Living Legacy: Rav Mordechai Pogromansky, zt”l
By: Yehuda Alter
He was a tremendous ga’on who had gained renowned in the prewar Torah world for his Torah and his mussar. Rav Mordechai was niftar childless in the years following the war, after he had dedicated his life to disseminating and building Torah—exhibiting superhuman heroism during the harrowing years of the war. His yohrtzeit is the 25th of Shevat.
He was born in the Lithuanian town of Tavrig (about 150 km west of Kovno). His father was Reb Eliyahu, and his mother was a granddaughter of Rav Chaim Segal, known as the Yanover Rov. The young child was a rare genius, and was thus unable to grasp the alef-bais in the traditional way. He was orphaned from his father at a young age, and Rav Avrohom Aaron Burstein, the rov of Tavrig, hired a special tutor for the boy. With this began his belated journey in mastering Torah.
A chance encounter with Rav Eliyahu Lopian changed the course of his life. Through this, he joined the famed Talmud Torah in Kelm, where he became indelibly marked with the philosophy of the legendary house of mussar.
After a year, he joined the Telzer Yeshiva where he became known as a great iluy, and was beloved by the Rosh Yeshiva there. Later, he joined the Slabodka yeshiva, and resided in Kovno. He would make his way to Telz to deliver Shiurim and mussar shmuessen. In 1932, he was asked by the Rayatz of Lubavitch, to lead the branch of Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim that he established in Riga, Latvia, but this tenure was short-lived and he returned to Kovno.
Then came Churban Europe, which wiped out the Torah world that he was such a vital part of.
One example of Rav Mordechai’s incredible impact in the Kovno Ghetto was the following episode: One day, he came upon two Slabodka bachurim standing in the street, downcast about their lot amid the terrible conditions and the uncertainty. Rav Mordechai approached them and asked, “do you believe that the Nazi standing there hates you with all his being?” “Yes,” they answered. “Do you agree that he would shoot you this minute, he would suffer no consequences from his superiors?” “Yes,” they answered in unison. “If so,” he concluded, “You must agree that right here, in the darkest moments, you are being guarded by the Hashgacha Eloyona itself.”
Following the war, he was in Switzerland, where he led yeshivos.
One of his talmidim was Rav Moshe Sternbuch, shlit”a, Ra’avad Eidah Hacharedis. Among his recollections about Rav Mordechai is the following anecdote about the end of his life, where he was suffering terribly from a cancer that has spread throughout his body. “The doctors offered him morphine to ease his pain, but Rav Mordechai refused. He wanted to accept his yisurim b’ahavah, and arrive on the olam ha’emes purified by suffering,” Rav Moshe related.
Rav Mordechai was niftar on 25 Shevat 1950, and was brought to Eretz Yisroel and interred in the Shomrei Shabbos cemetery in Bnei Brak.
In the 70 years after his passing, countless anecdotes, stories, and teachings have been disseminated about this godol who left behind a brilliant legacy of Torah and mussar. As he did not leave behind children, it would surely be a zehus to learn Torah or say Tehillim for Rav Mordechai ben Eliyahu.