Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz
|Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz|
Chaim Leib Shmuelevitz, (Hebrew: חיים לייב שמואלביץ ;1902–1979), was a member of the faculty of the Mirrer Yeshiva for more than 40 years, in Poland, Shanghai and Jerusalem, serving as Rosh yeshiva during its sojourn in Shanghai from 1941 to 1947, and again in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem from 1965 to 1979. He taught, guided, and inspired thousands of disciples throughout his lifetime, by word and deed, with legendary diligence and intensity in Torah study.
Shmuelevitz was born on the second day of Rosh Hashana 5663 (3 October 1902) in Kovno, Lithuania, to Rabbi Refoel Alter Shmuelevitz and Ettel (née Horowitz), a daughter of Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horwitz, known as the Alter of Novhardok. The sandek at his bris milah was Rabbi Yitzchok Blazer ("Reb Itzele Peterburger"), a Torah and mussar luminary of the time, who was one of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter's greatest disciples.
In Chaim Leib's youth, his family moved to Stutchin. Until the age of 16, he was educated by his father, who was one of the leading yeshiva lecturers in Lithuania. In 1919 Rabbi Refoel Alter, who was then the rosh yeshiva of Shaarei Torah in Grodno, died suddenly. Within a very short time, his mother died too, orphaning Chaim Leib, his younger brother Shlomo, and two sisters.
Rabbi Refoel Alter's position at the yeshiva was taken up by Rabbi Shimon Shkop. Chaim Leib developed a close bond with Rabbi Shkop. At the age of 18, Chaim Leib's mentor invited him to deliver the third-level shiur in the preparatory academy at the yeshiva. Shmuelevitz held this position for a few years before transferring to the yeshiva in Mir. Many of his students of those years later became great Torah leaders, and his own four years in Grodno with Rabbi Shkop had a profound influence on his approach to Talmudic analysis.
At the age of 22, Shmuelevitz headed a group of students who transferred from Grodno to Mir. In accordance with the contemporary practice in the yeshiva world, Chaim Leib became known as Chaim Stutchiner, after the shtetl in which he grew up. The Mirrer rosh yeshiva, Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, set his sights on Shmuelevitz as his eventual spiritual heir. He set the seal on this future appointment by offering his student the hand of his daughter in marriage.
Shmuelevitz married the rosh yeshiva's daughter on the last day of Hanukkah 5690 (3 January 1930). A scant few years later, at the relatively young age of 31, Shmuelevitz was appointed as a maggid shiur, delivering regular lectures. Rabbi Shmuelevitz's lectures were modeled on the study strategy of his erstwhile mentor, Rabbi Shimon Shkop, personalized in a style of his own. The hallmark of his lectures was depth combined with a fabulous breadth; it was not uncommon for him to cite 20 or 30 different sources from far-flung corners of the Talmud and its commentaries during a single shiur. These shiurim attracted a wide audience, including some of the most advanced students in Mir.
World War II
With the outbreak of World War II, Mir Yeshiva was forced into exile. The students and faculty fled from Mir to Vilna, where they stayed for about two months, after which they moved to Keidan, where they managed to set up the yeshiva once more in 1940. After being ordered out of Keidan seven months later by the Communist authorities, the yeshiva divided into four groups, each numbering between eighty and one hundred students. Rabbi Shmuelevitz's shiurim continued virtually without interruption throughout the early period of World War II, while when the yeshiva was continually in transit. In late 1940, hundreds of Mir yeshiva students obtained visas from Chiune Sugihara to travel via Siberia and Vladivostok to Japan.
The yeshiva stayed in Kobe, Japan, for about six months, and then relocated to Shanghai for the next five years. Although living conditions were extremely difficult, the yeshiva prospered. As Rabbi Eliezer Yehuda Finkel had gone to Palestine to obtain visas for the yeshiva and was forced to remain there, Rabbi Shmuelevitz and the mashgiach, Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein, assumed responsibility for the day-to-day running of the yeshiva.
Somehow, Rabbi Shmuelevitz became responsible for the financial needs of all Jewish learning institutions in the city, not just his own. These included contingents of the famed yeshivas of Kamenetz, Kletzk, Lubavitch, and Lublin. This was despite the fact that exchanging foreign currency in Shanghai was fraught with danger and Rabbi Shmuelevitz lived with a perpetual fear of being apprehended by the authorities.
A short while after arriving in Shanghai, Rabbi Shmuelevitz received American visas only for himself and his family. He refused them, saying that he would leave only when all the students had received their visas. This ultimately meant staying in Shanghai for five and a half years.
Move to Jerusalem
In 1947 the yeshiva moved again — as always, as a single unit — this time, to the United States, where Rabbi Shmuelevitz spent six months before rejoining his father-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Finkel, in the Mirrer Yeshiva in Jerusalem. For the next 32 years, until his death in 1978, Rabbi Shmuelevitz remained in Mir-Jerusalem, disseminating his unique wisdom and insight to thousands of disciples.
He became active in Agudath Israel in Israel, and its Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah (Council of Torah Sages) on which he served. He also became the father-in-law of Rabbi Nochum Partzovitz, his successor as rosh yeshiva.
Rabbi Shmuelevitz was well known for his ability to become totally engrossed in his Torah study for hours at a time. His ethical discourses, many of which have been published in English, are considered classics. They offer novel interpretations and reveal his penetrating insights into human nature.
His greatness in Torah was matched only by his sterling character. Possessing an all-encompassing concern for his fellow Jew, his constant preoccupation with the well-being of others was a manifestation of the love that poured forth from his great heart.
Rabbi Shmuelevitz's respect for his father was legendary and he quoted him often in both Torah lectures and mussar discourses. He considered his father's handwritten Torah chiddushim (new Torah insights) his most valued possessions. During the Six-Day War, when the yeshiva was within range of Jordanian artillery fire, Rabbi Shmuelevitz sent some of the manuscripts to America with his uncle, Rabbi Avraham Yoffen, with specific instructions that he carry them by hand and not put them in his luggage, because, "Dos iz meyn gantze leben (This is my whole life)."
A few days after Sukkot 1978, Rabbi Shmuelevitz was rushed to the hospital and, for the next two months, his life hung by a thread. Even during the weeks of semi-consciousness his lips moved, and from time to time he could be heard mumbling words of Torah. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein said, "The world rested upon Reb Chaim's shoulders." Jews worldwide prayed for his recovery, but it was not to be. Two months later on the third of Tevet, Rabbi Shmuelevitz died at the age of 76. Nearly 100,000 mourners attended his funeral. He is buried on Har HaMenuchot.
During his lifetime, Rabbi Shmuelevitz committed to paper his every lecture and public address, leaving behind at his death thousands of handwritten pages, including chiddushim on every tractate of the Talmud.
- Sichos Mussar – Ethical discourses, reprinted as Sichos Mussar: Reb Chaim's Discourses: The Shmuessen of the Mirrer Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1989. ISBN 0-89906-943-6.
- Sorasky, Aharon (September 2002). "Hebrew: פה המתגבר בתורה". קול התורה Kol Hatorah 53: 93–99.
- Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, tzemachdovid.org