PART 2 OF 3
By Rabbi Shlomo Einhorn, Rav and Dean at Yeshivat Yavneh.
With G-d’s help, my plan has been to spread the biographical notes on Rav Ber across three articles, as well as present an outline of three of his teachings. The biography was first presented in last issue, December 4. Here, in the second article, there is a little more information of the last months of Reb Ber’s life as well as a presentation of his style of teaching which is by no means exhaustive. The Torah chosen doesn’t reflect the Rosh Yeshiva’s “best” but rather three classic pieces.
It was September 1939 and the rumblings of the terrible war preparation were audible, yet Yeshivas Knesses Bais Yitzchok was still a calm haven. The passionate study of haTorah kept Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and his loyal followers wholly invested in the sphere of spiritual learning. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov says that we close our eyes while in pain so that we can take ourselves to another world that bypasses the discomfort. In some way, that’s what they were doing. The late Rav Shimon Romm, YU Rosh Yeshiva and student of Rav Aharon Kotler, once related to the verse”ומשמני הארץ יהיה מושבך” – “and from the fat of the land will be your dwelling”, that wherever Esav is, his joy will only come from living well. Not so for Jacob, he can make do wherever he can learn some Torah.
But Rav Boruch Ber’s sanctuary was doomed. There were crowds of refugees fleeing from Kamenetz as they made their way to Brisk and they relayed devastating stories of German carnage. For some reason, only G-d knows, German troops entered Kamenetz and chose not to injure a single soul. Ironically it was when the Communist Russians took control that the situation detiorated and Rab Boruch Ber accepted the reality; his yeshiva would have to immediately relocate. Recognizing that his time for spiritual teaching and meditation was in terrible danger, Rav Boruch Ber urged his yeshiva to relocate to Vilna where there were pious Jews still living in relative safety.
Rav Boruch Ber’s final journey to Vilna was difficult, although he knew the city because his yeshiva had been situated there just fourteen years earlier, in the suburb of Lukishok. Once in Vilna, Rav Boruch Ber began delivering shiurim, and praying for peace, but to the situation was dire and war was imminent. According to Chazon Ish, as long as Rav Boruch Ber was saying shiurim, the Nazis would not completely take over Poland. Their Torah was their protection, and the life of Rav Boruch Ber was Poland’s security.
Even with the yeshiva temporarily resettled in Vilna, Rav Boruch Ber’s health deteriorated. Prayers were offered by his students, while his condition continued to worsen. On the 5 Kislev after davening shacharis, Rav Ber is set to have sat up and spoken, “Der Rebbe is gekummen- The Rebbe has come to greet me!” Later, Rav Boruch Ber spoke his final words, “V’shavti b’sholom el bais avi”. Roughly translated it means, “And I will return in peace to my father’s home.” (Bereishis 28:21)
The Posek HaDor, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski interpreted this last statement as one of Rav Boruch Ber’s last wishes. He was asking to be buried right near his father’s grave in Vilna. The problem was that there was no regular burial plot available. To honor their great Rosh Yeshiva’s wishes, his students decided they would bury him at the top of his father’s grave, perpendicular to the head. The deep grief and gloom that accompanied Rav Boruch Ber’s passing was further complicated by the fact that no memorial could be erected at that time. His students vowed to come back at a later date and erect a monument over his grave.
Unfortunately, the Jews in Vilna were continually subjected to the Nazis or to the Communists. After the war, Vilna was under the jurisdiction of the Communist regime. Rav Boruch Ber’s followers were unable to find the graveyard where he lay. The cemetery was completely vandalized, and Rav Boruch Ber’s grave was totally lost.
In 1989, Rav Boruch Ber’s grandchildren tried to locate his grave but were unsuccessful. It was not until a few years ago that technology and infrared photography keyed in on the grave of Rav Boruch Ber. His grave was the only one that was perpendicular to the rest of the graves!
Difficulty to obtain governmental permission to erect a matzeiva was massive. It took two and a half years to finally secure permission. Finally, the hakomas matzeivah of Rav Boruch Ber took place on his 75th yahrtzeit – 4 Kislev, 5775. Many gedolim plus his own grandchildren attended the ceremony. Now the legacy of his spirituality and his teachings can be honored at his grave site by his followers.
Almost all analyses of Reb Boruch Ber follow the following useful format:
A. Basic sources
B. Question on sources
C. Attempted resolution
D. Deconstruction of resolution
E. New superior resolution
With this construct in mind, let us look at a classic piece in the Birkas Shmuel (Vol.4, Siman 23):
A. Basic Sources
The Rambam (Bikkurim, 2:13) rules that “one who acquires one tree within his friends field, does not bring bikkurim (the ritual of bringing the first fruits to Jerusalem) because he does not have any land (to go along with tree). (However, if he acquires) three trees he does have land (and therefore does bring the bikkurim). And even though all he has is trees alone it’s as though he acquired land.
The Raavad comments on the Rambam saying that “this is not the case but rather (his bringing bikkurim in this instance is due to the fact that) he probably acquired land along with the trees. And (therefore) if he explicitly stated (‘I’m buying trees) without any land’ he does not bring (bikkurim).
B. Question on Sources
What is the deeper understanding of the debate between the Rambam and the Raavad?
C. Attempted Resolution
According to the Rambam the purchase of 3 trees demonstrates a significant enough action that it is tantamount to owning land. Therefore, even if one does not expressly own land, the benefit the owner would derive from land is so superior and connected to his trees it necessitates bikkurim. The Raavad on the other hand says that along with any typical sale of three trees in somebody else’s property is the reality that along with such a robust package is an assumption that he acquired land.
D. Deconstruction of resolution
This aforementioned analysis is not adequate. It leaves the Rambam exceptionally wanting. What does the power of my purchase have to do with an obligation of bikkurim? I can demonstrate significance all day long, but I still don’t have land. Is land not the primary trigger for an obligation to bring bikkurim?
E. The Torah demands “m’artzecha”, “from your land” when it comes to bikkurim. How would we define “from your land”? Does it mean גוף הקרקע – physical ground, or does it mean זכות ממון בגוף הקרקע – a monetary right to the land itself? Perhaps the Ramabam understands that one would only זכות ממון בגוף הקרקע in order be responsible for bikkurim. When one purchases three trees they have assembled an area so dominant that the yenikah, the ground sustenance needs to sustain three trees generates a monetary right to a share of the land. On the other hand, the Raavad understands that in order for bikkurim to be operative one would need actually land, not simply monetary rights to the land.