The Torah gives various zmanim for aveilus: mid’Oraisa, only the first day is required, then there are seven days mid’Rabbanan. At 30 days, the mourning period ends, except for a parent whom we must honor with 12 months. Yet even for Moshe Rabbeinu, it is written in the Torah, “Vayitmu yemei bechi eivel Moshe.”
“The simple explanation of this passuk,” explained Harav Shmuel Dishon, shlita, “is that the days of mourning came to an end. The Sfas Emes explains it to mean that the aveilus was tamim, complete, as Bnei Yisrael had now completed and accomplished all they had to do.”
These opening words at the sheloshim hesped for Hagaon Harav Avrohom Chaim Levin, zt”l, on Monday evening set the tone at the headquarters of Torah Umesorah in Brooklyn, New York, as they came to hear about the greatness of one of the most beloved Roshei Yeshivah and leaders.
As the Yosheiv Rosh of the Vaad Roshei Yeshivah of Torah Umesorah and a chaver of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of Agudas Yisrael, Rav Levin led not only his own talmidim in Yeshiva Telshe of Chicago, but indeed was a Gadol whose influence expanded far beyond the walls of his beis medrash. Despite his waning strength over the past few years, Rav Dishon emphasized, Rav Levin’s hashpaah was felt throughout Chicago, and his presence had an impact on the entire Mid-West Convention of Agudas Yisrael .
“He greeted everyone [at the convention] with a seiver panim yafos, with a warm smile, and at the dancing on Motzoei Shabbos, he would look around to make sure he would include everyone in the celebration.”
Rabbi Berel Wein, brother-in-law of Rav Levin, spoke of his view of the niftar through the lens of a family member. “He was born in Lita and came to Detroit at a young age, where his father served as Rav. At that time, the city did not have any mosdos of chinuch, and he began his schooling in public school. He mentioned this on many occasions when speaking in public and did not try to hide it. To him, it was part of his development, and he was a realist in every sense. He felt comfortable stating that it was possible for someone who attended public school to become a Rosh Yeshivah.”
Rabbi Wein told of Harav Elya Meir Bloch, zt”l, coming to Detroit to spend the sedarim at the Levin home, and how the family was influenced by his presence. The young Avrohom Chaim followed him to Cleveland, where he became his talmid muvhak, always judging his own actions in light of what his Rebbi would do in every situation.
His hesped centered around the Gemara in Sotah (49b) that quotes a Braisa as stating that once Rebbi died, batla anavah — humility came to an end. To this, Rav Yosef, who lived two generations later, stated that this cannot be the correct version of the Braisa because “d’ika ana — for I am still here.”
Rabbi Wein suggested that Rav Yosef was saying that since he was a talmid of Rav and Rav Huna, who in turn were talmidim of Rav Yehudah Hanasi, he too caught a glimpse of the humility of Rebbi through them, and Rebbi’s anavah was still extant.
“In a similar vein, Rav Avrohom Chaim was the embodiment of the anavah of his Rebbi, Rav Elya Meir Bloch, and in his great anivus, he [was not above] picking up papers from the floor in the yeshivah when he saw them.”
In offering another explanation for d’ika ana, Rabbi Wein explained that Rav Yosef was stating that since he was around, he assumed the responsibility to emulate Rebbi and carry on his traits. “When Rav Avrohom Chaim came to establish the Telzer Yeshiva in Chicago 58 years ago, he did not receive a warm reception. In fact, the president of the shul locked the doors to prevent them from using it. But Rav Avrohom Chaim was not afraid and spoke to him over breakfast. When he finished, the president gave him the keys to the shul.”
Using his wisdom and sincerity, Rav Levin managed to win over the entire city, and he had a positive influence even in circles that did not follow the path of the yeshivah. “I became aware of the besurah of Rav Levin’s petirah when I got a message from the co-ed high school in Chicago announcing that our leader had passed away. He had a unique way of being mekarev, not merachek.”
Rabbi Mordechai Levin, son of the Rosh Yeshivah, addressed the gathering by relating both his personal view of his father as well as the unique manner in which his father was mechanech his talmidim. Looking around at the venue of the Teacher Center of Torah Umesorah, he described how proud his father was of the 40,000 Rebbeim and moros who patronize the various Teacher Centers of Torah Umesorah annually.
Rabbi Levin said that as a bachur, Rav Elya Meir directed him to assume the position of running the Tzeirei minyan in Cleveland. Rav Avrohom Chaim expressed his concern that it would result in bitul Torah, but his Rebbi reassured him that he would let him know if it was and in that case he would stop him. “He never stopped him, so he continued in his service to the Agudah and the klal.”
In all his appearances at Agudah and Torah Umesorah Conventions, Rav Levin never commented on the slot he was given to speak in. Yet when Harav Elya Svei, zt”l, took ill and he was asked to take over speaking by seudah sehlishis at the annual convention, Rav Levin insisted that he not be listed as the speaker, since he wished to emphasize that he was merely filling in until Rav Elya was able to return to his regular slot.
In describing his hasmadah, Rabbi Levin said that he knew that whenever he entered his father’s house, he would be sitting with his Gemara at the dining room table engrossed in learning. “He sat in the sukkah the entire day, and my mother would occasionally go out there with a glass of tea and a bit of mezonos. He would thank her and continue learning as he reviewed blatt after blatt of Gemara.”
When he traveled to Florida for the President’s Conference of Torah Umesorah, Rebbetzin Levin would urge him to take advantage of the warm weather during the cold winter months. “My father would sit with his Gemara while my mother enjoyed the warmth of Florida. For him, it made no difference if he was learning at a table indoors, or if he was sitting outdoors and learning.”
Rabbi Levin told several stories of how his father used his intuitive understanding of people’s needs as he offered solutions that ultimately satisfied all parties. “Harav Aharon Feldman, shlita, said he was the cherish umasgir since, after he spoke, nothing more needed to be said (Gittin, 88a).”
Rabbi Shmuel Bloom said that often at meetings of the Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah, where weighty matters were being discussed, there were strong opinions on both sides. Rav Levin was able to see what each side needed and make suggestions that were acceptable to all sides.
When asked why he didn’t write sefarim, he replied, “My tachlis is to be ma’amid talmidim, and writing sefarim would detract from that.” To emphasize this point, Rabbi Levin told a story that brought out the devotion and love that he had for his talmidim.
A certain talmid was not attending Shacharis, and try as he did, the Rosh Yeshivah was unable to get him to come. He tried issuing a k’nas, speaking to him, putting his arm around his shoulder, and even hired the bachur to learn with a baal habayis before davening, all to no avail.
One afternoon, while this talmid was sitting in beis medrash, the Rosh Yeshivah’s chavrusa came over and notified the bachur that Rav Levin wished to speak with him at the front of the room. When he arrived, he received a stunning rebuke right there in front of all the other talmidim. “I’ve tried everything to make you come to davening, and you still do not come!”
The talmid returned to his seat and sank into his chair. A few minutes later, the chavrusa returned and once again said, “The Rosh Yeshivah wants to speak to you at the front of the room.” By this time, the talmid was crushed, thinking that he had already been chastised publicly for his shortcomings. What more could the Rosh Yeshivah want from him?
As he approached, Rav Levin began discussing with him the annual Purim tzedakah campaign, which he was put in charge of. After they finished and he returned to his seat, the talmid remarked, “Now I know that I have a Rebbi!”
Yehi zichro baruch.