether he had the same awareness of the experience that Yaakov did or not.
Perhaps he too was burdened with the question of how he would continue the generations and ensure a path that followed in the footsteps of his namesake, Yaakov. Perhaps he found Bubby and he too figuratively rolled the stone off the well to access the Torah of his father and grandfather stretching all the way back in time.
So Bubby, we say to you, like Rachel Imeinu, you are the enabler that facilitated access to this Torah. Without you none of the Torah of the generations could exist, all of the Torah that Zeidy was able to share in the world, whether through YU or other means, it only exists because of you.
You were the grower of the plants and the trees, you ensured that the sunlight was right, that they were watered and cared for, that the soil conditions were right, that the insects and the pestilence stayed away. You are responsible for the thriving gardens in Brooklyn, in Fair Lawn, in Lakewood, in Teaneck, in Israel, in Woodmere and in Far Rockaway.
So, we can imagine now that as Bubby is welcomed home and as, perhaps the connection to the guf begins to fall away, Zeidy and Uncle Sefy are taking pleasure in showing her the breadth and depth of her accomplishments. They are showing her the incredible gardens that she has cultivated and the amazing success she has had in ensuring the continuity of the generations that walk in the way of Hashem. (Can’t you just hear her saying when she gets a first look at the gardens, in that way she had, “Oh, my”?)
And I’m sure Uncle Sefy is thinking of new ways to play tricks on her too, such as a mouse in a cabinet.
So I know that I speak for my siblings and all of my wonderful cousins in saying “thank you, Bubby” for all of the loving care and attention you showed to us, for being the caregiver to our gardens, for being the perfect enabler and other half to Zeidy, to help us get our start in life and to learn, by watching you, just how to nurture our own gardens.
You will always be with us, Bubby, and we wish for you an eternity of peace together with Zeidy and Uncle Sefy.
The author can be reached at: [email protected]
By Nathan Safran