It is now three years that Rav Elya Boruch Finkel zt”l has not been with us. He was a beloved rebbi and father to thousands of talmidim. He was a central part of Yeshivas Mir-Yerushalayim for decades. He taught his talmidim how to learn. He taught talmidim how to think. He taught talmidim how to live. His love for Torah was contagious. And his greatest desire was to continue to be that rebbi and father to more talmidim. But on 24 Adar 5768, when he was only 60 years old, Hashem took him from us.
Rav Elya Boruch left an enormous treasure trove of written chiddushei Torah. He put tremendous effort into writing down his thoughts. According to his rebbetzin, he spent more time on writing than he did on preparing for his shiur. He left 350 hard-bound composition books, filling an entire bookshelf from floor to ceiling – 75,000 pages of writing. They encompass six five-year cycles in the Mir, each cycle consisting of eleven masechtos. Another whole set of notebooks covers the Kodshim masechtos which Rav Elya Boruch learned together with his rebbi, Rav Nachum Partzovitz zt”l during the first five years after his marriage. Yet another set is devoted to the special chiddushim he said on Yomim Tovim.
Rav Elya Boruch Fwas the life of the bais medrash. Whenever he walked into the bais medrash, he would immediately be surrounded by bochurim and yungeleit who wanted to talk to him in learning, or just say hello and be in his proximity. He exuded warmth and his good nature was infectious to everyone around him.
A maggid shiur who attended Rav Elya Boruch’s daily shiur for two years and heard chaburos for another year-and-a-half said that not a day goes by on which he doesn’t mention something from Rav Elya Boruch – a vort, a shtickel Torah, or a quip that he would say.
Rav Elya Boruch told one of his talmidim that when he went to learn in Ponovezh as a young bochur, he spoke in learning with the rosh yeshiva, Rav Shmuel Rozovsky zt”l, every day. The talmidim in the yeshiva were upset that such a young bochur was spending time with their rebbi, so he told them, “You talk to him while I’ll listen; I have to hear something from him every day.”
When someone would tell Rav Elya Boruch a shtickel Torah, he would listen intently and comment how much he liked the shtickel. When his father was niftar, Rav Elya Boruch’s talmidim decided to take the Sunday night chaburos that they said and publish them in a sefer in his father’s memory. Rav Elya Boruch agreed with the idea, and even raised money for the project. This was the apt zikaron for his father. Rav Elya Boruch was filled with happiness when the bochurim discussed with him the chaburos that they compiled for the sefer.
Rav Elya Boruch looked after his bochurim, caring for them like a father. He would invite them to his home for seudos all the time. Later, when he moved into the yeshiva building to take care of his father, people would just knock on the door and walk in at any time of the day. His rebbetzin, shetichyeh, would greet everyone warmly. Talmidim would sit with Rav Elya Boruch and consult with him.
Rav Elya Boruch kept a list of his talmidim who weren’t married yet, and would try all different avenues to redd them shidduchim and marry them off. When bochurim would call him to say hello, he would take the opportunity to inquire about other bochurim, how they’re doing, and how shidduchim are going for them. He made over 50 shidduchim, many of whom were older bochurim.
Rav Elya Boruch had a minyan on Simchas Torah where he would sell the aliyos for tzedakah. It was known that whoever bought Chosson Torah or Kol Hane’arim that year in his minyan would become a chosson during the year. Four years ago, he wasn’t well and couldn’t be at the minyan. He told his talmidim that the minyan should proceed as usual and the segulah would work. It did!
His shidduch shmuess on Friday night of Shabbos Parshas Chayei Sarah each year would draw hundreds of bochurim from many different yeshivos. He would speak for four hours – with a half-hour break in between for hot kugel and delicious cake that his devoted Rebbetzin had prepared – during which he would discuss the parsha of shidduchim. He would always begin with the Rabbeinu Bechaya that says that the Torah details every part of Yitzchok Avinu’s shidduch because “ma’aseh avos siman labonim.“ He would add that the reason why the Torah elaborates on Yitzchok’s shidduch and not Avrohom’s or Yaakov’s is because Yitzchok had his father take an active role in making his shidduch.
He spent untold hours working on chavrusos for his talmidim. When a talmid didn’t have a chavrusah, he would do everything he could to help him find one.
He took a keen interest in his talmidim’s welfare. One talmid was sick for a week and was bedridden in his dirah. He had no strength to leave the dirah, let alone take part in the yeshiva sedorim. Rav Elya Boruch went to the dirah to visit him and raise his spirits. That Friday, the phone rang in the dirah. It was Rav Elya Boruch calling for this bochur to invite him to his house for Shabbos.
Rav Elya Boruch once called a bochur, asking him to deliver a message from him to two talmidim immediately. Rav Elya Boruch was at the airport returning to Eretz Yisroel after Pesach and wished to inform to these two bochurim that they had been accepted to Bais Medrash Govoah in Lakewood. The bochur what the urgency was that prompted Rav Elya Boruch to call from the airport, when he was busy with other pressing matters. “The zeman in Lakewood is beginning while I’m flying back to Eretz Yisroel,” he explained. “If I wait until I get back to Eretz Yisroel, these bochurim will come a day late to the zeman and people will then find out that they came late because they weren’t initially accepted. If they get the message today, they will show up on time, like everybody else, and no one will know the difference.”
An alter Mirrer who shared a special relationship with Rav Elya Boruch’s grandfather, Rav Leizer Yudel Finkel zt”l, would relate to his children the special closeness he had to Rav Leizer Yudel before, during and after the war years. One of this person’s sons was a talmid in Rav Elya Boruch’s shiur and was going through a difficult time, since his father wasn’t well. Rav Elya Boruch called him aside one day to tell him that he’s going to Bnei Brak that day to visit Rav Shach and he should come along with him. The bochur jumped at the opportunity. Upon arriving at Rav Shach’s home, Rav Elya Boruch went in first to explain to Rav Shach about his talmid‘s choshuveh father and his special relationship with Rav Leizer Yudel. The bochur was then invited in, and Rav Shach gave the bochur much needed chizuk. After that, they proceeded to visit Rav Yehudah Zev Segal zt”l, who happened to have been in Bnei Brak then. After that day, he was very much mechuzak from the fact that these gedolim shared his pain and was forever grateful to his rebbi for arranging it.
When this bochur departed from the Mir, he left early in the morning – the day after Purim. He meant to visit his rebbi and say goodbye on Purim, but he wasn’t able to, so he called Rav Elya Boruch and told him that since he’s leaving in a few hours, he won’t be able to personally say goodbye and he wished to do so on the phone. Rav Elya Boruch adamantly refused, offering to pay for the private cab to take him to Rav Elya Boruch’s home where he would be waiting outside for him. “You can’t go home without a kush (kiss),” he said.
“Sure enough, I took the cab to Rav Elya Boruch’s home where he spent close to an hour with me. The warmth he showed to me that night is still with me now, twenty years later,” said the talmid. “I, too, felt the warmth of Rav Leizer Yudel, transmitted to me personally through Rav Elya Boruch.”
Indeed, this warmth, bren and love for learning is what talmidim across the globe remember of their beloved rebbi.
Chaval al de’avdin velo mishtakchin.
Yehi zichro boruch.
Portions of this article were previously published in Yated Ne’eman, Monsey, NY.