Selling the chametz

Up until the time of the selling of the chametz, it was still possible to speak with my husband about all matters concerning the eve of Passover. But everything was permeated with concern that perhaps he had not done everything necessary absolutely to nullify the chametz.

The process of drawing up the deed of sale then started. The gentile to whom the chametz was sold arrived with a distinct air of self-importance—in a single day, he would become the proprietor of all the businesses in town…

So that the sale should not appear superficial, performed perforce just to fulfill the obligation, my husband closeted himself with the gentile in his study, and no one else was allowed to enter. He translated for him the entire deed of sale into Russian, a language my husband knew well, without omitting a single chametz item listed in the deed, including in any cargo carried on ships on the high seas that were en route to our city. The main item that interested the gentile was all the sizeable vodka and wine businesses—with which he felt particularly close.

My husband’s seriousness so overawed the gentile that he would sit in dread and keep repeating, “I’ll allow no one into the businesses until your last night after Passover. Even if someone offers a large sum of money, I’m the owner! Yes, yes, Rabbi, I know it all.” He would perform all the formal acts required and leave with a most serious demeanor.

Once, I remember, a grandson of R. Bere-Volf1 visited us, as he often did. By then he was the director of a factory and had become somewhat distant from the more observant Jewish community. On that occasion, he begged my husband to allow him to be present in his study while he negotiated with the gentile. He remained sitting there for several hours and, upon emerging, was very pale, with perspiration running down his brow—such was the atmosphere pervading the room.

After concluding the sale, my husband would breathe more easily, as one does after the most strenuous work.

The Seder night

Then preparations started for Yom Tov. My husband invested so much “soul” and passion into every detail relating to this that it permeated our entire home and was felt by everyone present.

Participating in our Seder was our family, along with guests. The Seder took a long time. Our children were still at home, and the guests, too, were at a level that my husband could engage them in lively discussion.

Late at night, when the Seder was over, my husband closeted himself in his study to recite Shir Hashirim (the Song of Songs).2 His loud weeping could be heard from his study, the sort weeping of which few are capable and which is most difficult to describe.

I remember how two guests once listened to his recitation of Shir Hashirim from outside his door. One told me he had never heard anything like it and would never forget the experience. The other remarked that even if my husband repeated this for two more nights, he wouldn’t tire of listening to him.

Birthday Memories

Iyar [5710 (1950)]:

It was recently our youngest son’s3 birthday. This reminded me of a certain period of his father’s life.

It was the eighth year that we were living in the home of my parents,4 who supported us while my husband studied Torah full-time.5 The time had come to think about seeking a source of livelihood. Meanwhile, although my husband was indeed preparing to “enter the material world” and accept some obligation for his livelihood, he was still immersed in his studies and the writing of his Torah insights.

My father, who supported us, was not a wealthy man. He was a Rav, about whose love of fellow Jews and his fine character qualities one could write so much. He truly exemplified “mine is yours, and yours is yours.”6

הרב מאיר שלמה ינובסקי
הרב מאיר שלמה ינובסקי

I recall that as soon as he would receive his monthly salary as a Rav, he immediately made a reckoning of how much he needed for his sisters, brother-in-law and brother. There was always someone who needed assistance. First he deducted what had to be given to them, leaving only a small portion for his family.7 Consequently, it was always necessary to obtain loans to cover our family’s expenses for the month. That was how my father conducted all facets of his life.

In any case, it became difficult for my husband to remain without some independent source of livelihood. It was necessary to consider seeking a position as a Rav. He was offered a rabbinic position in a certain city, but to be accepted there he needed a diploma equivalent to five years of college study.

He spent several months studying Russian, intoning what he studied with the same tune traditionally used for Talmud study, but he was deeply upset to be spending time on this.

The examinations were to be held in Kiev. He traveled there and arranged for board and lodging. Upon arriving, however, at the examination commission, he saw that the curriculum required study of Old Church Slavonic8 and knowledge of the Christian scriptures. He didn’t even register for the examinations, and left town that same night for home, arriving on the day of our son’s brit.