Rivka Heller was a fine young woman with a noble dream: she hoped to marry a scholar and raise children who would be a credit to her own heritage. Born around 200 years ago in Belarus, then part of the Russian Empire, on her mother’s side she was a great-granddaughter of the illustrious Rabbi Yomtov Lipman Heller, revered author of a treasured commentary to the Mishnah.

Rivka’s father, a businessman who owned a store, became embroiled in a dispute with a fellow trader who turned out to be viciously vindictive. When the matter was not resolved to his satisfaction, the antagonist spread salacious rumors about Rivka and a patron of her father’s store. Tragically, the rumor was widely believed, and although of marriageable age, no worthy suitors were forthcoming. Rivka was devastated, feeling that she was being treated as a pariah due to no fault of her own.

After years of waiting, her father finally approached Rivka with the only matrimonial proposal he had received. It was from Aaron Heller (no relation to the family), an assistant coachman known as “Aaron the Whipper (Shmeiser in Yiddish).”

Rivka was crestfallen. What kind of a proposal was that? How would marriage to a simple coachman allow her to raise the kind of children she dreamed of?

But as there were simply no other options, Rivka consented. She decided that she would honor and love her husband regardless, and would make the best of the situation. However, inside, she seethed with indignation. A malicious lie had tainted her reputation and caused her such brutal humiliation. A callous act had stolen her dream.

On the day of her wedding, Rivka retreated to a side room where she turned to G‑d in anguish. “Bring salvation to those whose souls have been disgraced!” she beseeched, recalling the words from the blessings recited after the haftarah reading.

She poured out her heart and lay her plight in G‑d’s hands: “Dear G‑d, I only had one dream: to marry a Torah scholar. This was cruelly stolen from me and I was publicly disgraced. I accept my future husband and will honor him to the best of my ability. You now need to come to my rescue and return what was taken from me.”

Rivka and Aaron married and together they created a good marriage. Yet every Friday night before lighting her Shabbat candles, Rivka allowed herself a moment of sorrow and would recite her prayer “Bring salvation to those whose souls have been disgraced.” She would remind G‑d that she was relying on Him to repair the harm done to her and ensure that Torah remain present in her family.

And her prayers were answered.

Rivka and Aaron had four sons, all outstanding Torah scholars and authors of important works of Torah scholarship: Rabbi Yehoshua Heller, Rabbi Yisroel Heller of Koidinov and Rabbi Meir Heller of Vilna.

The second youngest, Rabbi Yechiel Heller, a prodigy, was appointed rabbi of Hlusk, Belarus, at just 21. He went on to serve in several prestigious rabbinic positions throughout Belarus, Poland and Lithuania, establishing a reputation as a leading halachic authority and authoring numerous important books before his premature death at 47 years of age.

Yechiel internalized his mother’s pain and signed all his books and letters with the title “the disgraced,” a highly unusual identifier, referring to the calumny against his mother. This author only knows of one other rabbi who referred to himself by that term, Rabbi Eliezer Chaim ben Eliezer from Austria, who lived around half a millennium earlier.

Rabbi Heller dedicated his two most important books to his parents, something extremely uncommon in rabbinic literature. He even refers to his father as “our master, the rabbi,” even though his father was but a simple man.

Moreover, he incorporated the word “ohr” into the name of both those books. In the introductions, he explains that it is an acronym for Aaron and Rivka, his parents. It is clear that Yechiel wanted to make his parents proud and restore his mother’s dignity. In fact, he named his most important work Amudei Ohr, “Pillars of Aharon and Rivka,” hoping to elevate their standing in the eyes of the world.

Rivka not only merited to raise four distinguished scholars and teachers, but she also had a son who was deeply moved by his mother’s trauma and held his parents’ honor dear to his heart. Rabbi Yechiel Heller was a true credit to his mother’s nobility of spirit. Indeed, Rivka’s anguish didn’t go unnoticed, and her dream was fulfilled. Salvation did come to “the disgraced.”

Scripture is replete with stories of noble women—from Rachel to Chana—who cried out to G‑d in anguish, their prayers answered in spectacular fashion. Rivka Heller is another pious and noble woman in the long chain of tradition from whom we learn the true meaning of prayer: ask for the impossible, because to G‑d nothing is out of reach.

Translated and adapted from She’al Avicha Viyagedcha, vol. II, by Rabbi Shalom Schwadron, maggid of Jerusalem, quoting Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, the Steipler Gaon.