The Bochur Who Stumped the Rogatchover Gaon

When Reb Berel Garfinkel was twenty-one, he knew all of Shas with Rashi, Tosfos, and other rishonim, as well as all the printed maamorim – by heart! Yet, he carried no air of pride or feigned “humility.”

Reb Berel Garfinkel, born to Chabad chassidim from the city of Kurenitz, studied in Lubavitch during the years 5676-7 (1916-7). Later he served as mashgiach in several underground branches of Tomchei Tmimim in Russia.

After leaving Russia in the year 5696 (1936), he was appointed as mashgiach and general menahel of the yeshiva in Otvotzk, Poland. He brought a new chayus into the yeshiva, and he would often walk among the tables encouraging the bochurim in their learning, calling out, “Lebediker! Lebediker!” He married shortly before World War II.

In the beginning of the war, he was mashgiach of the yeshiva in the Radom Ghetto. He and his wife were killed al kidush Hashem in Auschwitz in the year 5703 (1943).


In his youth, Reb Berel once told his friends, “Come with me, I will ask the Rogatchover Gaon a question that he won’t be able to answer!”

They went to the Rogatchover and Reb Berel asked, “The Torah writes ‘Vayehi erev vayehu boker,’—night and then day. The Mishnah as well begins with the din of Shema at night. If so, why does the Shulchan Aruch start with the halachos pertaining to the morning?”

The Rogatchover was quiet for a very long time, and finally told the astonished bochurim that he does not have an answer.

After taking leave of the gaon, Reb Berel said to his friends, “This question the Rebbe Rashab asks in a maamar and does not give an answer. I was therefore certain that the Rogatchover would not be able to answer this question either.”


Reb Mendel Futerfass related:

Reb Berel was five years older than me and had incredible capabilities. When he was seventeen years old, he was fluent in the three “Bavos” and some other masechtos with Rashi, Tosfos, and other rishonim.

When we met next, he was twenty-one. I asked him where he was up to, and he replied sincerely that he knew all of Shas with Rashi, Tosfos, and other rishonim, as well as all the printed maamorim – all by heart! He said it without any air of pride or “humility.” He wasn’t proud at all.

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  1. So a Bochur repeats the Rashab’s question, and it’s considered a Bochur stumping this giant of giants?

    1. While it is categorically clear that the unquantifiable genius and brilliance of the Rogatchover is unmatched by scholars of generations bygone, this beautiful story highlights the supra-rational power of a Rebbe which can not be replicated or imitated by even the greatest Talmudist.

      Accordingly, Reb Berel, a devout Chosid and Mekushar to his Rebbe knew, that if the Rebbe had left a question unanswered, it would be humanly impossible to provide any answer.

      Such is the implication that the young bochur had ‘stumped’ the Rogatchover.

  2. יצא אדם לפעלו ולעבודתו עדי ערב (תהלים ק”ד כ”ג)
    Avodah begins in the morning until evening. A fresh start, which is the natural cycle (ראה כוונות ר”ה הבאה אחרי עבודת אלול)

  3. Without seeing the leshonos of the question as presented by the Rebbeim, my feeling is that the question probably was “If creation began at night, so should refresh.”

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