Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi zt”l
November 2, 2023
The Delight and Grandeur of Torah
The Dynamic and Majestic Personality of Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi zt”l
A young rosh yeshivah prepared to board the overseas flight, when he noticed the unmistakable figure of Rav Boruch Mordechai Ezrachi. Excited at the prospect of traveling together and spending leisure time with one of the gedolei hador he approached the gaon and introduced himself.
After sharing pleasantries, he worked up the courage to ask Rav Boruch Mordechai how he became such a gadol baTorah.
“Come back to me after the flight, and I’ll answer you,” Rav Ezrachi replied.
Some twelve hours later, after disembarking, the Rosh Yeshivah made his way over to Rav Boruch Mordechai once again, excited to hear the answer.
Rav Boruch Mordechai looked him in the eye and asked, “What did you do during the flight?”
“I learned a little, then I dozed off for a while…” he answered sheepishly.
“Mir hubben gelernt fun unheib biz’n sof!—We learned from the beginning to the end!”
If you wanted to know the secret formula that made Rav Boruch Mordechai the gaon that he was, there you had it.
How does one gain such a command in all areas of Torah? How could someone write dozens and dozens of sefarim on sugyos from Zera’im to Kodshim and everything in between?
By learning and learning, with uninterrupted hasmadah. Fun unheib bizen sof!
Rav Boruch Mordechai’s hasmadah was legendary. It was well known that one could enter his home at all hours of the night and find him at his large desk, horeving over a well-worn Gemara. At times he would doze off there, but other than Friday nights, he did not go up to bed. The sefarim inside his home are decorated with thousands of sticky-notes containing his comments.
But while his hasmadah is what made him into a gadol, what made Rav Boruch Mordechai truly unique was the fuel behind his hasmadah.
Simchas Torah all year round
There are masmidim who feel an incredible drive to learn, enabling them to block everything else out. But Rav Boruch Mordechai’s hasmadah was of a completely different sort. His hasmadah emanated from an indescribable love for Torah, and the joy he felt from limud haTorah. He didn’t have to close his eyes to anything else; there was simply nothing as sweet and geshmak and fulfilling as sitting and learning, for hours on end.
Listening to a shmuz from Rav Boruch Mordechai about Torah was like listening to an alcoholic talk about wine. He would describe the zeeskeit of delving into a sugya, imbuing in all his listeners a desire to taste it for themselves.
Rav Dov Landau shared an extremely close relationship with Rav Boruch Mordechai, and said that he owes Rav Boruch Mordechai tremendous hakaras hatov, not for teaching him ahavas Torah, but for teaching him “simchas haTorah.”
A story is told of a time when a rare snow blanketed the streets of Yerushalayim, creating a unique picturesque panorama. Rav Boruch Mordechai donned his coat and set up his shtender on the porch, along with a cup of tea and a large Ketzos. A short while later, he called out to his gabbai, “I think I have to stop; this is too much Olam HaZeh!”
He was bursting with life. He was sharp and witty. It was common to see him surrounded by bachurim smiling and laughing at his latest quip. He loved to sing. But the overarching characteristic was that he was alive. He was vibrant. And he put it all into the Torah.
The Torah was Toras chaim. If the Gemara says that one makes a berachah upon seeing uchlisen m’Yisroel, six hundred thousand Jews, then Rav Boruch Mordechai would be the one to make it out loud by the Million Man March against giyus bnei yeshivos. And if the Gemara says that upon seeing the ultimate chacham one recites the berachah of Shechalak mechachmaso l’yireiav, then that is what he would do when meeting Rav Ahron Leib zt”l.
He was an excellent conversationalist, and loved to talk with others, entertaining them with his inimitable charisma. But as soon as the conversation would be over, he would once again turn to the sefer before him and get lost in the love of his life.
On one occasion someone sat near him during a twelve hour night-time flight, and could not help but marvel at how he spent the entire time writing chiddushei Torah. After the flight, he asked the Rosh Yeshivah how he was able to do that.
“At home, I learn for a six hour stretch. But I could never get more than that,” Rav Boruch Mordechai explained. “I knew I would have an opportunity to double that seder, so I slept a little by day!”
Sharing the Joy
It was that love and joy that he shared with talmidim for close to seventy years, inspiring thousands to dedicate their lives to the source of his joy. In Yeshivah, first in Yeshivas Chevron where he served as a maggid shiur and then in Yeshivas Ateres Yisroel, which he established in 1977, he ignited a virtual fire in their hearts.
He loved to tell how once while talking in learning with the Brisker Rav, someone walked in and asked what they were talking about. The Rav replied, “Du redt men nisht. Du horevet men in lernen! We don’t talk here. We toil in learning!”
When he learned, it was practically impossible not to get pulled in. His booming voice would resound throughout the beis midrash and his infectious joy made everyone just want to join in. Rav Boruch Mordechai, through his impeccable dress and vibrant personality, made the coolest bachur want to be like him; and the only way you could be like him was to learn. So learn they did.
His shiur was fire itself. He would draw everyone in by encouraging them to share their thoughts. “Mi shelo chashav al shaylah hazot, lo naga b’yad beis hamidrash, whoever didn’t think of this kashya, didn’t touch the handle of the beis medrash!” he would roar, challenging everyone in the room to see why they didn’t think of it themselves.
The drama was incredible.
The bachurim, feeling the implications of leaving the question unanswered, would start arguing back. And he would retort with another diyuk, another rayah, his features shining with delight. He didn’t need to say his approach; he needed his bachurim to allow the Torah to come alive to them as it did to him. To feel Abaya and Rava in the room together with them, to see Rav Akiva Eiger’s kashya and the raya of the Ketzos as a tangible existence.
At times, he didn’t even have to say anything. He would simply open the Gemara and start reading every word slowly. There was no greater treat than to listen to him read the Gemara. Each word was treated as a gem. Suddenly, the talmidim heard how a single word could make such a difference. How the reading of one line, where to put the emphasis, which inflection to use, could change the entire meaning of the Gemara.
One of the metzuyanim of the Yeshivah finished the entire Maseches Shabbos in middle of the zman, and feeling that he could use a break, took himself on a road trip for a week. When he returned, he was summarily called to the Rosh Yeshivah’s office, who had one question for him: Did you take your Gemara with you?
When the bachur replied that he did not, he was told to leave Yeshivah.
If he did not realize that the greatest enjoyment was to learn, that a vacation without a Gemara is like a campfire without marshmallows, then he had missed the primary lesson the Rosh Yeshivah sought to impart.
Open to the Public
To Rav Boruch Mordechai, if a bachur wanted to learn, it did not make a difference where he came from, how he looked, or how he dressed.
Always an innovator, Rav Boruch Mordechai instituted the bnei Torah summer program in the early sixties. The program, the first of its kind, brought teenage boys from Mizrachi Yeshivos to camp together with yeshivah bachurim, where the other boys would be exposed to Chareidi life. They would see that bnei Torah could be normal, and could have a good time.
But more than that, he wanted them to taste the sweetness of Torah.
He would enter the dining hall Friday night during the seudah and he would present a kashya. It did not take long before the place would erupt. Teenage boys who were barely frum and had never learned a Gemara before would get sucked in to the excitement, arguing with each other over a lomdishe sevara.
And then there was the highlight of the summer, the shmuz at Shalosh Seudos, which would last over two hours.
Generally, when Rav Boruch Mordechai told a story, he didn’t just tell it; he re-lived it, pulling along the entire audience for the experience. You were able to hear Moshe Rabbeinu’s sheep soft bleating; he could make one feel the bird go up smoke as it flew over R’ Yonason ben Uziel’s head; he brought you into the room of the Sdei Chemed to see him completely engrossed in Torah.
At that Shalosh Seudos, Rav Boruch Mordechai would repeat the same story each year, and many bachurim would come for Shabbos just to hear it.
He would begin by describing the youth of the gaon Rav Yitzchok Elchonan Spector, who struggled to understand the Torah he was taught. Soon, his parents entertained the thought of sending him to become an apprentice by the local shoemaker. “Imagine,” Rav Boruch Mordechai would continue, his voice quivering with emotion, “if that’s how he would have lived. He would raise a beautiful family, do much chesed, and live as an ehrilche Yid.
“But then he would pass away, and come to Shamayaim. To his dismay, he would hear a voice declaring, ‘Yitzchok Elchonan, smolah, to the left, to gehinom!’”
By now, the entire crowd would be entranced, their breaths lost for a moment.
Rav Boruch Modechai would then dramatically declare that the Beis Din Shel Maalah would accuse Rav Yitzchok Elchonan of killing the gadol hador that he was meant to be. By the time the story was over, there would hardly be a dry eye in the crowd, a somber and introspective mood overtaking their very being.
Torah was the ultimate; it was how he connected to them, raising their sights and their spirits.
Some thirty years ago, Rav Boruch Mordechai began traveling to Russia, to spread the fire of Torah to the frozen plains as well. Over time, many of the bachurim joined his Yeshivah.
One Shabbos, a bachur came running over to the Rosh Yeshivah, his face pale. He had just entered the dorm room of one of the Russian boys, and saw him smoking while discussing hilchos Shabbos.
“Come back to me in six months,” the Rosh Yeshivah replied.
Six months later, this Russian boy was completely religious, and was giving chaburos of his own to other bachurim. The Rosh Yeshivah called over the first bachur and said, “If we would’ve done it your way, he would’ve been sent to Ulpan to learn Hebrew, then Chumash and then Mishnayos. By the time he would be ready to learn Gemara, he would have lost all interest. But now he’s giving chaburos!”
To the Fullest Potential
As a son-in-law of the mashgiach of Yeshivas Chevron, Rav Meir Chodosh, Rav Boruch Mordechai felt a direct link to the great Slabodka mesorah , which maintained a strong emphasis on gadlus ha’adam, focusing on the potential of every individual. His wife Rebbetzin Shulamis Ezrachi wrote a biography titled, “The Mashgiach” about her illustrious father.
When a bachur would come speak with him at home, he would don his frock and homburg, demonstrating how important each talmid was. He would consult with the older bachurim of Yeshivah, making them feel relevant and important.
Every interaction with him left one feeling invaluable. He believed in you so much that you started to believe it yourself. The self-confidence he instilled in the bachurim enabled them to reach their own unique potential, without worrying whether others would approve.
He was fond of saying that the minimum expected of us is to reach the maximum of our potential.
There is no pasuk that forbids one from becoming great, he’d quip.
Once during shiur, a bachur called out with a kashya that contradicted the entire shiur. The Rosh Yeshivah’s face grew serious and he put his head down. After a few long minutes, he lifted his head and told the boy, “Atah tzodek! You’re right!” He then continued by offering a whole new approach to the sugya.
After the shiur someone approached him and asked how he was able to think of the new mehalech on the spot.
“I had the question before shiur, and was about to ask it, and then say my new approach. But why not let that bachur get the enjoyment of shlugging up the Rosh Yeshivah?”
But We Do Not Forget
Some scenes are difficult to describe in print, but let’s try to envision the following. It was a few years ago. The Rosh Yeshivah and a group of talmidim went on a trip to Poland, and made a stop at Auschwitz. They walked up the infamous train tracks singing Ani maamin, and went into the gas chambers singing unesane tokef.
Then they headed to the spot where the arch-rasha, Dr. Mengele made his infamous selection.
In what was the Rosh Yeshivah’s brainchild, they would make a siyum hashas on that spot.
Standing there, supported on both sides, Rav Boruch Mordechai began to speak.
“Here, on this spot, the rasha would direct people to life or death,” he began, waving his fingers to the right and then to the left.
“Recht, to life!”
“Smolah, to die al kiddush Hashem,” he continued.
“Va’anachnu, but we…”
He took his thumb and waved it as if he was giving shiur and saying a sevara.
They might threaten us, taunt us, perhaps even kill us.
But we do not forget the Torah.
Today more than ever, with the threats to our nation growing, we cannot forget the Rosh Yeshivah’s message. The world points this way and that way, but they cannot take us away from learning the heilige Torah, fun hunheib biz’n sof!
Thank you Rav Eliezer Ralbag of the Lakewood Courtyard, Rav Dov Halperin and other talmidim of the Rosh Yeshivah for their help with this article.