Levovitz, Rabbi Yeruchem

15 Jun 2006

From that day on I have striven to relive the sublime feelings, the awe, the joy, the inner fervor for holiness which were awakened by being in his presence.

– Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe (Preface to Alei Shur)

“The Mirrer Mashgiach”, as Rabbi Levovitz was known, was one of the most influential musar thinkers of his time. He first studied with R. Noson Zvi Finkel of Slabodka, who sent him to Kelm where he arrived in the last year of R. Simcha Zisel ,the Alter of Kelm’s life. Rabbi Levovitz said that all of his thought was a commentary on R.S.Z. Reflecting back many years later he recounted his feelings at the funeral of his mentor: “I have only now begun to understand what man is, and what his obligations are, just now are my eyes opened as I heard your words just a few times and now you have left me”.

Rabbi Levovitz first became “Mashgiach” (spiritual mentor) in the Mirrer Yeshivah in 1908, but during the dislocations caused by World War 1 he assumed various positions in different Yeshivos until 1923 when he returned to his position in Mir.

He was a man of powerful intellect who accomplished in the sphere of Aggada what others of his generation achieved in the sphere of Halacha. He unraveled many puzzling aggadic passages and made them shine with fresh clarity and light.

He believed that man’s inherent nature was the best guide to understanding Torah. He once said, “a person who does not recognize his abilities cannot understand Torah”. Man’s labor must be from within himself, not imitating others; by bringing the grandeur of Torah to ourselves we can attain all we need for our avodah (service) in attaining shleimus (wholeness). Faith must reach the level of our instinctual being (chush). One’s physical body must become one with his neshama.

In the last period oh his life, highly educated students from Western Europe and America came to the Yeshiva with many questions. Reb Yeruchem devoted much time to explaining the difference between the knowledge of Torah and that of science and he had a great impact. After many years one of those students was asked why he became such a “fiery Chasid” of Reb Yeruchem. He replied that he was one of the dead whom Reb Yeruchem had revived and that was enough reason.

His personality was regal, but self-effacing. His devotion to his students knew no bounds. He once took sick and was prevailed upon to visit Carlsbad. At the time he wrote to a friend that he did not know whether it was proper to forsake the Yeshiva for “a man involved in the group can never leave and I question whether he may do so even when his life is at stake (pikuach nefashos)”. Reb Yeruchem’s essays are collected in Daas, Chochmah, and Musar and his lectures on Chumash in Daas Torah. A lengthy essay, on Reb Yeruchem’s life and thought, Adam Biykar, was written by Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe.