Rav Chatzkel Levenstein: Maintaining Dveikut
The 18th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yechezkel Levenstein, mashgiach of Ponevezh (1885-1974). Born in Warsaw in 1896 to Osminer Chassidim, he lost his mother at age 5. At 13, he joined the yeshiva at Lomza. Early in life, he moved to Radin to learn with the Chafetz Chaim. There, he met the mashgiach, Rav Yerucham Levovitz, who was a talmid of the Alter of Kelm. He then learned in Kelm, where he was fortunate to enjoy the close attention of Rav Tzvi Hirsch Broide (son-in-law of the Alter), at whose table he ate his Shabbos meals. In 1919, while Reb Yerucham was serving as mashgiach, the Mirrer Yeshiva was exiled from its hometown of Mir, Poland, into Russia and then to Vilna. Reb Chatzkel, who was then learning in Mir, was asked by the rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, to supervise the yeshiva’s spiritual welfare until Reb Yeruchom returned. Reb Chatzkel was approached by Rav Aharon Kotler, who headed Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Kletsk, to come and serve as mashgiach ruchani in his yeshiva. Reb Chatzkel accepted. In 1935, he moved to Eretz Yisrael to serve as mashgiach of Yeshivas Lomza in Petach Tikvah, which was headed by Rav Reuven Katzl, but he moved back to serve as mashgiach in Mir after the petira of Reb Yerucham. After 2 years in America, he served as mashgiach at the Mir in Israel, then – upon the passing of Rav Dessler – at Ponevezh.
“Shlomo HaMelech writes (Shir HaShirim 8:9), ‘Eem chomah hee, nivneh alehah tiras kasef.’ Rashi explains this pasuk, ‘If her [this nation’s] faith and belief are as strong as a wall, withstanding incursions from beyond, we shall become her fortress and beauty.’
“We can observe from this pasuk that the underlying nature of the Jewish nation is that they are as solid as iron, unfazed by any and all circumstances and situations. We see it in Megilas Esther (5:9), ‘Mordechai…did not rise and did not stir before him [Haman].’ We see it from the Talmud (Beitzah 25b), ‘There are three that are fiercely bold, Israel among the nations, a dog before animals, and a rooster among chickens.’
“Indeed, it is this quality which has allowed the nation of Israel to endure.
“The Midrash states (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5), ‘There are four reasons why Israel was redeemed, that they did not change their names.’ They did not change because of this quality of which we speak.
“It is on account of this very quality that they merited to become close to Hashem as the pasukim say (Devarim 7:7-8), ‘Not because you are more numerous than all the nations…Rather because of Hashem’s love for you.’ The Ramban explains that the essential love that Hashem has for the Bnei Yisrael is because by nature they are fit for this. For the nation of Israel has stood by Hashem in all its trials. When challenged by the other nations of the world they have stubbornly responded (Sh’mos Rabbah 42:9), ‘We will either remain as Jews or we will be nailed to the stake!’
“It is with this concept that the Sabbah of Kelm explained the Gemara in Kesuvos (77b). The Gemara explains that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi was so great that when he was ill the Heavenly court instructed the Angel of Death to go to him and fulfill anything that he wishes. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi requested to see his ultimate resting place in Gan Eden, but first asked the Angel of Death for his knife. The Angel of Death complied with the requests. When he was shown the place, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi jumped over to the other side. The Angel of Death held onto him by the edge of his cloak. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi swore an oath that he will not come back. What was the Angel of Death to do? Hashem Himself responded and ruled, ‘If Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi in his lifetime had ever annulled an oath, he must go back and cannot enter Gan Eden alive. If he had never annulled an oath then he may remain.’ The Sabbah of Kelm explained that if he had ever annulled an oath he would have been lacking ever so slightly in deveikus Bashem and he may only enter Olam HaBa through the Angel of Death. But if he had never annulled an oath in his life, it is a sign that he had complete deveikus to Hashem and the decree does not apply to him.
“This is the concept of a misas neshikah-death through a Divine kiss-that they [these righteous people] merit to cleave to Hashem within their lifetime.
“It is this quality which we see in our chasan. He is undeterred by any situation. He remains unchanged, solid as a door, under all circumstances. He will therefore merit all the good, kol tuv, and will surely build his house as a tiras kasef, a turret of silver.”