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8 Tishrei 5762 - September 25, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Transmitting The Legacy Of Brisk: A Tribute To HaRav Binyomin Paler zt'l

by Rabbi A. Gefen and M. Musman

His First Yahrtzeit, 5th Menachem Av 5761


He was a Brisker in almost every way that one could be. Born into one of Brisk's distinguished families, he grew up there and learned in the Imrei Moshe's yeshiva, going on to become a talmid muvhak of the Brisker Rov zt'l, under whom he studied for ten years. He escaped from Europe with the Mirrer bnei yeshiva, spending the war years as part of the yeshiva in Shanghai. After his arrival in the United States, he taught in and later headed Yeshivas Chasam Sofer, the yeshiva of the Mattersdorfer Rov, HaRav Shmuel Ehrenfeld zt'l, whose son-in-law he became. Subsequently, he opened his own yeshiva, Mekor Chaim, where he continued raising talmidim right up to the end of his life.

HaRav Paler was once described by HaRav Aharon Kotler zt'l, as "the amkon hador, the deepest thinker of the generation." His shiurim were masterpieces, both for their depth and clarity, as well as for the utter command which they showed he had over all areas of Torah, not only when and as they pertained to the subject at hand but constantly, as an integral whole. He was a prolific mechadeish, whose novel ideas and interpretations were repeated by his talmidim to their talmidim, and also served as material for other roshei yeshiva and maggidei shiur -- even some who had not learned under him.

There was moreover, a rarely encountered wholeness and balance about his Torah. He was a master of Shas with Rishonim. As a result of his own tireless effort, he attained the highest goal of Torah study, the ability to deduce practical halochoh from the sources (See Rav Yisroel Salanter's essay Eitz Pri, #20, and Rav Chaim Volozhiner's preface to the Vilna Gaon's commentary to Safra Ditzni'usa.)

As well as being a faithful transmitter of the Torah of his rebbe, the Brisker Rov, he also received the tools to proceed on his own -- a way to approach and deliberate on a sugya. He knew Tanach and he was also a master of the classic works of mussar and thought; the shmuessen he delivered had a very wide appeal.

His bearing was regal; his demeanor was somewhat austere, but it was the austerity of nobility, not of coldness, intended to foster the proper attitude of awe and respect for the rebbe. The depth of his interest in his talmidim and of the comprehensive mesorah that he transmitted to them was evidenced by the close and longstanding ties which developed between them, ties which bound them to him for years after they left the yeshiva.

He generally attempted to distance himself from involvement in communal decision making, and he avoided all types of honor and publicity, making great efforts to remain within the walls of the beis hamedrash. Although this meant that he was scarcely known to the wider public, his petiroh, in his early nineties, on the fifth of Av 5760, was a profound loss, not only for the generations of his talmidim but for Klal Yisroel as a whole.

Throughout his long and productive life he served as a human bridge (in the same way that Chazal tell us Yaakov Ovinu did while crossing his family and belongings over the Yabok Passage), poised between two spiritual realms, drawing upon the heritage he absorbed in prewar Brisk and successfully transferring it to the shores of a new and very different world.

His Relationship With the Brisker Rov

The Brisker Rov's high estimation of his talmid's abilities and his great admiration for him, are clear from a number of comments about HaRav Paler, which the Rov made to family members and associates. He said for example, "Never in my life have I encountered an illui as normal as Reb Binyomin!" (Apparently a comment on his talmid's character, on reflection it also says much about his solidity of thought), and "Reb Binyomin has a offener kop, an open mind."

While learning as a young bochur in the yeshiva of HaRav Moshe Sokolowsky zt'l, Reb Binyomin met Reb Shlomo Chamsker who was close to the Brisker Rov. Once, upon hearing Reb Binyomin giving his own explanation of a difficult piece of Rashbo, Reb Shlomo became very excited and exclaimed that Reb Boruch Ber zt'l had taken up several shiurim trying to explain this piece, which he had just heard elucidated so simply and clearly! In his excitement, Reb Shlomo later repeated what he had heard to the Brisker Rov, who took Reb Binyomin into the group that heard his shiurim.

Once, when Reb Binyomin was absent from the shiur and some difficulty was encountered to which there was no apparent resolution, the Brisker Rov remarked, "Reb Binyomin would certainly have elucidated this difficult topic!"

Talmidim of the Brisker Rov attest that their rebbe rated Reb Binyomin's approach very highly indeed, commenting that, "His derech is the closest of all to that of my father, mori verabbi the GRaCh."

On one occasion, Reb Binyomin repeated some of his own chiddushim on maseches Nego'im to the Brisker Rov, who responded by taking out some of his own manuscripts and showing him that the same chiddushim appeared there. Another time, talmidim relate, the Rov made no response whatsoever to the chiddushim that Reb Binyomin told him, but he later discovered that the Rov had repeated them to others and praised them.

In a letter to the Mattersdorfer Rov upon Reb Binyomin's engagement to the former's daughter, the Brisker Rov wrote that it would not be necessary to buy a Shas and a set of Rambam for his talmid, because he was, "fluent [by heart] in a majority of the Rambam's works."

For his part HaRav Paler regarded the Brisker Rov as his rebbe muvhak, who had illuminated his path and opened up his mind. When the Brisker Rov's sefer was published, HaRav Paler rejoiced openly and commented that candles ought to be lit, for the day was like a yom tov. He was already familiar with most of the chiddushim having heard them himself from the Brisker Rov, yet throughout the following week he did not part from the sefer and quoted constantly from it.

Although he did not confine himself to simply repeating the Rov's chiddushim in his shiurim but would discuss any problems he had with them, he did so with the utmost respect, placing all his comments within the context of the Rov's Torah, rather than appearing to raise extraneous difficulties. Once, in a shiur, he quoted an approach that he had heard from the Brisker Rov and went on to offer an alternative approach of his own. Following the shiur, a talmid went over to discuss something he had said and he referred to both of the approaches together. HaRav Paler interrupted him and said, "Compared to the Brisker Rov, I am zero."

Throughout his years in America HaRav Paler acted as the Brisker Rov's emissary, forwarding monies for yeshivas Brisk to Yerushalayim. On one occasion, when he sent money at a particularly difficult time, the Rov gave him his warm blessing that he should merit disseminating Torah in Klal Yisroel.

When HaRav Paler received a sum of money from the Vaad Hatzoloh that was earmarked for his private use, despite the harsh economic conditions that were then prevailing he bought himself a new pair of tefillin from Eretz Yisroel, which the Brisker Rov obtained for him.

HaRav Paler's sons relate that when the Brisker Rov became sick with what was to be his final illness, HaRav Aharon Kotler made supreme efforts to bring him to the United States for treatment. However the Rov refused to even contemplate travelling to America. Reb Aharon did not give up and he asked Rav Paler to travel to Eretz Yisroel to try to convince his rebbe to come. However before this plan could be executed, the Rov's health took a turn for the worse and the dangers of the trip itself became too great.

The great closeness that developed between rebbe and talmid was attested to by HaRav Paler's frequent offhand recollections of seemingly insignificant things that he had witnessed in the Brisker Rov's home. For example, someone was once sitting in front of HaRav Paler, eating. In the course of the meal and the conversation, this man cut off tiny pieces of bread from the loaf that was set on the table for everyone and ate one tiny piece after another.

This reminded HaRav Paler of the time he had been sitting with the Brisker Rov and one of the members of the household had been talking and eating cheese, cutting off pieces from the plate of cheese that stood in the center of the table, alternately cutting and stopping. The Brisker Rov said nothing, but gave the fellow a reproachful and penetrating stare.

Eight Blat A Day

HaRav Paler related that he learned together for a long period with the Brisker Rov's son, HaRav Yoshe Ber Soloveitchik zt'l. They learned eight blat of gemora daily together.

In later years, HaRav Paler would urge his own talmidim to cover ground and not to dwell too long on one topic. A talmid recalls the time their rosh yeshiva checked to see what daf they were learning and on seeing the relatively small amount they had covered he commented, Ir meint dos is Brisk? Dos is nisht Brisk! (Do you think that this is how they learned in Brisk? This is not Brisk!)

This same talmid went on to relate how he discovered just how much could be achieved, and how much his own rosh yeshiva had actually achieved, by learning in this way. He recalled that HaRav Paler would appear in the beis hamedrash from time to time during the afternoon seder, and sit on his own, learning the masechteh that the yeshiva was studying. He would soon turn the page and every so often turned another, at a fairly rapid pace. This perplexed the talmid somewhat.

At a later time, he encountered another former talmid of the Brisker Rov who, upon discovering that he was a talmid of HaRav Paler, told the following story.

One year in Brisk, he and HaRav Paler had learned together during the morning seder. HaRav Paler had not wanted to learn with him in the afternoons however, saying that he wished to learn at a swifter pace. His morning chavrusa objected, asking what good would come of doing that. But HaRav Paler was not to be dissuaded. He began learning Bovo Basra and after a few days he was well into the masechteh. Again his chavrusa voiced his objections, but to no avail.

"A few days later," related this rov, "he finished Bovo Basra and started Bovo Kamo. What can I tell you? I don't recall whether it was a leap year or not but from just after Succos until just before Pesach he completed, Bovo Kamo, Bovo Metzia, Bovo Basra, Avodoh Zora, Sanhedrin . . . all of seder Nezikin. We laughed at him [for thinking that one could absorb such a vast amount in such a short time]. He told us to test him on any Tosafos in seder Nezikin and test him we did, on the entire seder. Where Tosafos had one answer to their question, he repeated one answer; where they gave two answers, he repeated both of them."

Upon his return to the yeshiva, the talmid told HaRav Paler whom he had met. He relates that, "with a look of mild interest he asked, `What did he have to say?'

"I, with suppressed mirth, related to him everything that he had told me. I did not omit a single detail. At first the Rosh Yeshiva said nothing, only arching his eyebrows, then lowering his gaze to the desk and finally focusing back on me again. He then confided to me, `[I] also [learned it] with every Rambam, Rif, Ba'al Hamo'or and Rosh. And I was also mechadesh Torah throughout and I use all those chiddushim in my shiurim to this day!' "

The Torah I Learned In Adversity

Reb Binyomin was once sitting with the Brisker Rov, finely analyzing the various possibilities that were open to them for flight during the war. The Rov suddenly interrupted him saying, "Enough. It is not necessary to define the options with such clarity. We may be about to lose the Divine protection promised by the posuk (Tehillim 116:6), `Shomer peso'im Hashem (Hashem protects the unsophisticated).' "

At the beginning of the war, Reb Binyomin was still able to continue hearing the Brisker Rov's shiurim, in Vilna, where they had fled as refugees. He eventually joined the Mirrer Yeshiva, escaping with the yeshiva from Europe to the Far East.

In later life, he would refer to the years he spent in Shanghai as the most productive of his life. Rather than serving as distractions, the difficult living conditions and the constant dangers enabled the bochurim to focus completely and intensely on Torah.

HaRav Paler never relied upon his own genius; he continued toiling and laboring in Torah with superhuman effort throughout his life. He would quote the words of the Bircei Yosef (Shiyurei Brochoh, Yore Deah 243:6, in note) that Torah learned without toil is not truly one's own. Talmidim of the yeshiva related that due to the stifling heat in Shanghai and his extraordinary toil in learning, the towel which Reb Binyomin wrapped around his neck at the beginning of a seder, would be completely soaked through by the end.

However, he identified an additional factor in the ability to produce chiddushei Torah, namely, holiness and separation from materialism. A comment he would often repeat was that, "The posuk (Tehillim 51:13), `And do not take your holy spirit away from me,' refers to the ability to develop chiddushei Torah."

He remarked that on a day when slightly more than a simple plate of rice was served in the yeshiva in Shanghai, he noticed a drop in the quality of the learning that he was acquiring through suffering and deprivation.

He maintained this awareness throughout his life. Once, in later years, a talmid in his yeshiva noticed that the Rosh Yeshiva had a particularly tired and haggard appearance. When he inquired about the Rosh Yeshiva's welfare, HaRav Paler's reply was, would that he continue this way. When his talmid asked him in amazement whether he wished to continue feeling unwell, HaRav Paler explained that for three days he had neither eaten nor slept normally because he was toiling to understand a difficult passage in Tosafos. "Halevai I would be able to continue learning like this!" he concluded.

In a related vein, he would explain why it is that our generation is not qualified to advance our own novel ideas or explanations, while we find that the Rishonim and major Acharonim say all kinds of original things. (There is a well known observation of Reb Chaim Brisker zt'l, quoted in the introduction to Koveitz Shiurim, that we are bound by what the Rishonim wrote and must expend our efforts on attaining a correct understanding of their words, rather than formulating our own ideas.)

HaRav Paler said that an idea advanced by a rishon has inherent validity because of the rishon's holiness, whereas we, who are steeped in uncleanliness and materialism, simply cannot suggest an idea unless we find some fundamental support for it in a rishon.

One of the questions that arose in Shanghai concerned the authorities' requirement that the refugees carry their identity cards with them at all times. Was it permitted, under conditions like theirs that bordered on danger to life were they to be caught ignoring these instructions, to pin the documents to one's garment before Shabbos and then walk outside with it?

The Mashgiach, HaRav Chatzkel Levenstein zt'l, asked two of the bochurim -- Reb Leib Malin zt'l and Reb Binyomin Paler -- to learn through the topic thoroughly and determine how the bnei hayeshiva should behave. Reb Binyomin related that he labored for three consecutive nights until he ruled that in their situation, it was permitted.

Due to the troubled times, there was a serious shortage of gemoras and sifrei Rishonim and Acharonim for the bnei hayeshiva in Shanghai. On one occasion, the yeshiva somehow obtained a set of seforim and the hanholoh decided to award them to whoever won a competition on knowledge by heart of commentaries of the Rishonim. Reb Binyomin was the winner. Since his youth he had attained great proficiency in the three Bovos, and he knew all the discussions of the Ramban and Ba'al Hamo'or by heart. When asked in later years about this achievement, he replied simply, "When one becomes acquainted with the style of a rishon, it's not difficult."

Talmidim relate that Reb Binyomin was highly admired by his colleague, Reb Leib Malin, who would often ask him to repeat pieces of Torah that he had heard in Brisk. "Only you know how to say over a piece of Reb Chaim," Reb Leib would tell Reb Binyomin.

One of the talmidim in Shanghai once approached Reb Chatzkel and complained that all the trials and tribulations of the war had broken his spirit and as a result, he wanted to leave the yeshiva. The Mashgiach shared the bochur's pain and spoke to him gently. Then he pointed out Reb Binyomin Paler to the bochur and told him, "Be like him and you won't have any problems."

After the war ended, the bnei yeshiva had to wait in Shanghai for entry visas to the United States. Reb Chatzkel asked the rosh yeshiva, HaRav Eliezer Yehudah Finkel zt'l, to give priority to Reb Binyomin Paler's visa, "because he is weak from toiling in Torah." A talmid recalled Reb Chatzkel remarking that, "Reb Binyomin is a genuinely great man."

Imparting a Derech

As rosh yeshiva, HaRav Paler's aim was to train his talmidim in how to learn, following the traditions that he had absorbed in his youth in Brisk. To this end he emphasized the basics of the path in learning that he and others had trodden to attain greatness in Torah, while playing down some of the more obvious outward features that people commonly associate with Brisk.

For example, while he himself practiced many halachic chumros in the Brisker tradition, he kept this deliberately concealed from his talmidim. He would say, "They should learn how to learn and how they learned in Brisk, rather than chumros." (Neither did he encourage his talmidim to change family minhogim in order to adopt his.) As mentioned previously, he showed his disapproval of learning at a slow pace by commenting, "This is not Brisk!"

He advised his talmidim against looking into numerous seforim and seeing may differing opinions and approaches, saying that this leads to learning superficially, not to depth of thought. Under his direction the bochurim learned the gemora, Rashi and Tosafos, the Rif, the Rosh,, the Ba'al Hamo'or and Milchamos, the Ran, the Rambam with the Maggid Mishnah and Kesef Mishnah, and Mechaber -- Rema with Biur HaGra. Naturally, the chiddushim of Reb Chaim and the Brisker Rov were also prepared.

HaRav Paler once complained that people did not learn Chiddushei Rabbeinu Chaim Halevi Al HoRambam because of the work's difficulty, instead preferring the "stenciled" chiddushim which are simpler to understand although they are known to contain inaccuracies. He recalled that when studying under the Brisker Rov, the talmidim toiled over whole pages of Reb Chaim's sefer.

When older avreichim who had already learned through the sedorim of Noshim and Nezikin told him that they were studying the approaches of different Rishonim, he commented that if one had been learning for a number of years and experiencing growth, one should be seeing every piece of gemora, Rashi and Tosafos with extra depth and clarity, without needing to see other seforim.

When he saw bochurim writing up his shiurim during the seder he stopped them, saying that while there was benefit to be gained from the actual writing, the hours of seder were to be devoted to learning in depth and toiling over the gemora and Rishonim.

When, towards the end of a winter zeman, he once noticed a pair of bochurim learning Shulchan Oruch Orach Chaim together during seder, he told them that the seder was for learning gemora with Rishonim, and added, "Believe me, I have also been through Orach Chaim with the commentary of the Mogen Avrohom, but not during seder hours."

From HaRav Paler's shiurim, shmuessen, halachic rulings and his ordinary speech, it was clear that he had absolute mastery over Shas with Rashi and Tosafos, all the major opinions of the Rishonim and the major Acharonim, including the sedorim of Zeroim and Taharos with the Ram and Rash. He also knew all the Rambam's works, with the major commentaries as well as the Sefer Hamitzvos, with the Ramban.

He delved deeply into the Rambam and would draw conclusions from the nuances of the Rambam's phrasing or from the order in which certain halochos had been arranged. He would tie several such strands together, showing that they each reflected one aspect of a major, fundamental principle. In a shiur keloli, he would cite numerous passages of Rambam from different places and use all of them to build up the principle which he wanted to bring out. Whoever was able to afford it, purchased a small set of Mishnah Torah for use during these shiurim, for without being able to see all the various texts inside it was very hard to follow the shiur.

He especially enjoyed studying the discussions of the Ramban and the Baal Hamo'or, and he would say that it was possible to gain an understanding of the Baal Hamo'or's meaning from the Ramban's rejoinders to his questions.

He arranged his shiurim in a way that enabled his talmidim to build up their own understanding while working through them. He would say that if someone wants to become a tailor and he is only shown finished garments, he will never learn the trade. The only way to acquire the ability to make a garment is by studying unfinished, half- completed jobs. It is the same with learning; one must get to know which points to dwell upon and how to resolve them.

He often raised some profound difficulty and stopped without offering an answer. Or, he might refrain from explaining everything right to the end, leaving the talmidim to finish working things through themselves. "Endikt ir die shiur (You finish off the shiur)," he would say, or he would quote the posuk, "Tein lechochom veyechkam od (Give to a wise man and he will develop further wisdom)."

While he educated towards independent thought, he strongly warned against offering a forced solution to a problem. "One has to know that one shouldn't contort one's mind in order to give an answer," he would say. "Shver iz shver. There is no need to force. One doesn't always have to give an answer . . . "

In accordance with his mesorah from Brisk, he would determine what kinds of difficulty could be settled with a simple response and what kind required further probing in search of the new depths of understanding that they could yield. In contrast, at times after hearing a kushya and its subsequent elucidation with a principle as said over elsewhere, he commented that the matter was in fact so self explanatory that there was no need to make a kushya and a teirutz from it.

He saw the rosh yeshiva's role as being to open up the sugya for his talmidim and to give them the tools to move forward on their own.

HaRav Paler learned Chumash with Rashi and Ramban, and Nevi'im and Kesuvim with Rashi and Radak. Although he quoted from many sifrei mussar, he had particular mastery of Chovos Halevovos (this, incidentally, was the sefer that he took to learn in the minutes between Kol Nidrei and ma'ariv on Yom Kippur night), Shaarei Teshuvoh, Mesillas Yeshorim, Mishlei with the Vilna Gaon's commentary and Nefesh Hachaim with Ruach Chaim.

There was a seder for mussar in his yeshiva but the main instruction in yiras Shomayim came from the Rosh Yeshiva's personal example. To watch him at prayer, or to witness his fear of sin, conveyed lessons more powerful than any words could.

When he gave shmuessen, they were not the conventional type of mussar but were in his own distinctive style and appealed to all the talmidim, regardless of whether they came from a Chassidic or Litvishe background. The content was always very deep and he would often base his talks on the writings of the Maharal, for which he had a particular affinity.

A Father's Love and Concern

"I have never seen a rebbe whose talmidim are so attached to him as to the Rosh Yeshiva," remarked HaRav Paler's father-in-law, the Mattersdorfer Rov, at the dedication of Yeshivas Mekor Chaim. Although the thousands of students who passed through HaRav Paler's hands during his over fifty years as a marbitz Torah spanned three generations and naturally they did not all know one another, their bonds to him were strong and lasting.

His usually aloof demeanor in the yeshiva was intended to inspire the correct feelings of awe and respect for one's rebbe. HaRav Paler once mentioned in a shmuess that it used to be self-understood that a younger bochur would rise when an older bochur approached him, for it was considered disrespectful for the younger one to remain seated while the older one spoke to him. This is an example of how far our ideas are today from what used to be the norm in yeshivos.

This sternness made it difficult to discern the Rosh Yeshiva's love for his talmidim but all who learned under him for any length of time were able to recognize his love for them, which they reciprocated. Just as he had fully dedicated himself to absorbing as much as he could of the mesorah of his own great rebbe, with the result that he had a complete, rounded tradition to transmit, his talmidim dedicated themselves to taking as much from him as they could. The more a talmid took, the stronger and deeper was the bond.

He made every effort to participate in the simchas of his talmidim, and even in his last months, when it was very difficult for him to walk, he put aside the many attempts to dissuade him and did his best to attend the weddings of younger talmidim and the children of older ones.

Once, when an older talmid came to invite him to the wedding of his daughter, he apologized for being unable to honor the Rosh Yeshiva with the siddur kiddushin, which is customarily given to the rosh yeshiva of the chosson. HaRav Paler dismissed his talmid's concern, saying, "When a child makes a chasunah, do these things make a difference?"

Indeed, his joy and his beaming countenance on these occasions truly reflected the feelings of a loving parent.

He got to know his talmidim as individuals. When they turned to him for advice, he based his response upon their particular needs. Thus, it was not infrequent for him to be approached by two students with similar problems, and he would offer two different responses.

He also took an interest in the physical welfare of his talmidim. After a student suffered a bout of mono, the Rosh Yeshiva took a role in monitoring his recovery, insisting that the patient inform him every week of the amount of weight he had gained.

There are numerous stories which illustrate his phenomenal memory, and it is no wonder that many of them concern talmidim and both what and when he taught them. His talmidim, and what they learned together with him, were an integral aspect of his own Torah.

For example, a talmid once asked a question and HaRav Paler responded that according to a principle which they had discussed, the question was answered. The talmid had no idea which principle the Rosh Yeshiva was referring to, until the latter reminded him, "Don't you remember? Eighteen years ago, you were standing at my shtender with a few other bochurim (whom he named) . . . and then I mentioned a principle which will answer this question too."

When another talmid visited one Yom Tov accompanied by his son-in-law who had spent one zeman learning in the yeshiva two years earlier, the Rosh Yeshiva seemed not to have noticed the younger man. Wishing to help, another talmid who was present introduced him. HaRav Paler was visibly upset and exclaimed, "You think I don't remember him? We learned perek Ro'uhu Beis Din together!" Even as an elderly man, he would become very upset if people felt they had to remind him of a talmid's name.

During one of the regular shiurim that he gave for older alumni, some of whom were already in middle age, one of the participants posed a question. HaRav Paler looked him straight in the eye and said, "You asked that question twenty five years ago in Yeshivas Chasan Sofer!"

Sensitivity to Others

HaRav Paler served as a prime example of Rabbenu Yonah's comment (Sha'arei Teshuvoh, sha'ar III:27), "One should constantly strive to assimilate the traits that are consequences of [constantly] remembering [Hashem], such as yir'oh, modesty, adornment of thought and ordering of traits, for the holy nation can attain every fitting and becoming mode of conduct, by remembering Hashem yisborach . . . " He embodied all these virtues together. It is not hard to imagine how it felt to be in the presence of his Torah greatness and profound yiras Shomayim, his nobility and respect, with the awareness of his constant toil in Torah.

There was no conflict whatsoever between his elevated stature and manner on the one hand, and his attention to the needs, whether great or small, of others and those needs being addressed in a refined yet practical way. The atmosphere in the Rosh Yeshiva's home was one of royalty by virtue of both he and his rebbetzin, who was descended through her illustrious father from the Chasam Sofer and Rabbi Akiva Eiger. Nonetheless, all visitors received a warm welcome.

In fact, one talmid who was invited over for a Shabbos meal, remembered being greeted with such warmth by the Rosh Yeshiva, that he initially had difficulty in reconciling his warm, gracious host with his stern, sober Rosh Yeshiva. Another talmid who visited was offered some refreshment but refused to partake because he felt embarrassed to eat in front of the Rosh Yeshiva. HaRav Paler hinted to him that it is always the wish of the host that the guest should have something and it was therefore proper that he should take.

On another occasion, a talmid who had been served wished to help with the tidying up by taking his plate into the kitchen. The Rosh Yeshiva told him that he should not do so, because an integral part of offering refreshment was that the guest should not trouble himself with the china.

On erev Shabbos in the afternoon, he would go to visit elderly and infirm rabbonim, who derived tremendous benefit from the Rosh Yeshiva's incisive vort and warm Gutt Shabbos wishes.

A talmid who was involved with shidduchim for a very long time, recalled that at the time, all he could see was the difficulty of his situation. However, he was fortunate enough to discuss matters with the Rosh Yeshiva, as a result of which he was able to utilize his own painful experiences in order to help others.

Many years ago, one of HaRav Paler's talmidim lost his father at a young age R'l. Shortly after the shivoh, the Rosh Yeshiva returned to the home of the bereaved family and spoke to the young widow for close to an hour, giving her the encouragement she needed in order to carry on. Only later did she reveal how at the time she had been feeling completely alone and forlorn, and that his visit had given her the boost that she needed in order to continue caring for her family.

When the Rosh Yeshiva came to be menacheim a student who had lost a son R'l, he told the grieving father, "I want you to know, that all the tefillos which you and others offered, praying for his recovery, were not in vain. Every sincere tefilloh has a beneficial effect on all of Klal Yisroel, even if it does not directly intercede on behalf of the person for whom it was offered."

The father later commented that the Rosh Yeshiva's words of comfort meant more to him than any others. He had been able to understand how much this question was bothering him, and had found exactly the right thing to tell him in order to relieve his suffering.

Wellspring of Life

Despite old age and infirmity, HaRav Paler continued producing new Torah insights and he maintained his regimen of shiurim. His spiritual energy did not diminish with the waning of physical strength; he drew his life force from Torah and it continued nourishing him until the end of his life.

In his later years, he would give a shiur for older talmidim between the ages of thirty and fifty and themselves talmidei chachomim of stature with many maggidei shiur among them. These shiurim covered many of the masechtos in seder Zeroim. In view of the Rosh Yeshiva's advanced age and his weakness, the shiur was scheduled for the hour between nine and ten in the evening. Often though, HaRav Paler continued until eleven o'clock, by which time many of the listeners, most of whom were forty years his junior, were no longer able to keep up with him!

Eight years before his petiroh, he became very ill and lay in a state of semiconsciousness. A talmid who was with him, remembers hearing him repeat a certain phrase again and again, "Not what I take but what I have with me..." a scholarly definition of robbery from Reb Chaim's school of thought, that is repeated in yeshivos.

To the astonishment of his doctors, HaRav Paler recovered and shortly thereafter returned to his vocation of developing new Torah ideas and teaching his talmidim. He commented simply, "Hashem has given me further years of life. I must use them to be mechadesh Torah."

Indeed, when asked why he did not publish his chiddushim, he replied, "Instead of laboring over old chiddushim and arranging them for printing, I am able to be mechadesh new ones."

And so it remained until his petiroh on the fifth of Av 5760.


HaRav Paler's greatness was his own, attained as a result of his own hard work. It did not lie in the mere fact of his having been a talmid of the Brisker Rov. However, no small part of that greatness was due to his having made himself totally subservient to his rebbe in his youth, thereby fully absorbing a definite mesorah which he, in turn, was then able to transmit to his own talmidim.

With his petiroh, the Torah world has lost a Rosh Yeshiva of a caliber that can hardly be found any more, anywhere in the world. His Torah echoed the greatness of earlier generations that have long since disappeared, yet he labored, with success, to transmit it in its full clarity and luster to future generations. Spiritually impoverished though our generation may be, all who were fortunate to have had him as their rebbe, were uplifted and transformed by the experience.

Note: In preparing this article, extensive use has been made, including several indirect quotes, of a number of other articles written about HaRav Paler, notably the tribute by Chaim Elozor Weiss and Avrohom Birnbaum which appeared in the yeshiva's journal, the recollections of Rav M. Einstadter in the same publication, the articles by Avrohom Birnbaum in the Jewish Observer and the English language Hamodia, Menachem Hacohen's article in Dos Yiddish Vort and a hesped on the Rosh Yeshiva delivered by his talmid, HaRav A. M. Steinfeld.

Some Biographical Details

HaRav Paler was born in 1908 in Brisk, Poland, where his father, Rav Yitzchok zt'l, was one of the Jewish community's most distinguished members. The family traced its descent from the Remo, the Maharam of Padua and HaRav Moshe of Kobrin zt'l.

Rav Yitzchok Paler spent his time learning while his wife managed a small business which supported the family. Such was the esteem in which Rav Yitzchok was held by the community that when the Brisker Rov was not available to act as sandek at a bris, Rav Yitzchok was often asked to stand in his stead.

HaRav Binyomin Paler's extraordinary maturity and diligence in Torah learning were recognized from childhood. Children playing in the streets of Brisk would step aside when they saw him approaching. He entered the yeshiva ketanoh of Brisk headed by HaRav Moshe Sokolowsky, author of Imrei Moshe, and he later joined the Brisker rov's circle of talmidim.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, he escaped to Vilna where he remained close to the Brisker Rov who had also fled there and who continued giving shiurim to the refugees, to the extent that it was possible.

HaRav Paler eventually joined the Mirrer Yeshiva. He was part of the group that went to learn in the suburb of Kaidan, and later escaped with the yeshiva to the Far East where he spent most of the war years.

Arriving in New York after the war, HaRav Paler was in the group that founded Yeshiva Beis HaTalmud. A year later he was appointed as a maggid shiur in Yeshivas Chasan Sofer, the yeshiva headed by his father-in-law, HaRav Shmuel Ehrenfeld, the Mattersdorfer Rov zt'l. He eventually became rosh yeshiva there.

In 5725 (1965) he left to open his own yeshiva, Mekor Chaim, so named at the advice of Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, because of his aim to impart the derech halimud received from Reb Chaim Brisker. In 1976, a mesivta attached to the yeshiva was opened.

HaRav Paler continued disseminating Torah In Mekor Chaim for the next thirty-five years until his petiroh last year. His three sons ylct'a now lead the yeshiva, where they continue teaching his Torah and imparting his approach.


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