May 1, 2009


by Rabbi Dovid Sears

In my hometown of Norwich, Connecticut, I knew a kind and devout elderly woman named Mrs. Sarah Lang, whose father, Rabbi Yisrael Stamm, had been a respected scholar and posek there during the early 1900s. Like almost all the Jewish residents of Norwich (including the Sears family), Rabbi Stamm hailed from the town of Shat, Lithuania. Another “landsman” who was close to the Stamm family was a porush, or recluse, named Rabbi Yitzchok Luria. And like his sixteenth-century namesake, Rabbi Luria was a kabbalist, albeit in the “Litvishe” tradition. (He might have been related to Rabbi Dovid Luria, a close disciple of the Vilna Gaon and author of an important commentary on Pirkei Rabbi Eliezer, but that’s just speculation.)

Mrs. Lang told me that Rabbi Luria used to spend the entire week in a little shack on the grounds of a farm a few miles south of Norwich, near the New England shtet’l of Montville. On Shabbos he would join the Stamm family and accompany his friend Reb Yisrael to shul. She remembered with nostalgia how her father and his guest would exchange Torah thoughts on the weekly Torah portion. Then after Shacharis and Musaf, Rabbi Luria would go to the home of another talmid chokhom for the day meal; upon his return, while his hosts took an afternoon nap, he would sit quietly in the dining room and study for awhile. Then he would close his eyes and sing wordless melodies of awesome deveykus to Hashem until it was time for the Minchah prayer.

One Shabbos afternoon, though, the guest returned while the family was just beginning the main course. “Reb Yitzchok,” Rabbi Stamm exclaimed, “what happened that you’re back so soon? Is something wrong?”

A little embarrassed, the guest hemmed and hawed until finally he divulged his secret with one sentence: “The rebbetzin put a carrot in the chicken soup…”

I raised an eyebrow when Mrs. Lang said this – but with a mischievous look, she offered a commentary of her own on that cryptic remark. “In those days, there were all sorts of ‘isms’ in the Jewish world. And basically, there were those who didn’t change anything versus those who wanted to change this or that. My father and Rabbi Luria were in the first camp. And that carrot suddenly appearing in the soup was a sign that the other rabbi’s wife was moving away from tradition. So the guest was afraid of her kashrus altogether. My father understood his feelings and asked him to join us for the day meal, too. From that day on, every week he spent the entire Shabbos with our family.”

When I was sitting shiva for my father in Norwich, a relative named Lou Fox was reminiscing with us and Rabbi Luria’s name came up. It seems that when he passed away, Lou had helped settle his estate and take care of his burial, etc. He remembered him as an awesome individual, a man who was not of this world.