|Talmidim of Reb Meir Shapiro of Lublin still recall that first day of zman in the yeshiva, the one that started off with a difference. Instead of greeting his talmidim as usual, Reb Meir secluded himself in his private room with strict instructions not to be disturbed. For three days and three nights he remained locked in his room. From outside one could hear his voice booming along the corridors as he sat immersed in his learning. When he finally emerged from his room three days later, he told his talmidim, "I just spent the vacation with Reb Moshenu Boyaner, and seeing his hasmoda (diligence) in Torah, I realized that I didn't know what learning was all about. Coming back to yeshiva I decided to try and copy him and I sat down to learn...."|
Known as one of the greatest masmidim (diligent scholar) of his generation, Reb Moshenu Boyaner was also considered one of the biggest poskim of his era. He won the hearts of Polish Jewry, who prided themselves on having Reb Moshenu in their midst. Although he was officially known as the Boyaner Rebbe, he was fondly called 'Reb Moshenu', his name becoming a symbol of kedusha, tzidkus and geonus (holiness, righteousness and genius) throughout Poland. Beloved by the greatest and simplest alike, Reb Moshenu was regarded as a fatherly figure to whom all could turn whenever their problems became too difficult to manage.
Although the Rebbes of Beis Ruzhin were makpid (cautious) to conceal their learning as much as they could, in keeping with the derech (path) they had received from Reb Yisroel of Ruzhin not to demonstrate their knowledge in public, Reb Moshenu deviated from this path. He said that the circumstances demanded a change and he took upon himself to be the representative of his family who would make that change.
Reb Moshenu was born on Purim 5641 (1881) to his father Reb Sholom Yosef zt'l, who was a son of the first Rebbe of Husyatin, Reb Mordechai Shraga zt'l. He grew up under the careful watch of his zeide, (grandfather) for when he was only two years old his father Reb Sholom Yosef was suddenly niftar.(died) As a young child he amazed all who saw him. Blessed with a sharp head, he spent his time finishing one mesechta (Tractate) after another. His zeide foretold greatness for his grandson, proclaiming that he would light up the world with his Torah and tzidkus. As the elder chassidim began to take note of his words, so he humbled himself before them, trying to pretend that he was just an ordinary simple child.
A few months after Reb Moshenu's bar mitzva his zeide
was niftar (died) and Reb Moshenu came under the care
of his uncle, Reb Yisroel of Husyatin. In the years after his
bar mitzva, he ascended from one madreigah (plateau)
to the next. From early morning until late at night he immersed
himself in his gemara. To watch his tefilla (prayer)
was to witness a living mussar sefer, (ethics lesson) as
he stood pouring out his heart to his Creator.
When the chassidim praised Reb Moshenu in front of his uncle Reb Yisroel of Husyatin, he asked them not to speak about him, telling them, "I have also observed his actions and seen his great kedusha. Few people are zocheh to such madreigos!"
The Boyaner Rebbe held his new einikel (grandchild) in high esteem and would affectionately call him 'My Moshenu'. Even though there was a Rov in the Rebbe's court whose job was to pasken (decide, judge) the various shaalos (legal questions) that came up from time to time, the Rebbe would call for his grandson to hear what he had to say. On one occasion a shaala arose which no one was able to answer. The Boyaner Rebbe remained unperturbed and told those around him, "Don't worry, in a few minutes 'My Moshenu' will be here and he will answer it all...".
On the seventeenth of Adar 1917 the Pachad Yitzchok was niftar. (deceased) Not long afterwards Reb Moshenu's father-in-law left for Chernovitz where he set up his court. Reb Moshenu decided to stay in Vienna. Although at first he didn't have his own minyan, after a short time his many admirers and talmidim arranged a regular minyan for him. After shacharis, Reb Moshenu sat in his tefillin until midday, engrossed in his seforim. (books) He was very makpid not to be disturbed during his learning and only after midday did he see to the daily problems that awaited his attention.
Reb Moshenu never mentioned any intention of becoming a Rebbe, but his talmidim and admirers crowned him as their Rebbe on their own initiative. Reb Moshenu didn't disappoint his followers and agreed to start accepting kvitlech. (petitions) Reb Meir Arik was amongst the first to give him a kvittel. When Reb Meir came to speak to Reb Moshenu a few days before Rosh Hashana 5678 (1918) he gave him a kvittel. At first Reb Moshenu refused to take it and asked him, "The Rov also needs a kvittel?" "Yes, I also need a good year," Reb Meir answered him and reluctantly Reb Moshenu took the kvittel.
The news that Reb Moshenu had accepted the yoke of being Rebbe made its way around Europe. After the first World War many of the chassidishe courts lay in ruins, their shuls destroyed, and the chassidim penniless refugees in foreign countries. Reb Moshenu's dynamic personality attracted many chassidim from far and wide who found a new existence under his fatherly guidance.
In 1925 Reb Moshenu agreed to the invitation of his chassidim to come and live in Cracow, Poland. A large shul and flat were prepared for him, and when he arrived he was welcomed with great honor. Not long before he arrived, a serious shaala had arisen regarding the kashrus of the main mikva in Cracow. Although many Rabbonim had written long responsa to validate the mikva, their words had not been totally accepted by all, and an answer hadn't been found which satisfied everyone. When Reb Moshenu examined the mikva he alsagreed that it was kosher and in a brief letter he explained his reasons. His words were accepted even by those who had disagreed with the other Rabbonim and his ruling brought peace and relief to the town.
Indeed, soon after his arrival he was recognized as the posek (decisor) of the town. The Rov of Cracow, Reb Yosef Nechemia Kornitzer, often discussed the various problems and shaalos that had to be solved with Reb Moshenu. On one occasion as Reb Yosef Nechemia left Reb Moshenu's house, he told those around him, "I have met many great talmidei chachomim (sages) in my lifetime, but never before have I met somebody who is familiar with literally every sefer he is asked about. All the seforim of the Rishonim and Achronim (early and later authorities) are at his fingertips as if he has just learnt them...."
An appreciation of Reb Moshenu's greatness in Torah can be seen from the following incident which was related by the Potiker Rov Reb Shlomo Zalman Horowitz zt"l. Rav Horowitz was once walking together with Reb Moshenu when they were approached by someone who asked them where a certain saying of Chazal was written. Rav Horowitz answered him that the saying appears three times in Talmud Bavli. After the man had left them Reb Moshenu told Rav Horowitz "three times in Talmud Bavli, thirteen times in Talmud Yerushalmi and sixteen times in Medrash!"
Reb Moshenu's house became a stopover point for the various gedolim passing through Cracow. When the famed Rov of Kobrin, Reb Pesach Pruskin zt'l, visited Reb Moshenu he was astounded by his knowledge and exclaimed, "Reb Moshenu has the entire Torah stored in his mind."
In his book, Reb Zev Fisher described Reb Moshenu's court, "A godol among gedolim was Reb Moshenu Friedman, the Rebbe of Boyan. His personality encompassed many qualities. With his sharp mind, he had mastered the whole Torah, nigleh and nistar. (revealed and hidden aaspects of the Torah) His life was spent teaching Torah to the masses. He taught Torah and Avodah (divine service) to everybody he had contact with. His house in Cracow was a constant hive of activity, people coming and going all the time. From his beis hamedrash rang out a constant Kol Hatorah, as the best heads in Cracow sat and learned together. When they got stuck in their learning, they would climb the stairs to Reb Moshenu's flat to ask him to solve their difficulties. In addition, the Rebbe's house was the main address for every downtrodden Yid (Jew) in town. Not just the Ruzhiner chassidim came to him Gerer, Belzer and Sanzer chassidim would also seek his advice. When he gave a tish the beis hamedrash was filled with the finest talmidei chachomim who came to warm themselves from his kedusha."
Reb Moshenu's fame spread far beyond the borders of Poland. Every morning his post box was full of letters from all corners of the world. He patiently read through each and every letter and replied to them all. In the course of time, he wrote hundreds of responsa, most of which were unfortunately lost during the war. A small fraction was collected and printed under the name Daas Moshe.
Even though Reb Moshenu was considered one of the foremost poskim of his era, from his responsa it is easily noticeable how he humbled himself, refusing to force his ruling on others. In one particular responsa he wrote, "I am not angry that you don't agree with my psak, (legal decision)for such is the derech of talmidei chachomim. One person brings a proof to his words just to be disproved by a second - and I ask you that you never accept my words blindly...".
Reb Moshenu was not only beloved and respected by the ordinary Yid in the street, the Gedolei Yisroel also gave him unusual kovod. (honor) The Gerer Rebbe, the Imrei Emes, was once in Cracow for a Shabbos, during which he announced his intention to visit Reb Moshenu. His gaboim tried to persuade him to wait until Motzoai Shabbos when he would be able to travel by car. The Imrei Emes refused to hear of it and insisted on walking the whole way - a twenty minute walk. After they drank lechaim together, the Imrei Emes took sharayim (leftovers from the Rebbe's plate) from Reb Moshenu, an unheard of honor.
The Lubliner Rov, Reb Meir Shapiro, was another of Reb Moshenu's great admirers. Their paths often crossed, and each time Reb Meir Shapiro would take the opportunity to speak to Reb Moshenu in learning. Reb Meir Shapiro deeply respected Reb Moshenu and would often voice his praises. When Reb Meir Shapiro was suddenly niftar in Cheshvan 1934, Reb Moshenu was offered the post of becoming Rov of Lublin which had become vacant with Reb Meir's petirah and he was also asked to take over the running of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin.
Reb Moshenu refused the Rabbonus of Lublin but he did agree to take charge of the yeshiva. He was crowned Nosi of the yeshiva - which was the foremost Torah establishment in Poland. His appointment had a tremendous impact on the yeshiva, his influence being felt in every aspect and every stage. No matter, large or small, was decided without his consent and under his guidance the yeshiva continued to flourish. Reb Moshenu travelled to Lublin a few times a year, staying for several weeks at a time. He established personal contact with the bochurim, (young men) watching their progress and preparing them to be future leaders of Klall Yisroel.
At the 2nd Siyum HaShass of Daf Yomi in Lublin 1938. From right to left: Reb Avraham Yaacov of Boyan Lemberg, Reb Moshenu, The Sochatchover Rebbe, Reb Dovid zt"l
|Reb Moshenu also played a major role in Agudas Yisroel, standing at the forefront of the movement. He became one of the Aguda's major activists, his words leaving a deep imprint on all who heard them. He publicized a letter in support of Agudas Yisroel in which he wrote, "The situation of our people at present is terrible. Every heart with a bit of feeling knows and feels the wounds of our nation. We have been struck both physically and spiritually, the churban (destruction) of Yiddishkeit (Judaism) being even greater than the churban of the people.|
The extent to which Reb Moshenu's presence was felt in the Aguda can be seen from the following story. When the second Knessia Gedola (convention) took place in Vienna in 1929, Reb Moshenu missed the opening day of the Knessia - since he didn't have a valid passport and wasn't able to travel. When he finally arrived during the second day of the Knessia, the Gerer Rebbe was in the middle of presiding over a meeting. When he heard that Reb Moshenu had just arrived and was standing outside, the Imrei Emes got up and went outside to greet him. When the Gerer Rebbe caught sight of Reb Moshenu his face lit up and he exclaimed, "Now that you have arrived the Knessia will have a totally different meaning." He then took Reb Moshenu's arm and led him into the meeting.
Reb Moshenu was held in very high regard by his shver Reb Menachem Nuchem of Boyan - Chernovitz and when he visited his shver, (father-in-law) Reb Menachem Nuchem instructed his chassidim to go to his son-in-law with a kvittel. When Reb Menachem Nuchem was niftar in 1937, many of his chassidim became staunch chassidim of Reb Moshenu, adopting him as their new Rebbe.
The last period of Reb Moshenu's life is the story of the heartbreaking and tragic end of Polish Jewry. With the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, Cracow was overtaken by the accursed Germans, ym's, (may their name be erased) who confined the Yidden to a ghetto. With the daily decrees against the Yidden becoming worse and worse, Reb Moshenu left the city at the first opportunity in the summer of 1940, and fled to the city of Tarnov. In Tarnov he continued to lead a beis hamedrash and to give tishen as before. Now, more than ever before, he was sought from all sides by the desperate cries of Yidden seeking a reassuring hand to guide them through the storm that had engulfed them.
Even in those difficult times Reb Moshenu tried to keep his exseder hayom (daily schedule) as normal. The Yidden of the town felt safe in his presence and they did their utmost to protect him as much as they could. He ruled on many of the painful and heartrending shaalos in matters of life and death. He comforted the panic stricken Yidden around him, keeping up their spirits and calming their feelings.
Reb Moshenu's chassidim tried desperately to save him and after some time they managed to procure American documents for him. The documents were smuggled into Tarnov, but Reb Moshenu refused to use them. He simply couldn't abandon his fellow Yidden in their hour of need.
In 1942 the Germans decided to liquidate the Jews of Tarnov and in Sivan of that year an aktion took place in which eighteen thousand Yidden were killed. Reb Moshenu had gone into hiding before the aktion had started and managed to escape. For over a year Reb Moshenu managed to avoid being captured, by moving from one bunker to the next. Finally, on the second of Ellul 1943 he was caught and sent with the last remaining Jews of Tarnov to Auschwitz. He was killed a day later al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d's name) together with his Rebbitzen on the third of Ellul, hy'd. (may G-d avenge his splilled blood)
In recent years a booklet called 'Megilas Auschwitz' was found hidden under one of the buildings in Auschwitz. In it, the author - who was an inmate in Auschwitz - describes the daily life in the camp. In one of the chapters the author mentions Reb Moshenu's arrival in Auschwitz, "In this particular transport were a number of important people, one of them being the Boyaner Rebbe, Reb Moshe Friedman. He was one of the most famous talmidei chachomim in Poland. He turned to the commanding SS officer and proclaimed aloud in German: 'You cruel murderers! Don't think that you will be able to destroy the Jewish people. The Jewish people will exist forever, but you low murderers, you will receive your punishment. The innocent blood that you are spilling will avenge itself on you. Our innocent blood will not rest until it has succeeded in destroying you all.'
"The Boyaner Rebbe spoke with great feeling and as he finished, he said out loud in a fiery voice, 'Shema Yisroel'. All those with him joined him in crying out Shema Yisroel. These few moments of true ruchnius (spirituality) demonstrated that the everlasting koyach (spiritual strength) of the Yidden will never be conquered."