We say about some people, “They were larger than life.”
What does that mean?
Some people live with their head in the Heavens. Their feet do very well in this world, but their soul is in the eternal world. Their perspective is different from the perspective of ordinary people, and their ego is sublimated. They live with the understanding of their place in the infinite universe presided over by the King of Kings.
Rebbetzin Shifrah Jungreis died on Shabbos Rosh Chodesh Nissan.
I do not think it is an exaggeration to say that she was larger than life. You probably have not heard much about her because she was extremely humble and modest in her behavior. She was petite; she did not intrude herself on you. In certain ways her life was ordinary; she was raised in religious neighborhoods in New York City and never experienced the Holocaust.
But in other ways she was way up there, out of reach of the rest of us.
She was never well. She suffered from serious medical issues which would have stopped or slowed the vast majority of people. But nothing ever stopped Rebbetzin Shifrah Jungreis. Nothing! She just plowed ahead with her prodigious agenda.
The other thing I want to mention was her brainpower. She was so bright that your jaw could drop. At Stern College, she was the head of the “College Bowl” team for Yeshiva University. That was (please excuse the expression) a television show maybe fifty years ago on which (mostly non-Jewish) colleges competed, answering questions posed by the TV host. Yeshiva University won for weeks in a row and she was the captain.
Rebbetzin Shifrah knew everything.
You think I’m exaggerating? She could read a large newspaper in a few minutes and tell you every word that was in the paper. And she did not forget. I saw her in the hospital a few months ago and overheard her conversing with the doctor. She knew as much about her medications as he did, maybe more. In her quiet way, she was as brilliant as the sun.
And for what did she use that prodigious brain? For Torah. She was the Principal of Yeshiva Ateres Yisroel in Canarsie, Brooklyn, the Yeshiva founded by her parents-in-law, the late Rabbi Avraham ha Levi and Rebbetzin Miriam Jungreis, who were also the parents of Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis of blessed memory. I worked with her there for twelve years.
She nurtured hundreds of Jewish children who were from “nowhere” in Jewishness. She gave them lives. She never forgot a single child and she kept up with them forever. She labored from morning until night in the vineyards of Torah, always smiling, always encouraging, always wise, always calm. She never veered off course; she was like a ship that ran by the stars; she always knew where she was going.
She died on Shabbos, Rosh Chodesh Nissan. That tells you something. I guarantee you there was a thunderous chorus in Heaven when her soul arrived. They sang Hallel for her! They made a parade that stretched across the universe. She got a welcome that could make us all envious. And I can see her looking down, not believing it had anything to do with her. But it was all about her!
She was small, but she was so big. She was quiet, but she was majestic. She lived for Torah and that is what it is all about. May she eternally enjoy the reward of her totally-dedicated life!