Noble Lives Noble Deeds
Captivating stories and biographical profiles of spiritual giants
By Rabbi Dovid Silber
Mesorah Publications, Ltd.
Harav Chaim Shmulevitz ztl, Rosh Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Yerushalayim, was born in 5663/1903 in Stuchin, Poland where his father, Harav Alter Raphael, was Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah. The tzaddik Reb Itzele Peterburger (Rav Yitzchok Blazer, one of the most distinguished disciples of Rav Yisrael Salanter) served as sandek at his bris and blessed the infant with almost prophetic accuracy, saying that he would grow up to be one of the great luminaries of Torah and mussar. Indeed, he gained fame as a wunderkind who possessed an unusually sharp mind. In addition, his memory was so extraordinary that it was rumored that he did not know the meaning of forgetfulness.
Despite his promising future, Chaim was forced to leave yeshivah at the age of 16 as a result of the sudden death of both of his parents. The burden of providing for his brother and two sisters rested entirely on his shoulders and he did not shirk the responsibility. During the day he was busy with commerce, and most of the nights he spent toiling in Torah.
The eminent Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Shimon Shkop, Rosh Yeshivah of the yeshivah in Grodno, found out about this situation and was aghast that a student of Chaims ability should be in the workforce instead of yeshivah. He immediately arranged for provisions for the orphans, and invited Chaim to join his yeshivah in Grodno. Within three short years, young Chaim was appointed to a lecturing post in the yeshivah. When Rav Shimon was asked if he could not find anyone as suitable as Chaim for the lecturing position, he replied, Indeed there are many others who would qualify equally. But for the task of imbuing students with a true love of Torah, I did not find anyone who equals the illuy [prodigy] of Stuchin.
Reb Chaim continued his studies in Mir where the Rosh Yeshivah, Harav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel, chose him as a suitable match for his outstanding daughter. With the outbreak of World War II, he remained with the Mirrer Yeshivah in its exile in Shanghai. Despite the trying conditions there, his dazzling Talmudic shiurim encouraged unparalleled effort in Torah study among the student body, exceeding the excitement in Torah study seen during tranquil times.
After the war, he lived for a short while in America. With the establishment of the Mirrer Yeshivah in Yerushalayim, he immigrated to Eretz Yisrael and served as its Rosh Yeshivah. His shiurim entranced his audiences, which included not only his own multitude of students but also the elite of the yeshivah world from throughout Israel. In his later years he also delivered mussar discourses that were published under the title Sichos Mussar.
He passed away on 3 Teves, 6739/1979. More than 100,000 people attended his funeral. Today, his children and grandchildren are marbitzei Torah of distinction.
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The Mashgiach of the Kamenitz Yeshivah in Yerushalayim, Harav Moshe Aaron Stern, related that he once attended the Bar Mitzvah of one of the students at the Kamenitz elementary school. The day of the Bar Mitzvah was one of freezing rain and heavy winds. The affair took place in the Katamon section of the city, quite a distance from other Chareidi neighborhoods.
When he arrived, he noticed a taxi pulling up, and heard the feeble voice of an elderly man asking for help in exiting from the car. Rav Stern rushed over and helped him. Once on the street, he discerned that the gentleman was walking to the hall with some difficulty. Suddenly, he realized that the elderly man was no other than Harav Chaim Shmulevitz, the eminent Rosh Yeshivah of the Mirrer Yeshivah.
That day happened to be a very taxing one for the Rosh Yeshivah. A memorial assembly had been held for Harav Mendel Zaks, in which Rav Chaim had been the keynote speaker. In addition, he had given his weekly Talmud lecture to the entire student body that evening, an exertion of mammoth proportions for a man whose very lifeblood was the exacting dissemination of Torah.
The Kamenitz Mashgiach, noticing the sheer fatigue of Rav Chaim, asked him why, after an especially exhausting day, he found it necessary to travel in inclement weather to attend the Bar Mitzvah.
Let me explain it to you, Rav Chaim answered in a contemplative tone. The Bar Mitzvah boys father attends my mussar sessions regularly. I feel I owe him a debt of gratitude for his trouble in traveling weekly -- in all weather conditions -- from distant Katamon, just to hear my lecture. I feel that the proper thing for me to do is to reciprocate, disregarding the distance and the elements, and participate in his simchah.
I beg the Rosh Yeshivahs pardon, the Mashgiach said, but you are well aware that the crowds at the weekly mussar shiur are by far greater than the capacity of the auditorium. Whoever finds a seat considers himself a lucky man. Why do you feel a debt of gratitude to a person who participates in one of the most popular lectures in all of Yerushalayim?
Rav Chaim explained that our Sages explanation of wealth, whereby a penny and another penny ... add up to a large sum, is also valid regarding people: a crowd is merely an aggregation of many individuals, and if we overlook the significance of the single Yid, we have disregarded the entire crowd.
You must view this in the right perspective, Rav Chaim explained. Imagine if the father of the Bar Mitzvah boy would not participate, and then another and yet another person would ignore my lectures. To whom would I deliver my mussar message? Every single participant makes it possible for the lecture to happen, and each one adds to the atmosphere of yiras Shomayim. Should that not be cause enough for paying them a minimum debt of gratitude, by attending their simchos? he asked rhetorically.