We'll Bring the Mashiach!
An Interview with Rebbetzin Wertzberger
By Debbie Shapiro
"We're changing the world! With shmiras halashon we'll bring the Mashiach." The quietly spoken words thunder across my living room. It's hard to imagine that the quintessential Yiddisher bubby sitting opposite me, dressed in a simple gray suit topped with a modest tichel, is a clandestine revolutionary. But with her potent weapons of emunah pshutah and passion for truth, she has created an international movement that is turning people's lives around.
Rebbetzin Wertzberger is the driving force behind Mishmeres Hashalom, the grassroots organization whose mission is to combat lashon horah and promote ahavas Yisrael worldwide. Its uniqueness lies in that it focuses almost exclusively on getting individuals – one by one – to learn the halachos of shmiras halashon on a daily basis. The organization's office, a small attic apartment on (I kid you not!)
Chafetz Chaim Street is where the Rebbetzin, together with her devoted staff, plan battle strategies and design innovative weapons to vanquish the ultimate enemy.
"Look at this!" Rebbetzin Wertzberger hands me a pile of colorful pamphlets. "Every month we distribute over seventy thousand magazines." The Rebbetzin's enthusiasm is contagious. In English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and even French, there are different magazines geared to women, children and kollel students. The Rebbetzin points to a letter that appears in the magazine, relating the story of a woman in her late forties who, after years of infertility, gave birth to a child less than a year after her neighbors dedicated their daily learning to her zechus. "We get letters like this every day! People don't realize the tremendous power of shmiras halashon!"
The sheer magnitude of the project is mind boggling: thousands of volunteers organizing tens of thousands of men, women and children to commit themselves to studying and keeping the laws of lashon horah. Monthly magazines and raffles, audio visual presentations, hundreds of meetings and rallies, Mishmeres Hashalom has produced a wealth of incentives and programs geared for all ages and all sectors of the Jewish world.
It all began twenty six years ago, when Rabbi Shalom Goldstein zt"l, the principal of Bais Yaakov,
, was combating cancer. "I was devastated," said Rebbetzin Wertzberger. "Rabbi Goldstein made a tremendous impact in my life and in the life of so many others. He literally changed the face of Detroit ! When I asked him what I could do to help him, he pointed to the sefer shmiras halashon lying on his bedside table. 'Do with this whatever you can,' he commanded me. I am still trying to fulfill his words. Detroit
"I left the hospital shaking from emotion. I realized that I had been given a mission, but I had no idea how to begin. So I just started, going door to door, asking the people in my community to purchase the sefer and, most important of all, to learn it. Eventually I organized shiurim and distributed circulars on the mitzvah of shmiras halashon.
"As people became aware of the halachos, all sorts of shailos came up. As a result, I started calling the Manchester Rav, Harav Segal, zt"l, on a regular basis. He encouraged me to continue, saying, 'Anyone who helps spread the importance of learning two halachos of shmiras halashon a day will see yeshuos in their lives.' Over the years I have witnessed the truth of his words over and over again." The Rebbetzin's final words were said with such emotion that I found myself shaking.
"Rabbi Goldstein passed away on 10 Adar, 1984. Less than a year later, my husband and I celebrated the birth of our second child, nine years after the birth of my older son. When I phoned the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva to inform him of our simchah, he responded, 'It is in the zechus of the Chafetz Chaim.'
"Four years later I experienced yet another yeshua. We had moved to
and were living on Jerusalem Chafetz Chaim Street. I desperately wanted another child, but the doctors told me that it was impossible. Prior to my moving to Israel I had visited and had asked the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva for a brachah. 'Do you still work to promote shmiras halashon?' he had asked. When I responded in the affirmative, he continued, 'Then the zechus of the Chafetz Chaim will continue to uphold you.' England
"I knew that shmiras halashon was my only hope, so I continued my avodas kodesh. Baruch Hashem despite the doctors' dire prediction, we had another child.
"Although I was active in promoting shmiras halashon, I was also a mother of small children with all the responsibilities that that entails. Then, nine and a half years ago, when my children had grown, a friend of mine said, 'Suri, we must do something concrete to get out of this galus; to bring the Mashiach.' So we hired a car with a loudspeaker and circled the different neighborhoods in
, urging people to guard their tongues, while also selling seforim on shmiras halashon at greatly reduced prices. We sold over a hundred seforim every night – translate that to mean over a hundred families studying the laws of shmiras halashon! Jerusalem
"Then Mrs. Jacobs of Monsey contacted me. Her concept seemed grandiose -- a massive worldwide movement to fight sinas chinam and spread the observance of shmiras halashon. But her ideas were practical and down to earth: building representatives -- don't forget, in
, dozens of families live in one apartment building -- who would sign up the women in her building to study two halachos a day and provide them with incentives such as monthly raffles and magazines. We launched our program at the annual shmiras halashon rally during the nine days and signed up several hundred women to act as building representatives. Israel
"We were a simple, grassroots organization – based in my son's bedroom -- with nothing more elaborate than a telephone and fax machine. But we were excited. We had -- and we still have -- a dream, and as a result of following that dream we have succeeded in making real inroads in people's lives.
Today, over 70,000 people are involved in the many different programs that are offered by Mishmeres Hashalom. Activities are coordinated with 3,700 volunteers, who hang eye-catching posters in buildings and distribute newsletters in four languages to families, shuls and kollels in communities across Eretz Yisrael. One school after another has asked to join the Mishmeres Hashalom school programs.
"A week after we launched our project at the shmiras halashon rally," Rebbetzin Wertzberger continues talking about the organization's beginning success, "we made a meeting in Beit Shemesh for thirty women, all whom desired to become building representatives and all whom, I later learned, longed for a child. These women were extremely devoted and put in tremendous effort into making sure that Beit Shemesh would be lashon horah free. Within the year, almost all of these women had become mothers!"
I can testify to the great work these women are doing! When I visit my children in Beit Shemesh I am always amazed to see the daily two halachos posted in the elevator.
"Mishmeres Hashalom's basic concept is simple," explains Rebbetzin Wertzberger. "The men, women and children in our different programs are given monthly planners and asked to make a check each day that they've learned the two daily halachos. At the end of the month they call our automated hotline to update the amount of days they learn thereby entering a raffle for valuable prizes. It's a daily injection of inspiration, and it works.
"See this sefer," Rebbetzin Wertzberger hands me a volume authored by a well known
posek Harav Hagaon Reb Menachem Mendel Fuchs shlita. "This is a collection of questions that were sent into our 'Ask the Rabbi' column. As people learn the halachos they come to realize that just as we ask a Rabbi our questions about kashrus, we must turn to a posek concerning questions about shmiras halashon. Jerusalem
"There have been so many stories; so many yeshuos. But even more impressive is the impact our program has had on people's lives. Returning from Meiron this last Lag B'Omer, the girl sitting next to me said, 'Rebbetzin Wertzberger, you cannot imagine the impact you've made on my life and on the lives of my family and friends.' When I asked her to explain, she continued, 'After you came to my school and spoke about the importance of shmiras halashon, the school implemented the Mishmeres Hashalom program. Now, instead of talking about people, my friends and I talk about ideas and things. It's so much more uplifting.'
"I phoned the girl's school principal to hear more. She explained, 'You can't imagine the revolution that Mishmeres Hashalom has made in our school. Everyone, from the secretaries to the talmidos to the teachers, is studying the halachos of shmiras halashon. The whole atmosphere has changed. We even noticed that the parents stopped phoning the office to complain about teachers and discovered that it was because the girls have stopped speaking lashon horah about their teachers!'
"I decided to phone the mother of the girl who had sat next to me on the bus. I wanted to hear if she noticed a difference. Her reaction floored me. 'When my daughter started keeping the halachos of shmiras halashon, I was embarrassed because I had never studied them and didn't know what I was allowed to say. So I joined the program. Now that we all keep the halachos of shmiras halashon, our conversations are much more positive and uplifting. The whole atmosphere at home has changed.'
"Last year I traveled to Bnei Brak to ask Rebbetzin Kenievsky for a brachah. I showed her a brochure about our organization, stating that thanks to our programs, every month 70,000 Jews worldwide study the halachos of shmiras halashon and try to keep them. The Rebbetzin pointed to that number and emphatically stated, 'This – shmiras halashon -- is what will bring the Mashiach!'
"The great rebbe, Rebbe Elimelech of Luzhensk, predicted that prior to the Messianic era, an increase in controversy and hatred will obstruct the flow of sustenance and brachah that Hashem bestows on His people. As a result of the tzuros, talmidei chachamim will try to unite Klal Yisrael. From the resulting peace will sprout the long-awaited geulah.
"It's as clear as day! Two hundred years ago the Rebbe foretold what is occurring today. People are losing their parnassah; the situation is becoming almost impossible. Yet we can make a difference. Yes, we have the solution! With shmiras halashon we can escape this bitter galus and bring about the ultimate redemption. This is the goal of Mishmeres Hashalom. That's what we're working for. Isn't that what we all really want?"