| Magazine Feature |

For All and One

Mir Mashgiach Rav Binyamin Finkel extends an embrace to every Jew who wants to grow

Photos: Baruch Yaari

Ten years ago this week, the night after Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel ztz”l passed away, I was inconsolable — and told as much to Rav Binyamin Finkel, today the beloved mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir, already then a prominent figure in the yeshivah with hundreds of adherents participating in his vaadim.

“I just can’t escape the feeling that had Rav Nosson Tzvi been healthy, our generation would have been given an even bigger gift,” I lamented to Rav Binyamin, a cousin by marriage and second-cousin by lineage to the Rosh Yeshivah who — despite being trapped in a pain-filled, Parkinson’s-riddled frame — displayed visionary leadership that grew the yeshivah into a massive Torah empire.

“You’re looking at it from a narrow, purely physical perspective,” Rav Binyamin chided me gently. “True, maybe had he been healthy he could have done more, maybe he could have disseminated more Torah, maybe there was something he wanted to do but was unable to, I really don’t know. But if we look at all that he did do, it’s clear that he never stopped short at anything. Who says that his limitations ever prevented him from fulfilling his ambitions? The midrash tells us that while a person shouldn’t use a broken vessel, HaKadosh Baruch Hu klei tashmisho shevurim [loosely, Hashem prefers to employ broken vessels]. Perhaps our generation merited a rosh yeshivah like him specifically because of his condition and not in spite of it.”

That’s Rav Binyamin, known throughout the Mir and beyond as “Binyamin Hatzaddik” — the man with infinite patience and understanding and a profound ability to reframe what looks like calamity and turn it into signs of Divine love.

Years before, when Rav Binyamin was, according to his own self-definition, just a “regular avreich,” he’d gotten an offer for a position outside the yeshivah and didn’t know whether to take it or not: It was prestigious in and of itself and would also be a good springboard for the future. He decided to ask his rosh yeshivah, Rav Nosson Tzvi. Rav Nosson Tzvi told Rav Binyamin to go ask his own father, Rav Aryeh Finkel ztz”l, rosh yeshivah of Mir-Brachfeld. Rav Aryeh, however, put the decision back in his cousin Rav Nosson Tzvi’s court. “You’re an avreich in Mir, and he’s your rosh yeshivah,” Rav Aryeh told his son. “Yes, but Rav Nosson Tzvi told me to ask you, as you’re my father,” Rav Binyamin replied. “Go back and ask your rosh yeshivah,” his father insisted.

Rav Nosson Tzvi gave a wise answer that made clear his position but also made sure Rav Aryeh had the last word: “If your father tells you to stay here in the Mir,” said Rav Nosson Tzvi, “then I’ll be happy. If he says to take the position, I won’t interfere.”

Years later, when the yeshivah was experiencing severe financial difficulties, Rav Binyamin — who was at that time on the yeshivah payroll, giving shiur and vaadim — was seen in the line of people waiting to see Rosh Yeshivah Rav Nosson Tzvi. While most of the young men were asking about their monthly stipend, and some were asking for a raise, Rav Binyamin had a different request: “I know the situation now,” he told Rav Nosson Tzvi, “so I want a pay cut.”

This is Rav Binyamin Hatzaddik. Shabsi Binyamin Finkel, son of Rav Aryeh, son of Rav Chaim Zev, son of Rav Eliezer Yehudah, son of Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel — ben achar ben, eldest after eldest, of the Alter of Slabodka, zy”a. And all he desires is one thing: to be able to teach and learn Torah with love.

(The Alter’s other son, Avraham Shmuel, was the father of Eliyahu Meir, who was the father of Rav Nosson Tzvi. Meanwhile, Rav Eliezer Yehudah’s second son, Rosh Yeshivah Rav Beinish, took Rav Nosson Tzvi for a son-in-law. If you draw a chart, you’ll see how Rav Nosson Tzvi and Rav Binyamin are second cousins once removed, as well as first cousins once removed via Rav Nosson Tzvi’s wife. It’s interesting to note that in many yeshivah dynasties, the position of rosh yeshivah is passed down directly along the family line, whereas in Mir, both lines defer to each other and have utmost regard for each other, each rosh yeshivah embracing the other.)

Last December, at the levayah of longtime Mir mashgiach Rav Aharon Chodosh (a brother-in-law of Rav Aryeh Finkel), who served in the position for over 55 years, it was announced that Rav Binyamin Finkel had been appointed as Mir’s new mashgiach. That means he’s officially in charge of the spiritual well-being of thousands of bochurim.

It was a most fitting choice. Many years ago, a popular rav agreed to deliver a lecture in a secular town in Israel. Then, when the date approached, he realized he had another commitment. In desperation, he turned to Rav Binyamin Finkel, who happily agreed to take his place. (He knew Rav Binyamin wouldn’t refuse — Binyamin Hatzaddik had a reputation for picking up and going any place he was invited in order to teach Torah, no matter what size the crowd.)

Rav Finkel traveled to the distant town and arrived at the designated address, but even after repeated knocking, there was no answer. Finally, a pajama-clad gentleman opened the door and shamefacedly admitted that he had forgotten to arrange the lecture, and no one was there.

Rav Binyamin smiled and said, “My friend, learning Torah with you is as valuable to me as teaching Torah to 50 people. I would be happy to learn with you, if you’re interested.”

The visitor was welcomed in and he sat down to learn with the host and the host’s son, who came to join them.

Twenty years later, a young man stopped Rav Binyamin in yeshivah and introduced himself. He was the son of that man, and he had been so impressed by the conduct of the visitor and the learning on that night, that he had been drawn to Torah.

Now that Rav Binyamin has taken his place in the exalted line of Mirrer mashgichim, who can better inspire thousands of talmidim in the biggest yeshivah in the world than a rebbi who is happy to teach one person at a time?

Chocolate Therapy 

I was once davening in Rav Binyamin’s minyan when a young boy approached him and asked if he could put on tefillin for the first time there. The Mashgiach, of course, gracefully agreed.

After davening, they entered the Mashgiach’s room — and for a few moments, there was nothing except this boy, sitting and listening to a Yid with a whitening beard, who was speaking to him eye to eye with all the time in the world. Gesturing with his expressive hands, he told the boy about his own childhood struggles, explained how to know who’s a good friend and who to stay away from, and urged him not to get drawn to places that would disrupt his spiritual growth.

After he taught the young fellow how to pack away his new tefillin properly, he took a chocolate bar out of the nearby cupboard. But this was no random snack. Rav Binyamin Finkel prefers to distribute this particular brand, as it’s made of a high percentage of pure chocolate and thus incurs no questions about the proper brachah. He then asked the boy how many siblings he has and gave him a chocolate for each one. “And this is for your father and mother,” he said. “For when they have a coffee together.”

Over the years, in fact, this “chocolate bar therapy” has done wonders. “Once,” the Mashgiach told me, “I gave it to an avreich, and I told him that it is for when he and his wife sit down to have coffee. He went home and scheduled a special time to sit and drink coffee with his wife. After all, the Mashgiach had told him he had to! Sitting there together, they began to speak about things that somehow always got ignored in juggling the pressures of busy daily life. It was the start of a change for the better in their communication and relationship.”

If one bar of chocolate can get a couple to sit down for a conversation, it’s a good reason to keep his pantry well-stocked.

The avreichim sitting around Reb Binyamin Finkel at the “Sunday vaad” will often hear similar words about destressing the home environment. “My brothers and friends, the bnei aliyah,” he says to this crowd of young men whose welfare he so obviously cares about, “there are many children who, unfortunately, did not follow the path that the parents wanted, and one of the reasons is that they saw Shabbos and Yom Tov as a source of tension and pressure. We need to convey love for the mitzvos in our homes, so that there’s always a pleasant atmosphere.”

Then he adds, a bit more subtly, “But even as we focus on the warmth and the positivity, we must be careful not to make light of halachah. When we find that balance, when our children see the yiras Shamayim together with sweetness, with a feeling of ‘Ashreinu mah tov chelkeinu,’ when a father tells his children, ‘baruch Hashem we are Yidden!’ — and no, that doesn’t mean this is easy, but that we are happy to make the effort for the sake of kevod Shamayim — then that’s the best thing a child can absorb.”

During the early days of Covid, many desperate avreichim consulted with him. The restrictions were so onerous and conditions so severe that some felt like their young families were falling apart.

I admit, I was one of the complainers, but Rav Binyamin urged me to see things positively. “You have to know,” he told me, “that Hashem is making it turbulent so that we can come to the great tikkun. It’s important to give chizuk to the children, to find ways to keep the atmosphere positive. Try using contests and incentives. Find ways to cope. Remember, HaKadosh Baruch Hu isn’t abandoning us — He wants us to maximize our own rachmanus and chesed, and then we’ll be able to see open chasadim from Him.”

It’s a recurring theme in his shmuessen: Why, Rav Binyamin asks again and again, does one need to daven? After all, a Jew believes that all that Hashem does is for the best. So why petition Hashem for our own desires? And he explains: True, everything Hashem does is for the best, but we can ask that He channel His good through compassion and not, chalilah, through suffering or illness. That is the avodah of tefillah.

When people approach him for a brachah, the Mashgiach will say, “Your tefillah is more important.”

Keep It Fresh 

In Kislev of last year, the sun dimmed over the Mir Yeshivah with the passing of the venerated mashgiach, Rav Aharon Chodosh. Rav Aharon’s approach, which combined firmness and love, was different from Rav Binyamin’s, but already in Rav Binyamin’s hesped for his uncle, it was evident that he was finding a common denominator.

“The Mashgiach gave us all vitality,” he said. “Don’t stop, don’t delay, just continue onward with a frishkeit (freshness).”

Anyone standing next to Rav Binyamin when he heard the talk about him being officially appointed as mashgiach noticed him murmuring: “Let it not harm me, let it not harm me.” Later, one of the talmidim dared ask what that was all about. “I davened that I would succeed in doing only good in this job, without any ego or arrogance,” he explained.

Before his appointment as mashgiach of the Mir, Rav Binyamin had served as the menahel ruchani for the yeshivah ketanah Mishkan Yisrael, and he now juggles both responsibilities. He says that beyond the hakaras hatov that he has for the place that hired him when he was so young, “How can I give up having a positive influence on the young bochurim?”

Just like Mir disseminates its spiritual and material resources to the masses — not only to the students registered officially with the yeshivah — likewise, bochurim from the entire yeshivah world, from Brisk to Kiryat Malachi, come to the Mashgiach’s house for the Shabbos night seudah. There are a limited number of places given to anyone who registers on a certain day at a certain time with the Rebbetzin. Yet every Friday night, the Mashgiach always comes home with another two or three bochurim who are not on the list.

“My grandfather, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, opened a yeshivah with a minyan of students,” the Mashgiach told me. “At the time, there was only a handful of bnei Torah, yet soon someone else opened a yeshivah and then another one, and competition began. But anyone who was doing it l’Sheim Shamayim was happy to see each new yeshivah open. My zeide, who was considered one of the elder roshei yeshivah at the time, would come to a rosh yeshivah who had opened a ‘competing’ yeshivah and say, ‘You should know that a yeshivah is a great expense, it’s not simple. Here, take some money.’”

For Rav Binyamin, like for his zeide, it’s about raising talmidim, no matter where they learn and which yeshivah they’re enrolled in. They are all his students, and when they get married, they’ll all get “chocolate for coffee with your wife.”

Your Son’s a Rebbe

Rav Binyamin came to the Mir — his home base — after learning in Kamenitz as a teenager. He still quotes his eighth-grade teacher, Rav Zundel Kroizer, whom he considers a master pedagogue. Reb Zundel was perhaps ahead of his time — and he taught Rav Binyamin by example what good chinuch is: “You have to find the unique thing about each boy, something he has that others don’t. If you pinpoint his uniqueness, you’ll surely succeed with him.”

Once in the Mir,  Rav Binyamin developed a close relationship with the Rosh Yeshivah Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz ztz”l (his great-uncle by marriage — Rav Chaim married Rav Leizer Yehudah’s daughter, who was the sister of his grandfather Rav Chaim Zev). His day revolved around Rav Chaim, who treasured his young student and relative. There are those who say it was Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz who coined the nickname “Binyamin Hatzaddik” due to his nephew’s impeccable character and humility. Today, so many years later, in almost every shmuess or vaad, the Mashgiach will mention him — “the Rebbe Rav Chaim said…”

Rav Binyamin also learned under Rosh Yeshivah Rav Nochum Partzovitz (Rav Chaim’s son-in-law) and considered him his rebbi muvhak.

Rav Binyamin entered the Mirrer beis medrash as a bochur, and he’s never left. In his eyes, he was and remains a “yungerman in the Mir.” Even now, as mashgiach, he still makes sure to keep to the yeshivah schedule and learns the same masechta the yeshivah is studying. But he draws on spiritual influences and practices from a wide range of sources.

Rav Aryeh ztz”l once related that when his son was a bochur, just starting out in yeshivah gedolah, Kamenitz rosh yeshivah Rav Asher Lichtenstein approached him and said worriedly, “Binyamin is becoming a rebbe.”

“What do you mean?” Rav Aryeh asked.

Rav Lichtenstein explained: The teenaged Binyamin was davening for extended periods, and bochurim were starting to put down kvittlach at his table.

“I’m not such a Litvak,” Rav Aryeh reassured Rav Lichtenstein. “Nu, so what, they told me that my son is going off, chalilah? No. That he’s becoming a rebbe? Nu Nu. Now, decades later, look at what a rebbe he’s become.”

Rav Binyamin has the ability to draw some spiritual benefit from every beis medrash, chassidish and litvish, while staying true to the traditions of his fathers. For many years, he was close to the Beis Yisrael of Gur. There was always a kettle of hot water in the Beis Yisrael’s home, and those with a close relationship were invited to drink a cup of tea with him. It was a gesture to anyone the Rebbe appreciated and wanted to speak to. Rav Binyamin, for his part, drank many cups of tea with the Rebbe.

Rav Binyamin’s openness and willingness to go anywhere a Jew wants to learn Torah has endeared him to many different communities around Eretz Yisrael. Once, Rav Binyamin was walking with his father when a Sephardic Jew approached them, kissing Rav Binyamin’s hand and asking for a brachah. Rav Binyamin was uncomfortable and motioned to the man that it would be more fitting for him to approach Rav Aryeh.

“Mechilah, excuse me,” the man replied, “first I honor the rabbanim of my community, who lead us and gives us Torah classes.” This Jew was absolutely certain that Rav Binyamin, who during those years gave shiurim in the Moussayof shul in Jerusalem’s Bukharian neighborhood, was surely a member of the Eidot Hamizrach.

His talmidim relate that he never gets angry — except for one time. It was in the hallway of the Mishkan Yisrael yeshivah ketanah, where he serves as the menahel ruchani. Rav Binyamin heard a bochur hurling a derogatory epithet at a Sephardi bochur.

Rav Binyamin went over to the boy, and in a most uncharacteristic fashion, he instructed him loudly to go to the water fountain and rinse his mouth out from the toxic words he had used.

Rav Binyamin has had his share of personal suffering, including losing his wife, Rebbetzin Mina, in 2016. (In 2018, he got remarried to Mrs. Rochel Davis.) People in crisis know he not only hears them but can really empathize.

On Lag B’omer last year, while his sons were just reaching the tziyun, Rav Binyamin received the news of the terrible deaths of what would later be learned to be 45 pure souls. He broke down with his sefer Tehillim and wept for hours.

Afterward, he began the rounds of the homes of the aveilim. He went from parents to children, to bereaved mothers and widows. In one home, where the bereaved family was mourning a young boy whom he has no personal connection to, he was shocked to see a picture of himself hanging in the 13-year-old’s room. He had no idea how wide his influence was.

The same caring and compassion that helped comfort the families is actually there in everything he does. His words always have an apologetic undertone, as if he doesn’t want to be a bother. At the levayah of his father, and then of his wife, he was completely shattered, yet stayed focused on making sure that the ceremony and hespedim would be short and that no one should suffer from the heat. A few times during his hesped, despite his own grief, he pleaded with the crowd to drink. Even then, he was focused on the other person.

Fixing Ourselves 

The two bareheaded youths who walked down on the Yerushalmi street didn’t look like they’d be interested in a yeshivah, but when they saw an obviously rabbinic figure approach them, one of the boys asked, “Kevod harav, can we have a brachah?”

Rav Binyamin blessed him warmly — then, as he continued on his way, heard the older one say mockingly, “What do you need this nonsense for?” Rav Binyamin turned around and asked the younger one for his name, and his mother’s name, and returned home in distress. He could not tolerate the scorn of one person for another.

He convinced some talmidim and family members to help him locate the boy, based on the boy’s name and his mother’s name, both of which were unusual. Finally, he located the family — a frum family living in a northern town whose son had strayed. Although the son was no longer at home, Rav Binyamin decided he had to make the trip up north to visit the family. That was too much for the boy — he couldn’t fathom how an important rav and mashgiach saw him as worthy of attention and love. Today, he’s an avreich who spends his days learning Torah.

A similar dynamic unfolded when, at a simchah, the Mashgiach showered a non-observant waiter with care, concern, and compliments. The waiter was so moved by Rav Binyamin’s genuine love that he eventually landed in yeshivah.

It’s this untainted love, free of pettiness or self-interest, that he tries to nurture in his students. He speaks openly about the jealousy we feel even toward those who are our real, genuine friends. “You see it when someone does a shidduch and when you ask who the other side is, if the answer is ‘a simple person from out of town,’ then we’re happy and give him heartfelt brachos,” the Mashgiach quips, “but if the mechutan is a distinguished rosh yeshivah, or a famous or wealthy person, oooohhh, then our blood starts to boil underneath our smiles and mazal tovs. We might even be angry at the shadchan for not suggesting it to us.”

Rav Binyamin begs us not to go there. “A person who lives this way will never be happy. He’ll have a bitter life, distant from Hashem, because in the end, it’s all one big lack of emunah. If a person would know that everything is from Him, and for his benefit, he would want even for the other person to be blessed with good, and when he davens for himself to have good, he should daven that it should be good for the other person as well.”

As deep and caring as he is, Rav Binyamin is also known for his sharp sense of humor.

I actually wondered aloud about the unusual combination of a talmid chacham and baal mussar who always seems to have a punchline at the ready. He laughed at the question. “You know, I really should be sad, because I’m so far from what I aspire to be, and I look at myself, and I see how much I need a tikkun.”

And then Rav Binyamin continued with an honest revelation:

“I merited to grow up under my father. He gave us a strong childhood chinuch, but there was also a tremendous simchas hachayim. You have no idea in what kind of poverty we were raised. I can’t figure out how he covered his monthly expenses, but he never showed us any worry, only simchah. Everyone has childhood experiences, and part of mine was to see a leaky ceiling all winter and to fill up buckets in the dining room — and to feel happiness.

“That was all part of our chinuch — to live with emunah and bitachon, to live with hope,” he continued. “The Alter of Slabodka would quote the baalei mussar who said about a person who walks around with a sour face: ‘You are a bor b’reshus harabbim! Just because it’s bad for you, now anyone who sees you also feels bad.’”

Rav Binyamin is quiet for a minute, then tells me his secret: “You want to learn one thing from me? So this is it: I don’t give up on myself — I always have hope that I can do better. That’s what you can learn that from me — to hope and believe that you can rise higher and instead of wallowing in self-pity, to actually correct what needs fixing. You can do it — we all can.”


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 882)

Oops! We could not locate your form.