Hagaon Harav Avrohom Chaim Levin: At the Helm of Torah Umesorah

Hagaon Harav Avrohom Chaim Levin, zt”l, chairing a Vaad Roshei Yeshiva meeting. (Torah Umesorah Archives)

“I remember attending the first Torah Umesorah Convention, which was held in Cleveland, together with my Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Mordechai Katz, zt”l. I was sitting behind Harav Shraga Feivel Mendlowitz, zt”l, founder of Torah Umesorah, who insisted on sitting in the audience and not upon the dais.”

Thus, a young talmid of Telshe was exposed to the achrayus of spreading Torah to the uninitiated, a lesson which served him well when he assumed the position of Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva of Torah Umesorah in 2007.

“The Rosh Yeshivah would generally seek a consensus of opinion,” Rabbi Dovid Nojowitz, Menahel of Torah Umesorah, told Hamodia. “Yet at times, when he felt his position was correct, he was unafraid of taking a strong stance and holding his ground, although he knew that others may disagree with his view.”

Although Harav Avrohom Chaim Levin, zt”l, was one of the senior leaders of the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva, nevertheless, he would listen to the comments of the younger members and consider their ideas and thoughts.

“He was the epitome of anivus, and never demanded that others conform to his opinion. Often, he would ask that I arrange a conference call of the entire Vaad Roshei Yeshiva to hear the opinions of others, yet there were times when he told me that he would take care of the arrangements himself,” said Rabbi Nojowitz.

“I would call him every Friday to give him an update on the latest developments in Torah Umesorah, and he would thank me ‘for thinking of him’. Indeed, his Rebbetzin would also thank me for the call.”

Rav Levin considered his leadership role in Torah Umesorah an achrayus which he did not take lightly. “Many times, I would ask a she’eilah and there would be silence on the line for a while,” Rabbi Nojowitz recalled. “I learned that Rav Levin would contemplate the question at hand and think through all the angles before responding. He was well aware of the significance of his response.”

When asked if there were any issues close to Rav Levin’s heart, Rabbi Nojowitz mentions two in particular. “It bothered him to no end that the female teachers were not being paid what they deserved. He felt that this showed a lack of respect for the important work that they were performing, and he wanted to raise both their salaries and their standing in the community.

Another matter which he felt very strongly about was arranging that bachurim should have someone to speak to about issues that concerned them. He felt it was vital for them to have mit vemen tzu redden.”

As the Yoshev Rosh of the Vaad Roshei Yeshiva of Torah Umesorah, Rav Levin spoke annually at the Torah Umesorah convention, where hundreds of mechanchim and mechanchos anticipated his heartfelt words of daas Torah and chizuk.

His drashah at seudah shelishis, which was usually prefaced with his humble remark that he cannot completely avoid speaking, was one of the highlights of the convention. In this relatively short speech, he would find words to infuse the heroes of the world of chinuch to carry on with their avodas hakodesh with ever greater enthusiasm and devotion.

In his own inimitable way, Rav Levin would relate a short story or vort which would boost the spirit and morale of the participants. In 2009, he told a heart-warming story of a young bar mitzvah bachur from Cleveland, Simcha Zelig Galefsky, who finished all Shishah Sidrei Mishnah and was tested on it by Rabbanim, who attested that he truly knew the Mishnayos.

At the bar mitzvah, Harav Dovid Goldberg, shlita, Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Teshe-Cleveland, told an amazing story. When Rav Goldberg wrote his first sefer, he went to Hagoan Harav Menachem Shach, zt”l, for a haskamah. Rav Shach looked through the sefer and was duly impressed. He asked Rav Goldberg where he was from. He answered that he came from Chicago.

Rav Shach proceeded to ask where his father was from, to which he answered once again that his father, too, came from Chicago. Once again, Rav Shach asked where his grandparents were from. Rav Goldberg answered that his grandmother was also from Chicago.

Rav Shach was amazed and proceeded to tell Rav Goldberg a story that he heard from the Brisker Rav, zt”l. Before WWI, a teenager was drafted into the Russian army. This meant years of service with no Shabbos, no kashrus, and no mitzvos. He had an opportunity to escape to the United States, and he asked Hagaon Harav Chaim Brisker, zt”l what he should do.

Rav Chaim referred the question to Rav Simcha Zelig Riger, zt”l, who served as the Dayan of Brisk. Rav Simcha Zelig ruled that it was better to enter the Russian Army than to travel to America. His reasoning was that, although being in the Russian army would preclude him from keeping the mitzvos, nevertheless, he would still remember that he was a Yid. However, by going to America, he would probably assimilate, and would likely forget entirely that he was a Jew.

Rav Goldberg ended off saying that the bar mitzvah boy of that evening, Simcha Zelig Galefsky, is a great-grandson of the Dayan of Brisk, Rav Simcha Zelig Riger.

With great emotion, Rav Levin ended his remarks by declaring, “We can see how far we have come from those days. This is all to the credit of the mechanchim and mechanchos across the country.”

In 2011, Rav Levin related that his father, Harav Lezer Levin, zt”l, was told by the Chofetz Chaim, “Redd mit Yidden — talk to people.” He told a story of how his father carried out the words of the saintly Chofetz Chaim.

Rav Lezer, who served as a Rav in Detroit for 54 years, once recommended a boy attend Telshe Yeshiva in Chicago. Mr. Moshe Yoel Brodman had already begun his studies in the university when Rav Levin insisted that he must take some time off to learn in a yeshivah.

Mr. Brodman spent six months in Telshe, and that helped instill in him the drive to be an ehrlicher Yid. Years later, he visited Eretz Yisroel and entered a store. The man behind the counter looked familiar, and he struck up a conversation with him.

“Don’t you recognize me?” asked the fellow. “Take off my beard and yarmulke, and you can see who I am.” Low and behold, it was his college dean. “What brought you here?” asked Mr. Brodman.

“I’ll tell you,” said the dean. “When you told me of your plans to leave the university for the yeshivah, I thought the idea was absurd. I called Rav Lezer to insist that you continue your university studies. Rav Lezer insisted that I speak to him in person, and we conversed for six hours. At the end, he convinced me to follow a path to Torah. I resigned my post and moved to Eretz Yisrael, where I now am a shomer Torah umitzvos.”

Rav Levin concluded, “My father followed the advice of the Chofetz Chaim, ‘Redd mit Yidden.’ You see what you can accomplish by this!”

When delivering divrei hesped for Harav Elya Svei, zt”l, Rav Levin quoted what his own Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Elya Meir Bloch, zt”l, wrote at the passing of the Chazon Ish: “The level of the generation is measured according to the height of the leaders of the generation.” Our generation is to be measured according to the level of Rav Elya, and the height of our generation is diminished with his passing.

Rav Levin continued quoting his Rosh Yeshivah, who stated upon hearing about the death of the Telzer Rav, Hy”d, that there are some Gedolim who make all those around them feel small, and some who make those all around them feel big. Concerning Rav Elya, it must be said that around him, he made us all feel gadlus, and with his passing, our shiur komah has been diminished.

Rav Levin then quoted the Chovos Halevavos in Shaar Haprishus (4), who describes a parush as having a glowing face, despite the mourning in his heart. He always had a glowing countenance, where the Torah and chochmah shined through, despite the myriad problems which he dealt with on a daily basis. Another characteristic mentioned by the Chovos Halevavos is, “He does not rush, and does not err.”

These very same words can be applied to Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, as he, too, made all who came in contact with him feel uplifted and just a bit ‘taller.’ His countenance, his warm smile and sincere caring for the klal and the prat, were legendary.

As the Chovos Halevavos concludes, “Chevraso simcha, harchakaso anachah — his company is joyous; his distance is a sigh.” Oh what a joy it was to be with him; it is so painful to no longer have him.

Yehi zichro baruch.