• Transcriptions

    Rabbi Boruch Ber Yoffe




    Early Impressions

    When you were in the presence of the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l,  you felt that you were in the presence of the Shechina.  His eyes shined.  You just felt that this was someone special.  His eyes penetrated.  They went through you.  When you heard a shiur, if you closed your eyes, the fire and thunder of the way he spoke, you’d think you were at Maimad Har Sinai[1].

    I was a kid when I first saw him.  My parents always brought us to him, and we saw him at various different tekufos in my growing up – from camp, in my teenage years.  The aura around him was something - something very special. 

    I do remember that after a shiur in Philadelphia once, he put so much kochos into it that afterwards, you saw how tired he was.  There was a picture around someplace from the end of that shiur.  You just saw how it took everything out of him.  But that was him.  While he was in the shiur, you thought he was a man with the biggest kochos.


    The Debreciner Rov

    I have in front of me a description from the Debreciner Rov.  It’s so clear, this is what everybody saw.  Talking about the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, he says, “Boarim k’lapid aish[2] v’einav habedolchim notztzim k’even habarak[3] mikedushas Toraso[4]”.

    He was then paskening a shailah they had then in Boro Park whether they should translate to Yiddish or to Hebrew. And you know, he was very shtark like the Debreciner, that it should not be translated into Hebrew.  It should be in Yiddish.  The Debreciner came, after the shailah, to a din Torah with the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, and this is the way he described the way he looked.  These words, these phrases that he said, this is what everybody saw of him.

    It’s an interesting psak he had.  He said he had a kabbola from m’dei gedolim of Lita[5], that in Holland, b’ifrat[6] in the city of Amsterdam, that Holland was a makor HaTorah for meah shana[7]. Sarei haTorah unmanhigei Yisrael yushvu al kisei rabanus[8], v’ata kimat ein zecher lerishonim shehayu[9] biglal sheshinu halimud[10] v’asur me’letargem hachumash m’yiddish l’lashon hamedina[11] v’az shavar asher yidbiku[12]

    I don’t know if people hold like that today because the matzav is different.  But we’re talking here about over forty years ago.  The first time they wanted to do this was in Boro Park, when they wanted to change from Yiddish.  I mean, there was no girls school in Boro Park and they wanted to learn the targum of Chumash b’Ivris[13].

    Harbei anshei maaseh hisnagdu kneged zeh[14]. This is the Debreciner.  Vegam letova yizachru chelek m’hanhalla[15], shegam b’eyneyhem haya kekotz vepanu elai[16]. They came to the Debreciner, “Should we translate it to Hebrew or not?”  Halachti im’Hagaon Amiti Tzaddik b’Yisrael Harav HaGaon Rabbi Aharon Kotler, Rosh Yeshiva HaKedosha Lakewood[17] lehazmin menahalei ozo beis chinnuch le’din torah[18] shelo yilmidu tirgumei chummash  b’ivris[19] ki im b’lashon Yiddish hanohagin b’vatei yisrael haksherim[20]. V’amarti ta’anosai veheim gam umru taanosaihem[21] and this is where he said what I quoted before, keshe pnei haGaon HaTzaddik Hagaon Ha’atzum[22]  Boarim k’lapid aish[23] v’einav habedolchim notztzim k’even habarak[24] mikedushas Toraso[25] vehi keviyado haTorah asher al shulchano[26] asher lifnei Hashem[27] HaKoach, Hakol[28], Veholech cherdas Elokim v’tzoak[29], Gerecht Gerecht[30] is the Debreciner Rav, he is Gerecht, K’Kedushas kabballah asher beyedeinu[31] - as this whole thing from Holland.


    “Kesser Torah”

    Reb Moshe Scherer said at the groundbreaking here in Lakewood in Bais Faiga that the Rosh Yeshiva was the greatest person who ever lived in America.  I mean, I heard this.

    I always imagined if they would ever write seforim or biographies on different Gedolim, and everybody would put together a biography on the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l - I understand it would be very hard to do justice to it, and that’s why it hasn’t come out - I would call it “Kesser Torah” because that’s what he lifted up here.  He was the crown of Torah.  He brought it on a higher level.  Other Rosh Yeshivas, other Rebbes said, “It can’t be done in America.”  His concept of kollel, his concept of whatever it is.  That’s what he brought about.


    A Story from Reb Yankev Teitelbaum

    I heard the following story from Reb Yankev Teitelbaum [u1] when the Rosh Yeshiva was still alive.  This is not after someone is niftar, and people start telling maasehs.

    It was either after Shiva Asar B’Tamuz or motzai [32]Tisha B’Av.  Reb Yankev used to take the counselors of Camp Agudah and tell them the maasehs after they put the kids to sleep. 

    So he said he was by this maaseh.  He was in Vien[33], where he was the Rov of Zeirei Agudas Yisroel.  Vien was a city where people used to go for vacations.  There were a lot of doctors there, so it was a place you could find certain tekufos that there were Gedolim there.  So they used to have asifas there.  There was one asifa when Rav Chaim Ozer was there and they were dan something. Reb Yankel himself was a yungerman, and there were other yeshivaleit who stood around just to hear what was going on. 

    The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was the youngest of the whole group; He got up to say a meinung, an opinion.  An old Rov, who obviously didn’t know who he was, got up and told him, “Yungerman[34], sit down.  Who are you to talk in front of Gedolei Hador?”

    Reb Yankev said that he remembered that Rav Chaim Ozer got up and told this Rov, “Der yungerman darf men tzu heren[35] vail der nexter dor vet zein oif zein pleitzis[36]”.

    This is what I heard from Reb Yankev Teitelbaum who was by this when this happened. 


    Hakaras Hatov for Girls’ Schools

    When the Rosh Yeshiva, zt”l was niftar, the whole world was in yiush. Everything was in his direction.  Everybody looked towards him, and thought, “How can Klal Yisroel go on without him?”  Everybody was relying on him.  I mean, Torah today is because of him.  He came here and said that in the goldener medinah[37] we could do all these things.  And we could learn Torah on the level l’shmoh and not for semicha and not for a job and not for anything else.

    He more than once said at asifas at his house that he had hakaras hatov to Reb Boruch Kaplan and his Rebbetzin and those who ran the girls’ schools.  He said that if he would produce talmidim and they didn’t have anyone to marry, the work would go down the hill.  So he was always makir tov to them.


    The Shechina rests on him

    Here’s a famous story that I heard from Reb Yankev[38].  Reb Yankev said that when he was a child, he once walked the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l to his house, and Reb Yankev’s mother asked him after the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l left, “”Ver is der yingel?  Der Shechina ligt oif em[39].”  As a child, they saw he was someone special.


    In Yerushalyaim

    In bein hazmanim, the Rosh Yeshiva used to go to Yerushalayim for the Agudah elections, or for Chinuch Atzmoi.  He was once walking in Yerushalayim, and the ormeleit asked him for money, so he gave money.  And then he would come back to give an ore’man money a second time.  So someone asked him, “Why are you giving again?” He said, “Because last time, I was short on money.”  So he remembered which ore’man he didn’t give him last time.  The memory - he was a genius they say.  And there wasn’t one like him for generations.  His memory was phenomenal.  There’s no end to the stories they tell.


    The Rosh Yeshiva’s Bracha

    At my vort, which was on the last day of the Rosh Yeshiva’s shiva, Reb Berel Peker [40]zt”l told the following story.  He was teaching then in Riverdale. R’ Shmuel Kaufman, who was then a rebbe in Elizabeth, and later a rebbe in Detroit, didn’t have kids for many years, and all of a sudden, his wife became pregnant. The Rosh Yeshiva told him, “You’re going to have a boy.” And he did have a boy, so afterwards, people asked how he knew. Rabbi Peker explained that Shmuel Kaufman’s brother Yossel was a talmid of the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l and went to him to get a bracha for his brother.  The Rosh Yeshiva asked, “Does he keep taharas mishpacha?”


    “What does he do, is he in chinnuch?

    So he answered, “Oh yes, he’s very devoted.  He’s a tremendous mechanech.”  So, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l promised him a yingel

    So that’s how he knew.


    The Rosh Yeshiva’s Hasmoda

    I’ll tell you a maaseh about the Rosh Yeshiva’s hasmoda.  He once went in to lie down and then he jumped out of bed and said, “Oy!”  He thought he lay down because he was lazy, not because he’s really tired. He always had a sefer in his hand.  I mean, his chap was unbelievable.


    “Ask the Rosh Yeshiva”

    At every Torah U’Mesorah convention, there’s a session called, “Ask the Rosh Yeshiva.” So they ask shailos to Rosh Yeshivas

    The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was there and they would come over and ask shailos.  So when he was niftar, Reb Yankev[41] became chairman of that session for one year. 

    When it came to the day of the session, Reb Yankev said, “Ich bein nisht der Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva[42] I can’t answer the questions on the spot. Ask me early in the day, I’ll go over it, and then I’ll answer it at night.”

    Since then, it has gone down the dor [43]that they have three Rosh Yeshivas having to answer the questions, but not one Rosh Yeshiva is ready to answer.  And they all have to write all the questions before.   But the Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva wasn’t like that.  The Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva, he answered everything.  He was a genius.  It was unbelievable.  He answered everything on the spot.


    Reb Shmuel Faivelson  [44]- Keeping Track of Attendance

    There’s a story with Reb Shmuel Faivelson they tell over.  The Rosh Yeshiva knew every bochur and every yungerman who was by the shiur.  He used to give a shiur Shabbos, and one Sunday, someone stopped Reb Shmuel and asked him about the shiur.  Reb Shmuel answered.

    The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l said, “How do you know?  You weren’t by the shiur yesterday.” 

    Reb Shmuel Faivelson said, “I remember from four years ago.”  (The cycle was four years.)

    So the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l said, “You weren’t by the shiur four years ago.” 

    The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l remembered that the talmid wasn’t there, that was his kesher with his talmidim.

    Reb Shmuel Faivelson said, “I remember from eight years before.”

    And that tells you a lot about both people. 


    Kavod for a Ben Torah

    The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l used to speak very often about how a ben Torah has to respect himself.  In order for people to give kavod HaTorah, you have to give kavod too. 

    That was the ruach here and I understand it was from the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l because I know in Philly[45] it was also like that. You don’t walk into the bais medrash with a coat.  You don’t walk into the bais medrash with rubbers.  When you bring your shirts to the cleaners, you put them in a bag.  You don’t walk with your shirts out.  There’s a certain kavod HaTorah that a ben Torah had to know, had to learn.  You have to act differently.  He used to propagate this, to say that the olam is going to be machshiv a ben Torah if you are going to be machshiv yourself.  I remember Lakewood yungerleit would not answer a door without putting a jacket on.  All that came from the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, from the ruach that he created. 


    Fiery Shiurim, but Gentle Personality

    Even though he was a person, when he gave a shiur, you had fire.  You would never hear a shiur like his, the bren and the hollering.  You heard it a mile away.  There was so much in his shiur, and he gave the same shiurim for fifty years.  But what he did bein adam l’chavero - he was so timid and so quiet, and the chesed; it was unbelievable the way he dealt with everybody.  

    They tell over a maasehReb Eliyahu Lopian[46] gave a schmooze once in Lakewood about yegiyus haTorah And the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l was sitting there and listening and crying.  And this is the biggest masmid in the world, the Rosh Yeshiva zt”l, and he’s the one crying that he is not yogea enough in Torah when he hears a schmooze.  He was so m’bais ume bachutz[47]. He was so caught up, so in Torah.  You saw that the Rosh Yeshiva was totally everything and everything into Torah. I remember. And here he’s the one whose yegiyus is not enough!

    The cook here in yeshiva, l’moshol, Mrs. Berman, was the first cook in BMG.  The Rosh Yeshiva zt”l used to make it his business to walk in.  He used to eat with the bochurim, and he’d go into the kitchen always to give her a “Good Shabbos” and to thank her. 

    He used to talk a lot on the importance of daas Torah, kavod HaTorah, kavod Shomayim.  These were things that you heard k’seder that he always would speak about.  I mean, you see how he lifted up the Torah in the gantze America. 

    One bochur who was driving him said that once he got into the car, and as they were about to leave and he said, “Ein minut![48]” and he ran back into the house.

    So the bochur wondered, “Why did he go back in?” 

    He went in to say “a gutten tog[49]” to his Rebbetzin.  He had forgotten to tell her “a good day” when he left, so when he got in the car, he went back in to say “a gutten tog.”  That’s feeling for someone else.

    I heard this story from a nephew of mine R’ Henoch Zacks.  He’s an einekel of Reb Mendel Zacks.  He’s Reb Gershon Zacks’ son.  So he …


    [1] Deliverance of the Torah at Mount Sinai

    [2] Shimmering like a torch of fire

    [3] And his sparkling eyes shimmer like diamonds

    [4] From the holiness of Torah

    [5] Ruling, pronouncement from the Rabbis of Lithuania

    [6] Especially

    [7] Holland was a bastion of Torah for 100 years

    [8] Torah Giants and leaders of Jewry, presided over the Rabbinical duties

    [9] And now there is nearly no recollection of the former sages

    [10] Because they changed the method of learning

    [11] And it is prohibited to translate the Chummash from Yiddish to the accepted language of the country

    [12] For then all who follow this method, will be ruined

    [13] Translation of Chummash in Hebrew

    [14] Many public activists opposed this

    [15] It is worthy to recall commendably those members of the administration

    [16] Who opposed this transition, and they turned to me

    [17] I went together with the revered Harav Hagaon R’ Aharon Kotler, Rosh Yeshivas Lakewood

    [18] To summon the principals of that school to a court case

    [19] That they should not learn the translation of Chumash in Hebrew

    [20] Rather, in Yiddish, as is customarily accepted in the pious Jewish Homes.

    [21] I told over my claims, and they told over their claims

    [22] The face of the awesomely reverent Gaon HaTzaddik,

    [23] Shimmering like a torch of fire

    [24] And his shimmering eyes sparkle like a diamond

    [25] From the holiness of the Torah

    [26] And it was as if he was holding onto the holy Torah which was on his table

    [27] Which is before Hashem

    [28] The strength for it all

    [29] In trepidation of G-d he cries out

    [30] Correct and true

    [31] He is correct and true as the ruling which we have in front of us

    [32] the evening after the Sabbath, Yom Tov, or religious festival or occasion

    [33] Vienna, Austria

    [34] Young man -Torah scholar

    [35] We must pay attention to what this young man has to say

    [36] Because the next generation will be on his shoulders

    [37] The golden country – connotation for America

    [39] Who is that boy? The Shechina rests on him.

    [40] A talmid of the Rosh HaYeshivah zt”l both in Kletsk and Lakewood

    [41] Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky

    [42] I am not the Kletzker Rosh Yeshiva

    [43] The generation has descended; i.e. the level of Torah greatness diminishes with each generation after Sinai

    [44] Rabbi Shmuel Faivelson shlit”a, an renowned and devoted disciple of Rabbi Kotler in Lakewood

    [45] Talmudical Yeshiva of Philadelphia

    [46] Elyah Lopian (1872-1970)

    [47] He was like this from inside and out

    [48] One minute

    [49] Have a good day

     [u1]Rabbi Ya’akov Teitelbaum zt”l was a foremost disciple of the great Rabbi Meir Arik zt”l. He led his community in Kew Gardens, Queens. In the summertime, he was the spiritual authority of Camp Agudah in the Catskill Mountains. One of the leaders of the generation testified that he was “a sage and a trustworthy man.” His love for all Jews was outstanding and he honored each Jew much more than was due to him based on his level. I was fortunate to merit a special relationship with him when we were together for two summers.


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