|When the news of the petirah of the Boyaner Rebbe zt'l reached the shores of Eretz Yisroel, a few yungerleit (yeshiva men) went to visit the Rebbe's cousin, HaRav Hatzaddik Reb Shlomenu of Sadiger zt'l to be with him during that difficult time. When he saw them coming Reb Shlomenu told them, "Even if I was surrounded by ten thousand people, I would still feel alone!"|
With these few words Reb Shlomenu expressed the feelings of all who had known or even had contact with the Boyaner Rebbe. Every person felt as if the Rebbe had singled him out, as if he was the Rebbe's closest and most trusted confidant.
His chassidim stood in awe before him, watching his every word and move. They regarded him as a tzaddik from generations gone by, a holy remnant from a higher past.
The Rebbe lived in New York for over forty years during which time he was instrumental in changing the city from a spiritual wilderness to a fortress of Torah. Without any pomp; without any rebuke; with very few words - he always counted every syllable - he attracted many of the younger generation not just to Torah and Yiddishkeit, (Judaism) but to true chassidus, kedusha, and madreigos. Through his personal example he served as a father figure who showed the way for others to follow.
Reb Mordechai Shlomo was born on the thirteenth of Tishrei 5651 (1891). He was the youngest of four brothers, born to his father Reb Yitzchok, who was Rebbe in Boyan, Bukovina. At an early age, it was already apparent that Reb Mordechai Shlomo was destined for greatness. Even his father, who was known to count every word, uttered rare praise and proclaimed that his son was a chiddush (of unusual promise). The Boyaner Rebbe held his son in high esteem. He set aside time every Shabbos to speak to Reb Mordechai Shlomo, saying that when he looks at him it gives him oneg Shabbos (Sabbath delight).
As a youth Reb Mordechai Shlomo sat all day long closed in a room, hunched over the gemora (Talmud). He was rarely seen around the house. He was deeply engrossed in his learning during all his waking hours. Reb Mordechai Shlomo's mother became worried that the long hours spent learning and the lack of fresh air and exercise would ruin his health and she asked her husband to watch over their son's progress. "I already said a long time ago that he is a chiddush," he answered her, "you don't have to worry about him."
Soon after the outbreak of the first World War in 1914, the town of Boyan was totally destroyed, and the Boyaner Rebbe and his family were forced to flee to Vienna where they stayed until the petirah of the Boyaner Rebbe on the seventeenth of Adar 5677 (1917). After his petirah, the Rebbitzin was asked which one of her four sons she felt was most fitting to become Rebbe. She answered, "All of them were born bekedushah vetaharah (in holiness and purity) and each one of them is capable of taking over his father's place."
Almost as soon as Reb Mordechai Shlomo became Rebbe, stories started to circulate about his gadlus (greatness) and kedusha. The previous Skulener Rebbe zt'l, who was a close friend and admirer of the Rebbe, used to tell over the following story: "One day a distinguished looking stranger entered the beis hamedrash in Vienna and humbly asked if he could lead the tefillos (prayers) that day, since he had yahrtzeit. As soon as the stranger began leading the tefillah the Rebbe emerged from his room, walked up to the chazan and asked him why he was there. 'I have a chiyuv today', he explained. 'Perhaps you must lead the tefillos, but who said that I am under an obligation to hear you', the Rebbe retorted. As soon as the Rebbe had finished speaking, the stranger ran out of the shul. The stranger, who had appeared to be so respectable, was really a well known apikores (heretic). He had wagered a large sum that he could fool the Rebbe and pass himself off as a frum Yid (religious Jew). The man not only lost a considerable sum of money, but became a laughing stock among his friends. The Rebbe was able to sense that the man was an imposter."
In 1918, with the end of the war, the three oldest brothers left Vienna to set up their own courts, each in a different country. Reb Mordechai Shlomo stayed on in Vienna so as not to leave his elderly mother alone. Only after she was niftar in 1922 did he consider offers to leave Vienna.
In 1925 Reb Mordechai Shlomo agreed to visit New York in order to be mechazeik the many Ruzhiner chassidim living there, but he decided against settling there. He was worried that in America he would not be able to give a proper chinuch (education) to his children. Reb Mordechai Shlomo's uncle, the Chortkover Rebbe zt'l, disagreed with his decision and advised him to move to New York, saying that he would be able to spread the observance of Torah and mitzvos, and raise the standards of Yiddishkeit in America. Reb Mordechai Shlomo accepted his uncle's decision and made plans to move to New York.
At the time people were very shocked to hear that Reb Mordechai Shlomo was moving to America. In general, dire predictions were made for those abandoning Europe for America, and it was unthinkable that the Boyaner Rebbe's son would forsake his homeland when he could have stayed in Europe. Only many years later did people understand that he had gone ahead to prepare the way for the thousands of refugees to come.
Like most Jewish immigrants, the Boyaner Rebbe settled on the Lower East side of Manhattan, arriving there in Cheshvan 5687 (1927). He opened his beis hamedrash at 247 East Broadway, where he stayed until his petirah (death) over forty years later. Although not short of a minyan, the new Boyaner shul had the same problem as all the other shuls in New York: only the elderly came in to daven and to learn; the youth would hang around on the street corners and in the cafes.
When the Rebbe's oldest brother, Reb Menachem Nuchem (who
was Rebbe in Chernovitz), heard that his brother was having a
difficult time settling in America he exclaimed, "It's no
wonder! My brother is the epitome of emes (truth) and America
is the epitome of sheker (falsehood). Nu, how can
emes and sheker exist together?"
Despite all the difficulties involved, slowly but surely the Rebbe started to attract the youth into his beis hamedrash. He realized that what they needed was compassion and a fatherly ear. Many of the men had neglected their children due to the hard economic situation. The poverty also meant that there was no money for education and therefore the youth grew up knowing almost nothing.
Typical of the Rebbe's feelings for his bochurim was the following incident. Every night the Rebbe sat engrossed in his seforim, (books) in his private room next to the beis hamedrash. When he finished learning at a late hour, he retired for what was left of the night. Before ascending the stairs from his room to his flat the Rebbe entered the beis hamedrash to bid a 'good night' to a lone bochur (young man) who also used to be up learning every night. On one occasion, the Rebbe went straight upstairs without first having gone into the beis hamedrash. As he opened the door of his apartment, the Rebbe realized that he had forgotten to say 'good night' to the bochur.
The Rebbe suffered from severe arthritis his whole life. Every step was an ordeal for him, and climbing up and down stairs was especially difficult. The Rebbe however didn't think twice, and slowly descended the steep stairs down to the beis hamedrash. He walked up to the boy and humbly asked his forgiveness for having forgotten to wish him 'good night!'
The Rebbe often visited the newly opened yeshiva of Torah Vodaas in Williamsburgin order to encourage the bochurim. At the same time, he tested them to see how well they were learning. If a bochur was unable to answer the question, the Rebbe helped him with the answer in order not to embarrass the boy. One day, the Rebbe stopped visiting the yeshiva, because some of the bochurim had started to attend the Rebbe's tishen (table) and the Rebbe did not want people to think that he was seeking new chassidim.
Even in his later years the Rebbe spared no effort to encourage bochurim to learn to the best of their ability. The Rebbe used to go to Philadelphia once a year in order to visit his chassidim. Whilst he was there he would sit in the Philadelphia yeshiva by day together with the bochurim and speak with them about the gemora they were learning. His visits left a lasting impression not just on the bochurim, but also on the roshei yeshiva (Yeshiva principals) who appreciated his coming.
Often the Rebbe had to battle against unwilling parents who wanted their children to assimilate to the American lifestyle and not return to the shtetl (old world village) outlook that they themselves had run away from. One boy who had decided to become frum (religious) due to the Rebbe's influence on him came one day to the Rebbe in tears. His father had threatened that if he didn't give up his new way of life, he would have him declared meshuga (crazy) by a friend of his who was a doctor. As a result, he would be locked up in an institute for the mentally ill. The Rebbe comforted the boy, telling him not to worry, promising him that all would end well.
A few days later the boy's father entered the Rebbe's room and burst into tears. His second son had suddenly become ill and was found to be suffering from a severe mental illness. He was now in the very hospital to which he had threatened to send his first son. The father realized that he was being punished from Heaven and begged the Rebbe to help him. The Rebbe gave him his berocho (blessing) that his son would recover, at the same time making him promise to stop mistreating his first son. The Rebbe's berocho bore fruit and the boy had a miraculous recovery. As a result, the whole family repented, becoming faithful chassidim of the Rebbe.
People from all walks of life were attracted to the Rebbe, even those who had absolutely no contact with chassidus. Through his middos (ethical qualities) and humility many people were influenced to change their ways, and many became staunch Boyaner chassidim. One year on Erev Pesach a yungerman entered the Rebbe's beis hamedrash and saw to his surprise that the Rebbe was busy scrubbing the benches. "Why does the Rebbe have to clean the benches? There are gabboim who will see to it," the yungerman exclaimed. "The gabboim are also busy getting ready for Pesach, and they might forget to clean the benches," the Rebbe explained. "Tonight chassidim will come with new clothes lechovod Yom Tov (for the honor of the holiday). It would be a pity if they get ruined!"
On another occasion, the Rebbe was 'caught' standing on a chair setting the beis hamedrash clock to the right time. When the Rebbe was asked why he didn't leave the clock for others to see to, he answered, "Why? Am I exempt from the mitzva?"
Not only did the Rebbe not allow others to help him or serve him, but he insisted on serving others. On one occasion, the Rebbe was seen standing in a long queue. A yungerman who had an important appointment was afraid to go by himself. The Rebbe had offered to accompany him and was keeping his place in the queue.
The Rebbe's house became a focal point for the various meshulochim (fund raisers) and roshei yeshiva who came to collect money. He would advise them how and where to go, and would arrange fundraising efforts on their behalf.
Once, a few askonim (community activists) came to the Rebbe to ask him to speak to a philanthropist and convince him to give a donation to a certain tzedoko (charity). Having heard their request, the Rebbe took a fifty dollar note out of his pocket as his own donation for the tzedoko. The askonim, however, didn't want to take such a big sum of money from the Rebbe and they told him that they hadn't come to seek his donation, they just wanted him to influence the philanthropist. "Before one can influence somebody he has to also do something himself. Then the words have a different effect," the Rebbe explained to them.
The Rebbe's sense of honesty with tzedoko money was something to be marvelled at. When he travelled using public funds, he would refuse to go by taxi and would only use the subway. Even though the trustees had given him permission to take a taxi, he felt it was wrong to use the tzedoko money for his own comfort. Similarly he reminded meshulochim not to exaggerate the number of bochurim they were collecting for. If there were only forty nine boys in the yeshiva, they should not say there were fifty!
During the 1930s a steady trickle of new immigrants came to America and the need for an organization to help them was sorely felt. Attempts to set up an American branch of Agudas Yisroel during the late 1920s and the early 1930s were unsuccessful. In 1939, after many months of talks, Agudas Yisroel of America was finally founded. At the first convention, in Far Rockaway during July 1939, Rav Eliezer Silver was elected president and the Rebbe was elected vice president.
During Agudas Yisroel's first few years in America, it suffered many trials and tribulations until it became firmly established. Many were the stumbling blocks put in its way by those hoping to bring the new organization to its knees. Even so, the Rebbe was always treated with the utmost respect and kovod (honor).
It was well known that the Rebbe's every act was to increase kovod Shomayim (Hashem's honor) and not for his own personal honor. The Rebbe often said that it doesn't matter if there are chilukei dei'os (differences of opinions) between people, the main thing is that there should not be peirud halevovos (division). He constantly spoke about the importance of achdus (unity) and respecting the feelings of others.
The Rebbe himself would spare no effort not to hurt the feelings of others as is illustrated by the following story. The Rebbe often carried on him an ancient coin which he had inherited from his zeides (grandfathers). Once while the Rebbe was staying in the house of one of his chassidim, the coin disappeared and could not be found. The Rebbe didn't tell anyone of its loss and only after the coin had been found did he admit that it had already been missing for a few days. The owner of the house was upset that the Rebbe hadn't informed him right away of its disappearance. He would have searched for the coin immediately. "I was worried that someone might suspect the maid of having stolen it, so I decided that it was best to keep quiet," the Rebbe answered.
Once, during a meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, (Council of Torah Sages) a certain (passage of) gemora was quoted but no one could remember exactly where it was written. After a few minutes the Rebbe said, "It so happens that I just recently learned this particular gemora," and he told them the exact place where it was written. After the meeting, the Bluzover Rebbe zt'l, who was a close friend of the Rebbe, asked him if he had indeed just learned that gemora as he had claimed.
"I must admit it wasn't quite as I had said," the Rebbe answered him, "but I felt that it was permissible to change the truth a little bit in order not to embarrass the many great talmidei chachomim (sages) who were sitting there!"
Throughout his life, the Rebbe remained loyal to the ideals of Agudas Yisroel. In his book, Reb Moshe Sherer relates, "In the eyes of the Boyaner Rebbe, Agudas Yisroel wasn't just another side interest, it was a foundation stone to unite Yidden, and therefore he was tied to it with his heart and soul. I cannot recall that he ever refused to take part in a program of Agudas Yisroel. Indeed, many of the programs originated from the Rebbe. His involvement with Aguda lifted up the prestige of the organization and increased its membership.
The Rebbe rejoiced on every new project even if it was extremely minor, every improvement was a berocho for Klall Yisroel, often he would send money to finance the various projects, and each time he contributed - even when it was a considerable donation - he would apologize that he could not give more... .
Every time we would come to him, we would leave strengthened, we would leave convinced of the importance of our work. It wasn't surprising that he held the Aguda in such high esteem. He was one of the few gedolim who came to America in the days when it was still a spiritual wilderness, he was in the position to appreciate how Aguda had built up the Torah community to the standard it is today."
||Despite the great achievements of Agudas Yisroel, the Rebbe was never satisfied with what had been accomplished. He often said that although anyone looking at America a few years earlier could justly be proud of the change, this did not exempt them from what still had to be accomplished. Regarding the building of a sukkah the halocho demands that it must be 'ta'ase velo min ho'osuy.' The Rebbe would say that we must adopt the same principle - to carry on doing (ta'ase), and not just be happy with what has already been done (velo min ho'osuy).|
The Rebbe did not limit his communal activities to Agudas Yisroel. He helped set up the Agudas Ha'admorim (Rebbe's Coaliton) to assist various rebbes and rabbonim who arrived in America without a soul to aid them. The Rebbe arranged for their meals and accommodations, even helping them to organize their own minyanim. With the start of the second World War the Rebbe became very active on the Vaad Hatzoloh (rescue Council) which sent food and aid to the stricken Yidden in Europe. The Rebbe also campaigned to allow more immigration and often accompanied Reb Elimelech Tress zt'l to Washington to lobby the various officials on Capitol Hill.
In addition to the Vaad Hatzoloh, a second organization, Vaad Haezra, (Aid Council) was also formed. It also sent money and aid to Europe. The Rebbe was elected president of the organization, and he traveled around America to raise money. Every possible avenue was explored to further help the besieged Yidden in Europe. The Rebbe could not sit back for a moment, he himself went knocking on people's doors to elicit their help. At their annual convention in 1944, the Rebbe announced that in the previous year alone they had raised over one hundred thousand dollars; a staggering sum in those days!
The suffering of the Yidden in Europe weighed heavily on the Rebbe's heart, every time he spoke about the situation in Europe, his words were accompanied by a deep, sorrowful groan.
He spoke about his fellow Jews not just as one speaks about a close friend, but as a father speaks about his only son. His anxiety and heartfelt pain were clearly visible, a constant worry that didn't leave him for a minute. Often, he paced up and down in his room for hours on end, begging Hashem to have mercy on His people. In an emotional letter written at the end of the war, the Rebbe wrote, "The goyim here are holding parades to mark their victory on winning the war. We, however, have lost the war, we have lost everything...". In addition to the millions killed, the Rebbe also lost much of his family and chassidim, most of them having perished in the war.
With the arrival of the survivors at the war's end, the Rebbe personally went to greet them after they had disembarked. Many of those who had once mocked the Rebbe's settling in America now regarded him as a malach (angel) sent from Heaven.
In 1949 the Rebbe left America for his first visit to Eretz Yisroel. On the way he stopped over in London to visit his only sister. The Rebbe had traveled in a military troop ship - a lone civilian among hundreds of troops. (Passenger services had not as yet resumed.) Whilst in England the Rebbe met a group of non-frum Jews and after a lengthy conversation with them convinced them all to put on tefillin. The Rebbe, overjoyed at having been able to perform this mitzva, suddenly began to dance from happiness and before long the whole group joined in. It was an experience which many of them never forgot.
From England the Rebbe flew to Eretz Yisroel. As they flew over the Swiss Alps, the Rebbe's gabbai, who had never beheld such a beautiful sight, was spellbound by the view, and wanted the Rebbe to look at the magnificent scenery. The Rebbe, however, was engrossed in his seforim and was quite oblivious to all around him. The gabbai, who normally would never have disturbed the Rebbe from his learning, was unable to hold himself back and begged the Rebbe to look out the window, telling him that it was 'Niflo'os haBorei.' (wonders of creation)
The Rebbe turned to his gabbai, opened his hand, and exclaimed, "Mibesori echeze Elokay from my flesh I can see my Gd," and straight away carried on learning as before.
When the Rebbe arrived, a massive crowd was waiting to see him. During the journey to Yerushalayim, the Rebbe sat silently in the car looking out the window. One of the chassidim who had been hoping to hear a few words from the Rebbe asked him what he found so interesting outside, to which the Rebbe answered, "About Eretz Yisroel it is written, 'The eyes of Hashem are watching it from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.' If Hashem can look at the land the whole year round, surely we too should find what to look at!"
||Whilst in Eretz Yisroel the Rebbe traveled the length and breadth of the country, visiting all its places and holy sites. He also went to visit the many gedolim (sages) and took part in the meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah. During a visit to Bnei Brak the Rebbe went to see the Chazon Ish zt'l, with whom he had a deep discussion about a complicated sha'alah in Hilchos Mikvo'os (question concerning the laws of the Mikve).|
After the Rebbe left, the Chazon Ish praised him highly, calling him a 'true Gaon (genius)' - and the Chazon Ish was not one to use titles loosely. Similar comments were also heaped on the Rebbe by the Klausenberger Rebbe zt'l, who used to say that when it came to true learning the Rebbe was superior to almost all the gedolim of the generation.
|Between 1949 and 1960 the Rebbe visited Eretz Yisroel four times, staying for a number of weeks on each occasion. During his visits, he instilled a new breath of life into his many chassidim in Eretz Yisroel. They regarded his visits as a virtual Yom Tov, (holiday) a time when one forgets about the day-to-day pains and problems, time to rather worry about the needs of the neshomo (soul). During his second visit in 1953 the Rebbe made known his wish to found a Boyaner Yeshiva which would help perpetuate the Ruzhiner derech (path) for generations to come. In a letter the Rebbe wrote, "Whilst I was in Yerushalayim I realized the great importance of establishing a yeshiva there for our chassidim. Such an institution would greatly uplift the standard of Torah and chassidus in our community."||
In a second letter the Rebbe added, "It is totally unnecessary to explain the importance of such a yeshiva, especially after the terrible Churban (destruction) in Europe, during which were destroyed all the major yeshivos and their talmidim and the many chassidishe shtetlach (Chassidic communities) and their inhabitants who had passed on their derech from father to son, from one generation to the next. Therefore, the founding of the yeshiva is especially important for our chassidim and for all those who want to be able to learn according to the derech of our holy zeides zt'l."
The Rebbe did not want the yeshiva to be just for Boyaner chassidim but for all Ruzhiner chassidim. To this end, he asked the other Rebbes of the Ruzhiner dynasty to help him open the yeshiva. Known as the 'Ruzhiner Yeshiva,' the yeshiva was housed in the Boyaner Shul in Botei Horenstein in Yerushalayim. A second branch of the yeshiva was opened a few years later in Bnei Brak.
In America, the Boyaner chassidus flourished too, as new shtiblach (shuls) were opened in various parts of New York. The chassidim wanted the Rebbe to move out of the East Side but he refused, saying that he didn't want to take people away from other shuls. His beis hamedrash on the East Side was packed to overflowing every time the Rebbe gave a tish. Many rabbonim and rebbes came to the Rebbe's tish. Gedolim such as the Skulener Rebbe zt'l, Reb Gedaliah Shorr zt'l and Reb Moshe Bick zt'l could often be seen at the Rebbe's tish.
From far and wide people came to receive the Rebbe's berocho. Many are the stories told of people who witnessed miracles as a result of his berachos. Reb Moshe Feinstein was a very close friend and admirer of the Rebbe; every Rosh Hashanah he came to ask the Rebbe for a berocho for a good year. One year Reb Moshe left the Rebbe's house in an especially good mood. The Rebbe had told him that Klall Yisroel needs him greatly and promised him that he would live a long life.
In the Rebbe's last years he became weaker and weaker. He suffered from severe arthritis and a heart condition. In a letter written in 1967 after he suffered a stroke, the Rebbe wrote, "By the doctors' orders I am bound to my bed, there are days when I am not even able to walk a few steps, such is my weakness and frailty."
The doctors begged him to stop seeing his chassidim and the many communal delegations, but he refused, saying that although he agreed to abide by all their other demands on him, he could not turn away Yidden in their hour of need. When he was asked how he felt, he answered that when he was among Yidden he felt better.
Sometimes it was impossible to allow people in to see the Rebbe, due to his weak condition. When this happened, the Rebbe insisted that one must contact those who came and apologize for having turned them away. It was during this period that the Six Day War broke out. An emergency meeting of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah was convened. At first it was hoped that the meeting would take place at the Rebbe's home, but the doctors said that it was out of the question and the meeting would have to take place elsewhere.
The Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah were in the middle of their meeting when the door suddenly opened and the Rebbe entered. His appearance caused a great stir among those present. Everyone knew that he was critically ill and forbidden to leave his bed. Those who hadn't seen him for some time were shocked to see how he looked. His feet barely carried him and it was obvious that every step caused him great pain. "It was difficult for me to come," the Rebbe told them as he gasped for air, "but it was even more difficult for me to stay at home. Yidden are in danger, Yidden need help, how can one stay at home?"
By the end of the exhausting conference the Rebbe was drained and on the verge of collapse. His bouts of pain increased and became more frequent, and when he tried to rise from his seat, a heavy sigh escaped from his pain wracked body. One of the gedolim who was a close friend of the Rebbe approached him and asked why he had risked his life to come. "Nu, nu, it doesn't matter," the Rebbe answered him, Yidden are in danger. "One may suffer a little bit for them."
With the war's successful end, the Rebbe was full of simcha (joy) that the terrible danger had been lifted, but at the same time one could feel his deep pain over the Yiddishe korbonos (Jewish victims). He asked if the figures released of those killed were accurate or if the true figure was much higher and then he added, "One may not ask such a question for even if only one Yid was killed it is still a terrible thing." A number of times he repeated to himself - 'just one Yid' - and it was possible to feel how his heart was torn through the loss of every single Yid.
In the Rebbe's last year he was overheard saying that he didn't know if there was another Yid in the world who was suffering as much as he was. When the pains of his illness became more than he could bear, he asked those near to him to sing dveikus niggunim (wordless melody of yearning for closeness to Hashem) to ease the pains. The Rebbe also continued to learn as much as he could. He worried that he had forgotten some of his learning. In order to reassure himself he asked someone to test him on one of the longest Tosafos in Shas (Yoma 34:) to see if he still remembered it by heart, which he did.
| On the fifth of Adar 5731 (1971) after suffering a second
stroke, the Rebbe's holy neshomo ascended. The aron
(casket) was taken to Eretz Yisroel where it was
accompanied by one of the biggest levayos (funerals) ever
known. Zechuso yogen aleinu.
The Rebbe is succeeded by his grandson Rabbi Nuchem Dov Brayer shlita, the present Boyaner Rebbe who lives in Yerushalayim