Sara Yoheved is the author of four bestselling books, which have gone through multiple printings, as well as a new book, released just this week, Heavenprints. She is also a highly-acclaimed international lecturer who galvanizes her audiences into making real improvements in their lives. She has spoken in Israel, England, Canada, South Africa, France, Mexico, and over 35 American cities.
My interview with Sara Yoheved Rigler, who has changed the lives of thousands of women and girls with her books and acclaimed workshops, is finally scheduled for the week before Shavuos, after multiple emails back and forth. When we finally speak at 2 p.m. my time, 9 p.m. in Yerushalayim, the first question I ask Sara Yoheved is about her bestselling book, Holy Woman, now in its ninth printing.
Holy Woman is the story of Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer, who lived in Kfar Gideon with her saintly husband, Rav Yaakov Moshe Kramer. I have read Holy Women multiple times and am awed by the Rebbetzin’s courage and faith through a life permeated with childlessness, poverty, and extreme isolation.
“When is this article being published?” asks Mrs. Rigler. When I explain that I hope to have it in time for the Shavuos edition, she declares that is was true Hashgachah, as Rebbetzin Kramer’s tenth yahrtzeit is during the week before Shavuos, on the third of Sivan. Since she left no progeny, many women who were inspired by the book light a candle and do mitzvos in her memory.
“When and how did you become acquainted with Rebbetzin Kramer?” I ask.
Mrs. Rigler explains, “I had just come to Eretz Yisroel in 1985 and became a baalas teshuvah after many years of searching for truth and meaning. I was living in Yerushalayim, trying to navigate my way through a brand new existence, when someone asked me to write a chapter on holy women in Eretz Yisroel for a book in the process of being put together. I started to ask people for leads, and someone told me, ‘You can’t write anything about holy women in Eretz Yisroel without meeting Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer.’ I heard that she lived in Kfar Gideon, a remote village in the Jezreel Valley, and decided to go meet her.
“I made arrangements to spend Shabbos in Kfar Gideon and meet the Rebbetzin on Shabbos afternoon. On Shabbos morning, however, as I sat in the small women’s section of the only shul in the village, the Rebbetzin walked in, dressed in her Shabbos housecoat, and walked straight over to me, enveloping me in a bear hug. She greeted me with so much love, like a long-lost daughter. I hugged her back, assuming that this was her greeting for every stranger. I later discovered that it was not. The Rebbetzin, who had a lofty vision, sensed that I would play a great role in her life. After all, she left this world without children, and the book I wrote about her life, is, in many ways, her legacy.
“Ironically, the book I had originally been asked to contribute to was never printed. It was just Hashem’s way of moving pieces around the chessboard, bringing me to the Rebbetzin, who had a profound influence on my life.
“My relationship with the Rebbetzin continued until her passing ten years ago. I spent many hours together with Rebbetzin Kramer, watching and learning from her saintly ways. I often mentioned to her that I’d like to write a book about her life, and she warned me, ‘Not in my lifetime.’ She implied that after her passing, it was okay to write about her legacy. My first book, Holy Woman, The Road to Greatness of Rebbetzin Chaya Sara Kramer, was published in 2006. It is now in its ninth printing.”
As Mrs. Rigler describes, “Holy Woman tells the story of Chaya Sara Weiser, a child wonder-worker, from her Carpathian village, through Auschwitz, to the shores of Palestine. There she marries Yaakov Moshe Kramer, one of the lamid vov tzaddikim whose merit sustains the whole world. For over forty years, they live in a ramshackle cottage in an obscure village, taking care of multiply-handicapped children, bestowing miraculous blessings, and profoundly impacting the lives of everyone they meet.
“This book, however, goes beyond the externals to trace the inner spiritual journey of Chaya Sara Kramer: how she transformed herself from a sharp-tempered child to a woman of endurance and tranquility; how she made joy and laughter her trademarks despite her Holocaust experiences, poverty, and childlessness; and how she attained the ultimate state of unconditional love for everyone she met.”
Rebbetzin Kramer spent the last fifteen years of her life living in Yerushalayim, holding court like a rebbe, finally meriting the recognition and esteem that had eluded her during her difficult years in Kfar Gideon. During these years, the bond between the brilliant writer, Sara Yoheved, and the elderly Rebbetzin continued to grow. In Holy Woman, Mrs. Rigler uses an original and powerful method, the “fork in the road,” to show the choices that Rebbetzin Kramer could have made at every juncture in her life and how they brought her closer to holiness.
“Every one of us faces similar choices on our own level,” Mrs. Rigler explains. “Nobody is born a tzadeikes. We become elevated through our own choices.”
When I muse about a choice I am grappling with currently, Mrs. Rigler assures me that this issue is quite common. “Most of our choices are about divrei reshus, about the gray area. Women have more of these questions than men because we have fewer mitzvos and timely obligations. The choices we have this year may not be the choices of a year ago, or even a few weeks ago. The more we keep growing spiritually, the more our choices change. But we each have the opportunity, multiple times a day, to make choices that will bring us closer to Hashem.”
Mrs. Rigler speaks about the tendency many women have to go on an all-expenses paid guilt trip, to beat themselves up over their perceived failings. “We have to stop being so hard on ourselves,” she says. “It’s important to remember, and I can’t stress this enough, how much Hashem loves us. We are so incredibly precious to Him.”
Sara Yoheved, who got married in her late thirties, gave birth to her daughter, Pliyah Esther, at the age of forty, and her son, Yisrael Rohn, at the age of 46. Today, Pliyah Esther is married and the mother of two children; she helps her mother with her webinars and other programs.
The Riglers live in a 900-year-old four-room apartment in the heart of the Old City, which had, before 1948, served as three one-room apartments and the first Jewish clinic in Yerushalayim. “Recently, we took down a wall in the bathroom and found pottery shards that dated back to Bayis Rishon and Bayis Sheini,” Mrs. Rigler says. “We are living in the most beautiful place in the world and are grateful for our blessings every day.”
I mention that I have had the good fortune of interviewing Mrs. Batya Burd (today Batya Crane), a young mother whose first husband, Reb Gershon Burd, tragically passed away on his fortieth birthday. Batya, the founder of Western Wall Prayers, is a unique, spiritual woman whose insights on life and loss serve as an inspiration to many. Sara Yoheved and Batya are friends and neighbors in the Old City.
“There is something about the women of Eretz Yisroel that is so powerful and real,” I remark. “It’s as if here in America, we are wearing a mask, camouflaging our inner selves. For the most part, the women in the Holy Land are original, authentic.”
Mrs. Rigler concurs. “People in Israel share a piece of themselves and tend to be open with both their strengths and failings. The pull to gashmiyus is not as strong here. In fact, someone who was moving to the States commented that our Yom Tov clothes are Shabbos clothes in Brooklyn, our Shabbos clothes are weekday clothes there, and our current weekday clothes are for taking out the garbage there!”
When I protest, saying that not everything is black and white and not all women in the States are materialistic, Mrs. Rigler agrees that this is a generality and there are many exceptions. “Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller once expressed that we say in Birkas Hamazon, ‘Eretz chemdah tovah urechavah, a beloved, good, and wide land.’ However, the Land of Israel is actually very narrow. We are referring not to the land, but to the people who live in it. The land expands the spiritual lives of the people who live within its borders.”
Over the past three decades, Mrs. Rigler has been using her G-d-given gifts of insight and language to grow, to inspire herself, and to serve as an inspiration to others through her written works, webinars and lectures. After Holy Woman became a worldwide sensation, she published four additional books: Lights from Jerusalem, an anthology of her articles; Battle Plans: How to Fight the Yeitzer Hara, with Rebbetzin Tziporah Heller (Rebbetzin Heller provided the scholarship, while Mrs. Rigler wrote the text); and G-d Winked, an autobiographical narrative. Heavenprints, her fifth book, was just published by ArtScroll this week.
“What, in a nutshell, is Heavenprints about?” I ask.
“It’s an anthology of writings on different subjects, including tales of my travels, stories of great people, essays on the holidays, and lessons on life. Rav Noach Weinberg, the founder of Aish HaTorah, who very much inspired me, would call Rav Avrohom Rothman, the rov of Aish in Thornhill, Ontario, every week and ask what he intended to say in his Shabbos drashah.‘The most important message to tell people is that Hashem loves them,’ he would say. That’s what this book is all about.”
Mrs. Rigler, a prolific writer, is also published extensively on Aish.com, where her powerful stories and insights are some of the most popular and widely read.
Yet, her career as an author is only a side job. Mrs. Rigler’s primary occupation nowadays is teaching and growing. Over the years, she has traveled extensively to promote the powerful workshops she created for both married and single women.
“I spent eight years traveling, giving my marriage workshop to over 1,800 women on five different continents, and giving lectures all over the world, including in Panama, Chile, South Africa, France, and England. However, the traveling was exhausting, and I felt that the benefits to the women were short-lived. After all, you listen to a lecture, you become inspired, and after a few days you forget what it was about,” Sara Yoheved explained.
“Two years ago, I began giving my marriage workshop as a webinar, which is an interactive seminar with PowerPoint visuals that provides an opportunity for participants to ask questions anonymously and receive real-time answers. It uses computer technology.”
Mrs. Rigler currently gives two life-altering weekly webinars: the Kesher Wife Inner Circle for married women, and The Ladder for single women. The Kesher Wife is a spiritual system, based on mussar and chassidus, on how to improve one’s marriage. This is focused on married women of all ages, from wives who have been married four months to wives who have been married for forty years.
“I don’t like to call it a shalom bayis workshop, because shalom bayis, meaning peace in the home, implies just stopping the battles. We want more than peace. We want true oneness and unconditional acceptance. Every woman has the power within her to create that beautiful marriage, but it needs constant work.”
The webinar, a visual presentation, is transmitted live, once a week. Participants can hear Mrs. Rigler’s voice as they see a PowerPoint presentation. As Sara Yoheved explains, “It has been proven that most people are visual learners. Rav Dessler says that if you want something to truly enter your heart, you have to see it. At Har Sinai, the Torah tells us, ‘And the nation saw the sounds.’ When listening to a lecture and seeing the concepts illustrated, it makes a more powerful impact.”
The Kesher Wife, a continuous series, begins by speaking of the three parties in building a Jewish home: the husband, the wife, and the Ribono Shel Olam. If you leave the main partner out, you get a distorted picture. It teaches women how to nurture their marriage in many ways, for example by having a regular date night (no talk of finances, problems, business, or children), and gives concrete suggestions for what to talk about instead.
Mrs. Rigler asserts how vital it is for children when their parents have a strong and vibrant marriage. “Many women make the mistake of thinking that their first priority is their children. They don’t realize that for children, the most important thing is to see their parents united and happy. In addition, sooner or later, the children will grow up, and you don’t want to be left with a shell of a marriage. Too many couples coast along for many years, working as business partners, and then one day they wake up and realize that they never had a true bond. This has contributed to the scourge of mid-life divorces. A marriage is like a lawn; it needs to be tended to all the time. ”
Mrs. Rigler’s teaching is powerful, honest, and down-to-earth. She has no qualms about sharing her own life struggles and personal stories. In fact, I recently read an article where she described – with her husband’s permission, of course – an argument she had with her husband, and how she worked on her feelings of anger and impatience, identifying their roots. These personal revelations make the webinar more meaningful and true.
“I have heard from countless women who were struggling with challenging marriages, who have described how the webinar turned their marriages around. Even women with great marriages can use this webinar. After all, if you have a beautiful lawn and you don’t water it, it will eventually wither and turn brown.”
Mrs. Rigler’s second workshop, The Ladder, is geared to single women ages 23 and up. It provides them with the tools they need to navigate the maze of dating and shidduchim, giving them the courage to make the choices they need to move to the next stage.
“You can’t build a physical house without tools, a hammer, nails and a saw. Likewise, how can you hope to build a bayis ne’eman without the proper tools? In The Ladder, we teach the tools and life skills to have a great marriage. We also learn the ‘ladder five criteria’ for choosing a husband, as well as the three red lights, which are warning signs you should never overlook. I also help my Ladder students identify the five fallacies that mess up the lives of single women, such as the adage, ‘There are always more fish in the sea.’ This statement is false. In fact, there are always less fish in the sea as the years go by.
“There are many criteria that are important to consider, but, by and large, good middos are the number-one factor. You can be happily married with almost anyone, regardless of background, if both partners have good middos and are committed to growing. The Ladder is a ten-week workshop that has taken numerous young women to the next level. The program also includes a half-hour consultation with me, by phone, when a young woman is seriously dating. It’s such a gratifying feeling to hear from my Ladder girls, ‘Mazel tov, I’m a kallah!’”
In closing, I ask Mrs. Rigler for some thoughts about Shavuos, the anniversary of Kabbolas HaTorah.
“There are many things to speak about, but I want to focus on one topic that’s relevant to women,” she says. “Hashem could have given the whole Torah through Moshe Rabbeinu, which would have been much simpler than arranging Ma’amad Har Sinai for the whole nation. Yet, He chose to deliver the Ten Commandments straight to Klal Yisroel, with every Jewish soul who would join the Jewish nation present.
“In the end, we couldn’t tolerate hearing the Aseres Hadibros straight from the Source. However, it was the will of Hashem that we should have a direct experience, a close connection with our Creator. This is our ultimate mission and goal, to forge a personal and close kesher with our Father. This is a woman’s goal on Shavuos and every day of the year.
“Many young people today are struggling with emunah because they are alienated from their Source and they don’t have Hashem in their lives. If you don’t have a connection, then Shabbos is just a list of restrictions and rules. If you live with Hashem, then Shabbos is true joy, a chance to reconnect.
“How do you help your children forge this connection? You have to start when your children are very young. Talk to them about the blessings Hashem gives us all, how everything comes from Him. If you make Hashem part of their lives early on, the relationship will continue to grow. As adults, we have to keep cultivating this relationship. In fact, that is the theme of all my webinars and workshops, in almost everything I teach. Put Hashem in the picture and your life will be filled with meaning and joy.”