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End of an Era

Yisroel Besser

He was as unpretentious as they come, but the Torah of Rav Rafael Shmuelevitz was precise and exact — his mind filled with neat files of each sugya and thousands of subcategories. Yet that didn’t stop him from taking down the garbage or answering yungeleit while standing on the crowded, noisy bus ride to Mir. And even when his body was ravaged by ALS, he remained steady, present, real, and enduring — a prince of the postwar Torah world.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

There’s something about them, the whole family. In the Shmuelevitz progeny, two dynasties converge — that of Slabodka and Novardok, where utter simplicity meets absolute grandeur. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz’s mother was a daughter of the Alter of Novardok, Rav Yosef Yoizel Horowitz, while his rebbetzin — daughter of Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel — was a granddaughter of the Alter of Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel. But it’s more than just genetics that marks this family of Mir’s famed rosh yeshivah as unique. The brothers — Rav Rafael ztz”l and yblct”a Rav Meir and Rav Avrohom — have been fixtures in the halls of the Mirrer Yeshivah for decades, arguing, debating, laughing, reiterating, and laughing again. Reb Chaim’s kinder. What was the secret? In a shmuess, the late rosh yeshivah Rav Nosson Tzvi ztz”l, reflected on the words of Rashi in Maseches Shabbos (12b), that an adam chashuv, a person of stature, may learn by the light of a candle on Shabbos. Why? Because of his inherent “chashivus,” there is no suspicion that he’ll tilt the candle toward him as he learns. Rav Nosson Tzvi quoted Rosh Yeshivah Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz’s explanation: “A groisse mentsh, a great man, doesn’t do small things.” Then, Rav Nosson Tzvi added a personal memory. “I remember how at the sheva brachos of one of his children, Rav Chaim repeated this idea and expressed a tefillah, a hope that his own children would be honorable people — chashuvim — in this way, rising above pettiness.” Rav Nosson Tzvi smiled and spread his arms apart, beaming at the crowd, as if to say See? The tefillah worked. And that is the secret.

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