Rabbi Naftoli Borchardt, Z”l
By Rabbi Binyomin Zev Karman
“From the confines of his bed, your brother Reb Naftoli runs Klal Yisrael,” Harav Malkiel Kotler, shlita, told Harav Yitzchak Borchardt, shlita. With his sense of achrayus to the klal and the clarity of his hashkafos, Rabbi Naftoli Menachem Borchardt would reach out to Gedolim and lay leaders to seek guidance, as well as to provide suggestions for the benefit of the klal. This trait was ingrained in him from a young age as he was raised in the home of his father, Rabbi Baruch Borchardt, z”l, the executive director of Agudas Yisrael for numerous decades.
Rabbi Baruch Borchardt was born in Hamburg, Germany, and fled with his family to Shanghai, China, when WWII began. When the Mirrer Yeshiva arrived a short while later, he attached himself to the Mashgiach, Harav Chatzkel Levenshtein, zt”l, and was drawn to the practices of the yeshivah community. After the war, he married Miriam (Marta) Heynemann, and the couple settled in Washington Heights. Rabbi Boruch Borchardt worked for Agudas Yisrael in many capacities, but perhaps he was best known as the director of Camp Agudah for several decades.
The Borchardts raised their three boys, Yitzchak, Naftoli (born in 1951) and Yanki, in Washington Heights and sent them to Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim because their father wanted them to be taught in Yiddish. The family davened in the Agudah minyan, and were close to the various Rabbanim of the minyan: Harav Naftoli Friedler, Harav Yaakov Perlow (the Novominsker Rebbe) and Harav Eliyahu Dov Glucksman, zichronam livrachah. The respect and reverence for Rabbanim was ingrained in Reb Naftoli by his father, who showed the utmost kavod to Gedolei Torah. (Rabbi Boruch Borchardt instituted inviting a Gadol to Camp Agudah each Shabbos.) The long-term bond between the family and these Rabbanim remained strong for many decades.
Reb Naftoli spent his summers in Camp Agudah, and he always cherished the memories and friendships he developed during those times. He developed a relationship with the Mara d’Asra, Harav Yaakov Teitelbaum, zt”l, and became acquainted with other Gedolim who visited, including Harav Moshe Feinstein, Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky, zecher tzaddikim livrachah, and others.
“As the son of Rabbi Boruch Borchardt, Naftoli had the opportunity to use his lineage as clout to get privileges or push his way to the forefront of what was transpiring,” said Harav Yaakov Yosef Rotenberg, shlita. “Yet not only did he never take advantage of it, but he also never showed that he felt privileged in any manner. He just did what everyone did and considered himself as just one of the group.”
“Another unique characteristic of Reb Naftoli was how he went about working for the klal. He had no self-interest; he was not a person who did something for himself and by the way benefitted the klal. Rather, whatever he did was completely for Klal Yisrael, without any side interests,” Rav Rotenberg said.
After completing elementary school, Naftoli joined the yeshivah that Harav Gershon Zaks, zt”l, established in Monsey for one year, and then followed in the footsteps of his brother, Rav Yitzchak, and began learning in Yeshiva Bais Hatalmud which had recently moved from East New York to Bensonhurst. There he learned under Harav Chaim Benoliel, shlita, and, ybcl”c, Harav Chaim Fasman and Harav Shaul Brus, zichronam levrachah. Once he entered the portals of Bais Hatalmud, he never left, as he attached himself to the yeshivah and its surrounding community for the rest of his life. Blessed with excellent chavrusas throughout his years as a bachur and then a yungerman, he grew into a true mevakeish and an accomplished ben Torah. Eventually, he was assigned to also be the registrar of the yeshiva, working devotedly alongside Rabbi Mendel Bromberg.
In 1977, he married Faygie, née Handelsman, whose father, Rabbi Moshe Handelsman, zt”l, served as the executive director of Mirrer Yeshiva. “Growing up, my family and I were surrounded by the Roshei Yeshivah of Mir, and my husband expanded my exposure to other Gedolei Torah. During our engagement we went to request brachos from Harav Yaakov Kamenetzky, Harav Mordechai Schwab, the Novominsker Rebbe and the Bostoner Rebbe, zt”l,” said Mrs. Borchardt. “He felt very drawn to manhigim such as these and opened me up to a whole world of Gedolei Torah.”
The Borchardts set up a home in which guests were not just tolerated, but indeed were welcomed and sought after. “At times, I would get a call late in the week from someone who wanted to come for Shabbos. While at times I would try to mentally figure out how to accommodate them with the others who were coming, my husband implored me that I should just say ‘yes’ and tell them immediately to come, and we would figure out later how and where to place them,” she recalled. “The guests included tzedakah collectors, visitors from out of town, relatives and others, and he would treat them with the utmost kvod habrios, seeing to it that they had enough to eat and keeping up a conversation with them to make them feel comfortable. He did this for every person, whether they were old or young, regardless if they were a noted talmid chacham or a manual laborer.”
During the summer months, he rented a bungalow in the Catskills and taught in his beloved Camp Agudah. He had a superb ability to explain the concepts he taught, and understood the nature of his talmidim, integrating breaks when he read them inspirational stories, thus infusing them with his deep-seated yiras Shamayim. He enjoyed the simple pleasures of the summer in Altman’s or TRT Bungalows as he sat learning under a tree or learned privately with a talmid.
Reb Naftoli was part of a group of friends who constantly sought to increase the depth and breadth of their limud haTorah through private vaadim with Roshei Yeshiva and Rabbanim. His friend and fellow rebbi Rabbi Yitzchok Edeltuch asked the mara d’asra of Camp Agudah, Harav Yisroel Belsky, zt”l, to deliver a weekly shiur. Eventually the group arranged to meet periodically with Rav Belsky when they returned to the city, which was one of numerous shiurim which Reb Naftoli attended. These shiurim covered sefarim such as Nefesh Hachaim, and concluded with in-depth discussions of halachic issues of the day. When Harav Avigdor Miller, zt”l, delivered vaadim for the yungeleit in his home, Reb Natoli faithfully attended for over a decade. For many decades, he would also travel to Monsey once every three weeks to attend a shmuez by Harav Mordechai Schwab, zt”l.
For a while, Reb Naftoli taught bein hasedarim in Yeshiva Yesod Hachaim, Rabbi Yaakov Mosbacher’s school, which catered to children with behavioral issues or who were academically challenged. He was attuned to their needs and dealt with them sensitively, understanding their nature and hardships. A boy who was sent out of class when he acted up was fortunate to encounter Reb Naftoli, who served him a cookie and a hot drink, made him cozy and comfortable, and gently gave him the opportunity to recalibrate before returning to class.
Reb Naftoli had a clear understanding of what the Torah hashkafah, yet he constantly reached out to his Rabeim to clarify its nuances. He was well-versed in sifrei mussar and other sefarim, yet he always sought to discuss with Gedolim whatever issues confronted Klal Yisrael. If he determined that something needed improvement, he would quietly reach out to whoever was empowered to rectify it and enlist him to enact whatever was needed.
“Reb Naftoli was extraordinarily devoted to the needs of Klal Yisrael, something that was in the DNA which he inherited from his illustrious father,” said Rabbi Chaim Dovid Zweibel, executive vice president of Agudath Israel of America and a classmate of Naftoli in Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim on the West Side. “He attended the Agudah convention every year, and he was always concerned for the welfare of the Agudah and of Klal Yisrael. Periodically, he would touch base with me and discuss the issues facing Klal Yisrael, but this was done out of his concern for the klal and not as a distraction from his day-to-day life. Notwithstanding the health issues he had the last years of his life, he remained involved in his learning, and when I spoke to him recently, he was happy to relate that he was keeping up his sedarim despite his infirmities.”
For over a decade, Reb Naftoli experienced many health challenges which severely limited his mobility, yet he maintained his simchas hachaim throughout. “Whether he needed a cane, a walker or eventually a wheelchair, he accepted it with complete emunah,” his youngest daughter related. “He never complained nor questioned why he was inflicted with the maladies, and expressed his heartfelt thanks whenever someone helped him with his needs.”
“At times, I would stop by at night to help him get into bed, and he would thank me profusely,” said Rabbi Naftoli Rakow, a frequent visitor. “When I asked him if there was something else I could help him with, he insisted there was not, since he did not want to be matriach me more than what was absolutely necessary.”
“I remember when his mobility began to be affected, and he insisted on walking with two canes rather than with a walker,” his lifelong friend Reb Heshy Fass recalled. “Although he probably would have been more mobile with a walker, he initially resisted because of his desire to overcome his difficulties, and was concerned that if he conceded he might not be able to surmount this challenge.”
Although Reb Naftoli was homebound for the last years, he maintained a lineup of sedorim, passionately delving into his beloved sefarim. With his chavrusa Rabbi Yisrael Chaim Pichey, he learned Sefer Nesivos Shalom. He delved into Be’er Moshe, the sefer of the Ozhrover Rebbe which he had learned in his youth, and the Sefer Daas Torah of Rav Yeruchom Levovitz. He also listened to and appreciated tapes of various shiurim made available by Kol Halashon and Torah Anytime, including those of Harav Eliezer Ginsburg, Harav Noach Isaac Oelbaum, Harav Moshe Meir Weiss, , Rabbi Eytan Feiner, Rabbi Daniel Glatstein and others.
Reb Naftoli always felt it was a zechus to live near Bais Hatalmud and be part of the illustrious tzibbur of these bnei Torah. “He valued the community’s clear focus on Torah as the purpose of creation and the center of everything. He valued how they downplayed gashmiyus, and the kinship the yungeleit had for one another,” Mrs. Faygie Borchardt related. “They came to visit and to help out at night, also helping him join the yeshiva on Rosh Hashanah and Simchas Torah. They went far beyond what was expected.”
His neighbors, the Labkovsky family, described how he sustained his simchas hachaim in difficult times. “If we asked Rabbi Borchardt how he was doing, he answered, ‘Wonderful!’ as if there were no issues and he was not experiencing any discomfort. He was always welcoming, and enjoyed shmoozing about the bygone days when people were happy with less. Yet he farginned, and when he had company, he made sure to have the foods that the guests liked.
Reb Naftoli felt a tremendous appreciation for family. He and his brothers were extraordinarily devoted to one another. He loved being with his children and grandchildren for Shabbos, Yom Tov, and any other times. He encouraged friends who did not pursue such family closeness, or who experienced friction with family members, to resolve their differences and pursue harmony and connection. Shalom and achvah, he emphasized, were priceless priorities.
On the day after shivah, the family celebrated the bris of his grandson, Naftoli Menachem Moskowitz.
Rabbi Naftoli Borchardt is survived by his wife, Mrs. Faygie Borchardt; his brothers Harav Yitzchak od Yeshiva Beis Hatalmud and Rabbi Yanki of Yeshiva Derech Chaim; his son Reuvain; his daughters Gitty Tilim, Shaindy Goldberg, Miriam Borchardt and Sori Moskowitz.
Yehi zichro baruch.
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