The Secret of the Alter Rebbe's Greatness
Rabbi Yehoishophot Oliver
The chassidim once asked the Maharil, Reb Yehuda Leib of Yanovitch, the brother of the Alter Rebbe, “Why did your parents merit children of such great stature in Torah—first the Alter Rebbe, then you, and then your brothers Reb Mordechai and Reb Moishe?”When the Alter Rebbe’s mother, the Rebbetzin Rivka, saw that her children’s teacher was lacking enthusiasm, she was so concerned that this might detract from the enthusiasm of her children for their studies that she eagerly gave away an expensive garment that she had received as a gift from her husband in order ensure that her children would maintain their studies at the highest level.
Reb Yehuda Leib answered: “This was all in the merit of our mother, who was a fine Jewish woman, with the qualities of love of Torah, and fear of Heaven. Here is an example of her good, upstanding deeds:
“Our father, Reb Boruch, was a businessman. Once his business travels required him to travel out of Russia and remain there for a while. When he returned home, he brought our mother a gift known as a ratanda [a certain kind of upper garment that was very costly]. After some time passed, my mother sensed worry and dejection on the face of the teacher who would teach us in our house. She discovered that he was not teaching us in a lively, enthusiastic manner, as he always would.
“My mother asked the teacher, ‘Why aren’t you teaching my sons with liveliness and joy? What is worrying you?’ The teacher responded, ‘My wife has been tormenting me lately, complaining to me, “See, Reb Boruch brought his wife a ratanda as a gift—why don’t you bring me gifts?”’ My mother immediately went to the cupboard, took out the ratanda, and gave it to the teacher, saying, ‘Give this to your wife so that she will no longer give you a hard time with her complaints. The main thing is that you shouldn’t be troubled, and you should be able to learn with my sons with liveliness and joy.’”
Reshimos Devorim, Vol. 1, p. 73.
It is noteworthy that although the Maharil’s father Reb Boruch was a great Torah scholar, and in fact one of the hidden Tzaddikim, as explained in the writings of the Previous Rebbe, the Maharil did not attribute the greatness of Reb Boruch’s progeny to the scholarship and diligent study of their father, but to the love of Torah and self-sacrifice for Torah exhibited by their mother. Thus, this story demonstrates how the key role in imbuing love of Torah within children lies in the hands of the mother.