He didn’t come from the little town of Mir. Or from Vilna, Baranovitch, or Radin. He didn’t even come from Brooklyn! Yet as he grew up in Depression-era St. Louis, a city far from any Torah center, Yaakov Moshe Kulefsky, the future Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisroel, had already discovered something about Torah learning:
That Torah is “geshmak.”
(So geshmak, that when told to go out and play because he was too pale, young Yaakov Moshe slid down into the cellar of his home through a coal chute, emerging, sooty but happy, to get back to his sefarim!)
It was that geshmak in learning, that joy in poring over a page of Gemara, that characterized Rav Kulefsky all through his life. It was a “geshmak” that was contagious: In more than half a century of teaching Torah at the highest level, he tranmitted his joyous intensity in learning to literally thousands of talmidim — many of whom went on to become today’s Torah leaders.
In the newly published biography, Rav Kulefsky: The beloved American-born rebbe whose geshmak for Torah lit the fire in thousands, bestselling author Rabbi Yechiel Spero captures the geshmak, the ahavas haTorah and ahavas ha’briyos that characterized Rav Kulefsky. For this absorbing book, Rabbi Spero conducted more than 100 interviews. In story after story (so many great stories!), we meet a man to whom kavod haTorah was paramount, and whose consideration and caring for others was legendary.
As a rebbe and, eventually, Rosh Yeshivah of Ner Yisroel in Baltimore, Rav Kulefsky inspired hundreds — no, thousands — of American boys to become talmidei chachamim. “His koach of hasbarah was amazing,” says Rabbi Spero. “He spent hours preparing the shiur, and if he gave it again a few days later, he prepared it again.”
This week marks Rav Kulefsky’s twentieth yahrzeit. Though many years have passed, this towering figure of Torah and chesed is still remembered with both love and awe by generations of talmidim. And now, even those who did not merit to learn from him can be inspired and elevated by his life of ahavas Torah.
One Rosh Yeshivah said to a grandchild of Rav Kulefsky, “When one spoke in learning to your grandfather, it was like watching a kid in a candy store.” This biography helps us all to feel that sweetness.