Levinstein, Rabbi Yechezkel

15 Jun 2006

Reb Yechezkel or “Reb Chatzkel” as he was known was the spiritual leader (mashgiach) of two of the most illustrious yeshivot in the world, Mir and Ponovizh. He was grateful for having studied in Kelm where “I merited to grasp that all of man’s life is to awaken and enliven his soul”. In his old age he wrote: I was never attached to matters of this world (olam Hazeh) – and yet what a good (olam Hazeh) world did I enjoy.

After WW I he was invited to become mashgiach of the Lomza yeshiva in Petach Tikva, where he was very happy and successful. However, when the famed mashgiach of Mir, R. Yeruchem Levovits, passed away in 1936 and he was invited to replace him, Reb Chatzkel assumed that position because he felt obliged to accept in order to retain the character of that illustrious institution.

With the outbreak of WW II in 1939, the Mirrer yeshiva continued to maintain its identity, in large measure due to the indefatigable spirit of Reb Chatzkel. While moving to Kobe, Japan and Shanghai during the war years, the Yeshiva miraculously remained an institution of the highest standard of learning and musar.

After the war, Reb Chatzkel first came to the United States and began to deliver his lectures and serve as mashgiach in the newly founded Mir yeshiva. However, he soon found that America was totally uncongenial to his spirit, remarking that the materialism was contagious even when one is enclosed in the four amos of the yeshiva. Reb Chatzkel emigrated to Israel in 1949 beginning a fresh career as Mashgiach of Mir and then at age 70 he became the mashgiach of Ponovizh.

Perhaps the great power and influence of Reb Chatzkel stemmed from the fact that he never ceased scrutinizing his own behavior, always seeking to improve and take control of his emotions and drives.

He concentrated on strengthening faith, never satisfied with what he had already achieved. The Chazon Ish said that Reb Chatzkel’s faith was palpable. He denigrated the illusory values of contemporary culture. He wrote that though learning Torah was equal to all the mitzvot it was not the purpose of life; the purpose of life is the fear of heaven and the attachment to G-d (deveikut) (Ohr Yechezkel letters, #14). To the degree that a person considers something else of primary importance, to that degree has he made Torah secondary (Letter #364). Seven volumes of his works, Ohr Yechezkel, have been published, including a volume of letters.