An Alter Mirrer and Beyond BT

By Yakov Spil

Years ago, I had the privilege of meeting a Yid who was among the distinguished group of talmidim, who are becoming more and more rare, known as Alter Mirrers. They learned in the Mir Yeshiva in Poland before the war broke out and then were transported “al kanfei haShechina” to Shanghai, Japan where they stayed through the war for three years. The stories that came from this period are just miraculous and go to show how the Yad Hashem intervenes for His Chosen People.

It was on Pesach, that I met this Rov. I wish I could remember the rest of his shiur on the “Arbah Kayses,” but it certainly was enchanting. But I do remember one resounding message to us.

Us? Yes, he spoke to us as Baalei Teshuva.

He said, “I met a yid and he comes to tell me that he’s a Baal Teshuva for ten years. I don’t understand dis. Ven a Yid decides to come to learn Tayreh, he is no longer a Baal Teshuva. He is a Yid like the rest of us doing all the things choshuveh Yidden do.”

It appears that this Alter Mirrer saw the term Baal Teshuva as something of a moniker, a label that was not really helping the person. It was tying him to his past in an unhealthy way. It could even be dragging him down and he didn’t even realize it!

When I recalled this last night after I heard he passed away, I thought how appropriate the site is called Beyond BT, it is exactly how he thought we should approach our treasured lives being a part of the Am Hanivchar.

His name is Rav Aryeh Leib Baron zl. He was known as Rav Leib Baronivitcher because he grew in Baranovitch and was very close with Rav Boruch Ber zl. When I met him, he was a Rosh Yeshiva in Montreal. He passed away in Yerushalayim Ir Hakodesh.

May Rav Baron’s memory be a blessing for us and we should be zoche to carry on with our Avodas Hakodesh k’dei lo sishochach m’pi zaro, in order that Torah is never forgotten from our lips and from those of our children!

Find Hashem where He can be found, I think what the Rosh Yeshiva told us is a mission: find yourself as a Yid and go beyond any labels. Be a yid who attaches himself to Mesorah the way the Torah wants us to and not according to any contemporary ideas and we will see the success we are looking for.

9 comments on “An Alter Mirrer and Beyond BT

  1. Thank you, Yaakov, for posting your memories of my father.

    Just want to mention that my father was called “Rav Leibel Horodoker”, because he grew up in the little shtetl of Horodok, White Russia. He later learned in Baranovitch for many years and became close with Reb Elchonon Wasserman.

    Although our name was Baranovitch (later shortened to Baron) it had no connection that I know of to the town or yeshiva of Baranovitch.
    When my father was 18 or 19 he went to learn in the Mir yeshiva. He learned there until after the war. He spent the war years in Shanghai, China.

  2. Ron, when community attitudes conflict with the letter and spirit of the Torah, it’s up to the community leaders to lead them, preferably by example.

  3. The story of the rescue of the Mirrer Yeshiva is quite enjoyable, reading like an adventure novel except it’s all true. There were two short books out on the topic: Escape to Shanghai, and another title.

    There were other refugees in Shanghai, I believe that almost 20,000 Jews spent the war years there. Although it was no picnic, what with food shortages, ghettoization, burning hot summers, air raids, and typhus fever, it was a haven from the Nazis. The well-known constitutional law scholar, Prof. Lawrence Tribe, was born there. All of the Jews left in the postwar period 1946-1949, before Mao’s forces marched in.

    Many of the young men who survived with the Mirrer Yeshiva found out at the end of the war that their parents and siblings had perished, and that the Mirrer Yeshiva was now their only family.

  4. I heard Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l say something very similar.

    The question is, how many of those who will nod their heads upon hearing this story make shidduchim with our kind of “choshuve yidden”?

  5. If we agree with the logic of this article, we should be wary of portraying BTs as an “aggrieved special interest group” of the type now prominent in politics.

    That’s not to say we shouldn’t react appropriately to actual instances or patterns of disrespect or mistreatment

  6. I totally agree with not paying too much attention to labels. I recall a story that is almost the opposite in terms of the use of the term “ba’al teshuva” but is congruent with this post in terms of message: when I was engaged to my wife my father in law wanted to introduce me to a rav he has learned with for many years in a chabura and has a close relationship with. So we went to the rav’s house, and during the conversation, my (now) wife mentioned that I was a ba’al teshuva. To which the rav answered: “we should all be zocheh to be ba’alei teshuva.”

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