Rabbi Yerucham Halevi Levovitz • “The Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva”

Rabbi Yerucham was for a symbol and model of behavior for his students. Not only did he speak well, he also acted in accordance with his own teachings. He demanded more of himself than of his students, and he was a man of Mussar in every sense of the word.

Once at the end of Yom Kippur, one of the students realized that Rabbi Yerucham was late in leaving the yeshiva. The student then hid himself under a bench and saw that once the hall was empty, Rabbi Yerucham began to pace up and down the floor while pointing to himself and repeating the verse, “Perhaps my father will feel me and I shall be a mocker in his eyes” (Genesis 27:12). This happened after a long day of serving G-d and intense prayer. It was not without reason that Rabbi Yerucham’s wife said to his sons on the day of his death, “Know my children that your father was an angel of G-d.”

Rabbi Yerucham was born to Rabbi Avraham in the year 5633 (1873) in Luban, near Slutzk. In his youth he studied in small towns near Pohost and Halusk, and in the Bobruisk yeshiva. From there he went to study in the Slobodka yeshiva. Rabbi Nathan Tzvi Finkel, known as the Alter of Slobodka, saw in him a bright star in the Torah heavens, and he devoted himself to his new student. Rabbi Nathan Tzvi passed on his great love of Mussar to him, and afterwards the Alter sent him to study in that great Beit Midrash, the Kelm Talmud Torah. Unique of its kind, it had been founded by Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv, the greatest disciple of Rabbi Israel Salanter.

Rabbi Yerucham studied with Rabbi Simcha Zissel during the last year of his life. However this short time was enough for him to absorb the Torah of his teacher, whose light Rabbi Yerucham walked in for the rest of his life. He himself recounted what he felt at the passing of Rabbi Simcha Zissel: “In my youth, when I arrived in Kelm I had the chance to hear Rabbi Simcha Zissel, but after a short time he left this world. In the bitterness of my heart I went behind a wall in the room, and there I stayed weeping and crying for the entire day, without eating or drinking. I thought to myself: ‘I have barely begun to understand what man is and what his duties are – I have barely begun to open my eyes by listening to your words a few times – and now you have left me!’ ”

With time Rabbi Yerucham became the student of Rabbi Nachum Zev Ziv and Rabbi Tzvi Broida, the son and son-in-law respectively of Rabbi Simcha Zissel. Rabbi Tzvi Broida once said that if his father-in-law could have arisen from the grave and seen Rabbi Yerucham before him, he would have certainly said, “This is him – the one I had in mind.”

In 5667 (1907), Rabbi Yerucham was welcomed by Rabbi Israel Meir Hacohen Kagen, the Chafetz Chaim, as the Mashgiach of his yeshiva in Radin. People say that Rabbi Yerucham devoted his first lecture to faith, and his student Yechezkel Lewinstein said of himself that from that time on, he decided to no longer turn his thoughts away from faith, be it even for a moment, for the rest of his life.

In 5669 (1909), Rabbi Yerucham went to the Mir yeshiva, where he remained until his final day some 37 years later. A new period in the life of Rabbi Yerucham began in Mir, as he started to give Mussar lectures four times a week, opening the eyes of yeshiva students to new worlds. “Everything about the words of the great and expansive Torah is a tremendous light on the principles of religion and faith, a light that exposes hidden things through the profound wisdom of Mussar, and which reveals the depths of the Sages’ words according to the truth of Torah” (Sefer HaTevunah). The Mir yeshiva students devoted themselves to their Rav and loved him greatly. The yeshiva grew year by year, and from near and far people came to hear the Torah from his lips. What’s extraordinary is that youngsters from America and Germany who came to study in Mir understood and followed him, thus becoming new men. Rabbi Dov Revel, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Rabbi Yitzchak Elchanan yeshiva, heard of Rabbi Yerucham and invited him to come to America and speak to the students of his yeshiva. However Rabbi Yerucham replied, “I have an influence on young Americans who come to see me in Mir, but I highly doubt that I could have an influence on them if I were in America.”

Rabbi Yerucham was greatly devoted to his students. He was aware of and sensitive to each of them, knowing what upset each student, which ones truly feared Heaven, and which elevated themselves in holiness. He concerned himself with each student as if he were his very own son. When one of his acquaintances was surprised to see how gray his hair had become with age, Rabbi Yerucham told him, “You are the father of a few children; I am the father of hundreds.” When it happened that a student was to be drafted into the army, he ordered that Psalms be read in public to save him. When he managed to rescue a student, he was filled with joy and felt as if that day was a chag.”

Rabbi Yerucham served as the spiritual director of the famous Mir yeshiva for 37 years. His name became famous in all yeshivot, and his impact among them was very great. In 5696 (1936), Rabbi Yerucham suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and all the effort of doctors to save him proved futile. On Monday, Sivan 18, aged but 62 years, Rabbi Yerucham rendered his pure soul to his Creator. His name forever shines in the hearts of his students as one of the greatest teachers of Torah.

After Rabbi Yerucham’s passing, his Torah commentaries were published in the book Da’at Chochmah U’Mussar, as well as in Da’at Torah on the Torah parshiot.




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