A Holy Woman's Power
How can someone so great be so humble?
The Kramers' adopted daughter Miriam married young and gave birth to two daughters. Then, despite Miriam's yearning and the Kramers' blessings, Miriam did not get pregnant again. Six long years passed. One day, Miriam heard a knock on her door. She opened it to find a young woman bearing a note from Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer. The note read: "If you help this girl I'm sending you to find a match, I promise you that you will have another child."
Of course, Miriam exerted herself to find the young woman a husband. She succeeded in arranging a match for her with a fine young man. At the wedding, Miriam was three months pregnant. Six months later, she gave birth to a healthy son.
The year before the Kramers moved to Jerusalem was a very bad year for agriculture. Yossi Shtiglitz, who farmed both his own plot and the Kramers' plot, was talking to Reb Yaakov Moshe about his dire financial plight when he started to cry. Reb Yaakov Moshe encouraged him, "Don't worry. It will be good this year. Everything will be okay."
How could everything be okay? Yossi wondered. Onions, for example, were selling for almost nothing. It wasn't even worth taking them to market. Yossi put his whole onion crop in storage beneath his house. Then, two weeks later, "it was unbelievable!" Yossi exclaims. "Suddenly there were no onions in the whole country. I sold my onions for five times the usual price."
Just as the Kramers' blessings were diverse, so were the ways in which they gave them.
The Kramers blessed people in sundry ways: to get married, to have children, to be healed from serious or minor illnesses, and to be delivered from financial straits. No Jew's concern was too trifling for the Kramers' blessing.
A woman from Migdal HaEmek came for a blessing that she succeed in getting her driver's license. A family from Beit Shaen sought a blessing that their daughter's hair stop falling out. A resident of Kfar Gidon, summoned for an audit, got a blessing that he would find favor in the eyes of the tax authorities.
Just as the Kramers' blessings were diverse, so were the ways in which they gave them. Sometimes they gave a blessing with no conditions attached. Sometimes, they gave the petitioners an addressed envelope and asked them to send charity to a person in need. At still other times, they recommended a spiritual tikkun [fixing], such as reciting particular psalms.
Often the blessing was accompanied by an exact time frame for its fulfillment. One Pesach, when Kfar Gidon resident Ani Kalfa's daughter Dafne had been married a year without conceiving, she asked Chaya Sara for a blessing. The Rebbetzin blessed her, and added that next year at this time Dafne would visit her and tell her that she was pregnant. The following Pesach, Dafne came, bearing the happy news.
The Talmud asserts: "The tzaddik decrees, and God fulfills." But a closer examination of the blessings conferred by the Kramers reveals layer upon layer of mystery. What was the difference between when they blessed and when they promised? Did the actualization of the blessing come by fiat or as a result of heartfelt, tear-soaked prayers later that night? Did they have the power to affect heavenly decrees, or only the spiritual vision to see the decrees before they materialized in the physical realm?
Many of the stories would support the latter thesis that they saw, but did not cause, the blessing's descent. For example, a Hasidic woman in England had been waiting nine years for her husband to grant her a divorce. One day, the day before Rosh Chodesh Adar, the woman phoned Rebbetzin Chaya Sara and poured out her heart. The Rebbetzin told her, "Before Rosh Chodesh Adar, you'll have your divorce." That afternoon, much to her own amazement, the woman received her divorce document. Clearly, Rebbetzin Chaya Sara had the preternatural ability to see the document en route, although her power did not dispatch it.
Another time, a few days before the Hebrew month of Cheshvon, a woman called Rebbetzin Chaya Sara and told her that her son, who had been involved in shidduchim for some time, had not yet succeeded in finding a match. The Rebbetzin replied, "He'll be engaged during the month of Cheshvon." The woman thought this was highly unlikely, because no new shidduchim were even on the horizon. As it happened, her son had been involved in a shidduch that had terminated. In the beginning of the month of Cheshvon, that shidduch resumed, and by the end of the month, they were engaged.
Did the Kramers' blessing bring about the desired result or simply forecast what was already fated to occur?
Did the Kramers' blessing bring about the desired result or simply forecast what was already fated to occur? The question dances around story after story. One man who had lost his job called Rebbetzin Chaya Sara and begged for a blessing for livelihood. She told him, "Don't worry. You'll get something much better, with double pay." Two days later, the man called her with the good news that he had found a new job. Moreover, the salary was exactly double what he had been earning before.
In the mid-1980s, when Rav Yaakov Moshe was staying in London, a Gerer Hasid named Feldman accompanied by his five-year-old daughter Chaya came to him for a blessing. Rav Yaakov Moshe gave the blessing, then looked at Chaya and inquired, "Does she speak Yiddish?"
"No," was Mr. Feldman's reply.
"Teach it to her," Yaakov Moshe charged, "because she'll need it when she gets married."
Over the next fifteen years, Chaya's parents occasionally made a point of speaking Yiddish to her at the Shabbos table, but more often than not, they reverted to English. When the time for shidduchim arrived, several British boys were suggested, but those matches proved fruitless. Then one day, a respected matchmaker called with an ideal match, a Swiss boy. The first question the matchmaker asked was: "Does she speak Yiddish?"
Mrs. Feldman falteringly replied, "A little."
Neither the boy nor his parents understood English, but Chaya managed to speak to all of them in a credible Yiddish. "Thank God, they are happily married," Ruth Feldman recalls, "but had I answered ‘no' to the Yiddish question, there would have been no match."
The implications of this tale are mind-boggling: that Rav Yaakov Moshe could look at a person and know her entire destiny. And in this case, glimpsing her destiny apparently changed her destiny. Had Chaya's father not happened to bring her along to meet the visiting tzaddik, she ostensively would not have learned Yiddish and would not have married her Yiddish-speaking bridegroom.
From a myriad of accounts, the Kramers could see the future the way the rest of us see what's happening in front of our eyes. And yet, there were clearly occasions when the Kramers' blessings not only perceived, but also reshaped reality. Zev Shtiglitz recalls the time in 1984 when he was summoned by the local tax authorities for an audit. Such audits were the nightmare of every citizen, as one was required to bring his books from the last five years, which were scrutinized so rigorously that virtually no one escaped unscathed. The head of the tax office near Kfar Gidon had a particularly sadistic reputation. He would notify one of the religious members of the Kfar just before Shabbat that he had to bring his books in on Sunday morning, and when the exhausted, harried citizen appeared, the tax officer would smirk and ask, "Well, how was your Shabbat?"
Zev Shtiglitz used to ask Reb Yaakov Moshe for blessings for everything in his life, and this fearsome appointment with the tax authority was no exception. Reb Yaakov Moshe blessed Zev that he should "find favor in the eyes of the people in the tax office." The blessing seemed impossible, because no one, especially no religious man, ever escaped censure and a costly fine from this particular tax officer.
In trepidation, Zev entered the office, and put his ledgers down on the table. The intimidating officer opened one, inspected it closely, and then asked, "Who wrote this?"
"I did," Zev answered meekly.
"Do you know what graphology is?" the officer asked him.
"Yes, it's the study of a person's handwriting," Zev offered.
"Well, I'm an expert graphologist," the officer declared, "and I can see from your handwriting that you're an honest man." With that, he closed the book and dismissed the stunned Zev. The tax authorities never bothered him again.
No one familiar with the Israeli income tax authorities would attribute this encounter to anything less than a miraculous manipulation of reality.
Yet, even if we grant that the Kramers could reshape reality, a deeper question lingers: Was it the tzaddik's blessing or the petitioner's faith in the blessing that worked the miracle?
Once a distraught woman phoned from Toronto to tell Rebbetzin Chaya Sara that the doctors had discovered a cancerous lump. "There's nothing there," insisted the Rebbetzin. "Don't be fearful. Just ignore the whole thing."
"No," the woman protested, "they really found something. If I ignore it, it'll grow."
"I'm telling you," the Rebbetzin asserted, "that there's nothing there. But if you don't believe me, do this: Go to a different clinic in a different city and ask them to do the same test. Just don't tell them that the doctors in Toronto found a lump."
The woman followed the Rebbetzin's instructions. She went to Sloan-Kettering in New York and repeated the test, without mentioning the previous finding. Afterward, the radiologist informed her that the test came out negative; she was clean. At that point she burst out: "Are you sure? In Toronto they found a lump!"
"In Toronto they found a lump?" the radiologist queried. "Then we have to redo the test." The second test indeed revealed a lump.
The woman phoned Rebbetzin Chaya Sara and told her what had transpired. The Rebbetzin again contended that there was nothing there. "Go to a third clinic, do the test again, and this time don't mention that anyone found a lump."
The woman complied. At the third clinic, the test came out clean. The woman relaxed, went home to Toronto, and, the last time I inquired, which was some four years later, she was still healthy.
The realm of supernatural powers corrupts many of those who tread its precincts. The ego is quick to usurp the credit for wonders worked, for blessings actualized, for preternatural powers unavailable to the common run. Perhaps the most miraculous feat performed by the miracle-worker Chaya Sara Kramer is her retention of pure humility.
While her husband lived, Chaya Sara deflected credit from herself by ricocheting all praise toward him. When asked for a blessing, she would say, "I'm nothing, I'm like the peel of a garlic. Go ask my husband."
Chaya Sara's humility pervaded all her interactions with people.
Rav Yaakov Moshe, in turn, sometimes told people, "Don't go to me. Go to my wife. She has the power."
Yet humility is not simply a verbal disavowal of credit. Chaya Sara's humility pervaded all her interactions with people. Her total accessibility, her down-to-earth humor, her respect for every visitor, young and old,—all her interactions exuded the humility of one who genuinely did not consider herself superior to anyone.
Where did her humility issue from? Certainly she was aware that not everyone could dispense blessings and see them fulfilled. A clear look at herself would have registered that she wielded powers that others lacked.
The secret of her humility is that she did not look at herself at all. She looked at the Almighty. Compared to His infinite vastness, she and all other human beings were indeed minuscule. Just as people differ in height, with some being considerably taller than others, but all people are small compared to a skyscraper, so her spiritual superiority over others faded into insignificance compared to the vastness of God, the constant object of her focus.
The awareness that everything comes from God is a choice available to all of us. True humility does not result from discounting or ignoring our strengths, but from acknowledging their Divine Source. Talents, intelligence, personality, and business acumen are—like preternatural powers—a Divine gift. To convince ourselves (never mind others) that our gifts come through us but not from us is a disposition of mind that we can choose. The more we focus on God as the source of our strengths, the more humble we will become.
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