By Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein
Be’eros will help the English speaker to draw from two very different wells of Torah wisdom: Be’er Mayim Chaim, and Be’er Yosef. I have combined them not because of some common thread, but because shuttling between them and enjoying their contrasting styles will hopefully maintain reader interest.
Be’er Mayim Chaim certainly figures as one of the classics of the chassidishe world. Its author, Chaim ben Shlomo Tyrer (~1740 – 1817) was a talmid of R. Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov. He served several communities, but is usually linked to his position as rav of Czernovitz. Besides his sefer on Chumash, he composed works on Shabbos, tefilah, halachic responsa, and chiddushim on tractate Berachos. His love and devotion to Shabbos were legendary; one of the best-known anecdotes about him claims that he stood a head taller on Shabbos than the rest of the week.
His commentary often leans towards kabbalistic interpretation. He freely uses the standard vocabulary of the Ari’s kabbalah. As is so often the case with authors heavily invested in kabbalistic thought, the smallest, seemingly most insignificant exchange in Chumash will assume literally cosmic proportions in the hands of the Be’er Mayim Chaim. These treatments are fascinating to those who comprehend them fully. Even to those who don’t, studying them often provides a wallop of a punch of unadulterated and undiluted Yiras Shomayim.
My father, z”l, was very proud of his relationship to the Be’er Mayim Chaim. (His mother was a direct descendant.) I offer these shiurim l’ilui nishmaso.
Be’er Yosef by R. Yosef Salant (1885-1981) has quietly risen to acceptance as a modern powerhouse of derush. R. Salant was born, nurtured and raised in the pure atmosphere of what many call Yerushalayim Shel Maaloh. A scion of the family of R. Yosef Zundel of Salant – credited by R. Yisrael Salanter for inspiring his own devotion to Mussar – he drank the pure waters of the famed Etz Chaim yeshiva of old, and was influenced by the towering presence of R. Itzele Peterburger, one of the principle disciples of R. Yisrael.
R. Yosef lived modestly, shunned the limelight and public position, and was fiercely devoted to both learning and teaching. His gift for oratory was noted early. Be’er Yosef combines all the threads of his life: beautifully creative derush in the style, perhaps, of the Chasam Sofer; always looking for a mussar-insight to inspire perfecting character; all articulated with a regal modesty.