Klal Yisroel mourns the loss of a man whose special form of
kindness reached Jewish homes, botei midroshim and
shuls throughout the world. Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits
zt'l, founder of the Lebovits-Kest "Sifriah Libnei
Torah," passed away Wednesday morning 5 Tishrei following an
illness discovered six weeks earlier. He was 75.
Lomdei Torah throughout Eretz Yisroel recognize the
paperback editions of Shas, rishonim, acharonim,
teshuvos and other sifrei kodesh printed and sold
at cost by Rabbi Lebovits' Mossad Le'idud Limud haTorah.
With no financial base and no previous publishing experience,
Rabbi Lebovits founded the Library 13 years ago with only a
dream: Every ben Torah should be able to afford to
build his own complete Torah library. Part of the dream was
to also make available editions of sifrei kodesh no
longer in print. The Sifriah now includes over 500 editions
and has produced millions of volumes.
From the Sifriah we glimpsed a man of initiative and
chesed. Here was someone dedicated to us and our
learning. The Sifriah reveals, however, only a part of Rabbi
A more complete picture might actually come as some surprise.
Rabbi Lebovits was not a well-known rosh yeshiva, posek
or mashgiach even in his neighborhood or shul.
People enjoyed his especially pleasant manner with others,
his adinus hanefesh. They saw that he did
chassodim. Many knew he was a talmid chochom,
in shul a masmid. But all in all Rabbi
Lebovits seemed quite ordinary and regular.
Behind his "regular" manner of dealing with people, however,
and behind his public role of encouraging the learning of
Torah, there lived privately and humbly a man that Rav Shimon
Asher Goldberg of the Tiferes Tzvi congregation in Bayit
Vegan called an odom godol.
Rav Yisroel-Zev Gustman, Rabbi Lebovits' rebbe, referred to
his talmid as, "A talmid chochom muvhak," and
wrote, "Bechol halichosov Sheim Shomayim mis'aheiv al
yodo" -- in every thing he does the Name of Heaven
HaRav Moshe Lipka, a rosh kollel close to Rabbi
Lebovits, said that although Rabbi Lebovits always remained
private and unassuming, he was nevertheless like one of the
Rav Goldberg said in his hesped that Rabbi Lebovits
was an odom godol not just in one area. For example
one can be a godol in Torah but not in avodoh
or in chesed; or in chesed but not in
Torah. Rabbi Lebovits, he said, was great in Torah, as well
as in avodoh, as well as in chesed.
For those who were privileged to know Rabbi Lebovits behind
his `ordinary' way of conducting himself, he was an exemplar
of ahavas haTorah, ameilus and hasmodoh. One
avreich who learned with him said that his clarity,
simplicity and yashrus in learning resembled that of a
renowned maggid shiur. His love and dedication to
learning shone with a quiet power. For a ben Torah, he
once said, learning is life or death.
As a bochur, the landlady where he lodged complained
to his rosh yeshiva that his student used too much
electricity, leaving the light on even at 3 or 4 in the
morning. Rav Gustman testified that in later years som
leilos kayomim -- he made his nights like days.
Before coming to Eretz Yisroel to learn by Rav Gustman, Rabbi
Lebovits spent several years in Gateshead, where his
chavrusa was HaRav Mattisyahu Salomon, now
mashgiach in Lakewood Yeshiva. HaRav Pinchas
Markovitz, another rosh kollel, said that when Rabbi Lebovits
arrived from Gateshead to learn by Rav Gustman, he was
already holding all around Shas.
Rabbi Lebovits, perhaps from a desire to conduct himself in
an unassuming manner, did not `speak in learning' at home or
as he went about his daily routine in the way that
characterizes many masmidim. Yet in a matter-of-fact
way he would often mention points of Torah, including points
of midos and emunah. When asked questions in
Shas or in halacha, he answered with the freshness and
simple clarity of a person who has "talmudo beyodo" --
his learning is permanently in his grasp.
Rabbi Lebovits' humility was incredible, palpable. This
quality though, and so too his adinus hanefesh, his
savlonus and kovod habriyos, and even his
unassuming manner of conduct, were like deeply ingrained
gems, polished by years of avodoh in mussar. He
studied and lived the words of the Chovos haLevovos, Rav
Yeruchom, and others.
"Shaar Habitochon" was not just a chapter for
theoretical study, but an indispensable part of Rabbi
Lebovits' life. He once illustrated his attitude toward
earning parnossoh with a story about HaRav Yaakov
Yisroel Lubchansky the mashgiach of Baranovitch who,
in troubled times, said that his material situation was just
fine. Rabbi Lebovits explained that our material situation is
arranged solely by Hashem and certainly He arranges things
just right. As for us, our material situation is not our
business at all.
Rabbi Lebovits' chesed and ahavas habriyos
permeated his relations with people. The organization he
built was merely an expression of a quality that he lived all
the time. Whether a physical need or financial, words of
encouragement or even words of reproach: He saw the needs of
others and acted to fulfill them.
He once noticed an acquaintance who he felt needed
encouragement, but perceived that a direct approach would not
be effective. Instead, he devised a plan to give chizuk
in a way that the recipient would never know the source,
nor the intention of the donor. It made no difference that
this plan took hours and days, plus a significant monetary
To me the unique greatness of Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits was his
`regular' matter-of-factness. Despite his achievements in
learning, in helping, in his own self-perfection, he always
acted without showing any sign of who he was. It was a rare,
extreme tznius. This tznius itself spoke
Meir Einei Yisroel brings a story of a ben Torah
who traveled specially to see the famous Chofetz Chaim.
He arrived in Radin, eager to behold the famous godol
hador. He found and followed the Chofetz Chaim. He
watched him daven. He watched him walk; he watched him
speak and interact with people.
What the young man saw, however, left him initially
disappointed. As he watched, he couldn't see anything
especially great about him. He davened like other
people; he walked like other people.
Later, though, after some more time in Radin, the young man
was suddenly struck by something: Although the Chofetz Chaim
was not doing anything different, there was something beneath
the surface that made him very, very different from an
For me, the regularness and tznius of Rabbi Yehudah
Lebovits captured some reflection of this story of the
Chofetz Chaim. The subtleness was powerful: Here is a man
with an unusual closeness to Hashem. Here is a man whose
greatness is not only in what he does but in who he is.
And of who he was, I feel we may only have a hint.