As a safety precaution, Rav Aharon didn’t speak to the driver while he drove
Dr. Moshe Biberfeld
Driver for Rav Aharon Kotler
Dr. Moshe Biberfeld learned in Beis Medrash Govoha in the late 1950s and had the zechus to drive Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l in his final years. At the time, Lakewood was still a resort town, and the fledgling yeshivah numbered only 100 students, including the kolleleit.
Dr. Biberfeld liked to drive, and it wasn’t hard to snag the privilege from Mr. Butch (Avrohom) Stefansky, who was in charge of the yeshivah’s old-fashioned DeSoto. But he has few memories of conversations with his venerable passenger: As a safety precaution, Rav Aharon didn’t speak to the driver while he drove.
As a bochur, young Moshe loved his two months of summer camp, but it meant leaving yeshivah early. Rav Aharon found out and called the bochur in. Moshe explained what camp meant to him and how badly he wanted to go. Besides, he added, he was moving on to the Chaim Berlin kollel after that summer.
The Rosh Yeshivah looked at him with a smile on his face and said, “If you come back to yeshivah next zeman, I’ll even let you go to camp.”
“If only I was able to be machshiv the chashivus of that comment from someone of Rav Aharon’s caliber!” reflects Dr. Biberfeld today. “It was enormous.”
Rav Aharon split his time between Boro Park and Lakewood during those years, and so every Thursday, Dr. Biberfeld would drive Rav Aharon to Lakewood for his evening shiur in yeshivah. Then, come Monday, he’d drive him back to his apartment in Boro Park, on 15th Avenue and 47th Street. The trips gave Dr. Biberfeld a closeup view of the gadol whose uncompromising vision shaped America’s postwar yeshivah world.
“I was once sitting with the Rosh Yeshivah in his dining room,” recounts Dr. Biberfeld, “and he was learning a Tosafos. He had his finger on the place when a call came in from London. He spoke to the caller for about 20 minutes. When he hung up, he moved his finger right on from where it stood, not needing to go back at all to review where he left off.”
Dr. Biberfeld was once learning with Reb Moshe Kahan ztz’’l (later Rosh Yeshivah in Denver) in the BMG beis medrash, home to a collection of rare seforim. They came across a Pnei Yehoshuah, inside which Dr. Biberfeld was shocked to find the handwritten inscription, Akiva ben Moshe Eiger. “My family descends from the Chasam Sofer, a son-in-law of Rav Akiva Eiger,” says Dr. Biberfeld, “so I approached my uncles to see if they were interested in acquiring this treasure. They offered a substantial sum, which would have provided amazing revenue for the yeshivah. So I went with the sefer and the offer to the Rosh Yeshivah. He thought for a second and then answered, ‘No. It would be a bigger zechus for Rav Akiva Eiger if that sefer stayed in yeshivah so people could regularly learn from it.’”
One of Dr. Biberfeld’s most powerful memories of his travels with Rav Aharon is the time he accompanied him on his final journey: at Rav Aharon’s levayah. “It was a huge event,” he remembers. “I was outside, right opposite the Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum ztz”l. I couldn’t understand a word from his hesped — not because it was in Yiddish, but because his entire hesped was one long cry. That’s how close the two gedolim were.”
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 878)
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