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Rav Yechezkel Levenstein: Vayakhel: True Connection To God



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 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.

“Every man whose heart inspired him came; and everyone who spirit motivated him brought the portion of God for the work of the Tent of Meeting, for all its labor and for the sacred vestments.” It is not easy to become a person whose actions matter. To become such an elevated human being is one of the most challenging and difficult efforts of all. In truth, Rabbeinu Yonah taught in the Gates of Repentance (Second Gate) when the Mishnah teaches “and the work is great”: the work of Torah, repairing the soul, and achieving great heights is the work that is described as being very great.

The true person of action is not focused on the action per se, but rather on becoming one who is an elevated human being. The elevated human being is one who has acquired great heights, meaning he is constantly rising higher in his service of God and never stands in one place. The one who God places under a great test should always be aware that God is calling to him to rise higher and higher.

We know that it is fundamental for human being to be kind. In the Duties of the Heart we are taught that all the kindness that a human being does because it is his natural tendency to do such, and he will focus only on his desire to do kindness and does not consider at all the world or God’s will, such kindness is worthless. It does not achieve anything. It will not help him rise and achieve a greater portion in the World to Come or to achieve love of God. This is not what God seeks of His nation to be lovers of kindness. We often make this mistake and believe that our natural tendencies are sufficient they are not.

Rabbeinu Yonah teaches in Proverbs chapter 21, verse two, that when the verse says, “Every man’s path is straight in his eyes,” this is the natural tendency of the human being to believe that he is on a good path. He will not recognize where he is making mistakes. However God, Blessed is he, helps the person, guides him to refine his heart and his attributes. God stirs the spirit of the person to pay attention to his lackings and to where his attributes can be improved. A person who strives to pay attention to such callings from God is the one who is responding to the verse, “What does God ask of you? To love kindness.” A person who responds to God’s calling is able to change the attribute of justice into one of compassion.

This is why God asked that the people who came to work on the Tabernacle should be those, “Whose heart inspired him to come.” It is clear that there was none who would refuse a request from Moses. But God wanted more. He wanted more than people who were trying to rectify the sin of the Golden Calf. God wanted those whose heart inspired them to become such a person of an elevated status.

This is why the verse continues, “everyone whose spirit motivated him,” as explained by the Ibn Ezra that as much as the nation was terrified of Pharaoh when they worked for him, and worked with a lowly spirit, so too now they had to achieve a new heart, to work with pride and a drive for elevation. For this building on which they worked would walk before them, would call on them to ever increasing heights.

Anyone who wants to achieve true greatness and elevation must look into his heart and see is he included among those who, “heart inspired him,” and, “everyone whose spirit motivated him.”

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