HaRav Grozovsky is at the left. Next to him is HaRav Yaakov Kamenetzky. The third godol is HaRav Aharon Kotler.
Spirituality and anything which belonged to the Torah way of thinking, were solid, tangible entities for him. If this stood out in every aspect of his life, it was especially apparent in the terms in which he used to express his explanations of halacha. For example, he would say that an ownerless ox—to which none of the laws of damages are applicable—was simply not an ox ("iz ehr doch nisht kein ox.") Similarly, in explaining difference of opinion among the rishonim in the sugya on Kesuvos daf 9 and the principle that "a man does not take the trouble to arrange a wedding feast only to waste it all [by falsely claiming that he had been tricked by his bride]," he would say that the discussion centered around whether this principle, by lending credence to the husband's claim, damaged or weakened her kesuvoh ("tzi es iz tzubrochen gevorn der shtar").
This was the sense in which he used the word "cheftza." According to his way of explaining things and of expressing himself, any intangible concept was termed a "cheftza," an object. For example, the component of intention when effecting a change in ownership would be described as making the cheftza of the change in ownership take effect etc. etc.
While my father-in-law z'l was known for his humility in his dealings with all talmidei chachomim, a trait which was all the more apparent when he dealt with great men, whom he would address as "rebbi." This was in no way divorced from [an awareness of] his own yiras shomayim and righteousness. His humility and his righteousness were one and the same thing—each was a cause of the other. This was so because he felt and understood that the human intellect was simply one of the Creator's creations, severely limited in it's ability to comprehend the tiniest fraction of the Creator's wisdom. In His kindness, Hashem enabled man to develop his intellect through toil and labor, so that he could understand more of His Divine wisdom.
This is why my father-in-law z'l would expend massive efforts, through days and nights, weeks and months, in pursuit of the simplest and most genuine way of understanding the meaning of the difficulties, resolutions and discussions of the rishonim and acharonim. When he learned nigleh, the revealed portion of Torah, he would perceive in it much that was nistar, concealed. [Shades and nuances in meaning] which appeared concealed to others were obvious to him and were like entire worlds [so significant was every slight difference]. He saw the two sides in a debate over the correct understanding of a logical premise, as two separate worlds. A new idea or emphasis was like an entirely new world.
He would often say that, thanks to his toil, he had merited to understand part of the explanation of the words of the rishonim, but much more work was still needed in order to understand more. It never entered his head to assume that he had understood all there was to understand. Throughout his life, his attitude was that of a young pupil who is just beginning to learn gemora. He never claimed that his insights had enabled him to understand the "tov" (final letter) of the sugya, rather he would say that now he understood the "alef." His greatness lay in his being—in the words of the posuk—"Yisroel is a young lad and I love him," he was forever in training, like a young boy.
Although he was the world's greatest teacher, he taught his disciples no more than how to be true students. While others toiled in order to answer questions or refute answers, he toiled over understanding how to ask the question, how to present the answer and how to formulate a doubt. He labored long and hard over his rebbe's teachings and over seforim, trying to gain from them an understanding of the correct way to learn, like a young student who has just entered yeshiva. For, he maintained, a tradition is a necessity in order to learn Torah.
He therefore used to always comment that Torah cannot be acquired with the logic of the human intellect but only by using the principles and the pathways of the Torah itself. In order to do this, it was necessary to develop and perfect the intellect according to the Torah and not the other way around.
This was why he was not at ease with the insights he had developed as a youngster—they were merely the fruits of a sharp mind—and he would not repeat them in the yeshiva. His shiurim consisted only of the plain and simple explanations at which his laborious efforts had enabled him to arrive. This was why he toiled to clarify the truth as it had been transmitted, rather than the truth as it appeared to his mind.
HaRav Boruch Ber with HaRav Aharon Kotler in Europe
For the very same reason [i.e. because he realized the paucity of the human mind], he never had the slightest difficulty in accepting Hashem's Providence and His guidance of the world. It went without saying that there was nothing amazing in an animal's being unable to understand human wisdom such as technology, mathematics and other disciplines of the mind—for it is well known that an animal's intellect is extremely limited and it is incapable of grasping anything of these subjects. This being the case, how was it possible for us to ask questions on Hashem's wisdom and guidance? The intellect which mankind was given is [also] limited and is incapable of fathoming Hashem's wisdom.
Questions are only asked by those who are subservient to their own intellects. He [Reb Boruch Ber], on the other hand, rejoiced in the little that Hashem had allowed him to understand of His ways and he asked Hashem to merit him with understanding yet more, after he had toiled.
Once while he was still a young child, he wept during the Shemoneh Esrei. When his mother noticed this, she asked his father why their son was crying. He told her that the boy was crying because he didn't understand Torah. [Reb Boruch Ber] then understood that his father was correct and from then on, he would weep during his tefillos [begging] to understand Torah. His compassion was greatly aroused by anyone who didn't understand Torah.
Vehivdilonu Min Hato'im
My father-in-law's z'l greatness did not lie in his giving up more for Torah than others did. It lay in his taking more from Torah than others took. He rejoiced and thanked Hashem for the fact that all his strength was channeled into Torah and that none of his powers were wasted on other things—he felt that he had thus struck the best deal in the world. Anyone who listened to the verses which he used to recite and sing on motzei Yomim Tovim, could hear how great his joy and enthusiasm were with his immersion in Torah, his Jewishness and his having been set apart from all of the world's false and spurious ideologies [see section on the Pleasures of Yom Tov].
From this joy there sprung a tremendous gratitude to his rebbe, his father [see section on Kibbud Av and Kibbud Rav] and to all his forbears who had preceded him. How could one not feel gratitude towards those who had given him life and nourished him, with whose goodness he lived all the time?!
He would repeat the observation made by the Ridvaz when he had created a new Torah idea, namely, that all the pain which his mother had suffered during his birth, which his grandmother had suffered in giving birth to his mother and which all the generations of his antecedents had suffered in giving birth, were worthwhile because of that one single Torah idea which he had created.
This [awareness of the tremendous value of a single novel Torah thought], accounted for both his great joy at any added understanding or insight and his worry and anguish when he did not succeed in understanding something the rishonim had written. Once, when he repeated a thought of Rabbi Akiva Eiger's, upon hearing which his son immediately took the idea one stage further and proposed two approaches to a certain problem based upon Rabbi Akiva Eiger's idea, my father-in-law scolded him and did not want to hear what he had to say. The reason for this was that his son had not waited for a moment, in joy and amazement, at having heard such a deep and novel idea expressed. He said that whoever did not dance for joy on hearing this thought, was "simply not a man."
Wherever new heretical ideologies such as Reform or Conservative [see section on Opposition to Zionism] were concerned, he was the greatest, the mightiest and most courageous zealot. Now, common wisdom has it that a zealot must possess a hard nature and lack love for his fellow men. With him [Reb Boruch Ber] however, we saw that his nature was to be good and kind to all. He loved his fellow man and there was nobody more compassionate, but in matters of faith he would act uncharacteristically. By nature he was softhearted and even a small child could change his mind. Whenever he had a doubt he would not insist on his opinion at all. But when it came to hashkofos he was like a mighty rock and he would not given in an iota.
He was bold as a leopard and he did not reckon even with famous elders, even though he was bashful by nature and would respect even a young boy. The reason is that his zealotry was based in his compassion as he observed that a heretic who tries to spread his ideas in Israel is trying to destroy their souls and their eternity. Thus he saw the heretics as threatening his life. He used to say that once in his youth a scoffer told him a joke about Torah and this joke pursues him throughout his life and wants to destroy him but he fights it and does not let it get into his heart and he is ever thankful to Hashem for this [success].
He never read a newspaper. Once when he saw a newspaper on his table he asked its owner: How is it that you do not hate a paper that spreads lies about the Torah and about our Father in Heaven? Could he read it if it said such things about his own father? How can he not hate a pursuer? Once when his son spoke with a bochur who was suspect he was so upset that he could not eat. He used to say that he measured his fear of Heaven by seeing the level of his hatred for heretics.
He used to say the blessing of being a Jew with all his might, and he said that he did not intend to mean a simple non-Jew like the watchman, but a professor or a philosopher and a great officer. Once a Jewish workman fixed the stove and he mistook him for a non-Jew and greeted him in Polish. When he realized his mistake he apologized profusely for his error and did not stop before kissing him on his forehead.
HaRav Shlomo Heiman zt"l told me that in Kremenchug there was a pogrom and they murdered people and did awful things, and they even beat him and stripped his clothes off of him. Afterwards my father-in-law said that now we must rejoice even more when we say the brochoh, asher bochar bonu mikol ho'amim venosan lonu es Toraso because we saw the depths to which a man can sink without Torah, and without Torah we could also be murderers and philanderers, and it is only due to Torah that we did not shed blood.
Since he rejoiced so much in the Torah, all sadness left him and nothing could interfere with the tremendous happiness he drew from the Torah — and thus he never left it even for a second: How I loved Your Torah — and therefore — it is my conversation all day.
HaRav Boruch Ber with talmidim
Dealing with the Mundane
When he was busy with divrei Torah which had been "hewn from Throne of Glory," his eyes would shine, his face was aglow and his entire being bespoke holiness. On the other hand, his face changed when he had to deal with the matters of "the wilderness." When he had to take care of mundane affairs such as the yeshiva's financial affairs, his face would wear an expression which said, "who am I that you complain to me?" Why am I to be troubled with monetary affairs? It was the same expression that he had when the rebbetzin would call to him, `Boruch Ber'l, the storekeeper wants to be paid.'" from an article in Haheid, Shvat-Adar 5740, vol. V quoted by Rabbi Edelstein pg.28
"In his practice of kibbud av, Reb Boruch Ber towered above others. His talmid, the gaon HaRav Yitzchok Isaac Sher zt'l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Knesses Yisroel (Slobodka and Bnei Brak), when discussing the meticulous fulfillment of mitzvos, would often remark, "Kibbud av is an example of a mitzva that is extremely difficult to fulfill. The generation possessed one single tzaddik who used to carry it out, our master the gaon Reb Boruch Ber." Rabbi Edelstein ibid. pg.107
"He displayed his gratitude to Reb Chaim at every opportunity and was entirely faithful to him. He was a devoted to Reb Chaim's sons and grandchildren as he was to his own children. He spared no effort or trouble, doing as much for them as he possibly could. This writer once happened to be in Reb Boruch Ber's home in Kamenetz when a buzz of preparations was evident. Upon asking what all the bustle was about, the members of the household answered, "The man who used to be Reb Chaim's assistant has arrived in Kamenetz, the preparations are for him..." The assistant spent several weeks in Reb Boruch Ber's house. He made regular visits to Kamenetz and was treated like a family member." Rabbi Edelstein ibid. pg.79
Opposition to Zionism
No mention is made by Reb Reuven in his Portrait, of Reb Boruch Ber's specific strong ideological opposition to Zionism, in any of its various forms. (This opposition was a direct continuation of Reb Chaim's well known views.) While the reason for this omission is a matter of speculation, (the Portrait was originally published in New York in 1954 as a preface to the second volume of Bircas Shmuel), several of Reb Boruch Ber's comments and observations have been published in an appendix to the new Chidushei Veshiurei Maran R' Boruch Ber, cheilek III. The items in this appendix, which is entitled Chomas Hadas, have been collected from Reb Reuven's handwritten records of his father-in-law's opinions, as they were expressed to Reb Reuven during the twenty-five years that the two worked together.
"The gemora in Makkos (daf 24) says, `Dovid came and condensed them [the taryag mitzvos] into eleven principles...Yeshayoh came and condensed them into six...Michoh came and condensed them into three...Chavakuk came and condensed them into one, as it says, `and a tzaddik lives by his emunah.' This means that in each generation, the yetzer hora undermines different foundations of Yiddishkeit. In the time of Dovid, the battle against the yetzer hora had to be waged on eleven fronts, in the time of Yeshaya, on six fronts and in the time of Chavakuk, the yetzer hora is concentrated on undermining the foundation of emunah.
In our generation, Zionism is the apostasy for their work is to spread the idea that Nationalism, not emunah and Torah, is the foundation of our existence. This destroys emunah, as Chavakuk taught.
"The Mizrachi, who base themselves upon Religious-Nationalism, also go against Chavakuk's teaching. If someone describes himself as being both `a man' and `alive,' this indicates that he understands neither what is implied by being a man, nor the meaning of life and death. If he did, he would understand that someone who is not alive is not a man either. To call oneself `a live man' means that one thinks that a dead man is also a man but that a live man possesses an extra quality of being alive.
When Chavakuk said `[he] lives by his emunah,' he meant that the entire life of the Jewish Nation is based upon faith. When the two principles of Religion and Nationalism are combined, this implies that a Jew has an additional foundation and that Yiddishkeit is possible even without emunah, only a ma'amin has the added quality of being religious. This approach tears out the roots of Yiddishkeit...
...they are worse than the Zionists for they overturn the words of the Living G-d and reveal an interpretation of Torah that is not in line with our halachic tradition, whereas whilst the Zionists are against Torah, they do not change it. If they [the Mizrachi] possess good qualities, it is because Torah and emunah have not yet become uprooted from their midst and they are half-Torah Jews and half-Zionists. Whatever Zionism they espouse however, is utter apostasy." ibid. pp.427-8
"When youths from the Zionist Locale beat bochurim from the yeshiva, my father-in-law zt'l said that the youths themselves were not to blame for they had been educated to hate bnei Torah. The entire episode had been sent by Heaven so that bnei Torah would keep their distance from Zionism—so that they should feel themselves how it damages and inflicts pain. To what can this be compared? To a father who wants to keep his son away from a dog. He will rouse the dog so that it will grab his son's hand. Then the son will know that he has to beware of the dog." ibid. pg.428
"Love of Eretz Yisroel is only to be found amongst the Torah scholars, such as the geonim Reb Yehoshua Leib [Diskin] zt'l, Rav Naftoli Amsterdam zt'l, and Reb Tzvi MiSlabodke zt'l, (HaRav Tzvi Hirsch Rabinowitz, the rav of Slobodka and son of HaRav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector zt'l.) The Zionists have no love for Eretz Yisroel whatsoever." ibid. pg.430
Distancing Oneself From Reshoim in Deed and Thought
These reshoim are very bad since they meisis and meidi'ach am Yisroel, and especially young children, away from Hashem, his Torah and emunah. We have explicit lavim against loving a meisis and meidi'ach (Rambam, Lo Sa'ase 18 and SeMaG 27) and to always retain hatred for him (Rambam, Lo Sa'ase 18 and Chinuch 458) and not to refrain from finding out and publicizing bad things about the meisis and meidi'ach (Rambam, Lo Sa'ase 21, and SeMaG 31).
In Rambam, Laws of Sanhedrin 11:5 it says that cruelty to such a person is mercy, as he wrote in More Nevuchim 1:54 that lo sechaye kol neshomoh applied to the Canaanite nations comes not from revenge but so that no one should learn from them. As the Or HaChaim explained in Pinchas (28:18) tzror es hamidyonim is to hate those who induce to sin and to detest even the pleasant things that come from them. The word "tzror" means to increase the hatred until it becomes natural. R' Boruch Ber explained this to mean that one who induces to sin is worse than one who murders, and how can one not hate someone who runs after him to uproot him from existence.
When one says "Hashem Echod" in Shema, one must negate all the avoda zoras in the world, including Communism, Zionism, [Jewish] culturists, Yiddishism. This is because the bell of the house of avoda zorah and their book is the same avoda zorah.
When one distances himself from minus in his heart, he fulfills the lo Sa'ase of "lo sosuru acharei levavechem — this is minus," and also the lo Sa'ase from divrei kabolo of "harcheik mipesach beisah — this is minus." (See Rambam Avodas Kochovim 2:1-3.) One must search his ways and introspect carefully so that he not have even the slightest inclination towards the minim. Especially when one has to come on to their offices, and to get even the slightest benefit from them.
When my father-in-law was in Kremenchug, the Communists were in control and they used to ration out food to the entire city. This is how they allocated it: the maid in [my father in law's] house (who was not normal) they used to get the best food. Children and the aged used to get second class food. My father-in-law got third class food.
Even so, he was always afraid to eat from the food they gave him. First of all because it was stolen from Jews, like his rebbe R Chaim Soloveitchik said of Lenin ym'sh, "a velt's ganov, (a world-class thief)." But mainly he was afraid lest he have cholila any kirvas da'as to them because he was benefiting from them.
Bein Yisroel Lo'amim
"Reb Boruch Ber saw a total polarity between Jews and gentiles. He would say, `There are only two nations in the world, Jews and gentiles.' Before his eyes was always Chazal's statement (Eruvin daf 62) `An oveid cochovim is suspected of murder.'
He would explain to his pupils, `... [what is] a man who conducts himself according to the conventions of society—`I won't steal from you so that you won't steal from me.' Such a man is no better than a robber who is travelling through the desert who simply lacks the opportunity to steal. Is he less of a robber because of that? Why, as soon as he reaches a town, he'll steal as much as he can!" Rabbi Edelstein pg.129