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30 Sivan, 5781 - June 10, 2021 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Kelm: Reb Yeruchom Levovitz zt'l, Mirrer Mashgiach — 85th Yahrtzeit 18th Sivan 5781

By Moshe Musman


Originally published in our print edition in 5756 (1996) for the 60th yahrtzeit, we are publishing it now on the web in honor of the 85th yahrtzeit of the Mashgiach whose influence is still felt today. These articles are a serious appreciation of the legacy of that great man.

Part II


Return To Mir (Adapted from Ho'odom Biyekor)

In 5683 (1923), Reb Yeruchom finally returned to Mir and the period in which the yeshiva was to attain its greatest prominence in the yeshiva world, began. Most of the three hundred bochurim whom Reb Yeruchom found in the yeshiva upon his return had arrived during the years of his absence. Such was the effort which he invested in tending the bochurim in his care that a mere three months later he was able to remark to a close associate that he had already succeeded in identifying each bochur's worthy traits and in some cases, their unworthy traits too.

Amongst the bochurim arriving at the yeshiva at this time were refugees from Soviet Russia. They were completely cut off from their families and the mashgiach, together with the rosh yeshiva, tended them with fatherly devotion. A large number of the talmidim came from chassidishe homes yet they did not form their own enclave within the yeshiva. They dedicated themselves to the pattern of learning of the Lithuanian yeshivos and they accepted Reb Yeruchom's authority. Every one of them changed his chassidishe garb for the more modern European style of dress, although Reb Yeruchom was not too happy about this.

Although it might be expected that the change of apparel would engender undesirable feelings of modernity, it was not the case. One of a the most distinguished bochurim of the group from Lodz remarked that, "When one exchanges chassidishe clothes for European ones and travels to Mir, one feels like one is travelling back three hundred years in time!"

The atmosphere in the yeshiva and the frame of references which gave rise to it were those of a different, earlier age. Ideas of greatness and of the breadth of Torah attainments were of a different order than those of more recent times. This was exactly what Reb Yeruchom aimed for: "Tzu halten di yeshiva oif a fartzeitigen oifen, to maintain the yeshiva on the level of yesteryear," as he once said in a shmuess.

Accordingly, modern developments such as Jewish political parties, had no place in Reb Yeruchom's Mir. He was completely opposed to all of them and more than once he stated publicly that they were the antithesis of his entire approach. No party had a circle of supporters in the yeshiva.

Mir Yeshiva in Poland

When the president of one of the religious parties wondered how it was that his party had no members from Mir yeshiva and asked Reb Yeruchom whether he spoke against that party, Reb Yeruchom replied, "We do not speak against [individual] parties. We only speak about what Torah is. If as a result, none of the bnei hayeshiva belong to a party, it implies that they are alien to Torah..."

The yeshiva's character owed much to the large group of older bochurim. The presence in the yeshiva of such a sizable group of unmarried young men was a tragic consequence of the dearth of authentic Jewish chinuch for girls (Beis Yaakov was taking its first steps at the time), which resulted in the refusal of many young women — even from rabbinical homes — to consider marrying a yeshiva bochur. Reb Yeruchom invested tremendous efforts into trying to marry off these bochurim and he maintained contacts all over Poland for this purpose.


The yeshiva also attracted older bochurim from other yeshivos, such as Kamenitz and Grodno. Bochurim in their mid or late twenties would arrive in Mir and settle down to learn with the same desire and application as the younger bochurim. Reb Yeruchom's wisdom opened up new vistas of growth and spiritual development for them.

In the nineteen thirties, a growing stream of talmidim began to arrive from Germany and the United States. The German bochurim had already obtained a secular education and were riddled with problems concerning the relationship between science and religion, which at that time had not been aired to the degree they now have and consequently posed a much greater stumbling block than they do today. There was almost no organized Yiddishkeit in the United States then and the influence of the spirit of materialism was universal.

The added burden which these talmidim, who numbered around a hundred, and their problems (which numbered even more), placed upon Reb Yeruchom was very heavy. Nonetheless, Reb Yeruchom's own definition of greatness was `to be in the service of small people,' and he was revealed in his full greatness in his painstaking devotion to these students.

With patience, wisdom and unbounded dedication, he dealt with each and every one of them until they had become transformed into true bnei Torah. In Mir these bochurim saw something they had never before witnessed. A man of holiness expounding the eternal truths of Torah — not only were his teachings truthful, he himself was a reflection, a model and a living example of everything he taught.

During the last two years of his life, Reb Yeruchom delivered a shiur in Chumash to these bochurim, in which he provided them with many basic definitions and fundamental ideas of Torah outlook. He built them up through these shiurim, providing them with a clear path in Torah thought and action and equipping them with the necessary tools for facing the trials and temptations they would encounter upon their return to their homelands.

Serving Hashem Beshituf: Reb Yeruchom analyses the rabbinical participation in the dedication ceremony of the Hebrew University

In 5685 (1924) a festive ceremony was held to inaugurate the Hebrew University on Mount Scopus. The Chief Rabbi of Eretz Yisroel, HaRav Avrohom Yitzchok Kook zt'l, bestowed his blessing on the new institution with the words of the posuk, `For Torah shall issue from Tsion and the word of Hashem, from Yerushalayim.' References were made to the third Beis Hamikdash and the realization of the visions of the prophets.

The yishuv was seething. The Chofetz Chaim sent a letter of protest. In Mir, Reb Yeruchom stood before the members of the yeshiva and analyzed the phenomenon. How could it be that a rav who was steeped in Torah and fired with avoda could deliver such a speech? Was he being insincere? Had he merely been trying to curry favor, or choliloh were his own actions insincere?

Reb Yeruchom rejected all these possibilities. Choliloh, said the mashgiach, with the penetrating insight of Kelm. The possibility of double loyalty should be a warning sign to all of us. This is the first publication in English of this shmuess. It has been prepared by Rabbi Mordechai Schwartz with the consent of Reb Yeruchom's family.

Leil Shabbos parshas Tzav, Winter 5685

Occasionally it happens that the voices and the opinions of those who frequent the marketplace are heard within our camp, concerning one matter or another. We usually dismiss them, regarding them as being worthless to begin with and pay them no attention whatsoever. Although this is how it appears to us that things should be, Chazal our teachers presented a different view in their comment in the medrash (Medrash Rabbah, Toldos parsha 65:2) saying, `It is a man's way to set out on his path and to learn understanding from people.'

By this they meant to say that even while one is in the marketplace, engaged in conversation with those who spend their time there, it is within one's power to add to his wisdom and understanding. Just a person amasses wisdom while he learns gemora and mussar, he can and must do so while speaking to other people, using their speech to add to his wisdom.

It is usual and natural for the things one hears to leave their impression, and if they are bad then they can do damage. However, if one examines them in the correct light and from a proper viewpoint, by entering into the meaning and contemplating the intentions of the person one is speaking with, discerning what has led him to these opinions, where the root lies that has given rise to this mistaken view, then not only will one be unharmed, one will actually gain in understanding, making inferences and extrapolating, in order to escape being caught in this or similar mistakes. In this way, one can grow progressively wiser all the time.

This obliges us at present to take the above approach and to examine an astonishing phenomenon, which we ourselves have witnessed at this very time, with the opening of the University (the Hebrew University in Yerushalayim). Some voices have been heard regarding such an institution as `a place of Torah learning,' a `third Temple,' or as `the vision of the prophets and the end of days.' From these extravagant remarks, one might possibly assume, [albeit] with reservations, that the speakers themselves know deep down that their words are false and deceitful, and that they really utter them without conviction in order to trick people.

However, according to what we have said, the truth is that to adopt such a view is incorrect. When we enter into the matter and examine it, we will see and understand that they have no intention whatsoever of being deceitful. In their hearts they imagine what they are saying to be absolutely truthful. Their hearts and mouths are in perfect consonance. Neither do their remarks indicate any ignorance or lack of understanding of the Torah's holiness, for such things can be uttered even after having attained knowledge and an understanding (which is close to the truth) of the holiness of the Torah.

This is what the Ramban writes about faith in the unity of the Creator, in his comments on the posuk (Shemos 20:19), `You have seen that I have spoken to you from the heavens.' The Ramban says, `He commanded to say to them, "After you have seen with your own eyes that I spoke to you from heaven and that I am the Master in heaven and earth, do not join any gods of silver or gold with me, for you have no need that there should be any help with Me." These are astonishing words. After having seen clearly that Hashem spoke to them from heaven, there should be no possibility whatsoever of joining anything else to Hashem. Why did Hashem yisborach see fit to command such a thing at that particular time?

The Ramban's comments teach us a lesson about the character and emotions of a human being. Even after having attained a clear knowledge and a penetrating understanding of the faith in the Creator's unity, there is still room for an appreciation of Him which damages His unity. The Ramban writes in a similar vein elsewhere, as well as in the parsha dealing with the eigel (Shemos 32:1). He says that the meaning of the episode of the eigel, where `a festival for Hashem tomorrow,' [was proclaimed] took place because of their knowledge of the meaning of avoda and of focusing the thoughts [on serving Hashem]. This led them to desire a tangible form that would facilitate focusing of their thoughts, and towards which they would be able to direct them.

In other words, [even] after the attainment of the knowledge and the understanding of avoda and of concentration, a human being retains a weakness, an impression, that the Creator needs some help or assistance. He consequently harbors a wish to seek a form that will help him direct his thoughts. Therefore, particularly after the understanding and the awareness of the existence of the Creator, did they say that He needs a `helper,' for which reason they made the eigel, which was `a form to enhance concentration.'

We find the basis, the place for such a mistake, explained in the medrash. `Why were the mal'ochim created on the second day? So that it should not be said, `Michoel is on the left, Gavriel is on the right, while in the middle, HaKodosh Boruch Hu is stretching out the ground.'

It is apparent from this answer that even after reaching the inescapable conclusion that the Creator is single and acts unaided, error is possible. Michoel and Gavriel were themselves created by HaKodosh Boruch Hu Himself, without any help or aid, and after creation, the power that keeps them alive and sustains them comes from Him. How then could anyone attribute a connection between them and helping the process of creation?

Nonetheless, they were created on the second day in order to dispel any notion that they assisted in creation, that may be entertained by those who seek mistakes. There is therefore no contradiction between having a clear and absolute awareness of the Creator's unity and the human misconception that the Creator requires aid.

This is what the Ramban means when he writes that particularly after they had seen, understood and gained the clear knowledge that Hashem is Master of heaven and earth and is not joined by anything else, they had to be warned against making and setting other gods together with Him. There is never out and out idol worship to start with. An eigel is never the first step. It begins with wanting `an aid to directing thoughts,' with a mental process that imagines the Creator to need help. And this warning comes after having witnessed Hashem's unity. This imagined need for `assistance' carries within it the root of a full and systematic belief in a plural deity. It begins with perceiving a need for mere `assistance' and this then brings with it more assistance from other sources, until the `assistant' is transformed into a full and equal partner in creation.

The distance remaining between this and full avoda zorah is not great, as we see with the eigel. After they searched for `a form to direct thoughts,' they began to slip further and further, to the point where they said, `These are your gods, Yisroel.' This is the natural progression of such a mistake. This is the nature of a human being's imagination. From a tiny action, he perceives himself to be an accomplished achiever.

This is the meaning of the false perception of `My power and the might of my hand.' A human's thoughts hover between two opposites and his knowledge of the faith in the Creator's unity, in His not needing any assistance, is unclear. This confusion is the source of the illusory belief that `my power and the might of my hand have gained me all this strength,' that bears such bitter fruits.

This capability of a human being with regard to the Creator's unity, also exists with regard to the holy Torah. The imagined need for `assistance' arises even after a person has achieved clear knowledge and understanding of the Torah's holy uniqueness. A mistaken perception exists that Torah alone is not enough but that it needs assistance. This was the mistake of the wise men of Provenance, who said that man needed [worldly] wisdom and philosophy as aids and adjuncts to Torah. The geonim protested at this, maintaining that our holy Torah needs no aid at all.

In the same way that the Creator needs no help whatsoever, the perfection of man is dependant solely upon the holy Torah. The search for illusory `aids' causes a decline in the Torah's prestige and an increase in the prestige of those things which people have set up as `aids,' apart from Torah. This error, this illusion, carries within it the root of the mistaken idea which has led to what has been said and what we have seen at the University, about its being `a place of Torah learning', `the third temple' etc. Rachmono litzlan.

Having witnessed these events, we are duty bound to gain understanding from them, so that we ourselves do not fall prey to the same or to a similar mistake, as Chazal have stated in the above medrash, `It is a man's way to set out on his path and to learn understanding from people.'


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