Rabbi Chaim Halberstam of Sanz (1793–1876) was one of the great Hassidic rabbis of his generation, and a tremendous Torah scholar. He had 15 children, all of them holy, and many great and holy Jews among his descendants. When it came time to marry off his youngest daughter, Fraidel, thousands of his followers attended the wedding.
Weddings, of course, are expensive, especially large ones like Fraidel’s wedding. And Rabbi Chaim’s followers knew that if they gave money to their rabbi to help pay for the wedding, he would immediately give the money away to poor people and not use it for the wedding! His generosity and open heartedness knew no bounds. And so Rabbi Chaim’s followers organized the entire wedding themselves, and even bought the wedding dress for Fraidel, which they gave to her only a half an hour before the wedding – so that her father wouldn’t be able to give it away!
Just before the wedding began, Rabbi Chaim and his wife escorted their daughter Fraidel to the wedding hall. Suddenly, they heard a girl crying in one of the homes they were walking by. Rabbi Chaim immediately stopped and asked his attendant to go and see who was crying. The attendant found a teenage girl, around the same age as Fraidel, and brought her to Rabbi Chaim.
Rabbi Chaim asked her: “Dear, why are you crying?” The girl answered: “Rabbi, I’m also getting married today. But I’m so embarrassed – I’m poor, and I don’t have anything to wear to the wedding!” The rabbi saw that sadly, this girl was wearing an old, raggedy dress. He turned to his daughter, Fraydel, and said: “Do you hear, Fraydel? The prophet Isaiah says about God that “He dons righteousness as a coat of mail” (Isaiah 59:17) – that God is clothed in righteousness! My sweet Fraydel, instead of wearing human clothes, why not wear the clothing of righteousness, the clothing of God Himself?” Fraidel understood, and quickly walked into the nearby house with the poor girl, where they traded clothing. The poor girl put on the wedding dress and Fraidel put on the old, raggedy dress. And the wedding began.
The many thousands of people at Fraidel’s wedding later said that they had never seen a more beautiful bride, a bride dressed in the righteousness of God Himself…
This week, the Jews all over the world will read these powerful words:
“If, however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kinsmen in any of your settlements in the land that Hashem your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kinsman.” (Deuteronomy 15:7)
It’s so easy, in our busy lives, to be so fully immersed in our own joys and sufferings that we allow our hearts to become hardened to the pain of others. But Moses reminds us: “Do not harden your heart!” This was the verse that Rabbi Chaim of Sanz lived by, every moment of every day of his life.
But more than anything, what amazed me about this story is that Rabbi Chaim felt that he could ask his young daughter, on her wedding day, to give her wedding dress away! Fraidel must have absorbed so much kindness, righteousness and generosity from her parents that her father was confident his daughter could withstand such a test.
As parents and grandparents, we want our children to have whatever they need in life. We buy them every kind of clothing they could possibly want. And this is wonderful; it is our joy! But we must also give them another gift, a different kind of clothing – the clothing of righteousness and generosity, the clothing Rabbi Chaim gave his holy daughter Fraidel.
May we merit to give our children the clothing of righteousness!