A Great Woman

Introduction: I just heard that the people of Tsfas, a city in the north of Israel, were once again ordered into bomb shelters. Rockets launched from towns and villages in southern Lebanon continue to hit Jewish towns and villages in the northern section of Israel, and some have already hit places close to the central region. The current war started with the attack on our people at the beginning of the three-week mourning period for the unifying Holy Temple which was destroyed. During this mourning period, we recall all the suffering of the ongoing exile, including the suffering of the current war, and we yearn for the messianic age of universal enlightenment which will bring shalom to all peoples.
Even before this war began, there was a steady campaign of hatred against the Jewish people in the government-sponsored media of certain Muslim countries. This hatred was reinforced by vitriolic anti-Jewish sermons and teachings in many mosques and Muslim schools, including some mosques and schools in North America. As the Washington Post reported in a major story which we cited in a previous series, some American Muslim schools are offering teachings which encourage their students to hate and kill Jews. We were reminded of these dark forces of hatred when we heard the recent report about the Muslim man who shot five women who were working in the Jewish Federation building in the North American city of Seattle. The murderer told the police that he was targeting Jews. One woman was killed, and three are critically wounded. 
During this period of increasing darkness, we must strive to increase light, and in this letter, we shall connect to the light that a great Jewish woman brought into the world:


Dear Friends,
Today is the 5th of Av. This day is the anniversary of the passing of the great kabbalist, the Holy Ari, who taught Torah in the city of Tsfas. It is also the anniversary of the murder of a great Jewish woman, Rebbitzen Nechama Liba, who was a respected teacher of "musar" - Torah teachings regarding ethics and personality refinement. Her father was Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv - the Alter of Kelm - who headed the musar yeshiva known as "the Talmud Torah of Kelm." Noted musar teachers such as Rabbi Yerucham Levovitz, Rabbi Elya Lopian, and Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein visited her regularly once a week to hear her insights on how to live one's life with faith and trust in the Creator.


Her husband was Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Braude, who later became head of the Talmud Torah of Kelm. Both he and his wife were very devoted to the yeshiva - one which was rich in spirit, but poor in funds. Rebbitzen Nechama Liba therefore managed a store for boots and galoshes which she and her husband owned, and from which they earned a living. When she wasn't busy with customers, she would study works of musar. Her nephew, Reb Nochum Velvel Dessler, helped her with the customers. Periodically, she would ask Reb Nochum Velvel how much they had earned that week. As soon as she reached a predetermined sum which would meet their minimum needs, she would immediately close the store, telling her nephew: "The other store owners (who were selling similar products) also have to earn a living." She had faith and trust in the One Who provides sustenance to all life, and she did not want to prosper at the expense of others.


During World War Two, the revered Nechama Liba was already old in years, and the following story concerning the last day of her life is told by a student of the Talmud Torah of Kelm who survived the Holocaust:


When the Germans invaded Lithuania, they asked the Lithuanians to assist them in rounding up the Jews. The majority of Lithuanians responded with enthusiasm, and they volunteered to help with the slaughter of the local Jewish population. Kelm was no exception. When the Lithuanians came to the place where most of the Jews - including the students of the Talmud Torah - had been gathered, they had already savagely murdered a number of Jews in Kelm. The Jews were ordered to march to the town square on the morning of the 5th of Av. From the looks on the faces of the Lithuanians that morning, their victims had few doubts as to what lay in store for them. But as they marched at gunpoint, the students of the Talmud Torah sang and danced as if it were "Simchas Torah" - the Festival of Rejoicing for the Torah. Although they knew that their physical lives would soon end, they also knew that the life-affirming teachings of Torah would endure and that their souls would live. They were therefore enraptured in the songs they had sung so often - "Vetaher libeinu l'ovdecha b'emes" (Purify our hearts to serve you in truth), and "Ashreinu ma tov chelkeinu" (How fortunate are we, how good is our lot). Held high on a chair was the Alter's daughter, Rebbetzin Nechama Liba, whom they carried just as if she were a sefer Torah - Torah Scroll. After the Jews were murdered, the local Lithuanians had a feast to celebrate, and they ordered the few Jewish survivors to serve as as "waiters" during the feast.


The Talmud (Brochos 18a-b) teaches that there are righteous people who in their death are called "living," and that there are wicked people who in their lifetime are called "dead." The murderers of the Jews were already "dead" in their lifetime, while the martyrs of Kelm are still living. They and their ideals are alive in our hearts and minds, and their souls are bound  in the eternal "Bond of Life"!



Yosef Ben Shlomo Hakohen  (See below)


The information about Rebbitzen Nechama Liba is taken from "Rav Dessler" - a well-written and inspiring biography of Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler. He was a great musar teacher of the previous generation who studied in the Talmud Torah of Kelm. The author of this biography is Jonathan Rosenblum, and the publisher is ArtScroll:



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