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1 Kislev 5773 - November 15, 2012 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz — Rosh Yeshiva of Kamenetz

In honor of his yahrtzeit

"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 all."

The following incident portrays R' Boruch Ber's fear of Heaven.

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 excellent orator.

"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 agreed.

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 seated.

"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 kosher."

"I hereby take upon myself," the Rosh Yeshiva concluded confidently, "to return the theft at the first available opportunity!"


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!"


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