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“My Remarkable Mother-in-Law,” Rabbi Zecher’s Shabbat Awakenings

March 18, 2022 |  15 Adar II 5782

Welcome to Shabbat Awakenings as we make our way toward Shabbat.  You can listen to it as a podcast here.

As we come off of Purim and celebrate the bravery and tenacity of both Vashti and Esther and move into preparations for Passover whose story is propelled forward by Miriam, Yocheved, and the midwives, I want to devote some space here to a remarkable woman whose life meant a great deal to me. As many of you may know, my wonderful mother-in-law, Dorothy Eisenberg, died in the beginning of March. In her professional life as a Federal Bankruptcy Judge in New York and in her personal life as beloved mother to David and his three siblings, and inspiring grandmother to ten, affectionately known as Bubbe Dubbe, Dorothy was someone who made her way through life finding the good and the positive even in the face of tragedy. If you met her, you wouldn’t know that she was widowed at 37 or had to wait a year until she turned 21 to take the New York bar having already graduated law school.

She was unassuming in her presentation, yet strong, wise, and clear in her thinking. She told me that you can have it all, just not all at the same time. I believed her and knew she spoke from experience.

I am forever grateful that in marrying David, his mother was an important part of our lives.

There is a story in the Book of First Kings 3 about Solomon as he became king. It is a progression of life that speaks also of my mother-in-law, Dorothy.

In it Solomon dreamt that God spoke to him and granted the new king whatever he might desire. Solomon responded first by recognizing those who came before him.

He said, “You, God, dealt most graciously חֶ֣סֶד גָּדוֹל֒  with Your servant my father, because he walked before You in faithfulness and righteousness and in integrity of heart.  בֶּאֱמֶ֧ת וּבִצְדָקָ֛ה וּבְיִשְׁרַ֥ת לֵבָ֖ב

Dorothy embraced the world bequeathed to her by her parents. They imprinted on her faithfulness, righteousness and integrity of the heart. It blossomed into a steadfast loyalty to family guided by her heart. In Judaism, the heart and the mind are interconnected in the interplay of the mind’s work in thoughtfulness and genuine compassion as well as the seat of courage. This forms the definition of wisdom, a Dorothy Eisenberg kind of wisdom: heart in mind and mind in heart.

In the Biblical story, Solomon asked what the heart and mind are able to do: “Grant, then, Your servant an understanding mind to judge Your people, to distinguish between good and bad? לֵ֤ב שֹׁמֵ֙עַ֙ לִשְׁפֹּ֣ט”

This is exactly the way the Honorable Dorothy Eisenberg administered justice and righteousness. A lev shomea is a listening heart and a mind that pays attention.  She listened carefully to those who stood before her. She let you know you mattered. She told me that when she made a decision she explained exactly why. A listening heart and mind was quintessential Dorothy.

One summer, we had the chance to visit her courtroom. It felt regal and just like the movies. Our kids entered wide eyed. So did I. We have a picture of us standing around her on the platform where she sat. It shows all of us grinning from ear to ear with her smiling the most.

In remembering her, her colleagues and lifelong friends spoke of her in the similar way God granted to Solomon. Dorothy possessed a wise and discerning mind and heart.  לֵ֚ב חָכָ֣ם וְנָב֔וֹן  It was a gift and blessing lovingly offered and received.

I am a grateful beneficiary.

The story in First Kings ends with what I know we all believe is true.

God offered these words that also described our beloved Dorothy:

There has never been anyone like you before, nor will anyone like you arise again.

She was an inspiration and we all miss her dearly. Remembering this righteous woman is a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom. I pray it is a Shabbat that moves us closer to peace.

Connect with me here. I look forward to corresponding with you and to hearing your thoughts.

Shabbat Shalom!