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Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz - A Rosh Yeshiva Reaches Even Higher

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Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz - A Rosh Yeshiva Reaches Even Higher
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The Reishis Chochma in his hakdama says that Dovid HaMelech did write the words in Tehilim (119:18), "Gal Einai V'Abita Niflaos MiTorasecha", open my eyes so that I can see the wonders of your Torah, regarding the halachos of Shor HaMu'ad and Shor Tam (oxen that gore) and not on issur v'heter in which all Jewish housewives have mastered but rather on the wisdom that lies deeper in the torah. The wisdom that can attach you to Hashem. This was the wisdom attained by Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz.

Rav Chaim was a child prodigy born the second day of Rosh HaShana to Rav Refoel Alter Shmuelevitz, the son in law of the Alter of Novhardok, in 5663/1902. An omen to the future, the sandak at his Bris was Rav Itzele Blazer the Tamid Muvhak of Rav Yisroel Salanter. Rav Chaim learned under his father who was the Rosh Yeshiva of Grodno until his untimely passing when Rav Chaim was 16 years old. Rav Chaim remained in Grodno and became very close with Rav Shimon Shkop a talmid of Rav Chaim Brisker who became the new Rosh Yeshiva succeeding Rav Refoel Alter. Three years later at the ripe young age of 19, Rav Shimon Shkop invited the young Rav Chaim to say shiurim. He was already a famous figure in the Yeshiva circles of Lithuania.

This lasted for a few years until Rav Chaim left to learn in the Mir Yeshiva. Recognizing the greatness of Rav Chaim, the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel took him for a son-in-law. Rav Chaim also became extremely close with the legendary mashgiach Rav Yeruchom Levovitz. At the age of 31 Rav Chaim started saying shiurim in the Mir which he continued for the rest of life. He anchored the Mir through the war years during their galus in Lithuania and then Shanghai, together with the Mashgiach Rav Yechezkel Levenstein. Although he received a visa while in Shanghai for his whole family he refused to leave until the whole Yeshiva was able to leave. He then left to Eretz Yisroel after a six month stopover in the US.

One of the outstanding traits that Rav Chaim was known for was incredible sensitivity to all things. While we fail to take things like Mechiras Yosef and the story of Rus to heart, Rav Chaim would be seen crying during the reading in Shul of these emotional stories. His ability to truly understand and share of people's pain was incredible. During the six day war in 1967 when a shell hit the roof of the building where Rav Chaim and talmidim were huddled for safety, but did not explode, Rav Chaim said, you may all think this was in the zechus of our torah however in fact we were saved in the zechus of a women present whose husband had abandoned her without freeing her with a Get many years before and she said she would be mochel him if Hashem would have Rachmanus on the talmidim.

He was also able to understand people's weaknesses, having delved so carefully to remove any trace of negative traits within himself. In his later years he used to say that Kavod was a tremendous urge for him as well. When he gave Shiurim in Grodno, he himself would listen to Rav Shimon Shkop's weekly shiur. Whenever Rav Shimon would say something over from Rav Chaim, meaning Rav Chaim Brisker his own rebbi, Rav Chaim would delight in the fact that some talmidim would think he was referring to Rav Chaim himself. Such is the pull of honor, he would lament.

Rav Chaim's weekly mussar shmuezen on the parsha would attract large crowd from across Yerushalayim. The sefer Sichos Mussar is a classic work written from these tshuvos. Rav Moshe Feinstein said of him during his illness that the entire world rests upon his shoulders. After two months of semi consciousness Rav Chaim returned his holy soul to his creator after Succos 5739/1978. He left behind a legacy to all his talmidim and many others, whom his insights touched and continue to touch even today.

The torah is said to transform those who study it. To truly transform yourself you need to live the torah. The Steipler Gaon once said that not everyone who learns torah acquires all the noble traits within it. It depends how you learn and what your intentions are. Rav Chaim's transformation from talmudic legend in Europe to master of emotion and Mussar in his later years proves the words of the Reishis Chochma and the Steipler. People tend to think that to be a mashgiach you need to be a person of fine character but to be a Rosh Yeshiva you need to be special. Rav Chaim proved the opposite. With enough hard work you can master the words of Shas and poskim. To break through these words and make them come alive inside of you and become a perfect human being, that takes a Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz!

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