Harav Shlomo Leib Brevda, zt”l

NEW YORK -
Photo credit: Arye D. Gordon
Photo credit: Arye D. Gordon

Harav Shlomo Leib Brevda, a prolific author and maggid who traveled around the world for 65 years delivering divrei chizuk at the behest of his rebbi, Harav Chatzkel Levenstein, zt”l, was niftar yesterday afternoon following an extended illness. He was 81.

Harav Brevda, who was hospitalized in New York at the time of his petirah, was the impetus behind the Brisker Rav establishing his now-famed yeshivah in Yerushalayim. He devoted his life to doing extensive research on the Vilna Gaon’s sefarim, publishing many of them with his own commentary.

“Something unique about him, something extremely positive, was that everyone who spoke about his shmuessen had the same line: They always felt addressed,” a family member told Hamodia yesterday. “You could have someone as young as 8 and as old as 80 and they all felt like he was talking to them.”

Harav Brevda was born in Crown Heights in 1931; his parents were Reb Moshe Yitzchak and Miriam Brevda. A ben acher ben of Harav Chaim Chaika of Amdora, one of the Mezritcher Maggid’s talmidim, Reb Moshe Yitzchak brought his family to the United States from Baranovitch in Poland prior to Reb Shlomo’s birth.

Reb Shlomo learned in Yeshivah Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan, then the country’s premier yeshivah for higher learning. A straight-A-plus student in secular studies, Reb Shlomo prepared to start going to college following Rosh Hashanah of 1947.

But shortly before the Yamim Nora’im, the bulk of the Mirrer Yeshivah, miraculously rescued from the Holocaust through their sojourn in Shanghai, China, arrived in New York, Harav Chatzkel Levenstein, the Mashgiach, at their head.

Reb Shlomo spent an uplifting Rosh Hashanah with Reb Chatzkel, and then decided that he wanted to remain in Torah-learning full time.

“If this is Yiddishkeit,” he said, “then I am not going to college.”

That decision was not an easy one. Friends in YU ostracized him over it. Family members thought he was crazy. But the worst was yet to come.

As the only yeshivah bachur in the shul where he davened, a makom tefillah for more than 800 mispallelim, he was requested to speak that year between the hakafos on Simchas Torah.

“College,” Reb Shlomo cried out in his short-lived drashah, “Rachmana litzlan!”

He then ducked, not a second too soon. Members of the shul, incensed at his denigration of what was an integral part of the American Jewish lifestyle, began pelting him with small objects, then graduating to chairs and benches.

After what he later said was a 20-minute scuffle, Reb Shlomo told them, “I learned from Reb Chatzkel not to be scared, and I’m going to continue talking like this.”

Determined to fulfill his dream of fulltime learning, Reb Shlomo went to Lakewood, where he heard shiurim from Harav Aharon Kotler, zt”l. While Reb Chatzkel remained “der Mashgiach” until Reb Shlomo’s last day, the relationship Reb Shlomo developed with the Rosh Yeshivah of Bais Medrash Govoha was so close that when he wanted to leave Lakewood for Eretz Yisrael to join Reb Chatzkel, Reb Aharon begged him to stay.

“The yeshivah will close and everyone will leave,” Reb Aharon said. Reb Shlomo was only granted permission to leave if he would do so stealthily, without telling anyone. He then sailed to Eretz Yisrael and settled in Yerushalayim.

The Holy Land in the 1950s offered the young bachur a plethora of unique opportunities. He drew near many Gedolim, but gained an exceptionally close relationship with the Brisker Rav and the Chazon Ish.

“Let in the American bachur!” the Chazon Ish would exclaim upon seeing Reb Shlomo during his visits to Bnei Brak.

Reb Shlomo would speak with the Brisker Rav in learning for a half-hour to an hour, a daily seder that took tremendous exertion on Reb Shlomo’s part. The Rav was known for his sharpness and intolerance of those who wanted to talk just for the sake of talking. So Reb Shlomo would prepare for close to ten hours for an hour-long discussion.

It was apparent that the Rav enjoyed these sessions. One day he asked Reb Shlomo where he learned.

“I’m waiting for the Rav to open a yeshivah,” Reb Shlomo responded boldly.

“A yeshivah for one bachur?” the Rav replied. “A yeshivah needs at least two bachurim, so that they can have a chavrusa. Get another bachur and we will open a yeshivah.”

Shortly afterward, the Brisker yeshivah opened for two bachurim, with Harav Berel Soloveitchik, zt”l, the Rav’s son, giving the shiurim.

One condition the Rav placed on the yeshivah’s opening was that the two bachurim not tell anyone. And, indeed, for six months nobody knew of its existence, even when the Chazon Ish — who wanted to learn with Reb Shlomo on a steady basis — asked him where he was learning.

“I see you are a ne’eman,” the Brisker Rav told Reb Shlomo after the first zman was over. “I sent people to check up on you and you indeed did not tell anyone. I am now publicizing the yeshivah, and you will become a ben bayis by me.”

While learning in Brisk, word of his hasmadah and success in Torah was reaching his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Prospective fathers-in-law wanted him for their daughter, with one even offering a $250,000 nadan, and another $750,000.

Reb Shlomo consulted with Reb Chatzkel, who had in the meantime become Mashgiach in Yeshivas Ponevezh, who told him to turn them all down.

“If you want a happy life,” Reb Chatzkel said, “make sure you marry a poor girl from a Torah’dige house. Because with money you are never going to be happy.”

Taking this advice literally, Reb Shlomo rejected any shidduch with wealth in the family — even as several Rabbanim vied for him. He finally married his Rebbetzin, the daughter of Reb Avraham Boruch Greenblatt, z”l, “a tremendous masmid, who lived with his 11 children in a one-bedroom apartment,” according to Reb Velvel Brevda, Reb Shlomo’s son. Harav Efraim Greenblatt, the former Rav of Memphis, Tennessee, who currently lives in Eretz Yisrael, was one of those children.

Following Reb Shlomo’s marriage, Reb Chatzkel informed him that his “tafkid on this world is to learn with people, to teach people.”

That assignment was a difficult one for the young man, who admitted that “I was so shy [as a child] that when my mother would ask me to go to the neighbor to get milk I would run to my room to hide.”

Reb Shlomo moved to England, where he began his career as a maggid, with a focus on tefillah and emes. Later moving to New York, he took a job as an eighth-grade rebbi in Williamsburg’s Viener cheder. When talmidim insisted on staying with him at the end of the school year, he moved up with them to ninth and then tenth grade.

His ability to dissect complex subjects into simple ideas was already apparent then. When he learned the parshiyos of Vayikra with his young talmidim, he taught them the complicated halachos of Kodashim that he had learned while in Brisk.

When Reb Shlomo later moved back to Eretz Yisrael, settling in Bnei Brak, he traveled frequently to the United States to give  drashos on tefillah and emes, and to raise money for poor families in Eretz Yisrael.

Some of Reb Shlomo’s many sefarim published include Leil Shimurim on Pesach; Kimu V’kiblu on Purim; a three-volume set on Shir Hashirim based on the Gra, Amalah Shel Torah, and many more.

Reb Shlomo lived a long life, passing away just shy of his 82nd birthday, but he was ill for the past few years. The name Leib was added a few years ago for arichas yamim. But he was niftar yesterday in Maimonides Medical Center during an extended stay in New York, his Rebbetzin and one of his sons at his bedside.

The levayah took place at 7:00 last night in Congregation Bnei Yehudah, on 16th avenue and 53rd Street. The aron was then scheduled to be transported to Eretz Yisrael for kevurah in the chelkas harabbanim on Har Hamenuchos.

Another levayah is scheduled for 7:00 tonight in Yeshivah Torah Ore in Kiryat Mattersdorf, where his mechutan Harav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, zt”l, was Rosh Yeshivah.

Reb Shlomo is survived by his Rebbetzin and six children, Reb Chaike, Reb Velvel, Mrs. Rachel Altusky, Mrs. Frume Yaslovsky and Mrs. Estie Druk.

Yehi zichro baruch.