"Just to look at the picture of Reb Boruch Ber," his
greatest talmidim claimed, "is to behold a
reflection of what the Rosh Yeshiva was. The yiras
Shomayim that emanates from the portrait says it
The following incident portrays R' Boruch Ber's fear of
If ever there was a rebbe and talmid whose
souls were closely intertwined, R' Chaim Brisker was
that rebbe and R' Boruch Ber his talmid.
The day that R' Chaim zt"l was niftar, a
talmid of R' Boruch Ber burst into the Rosh
Yeshiva's room, holding aloft a newspaper with the
tragic headline. To his shock and disbelief, R' Boruch
Ber showed no reaction at all and continued learning.
When his other talmidim came a while later,
wishing to mourn together with their teacher and
mentor, they beheld R' Boruch Ber sitting and learning
calmly, and they assumed that he knew nothing of the
calamity that had just befallen Klal Yisroel.
Hesitantly, one of the more courageous among them
quietly informed R' Boruch Ber that his great rebbe,
R' Chaim, had passed on to the next world. With a
bitter cry of anguish, R' Boruch Ber fell to the
ground. His talmidim remained in respectful
silence, crying with him over their loss as R' Boruch
Ber was unable to calm down.
Only one talmid, apart from sensing sorrow, was
also puzzled. The bochur who had shown his
rosh yeshiva the newspaper waited a few hours
before he could ask R' Boruch Ber the question.
"Why when I first showed the Rosh Yeshiva the
revelation of R' Chaim's passing, did the Rebbe not
react? Like a stone he continued learning. Yet when a
talmid repeated the news, the Rosh Yeshiva
behaved so drastically, falling to the floor and crying
bitterly for so long. Perhaps the Rosh Yeshiva was just
shocked into silence at first?"
The talmid's question begged for an explanation.
But more than that was to come.
"Listen my son," replied R' Boruch Ber. "A few years
ago the gedolei hador announced their opposition
to newspapers, rendering them unfit to be admitted into
a Jewish household due to the apikorsus they
spewed. Heresy has no basis and a heretic is liable to
be a liar.
"I have already accustomed all my faculties," continued
R' Boruch Ber, "to be subservient solely to Torah. If,
according to da'as Torah, the newspapers are
bearers of falsehood, to me it's as though they said
nothing at all. So much so that my mind did not grasp
what you said and my heart refused to believe it.
However, when my talmidim told me that R' Chaim
was niftar, my whole being shook and I fell in
mourning to the floor."
So saying, R' Boruch Ber burst into fresh tears,
bemoaning the loss.
R' Boruch Ber held newspapers in utter contempt. It is
brought in the hakdomoh to Bircas Shmuel
that not once did he ever read even one.
On one occasion he noticed a newspaper lying on the
table of an acquaintance.
"Tell me," he asked rhetorically, "If this newspaper
would report denigrating stories about your father,
would you keep it in the house? So how can a paper that
spreads heresy against our Father in heaven and his
Torah, be lying on your table?"
Similarly, he scolded men who had gone to hear the
speech of an infamous maskil. They apologized to
R' Boruch Ber for going, excusing themselves by saying
that they only attended because he was renowned as an
"I don't understand," exclaimed the Rosh Yeshiva. "If a
fire broke out setting alight a sefer Torah,
would you light a cigarette from that fire? How do you
then propose to enjoy the oratory of a maskil who
burns the Torah?"
A talmid of R' Boruch Ber who learned every day
with him for a fixed amount of time, related that one
day the Rosh Yeshiva asked him to stay an hour longer
than usual. Thinking that the Rosh Yeshiva intended to
continue learning another hour, the talmid
Just as the hour that they usually finished arrived,
there was a knock at the door. In walked a well-known
Zionist leader who lived in town.
"I arose, intending to leave the room," relates the
talmid, "but Rabbeinu signaled that I remain
"The man had come to ask some practical advice and the
Rosh Yeshiva, in his wisdom, gave him the counsel he
had sought. I noticed with wonder that all the time the
man was with us, Rabbeinu looked nervous and fearful, a
tremor even passing through him from time to time.
"Finally, having led his guest to the door, Rabbeinu
returned to the room and, with a sigh of relief,
thanked me for staying adding that I could now leave.
" `Didn't the Rosh Yeshiva want to learn for another
hour?' I ventured.
" `No, no,' smiled R' Boruch Ber with a wave of his
hand. `The reason I asked you to stay was because I
knew this fellow wanted to come just now. I heard from
my teacher, R' Chaim zt"l, that the Zionists may
be considered murderers [for leading Jews away from the
truth in life]. In Shulchan Oruch Yoreh Deah
there's a psak that one may not be enclosed in a
room alone with someone suspected of murder, so I was
poshut afraid to be alone with him, and asked you
to stay with me.' "
During World War I, Rabbeinu stayed in the city of
Krementchug, and subsequently moved to Vilna. Many
years later, his son-in-law R' Moshe Borenstein found
Rabbeinu sitting and crying with deep pain and remorse.
R' Boruch Ber explained, "Today I opened a sefer
in my house and saw that it belonged to the shul
in Krementchug. In that case, I am a gazlan.
"Worse still, as a result I caused a woman to sin by
marrying before she had a get. A few years ago I
was in Minsk and, upon the request of its rov, Rav
Eliezer Rabinowitz, I agreed to arrange the divorce of
a woman. At that time, this sefer was already in
my possession, rendering me a thief, and a thief is
invalid to be a dayan in a divorce procedure."
All R' Moshe's attempts to reassure his father-in-law
that this was no robbery were in vain. He argued that
since the sefer was taken by mistake, it wasn't
more than a shogeig — to no avail. R' Boruch Ber
paced his room, a cloud of gloom enveloping him. All at
once he stopped.
Wiping the sweat from his brow, he said slowly, "I
think I have an answer. When I was once traveling with
a group of people, we were pounced upon by a gang of
highway robbers who threatened to kill us all. I said
vidui at the time and confessed all the sins I
had done beyod'im uvelo yod'im. This theft that I
knew nothing about was thus included in my confession.
However," he continued, voicing his thoughts aloud, "I
have yet to fulfill the mitzvah of returning the stolen
property. At the moment, the war situation prevented me
from doing so, but at least I was only an onus
and the woman's divorce is therefore considered
"I hereby take upon myself," the Rosh Yeshiva concluded
confidently, "to return the theft at the first
R' Boruch Ber's father was with the yeshiva during the
war. With the war's end and their return to Vilna, his
father fell ill. R' Boruch Ber, with loving dedication,
sat day and night at his bedside, refusing to leave to
rest as urged by his talmidim who were prepared
to take over for a few hours. Subsequently, when his
father passed away, R' Boruch Ber was unable to come to
terms with the situation. He constantly berated
himself: perhaps he could have helped his father live
longer. All attempts to console him had no effect.
One day at an aseifas harabbonim in Vilna, the
Chofetz Chaim zt"l approached him and spoke to
him at length about the mitzvah of repentance.
"Teshuva," he said, "not only atones for the sins
of a person but changes him into a new creation."
Following this conversation, R' Boruch Ber's dejected
mood lifted as he told his talmidim, "I'm a
completely new person."
In every shmuess concerning teshuva, the
Rosh Yeshiva would repeat the words of the Chofetz
Chaim, exhorting them to repent and become "new
people," adding: "the Chofetz Chaim revived my soul!"