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14 Kislev, 5782 - November 18, 2021 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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R' Boruch Ber: A Sketch of Maran, our Master and Teacher zt'l

by his son-in-law, the gaon HaRav Reuven Grozovsky zt'l

HaRav Boruch Ber with talmidim

This "Sketch" of R' Boruch Ber appears as a preface to the second volume of Bircas Shmuel. It is not a biographical sketch since it does not deal with Reb Boruch Ber's life story. Rather it is an evaluation of his greatness, which has great relevance for us since, as Reb Reuven writes, "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."

This "Sketch" is in fact a master-shiur, written by a master-maggid shiur. It therefore needs to be studied, not merely read. In a few places, where the flow of Reb Reuven's meaning was not immediately apparent, a few explanatory words have been added inside square brackets. Similarly, a number of references are made to attitudes or practices of Reb Boruch Ber's with which readers may be unfamiliar. These are only excerpts.

HaRav Reuven Grozovsky zt"l

"Shelo Lishmoh" Mitoch Lishmoh

As we prepare to be instructed and illuminated by the light which shines from the wondrous life of my teacher and father-in-law zt'l, we must be aware that the intellectual genius and the good deeds which he amassed and acquired throughout his years, are not of such great concern to us in and of themselves, as is the pivotal role which Torah, emunah and excellence of character played in his life. [More important than knowing the precise dimensions of his greatness is to realize that Torah and avoda were at the core of his being.]

In our times, we are witness to the tempest of lusts and desires which runs rampant throughout the world. One man's life revolves entirely around the love of money. For another, honor and glory are everything, while others spend their lives in the pursuit of different desires.

Entire philosophies have been founded on the assumption that desires are the fuel upon which the world feeds. One system of ideas proclaims that lust for women is the hinge upon which the world revolves. Another claims that satisfying hunger and the battle to stay alive are the driving forces of mankind. Even the more "refined" type of outlook merely sets up another desire—for glory and victory—as being of supreme and ultimate importance to the world.

In such an environment, it is obvious that the Torah's light begins to dim a little for us and some of the warmth departs from our souls. We are hardly aware any longer of the inner pulse of our own spirits. Doubt creeps into our hearts as to whether in such a generation, at such a time and in this country, it is possible to fully uphold Torah. We reason that it is impossible to cultivate genius and righteousness in their fullest, truest sense, in the tradition of our ancestors—we are forced into compromise.

At such a juncture, it is vital for us to remember my father-in-law zt'l, for whom Torah, yiras Shomayim and sterling character traits were the moving forces of life, capable of both lifting him to the heavens and causing him actual physical pain. When he succeeded in understanding the underlying logic of a gemora or a rishon his simchah knew no bounds. And when he was not successful, he could experience actual pain. The reason was because always, with his entire power and soul, engaged with the Torah and with eternity.

We saw with my father-in-law zt"l that all of his senses, feelings and desires were only directed towards Torah matters. During the bad times when he was in a spiritual desert and suffered great physical want, it was all the more felt that all the needs of this world were only necessary for him so that they did not interfere with his Torah. This was very evident to all those who knew him and his many deliberations about whether to smoke or not to smoke.

All the suffering and difficulty that he underwent in his changing places to live, only affected him to the extent that they affected his efforts in Torah.

As he once said to me in Vilna, when he davened in the beit knesset Gemilus Chessed Shel Emes, a place of prayer that was active throughout the day, that it was nice to daven in a place like this where generations of our forefathers invested so much kedushoh, because in a place like that tefillah bekavanah comes by itself.

When he was in America he pitied the Jews who live there because they have to start everything anew, to inject Torah and kedushoh into a desolate place in which the difficulties are greater. He would console them by saying that their reward is therefore also greater, but this merit does not minimize their obligation to Torah. How could it? Is there any place in the world in which there is not the possibility and the obligation to engage in the purpose of the world which is itself the source of the world?

As he once wrote to a rabbi from overseas whose son learned in our yeshiva who wanted his son to return home since he did not think that his son would ever be a rabbi, and he wrote him to ask if he thought that he could discharge his Torah obligation to teach his children with a small measure? He went on at length.

Aside from Torah he did not love anything else in the world. He used to say that the Torah loves only those he love nothing else aside from her. Only to such a person does she give herself and allow him to acquire her. But someone who loves another together with Torah, the Torah is not given over to her.

He used to be jealous of someone who understood a sevoroh that he did not understand and he was very upset about that. When the other one was younger he used to console himself by saying that it was age that caused his shortfall, and if he were younger he would certainly understand it also. He was also jealous of someone who had more talmidim than he.

His greatest pain came when he heard that divrei Torah were burned. Once when he heard that a manuscript of HaRav Reuven zt"l the rov of Dvinsk, he began to sob with great heartache.

He was very careful with things which cause forgetfulness, lest he forget as a result some of his Torah. This is so because the gemora says: Who is a fool? One who loses what is given to him. And who is a chochom? One to whom chochmoh is precious. He would not write divrei Torah on erev Shabbos Kodesh after noon since work done then will not have a siman brochoh.

The greatness of my father-in-law lay not in that he gave up more than anyone else for Torah, but rather that he took from the Torah more than anyone. He would rejoice and thank Hashem that he was able to expend all his powers on Torah and not waste them on nothing. He felt that in this way he had made the best deal in the world. And whoever heard the verses that he would make up and sing after the chagim knew his great simchah and enthusiasm for Torah.

With regard to all the new approaches to minus, such as reform and conservative, he was the greatest kano'i and extremely firm. Usually a kano'i is a tough person who lacks love for his fellows, but we all saw that by nature he was beneficent and wanted the best for everyone. However when it came to matters of emunah he would overcome his nature. Actually his extremism came from his merciful nature since he said that the min tries to murder the soul and eternity of the Jews.

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 workman fixed the stove and he mistook him for a non-Jew and greeted him accordingly. 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.


"To Smoke or not to Smoke?"

"He had an original way of consuming cigarettes. He didn't light the cigarette but put it between his lips as it was and sucked and chewed it until it disintegrated. He became so used to doing this that he would experience a special enjoyment from this type of "smoking." He provided the following explanation for his conduct.

His father had once given him a cigarette and said, "Here you are, have a smoke."

On the other hand, his rebbe Reb Chaim Soloveitchik had seen him smoking and commented, "What do you need this for?"

Reb Boruch Ber was in doubt as to what both of them had meant. Had his father meant him to take up smoking, into which habit giving him a cigarette had been a sort of "induction," or had it simply been the one-time gift of a cigarette?

On the other hand, had Reb Chaim's comment been intended to convey disapproval and if so, on what grounds? Was it from considerations of health? Was it because smoking was a destructive habit? Or was Reb Chaim simply pointing out that smoking was unnecessary and pointless?

After examining the matter from all angles, he decided to adopt his practice as a way of fulfilling the instructions of both of them."

— Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin writing in Ishim Ve Shittos pg.279 (There is of course much practical guidance, quite unconnected with smoking to be extracted from this account!)



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