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Rav Chatzkel Levenstein: Shemini: Come Close

The 18th of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yechezkel (ben Yehuda) 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 RavTzvi 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.

“Moshe said to Aharon; Come near to the Altar and perform the service of your sin offering and your elevation offering (Vayikra 9:7) to see.” Rashi comments that Aharon was overawed and ashamed to approach the Altar because of his role in making the Golden Calf. The Sages say that he saw the image of an ox over the Altar. Therefore, Moshe had to say to him, my brother come close quickly.

Is it really possible that if not for Moshe’s urging Aharon would not have approached and would have forfeit his role as Kohen Gadol?

We see how easy it is for a person in a single moment to lose everything. All that he has accomplished and gained in the past will not save him. We know that this is so, that a person can be a great scholar and have wonderful attributes, enthralled with the miracles of creation, and still in a single moment, for he is just a man, may refuse to approach his specific service, an opportunity, and thereby lose everything he has.

In that single moment when Moshe saw his brother hesitate he understood what was at risk, and he called out to his brother, “Come close.”

Perhaps if we listen carefully enough especially during such moments of hesitation, we will hear God calling to us, “Come close.” (Mimizrach Shemech – Shemini 1)

Moshe calls to us at the beginning of each Kabbalat Shabbat, “Lichu, niranina,” “Come, let us praise God!” He is calling to us just as he called to Aharon. May we merit to hear.

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