Memory Lane: Harav Binyamin Paler, zt”l
Boro Park was at one point home to numerous great men of the European yeshivah world; true Ge’onim whose depth and breadth in Torah was only matched by their eidelkeit and the mussar’dige lifestyle.
One Gadol who impacted Boro Park’s Torah community immeasurably was Rav Paler—who was referred to by the Brisker Rav, who was his rebbi muvhak, was an offener Rambam, an open Rambam. In his tenure of harbotzas Torah in Boro Park, he shaped thousands of talmidim in Yeshiva Mekor Chaim which was located on 55th Street near 16th Avenue, and has now relocated to Lakewood, where it continues the legacy of its illustrious founder.
The shiurim that he delivered were legendary; he was described by Rav Aharon Kotler, zt”l, as the amkan hador, on account of his great depth— and his chiddushim, and unique mehalchim in sugyos are still being repeated today in yeshivos, to new generations of Bnei Torah.
Throughout his life, he was distinguished by wanting nothing more than Torah… remaining secluded within the dalet amos shel halachah, and this image is seared into the memory of all who encountered him.
Beginnings in Brisk
Rav Binyamin was born in the town of Brisk in the year 5668 (1908) to his father, Rav Yitzchok Paler who was one of the great talmideim chachomim in the town—spending his days and nights engrossed in learning. Young Binyomin was known as an iluy from a very young age. The Brisker Rav once commented on his talmid, “never have I encountered an iluy as normal as Rav Binyomin.
He internalized the Brisker derech halimud, finding a unique and novel approach to each sugyah, and he would serve as a vehicle to impart the derech that he learned in Brisk to the future generations. It is said that the Brisker Rav once said that his derech in learning is closest to his own father, Rav Chaim Brisker. His thirst for Torah, together with his rare brilliance, were a unique fusion. In Brisk he also gained a lifelong mehalech of great dikduk b’mitzvos.
But this idyllic existence was cut short by the outbreak of World War II, and he escaped to Vilna, where the Brisker Rav was as well during that period (there he was known as one of the great leaders whom the embattled Yidden turned to for guidance during this difficult time. He eventually made it to Eretz Yisroel from there). Rav Binyomin attached himself to the Mirer bochurim, and joined them in their miraculous escape to Shanghai.
In addition to the less than ideal physical environment of Shanghai, the emotional torment that these young men would have endured is incomprehensible; their entire lives were being annihilated in their shtetlach back home, and their entire families were being wiped out.
But Rav Binyomin only threw himself deeper into learning, mastering during these years the three bavos with all the Rishonim. The story is told of the way he would sit by the Gemara for hours on end with rags around his neck to soak up the sweat which came as a result of the extreme heat. Here he also forged an intimate kesher with the legendary mashgiach, Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, zt”l.
Seforim were a rarity in China…and his thirst for learning was unquenchable. Once, the yeshivah obtained a set of seforim, and were prepared to award them to whoever won a competition of knowing more learning… which Rav Binyomin won.
He came to America after the war, where he would go on to shape generations of bnei Torah.
To be continued…
Photo credits, MD Yarmish Archives/Yeshiva Mekor Chaim archives.