The entire Torah world was shrouded in sorrow and pain at the bitter news of the passing of one of the great roshei yeshiva and Torah disseminators of our generation, HaRav Refoel Halevi Shmuelevitz, Rosh Yeshivas Mir, who taught thousands of talmidim over the span of fifty years through unimaginable devotion and dedication and passed on in the seventy-eighth year of his life amidst very harsh and difficult suffering.
He was born in 5698 to his eminent parents, HaRav Chaim and his mother Channah Miriam, the only daughter of HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, Rosh Yeshivas Mir, in the European town of Mir, and was issued into the bris mila covenant on the lap of his great-uncle, HaRav Eliyohu Boruch Kamai HY"D, Rov of the town. He grew up in a home steeped in Torah and amidst rarefied yiras Shomayim, from the side of his father and grandfather, HaRav Refoel Alter, Rosh Yeshivas Stutchin and son-in-law of HaRav Yosef Yozel Horowitz the Alter of Novardok, and from his mother's side, his grandfather, Rosh Yeshivas Mir HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel son of the Alter of Slobodka HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, and son-in-law of HaRav Eliyohu Boruch Kamai. It was in this exceptional home of Torah and yiras Shomayim that he set his roots from his distinguished ancestry.
In 5696 his father, HaRav Chaim, was invited to head the yeshiva in Mir; he accepted and continued to do so during the war years when the yeshiva wandered to Japan and then to Shanghai, caring for the spiritual and material needs of its students efficiently and devotedly. The young Refoel accompanied it as well.
At the wedding of his youngest daughter, HaRav Chaim told of a marvelous event which occurred during those difficult years. He had been maintaining a secret correspondence with HaRav Avrohom Kalmanowitz in the U.S. regarding the transfer of funds to keep the yeshiva going. One time, the Japanese police called him in for questioning to find out how he was supporting a group of 350 students. HaRav Chaim described to his audience the terribly daunting Japanese police headquarters from which few emerged alive.
"I was deathly afraid," he said, "and as I went there, I prayed, `Hashem, if I am destined to die there, I am hereby going with joy. But if I am fortunate enough to return alive, I have three requests to make: if I really come back alive, I want You to absolve me of the financial burden of the yeshiva. My second request, Ribono shel Olam, is to merit marrying off my daughters to talmidei chachomim, and third, I ask to be able to raise my sons to be talmidei chachomim.''
And where did I get the temerity to make such momentous requests? From the fact that when someone finds himself in a life-and-death situation, he is allowed to pray as I did. This was my monologue with Hashem as I made my way to the police headquarters. I emerged alive, having felt the terror of death, which was enough for me, and I cannot tell you what actually took place there on the third floor... but I was released.
"Two of my requests were fulfilled," he told his audience upon that occasion, "in that the financial burden was lifted from my shoulders and that now, my third daughter is married to a talmid chochom. The third request remains to be seen, be'ezras Hashem."
At the end of the war, the yeshiva migrated to the U.S. and other places. Only after all the students had been settled did HaRav Chaim leave for America with his two children. He first stopped over in America to be with his talmidim for several months, refusing the offer to head the Mirrer yeshiva there. He sought peace of mind to sit and learn in Eretz Yisroel alongside his illustrious father-in-law, which is what he did after a short time.
The late Rosh Yeshiva, HaRav Refoel, arrived in Eretz Yisroel at the age of nine, studied in the Yavne cheder, and afterwards in Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi, going on to Yeshivas Mir even before his bar mitzvah, to study by his father's side. All testified to his brilliance and blessed talents on the one hand, and his exceptional diligence on the other, which astounded all who saw him. Already as a youth, he maintained a study partnership with his father every day and on Shabbos, was tested by his grandfather, HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel. He succeeded in this manner to cover most of the masechtos of Shas and the Orders of Zeroim and Taharos in great depth. This study partnership carried on for many years until the passing of his father.
On Tu BeShevat 5722 he got engaged to his ylct"a wife, that daughter of HaRav Avrohom Farbstein zt"l, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva. The shidduch came about because, at the recommendation of his grandfather HaRav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, he used to tell HaRav Yechezkel Sarna, rosh yeshiva of Chevron Yeshiva, a chaburah each week for half an hour. One time at the end of a session, HaRav Sarna exclaimed to his daughter, Rebbetzin Farbstein,"A-zah Refoel nisht doh." (There is no other Refoel.)
Two years after getting married he began to say shiurim in Chevron Yeshiva, where he was very popular and respected.
After his father HaRav Chaim passed away on Chanukah 5739 he was asked to fill his father's place at the head of Mir Yeshiva where he served with distinction.
Together with ylct"a HaRav Aryeh Finkel he put out the well-known collection of his father's shmuessen, Sichos Mussar. With his brothers, he put out his father's chiddushim on Shas. In the last year, the first volume of his own shiurim was published, Shiurei Rebbe Refoel on Maseches Kiddushin.
For many years he suffered from ALS and another debilitating neurological disease, but nonetheless persisted in learning and spreading Torah.
He is survived by brothers, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and thousands of talmidim all over the world.