Introduction: The Inner Road to Shalom Bayis
My fateful Meeting with rav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, and his Rebbetzin:
On rare occasions in our lives, we find ourselves in the presence of a married couple whose very being enables us to sense that they have cultivated a life of marital love and closeness. It is not that we are taken in by the superficial trappings of their lives — whether financial prosperity, a high lifestyle or even their attempts to demonstrate their love and affection for each other. Rather, the signs are more subtle and gentle — almost imperceptible. One such couple that I encountered, albeit briefly, was Rav Simcha Wasserman, zt”l, and his rebbetzin, a”h. It was in 1989, when my family and I were living in Israel.
At that time, we were faced with a serious family dilemma that required a decision as to whether to return to the United States for treatment or remain in Israel and obtain care there. Seek- ing guidance from da’as Torah, I approached no less than six gedolim, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, and Dayan Fischer, zt”l. One of the last individuals I approached was Rav Simcha Wasserman. At that time, he lived on Rechov Panim Me’iros in the Mattersdorf section of Yerushalayim. I was introduced by a close friend and chavrusa, a talmid of Rav Simcha, who assured me that Rav Simcha was an individual from whom I could receive clear guidance.
We entered the small apartment and stood in front of Rav Simcha, his wife and a few young men, all in their late twenties. Rav Simcha appeared to be in his mid-seventies at the time; in fact, he was older.
As I explained the nature of the medical issue, Rav Simcha listened intently to each word. After a few moments of thoughtful silence, he responded that when he was a young boy living in Baranovich, he had a severe oral infection and required the services of a dentist. It was erev Shabbos, and he needed to know: Should he leave for Warsaw immediately or wait until motza’ei Shabbos?
He approached his father, the Gaon Rav Elchanan Wasserman, zt”l, one of the leaders of European Torah Jewry, for help in reaching a decision. His father informed him that since it was a health issue, he should set out for Warsaw immediately, not withstanding the proximity to Shabbos. Rav Simcha then looked at me — sensing my ambiva- lence about leaving Israel — and very unequivocally said, “I tell you the same thing that my father told me: Leave for Warsaw (the United States) immediately.” His response was very direct and proved to be correct in many ways.
The reason I am relating this story is not for the purpose of repeating the advice that Rav Simcha gave, but rather to portray another dimension of his life that I witnessed as he offered this advice.
As Rav Simcha spoke, his wife was listening intently to every word. She was not simply listening; she was literally living within his words, moving her lips as she silently repeated every syllable her husband uttered. At first I was puzzled by her behavior. Then I looked at her eyes and expression and I realized that her lip
movements were an almost unconscious sign of the adoration, respect and deep affection she felt for her husband. I understood that to her, the thoughts her husband was sharing with me seemed like an incredibly wise and beautiful poem. She was repeating the words because for her, after all the years of their marriage, they still evoked a sense of wonder.
For me, it took the experiences of the next few months, and even years, to understand just how wise his words were. Yet the rebbetzin believed in their wisdom because of everything she understood about her husband, based on their relationship that must have begun more than fifty years earlier.
As we left, I turned to my friend and thanked him. My decision to leave for America was now clear. But I also remarked about what I had just seen. I told him, “Chaim, I have been working with couples for many years and have come to know many marital relationships, both personally and professionally, but I don’t believe I have ever seen a marriage so filled with respect and adoration as the one I just witnessed.”
“Yes,” he responded. “It’s known that Rav Simcha and the rebbetzin are very close.”
“And who were the young men? Were they their children?”
“No,” Chaim replied. “They never had children.”
At first I was taken aback. I understood that Rav Simcha had been one of the premier Jewish educators in the United States before leaving for Israel. And even when he arrived in Israel after retiring from his yeshivah, he went on to build yet another great Torah institution in Yerushalayim. I realized that perhaps thousands of young students had passed through the lives of Rav Simcha and his rebbetzin and gone on to build families of their own. But the couple I just saw never had their own child. In a moment, I understood how difficult it must have been for them to care for the children of others and never be blessed with their own.
Then I also realized that all the years of expectation, hope, disappointment and pain must have been a critical factor in bringing the lives of these two individuals even closer together. I had never before seen a couple so caring and loving in their own quiet and gentle manner. There was an aura of inner peace between them, strengthened by all they had been through. I was seeing and witnessing the effects of this trial that had lasted for many years. For the first time in my personal life and career, I understood the meaning of how a husband and wife could, within themselves, be so peaceful and create a bond of profound depth and meaning.
A few years after our meeting, when I was already living in the United States, I sadly learned that Reb Simcha had died. I inquired about the rebbetzin and how she was coping with the tragic loss of her beloved husband. I was informed that just a few weeks after his death, she also passed away. I was not sur- prised. It confirmed all that I sensed about them during the brief, yet memorable, moments I had spent with them.
In the years that followed, I came to believe that the efforts I made to bring couples together were directly inspired by seeing how Rav Simcha and his rebbetzin shared their lives. My goal with couples is to guide them to achieve this quality of close- ness particularly in the earlier years of their marriage, when a home is filled with children and the promise of sharing many more years together. It is during these earlier years of marriage that there are countless opportunities to experience Hashem’s many blessings for shalom bayis, love and closeness. However, this work is also intended for couples in their later years yearning no less for the blessings of shalom bayis, love and closeness.