Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

27 Tishrei 5764 - October 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits, zt"l
by Y. A. Marin

Klal Yisroel mourns the loss of a man whose special form of kindness reached Jewish homes, botei midroshim and shuls throughout the world. Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits zt'l, founder of the Lebovits-Kest "Sifriah Libnei Torah," passed away Wednesday morning 5 Tishrei following an illness discovered six weeks earlier. He was 75.

Lomdei Torah throughout Eretz Yisroel recognize the paperback editions of Shas, rishonim, acharonim, teshuvos and other sifrei kodesh printed and sold at cost by Rabbi Lebovits' Mossad Le'idud Limud haTorah.

With no financial base and no previous publishing experience, Rabbi Lebovits founded the Library 13 years ago with only a dream: Every ben Torah should be able to afford to build his own complete Torah library. Part of the dream was to also make available editions of sifrei kodesh no longer in print. The Sifriah now includes over 500 editions and has produced millions of volumes.

From the Sifriah we glimpsed a man of initiative and chesed. Here was someone dedicated to us and our learning. The Sifriah reveals, however, only a part of Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits.

A more complete picture might actually come as some surprise. Rabbi Lebovits was not a well-known rosh yeshiva, posek or mashgiach even in his neighborhood or shul. People enjoyed his especially pleasant manner with others, his adinus hanefesh. They saw that he did chassodim. Many knew he was a talmid chochom, in shul a masmid. But all in all Rabbi Lebovits seemed quite ordinary and regular.

Behind his "regular" manner of dealing with people, however, and behind his public role of encouraging the learning of Torah, there lived privately and humbly a man that Rav Shimon Asher Goldberg of the Tiferes Tzvi congregation in Bayit Vegan called an odom godol.

Rav Yisroel-Zev Gustman, Rabbi Lebovits' rebbe, referred to his talmid as, "A talmid chochom muvhak," and wrote, "Bechol halichosov Sheim Shomayim mis'aheiv al yodo" -- in every thing he does the Name of Heaven becomes beloved.

HaRav Moshe Lipka, a rosh kollel close to Rabbi Lebovits, said that although Rabbi Lebovits always remained private and unassuming, he was nevertheless like one of the gedolei Yisroel.

Rav Goldberg said in his hesped that Rabbi Lebovits was an odom godol not just in one area. For example one can be a godol in Torah but not in avodoh or in chesed; or in chesed but not in Torah. Rabbi Lebovits, he said, was great in Torah, as well as in avodoh, as well as in chesed.

For those who were privileged to know Rabbi Lebovits behind his `ordinary' way of conducting himself, he was an exemplar of ahavas haTorah, ameilus and hasmodoh. One avreich who learned with him said that his clarity, simplicity and yashrus in learning resembled that of a renowned maggid shiur. His love and dedication to learning shone with a quiet power. For a ben Torah, he once said, learning is life or death.

As a bochur, the landlady where he lodged complained to his rosh yeshiva that his student used too much electricity, leaving the light on even at 3 or 4 in the morning. Rav Gustman testified that in later years som leilos kayomim -- he made his nights like days.

Before coming to Eretz Yisroel to learn by Rav Gustman, Rabbi Lebovits spent several years in Gateshead, where his chavrusa was HaRav Mattisyahu Salomon, now mashgiach in Lakewood Yeshiva. HaRav Pinchas Markovitz, another rosh kollel, said that when Rabbi Lebovits arrived from Gateshead to learn by Rav Gustman, he was already holding all around Shas.

Rabbi Lebovits, perhaps from a desire to conduct himself in an unassuming manner, did not `speak in learning' at home or as he went about his daily routine in the way that characterizes many masmidim. Yet in a matter-of-fact way he would often mention points of Torah, including points of midos and emunah. When asked questions in Shas or in halacha, he answered with the freshness and simple clarity of a person who has "talmudo beyodo" -- his learning is permanently in his grasp.

Rabbi Lebovits' humility was incredible, palpable. This quality though, and so too his adinus hanefesh, his savlonus and kovod habriyos, and even his unassuming manner of conduct, were like deeply ingrained gems, polished by years of avodoh in mussar. He studied and lived the words of the Chovos haLevovos, Rav Yeruchom, and others.

"Shaar Habitochon" was not just a chapter for theoretical study, but an indispensable part of Rabbi Lebovits' life. He once illustrated his attitude toward earning parnossoh with a story about HaRav Yaakov Yisroel Lubchansky the mashgiach of Baranovitch who, in troubled times, said that his material situation was just fine. Rabbi Lebovits explained that our material situation is arranged solely by Hashem and certainly He arranges things just right. As for us, our material situation is not our business at all.

Rabbi Lebovits' chesed and ahavas habriyos permeated his relations with people. The organization he built was merely an expression of a quality that he lived all the time. Whether a physical need or financial, words of encouragement or even words of reproach: He saw the needs of others and acted to fulfill them.

He once noticed an acquaintance who he felt needed encouragement, but perceived that a direct approach would not be effective. Instead, he devised a plan to give chizuk in a way that the recipient would never know the source, nor the intention of the donor. It made no difference that this plan took hours and days, plus a significant monetary outlay.

To me the unique greatness of Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits was his `regular' matter-of-factness. Despite his achievements in learning, in helping, in his own self-perfection, he always acted without showing any sign of who he was. It was a rare, extreme tznius. This tznius itself spoke volumes.

Meir Einei Yisroel brings a story of a ben Torah who traveled specially to see the famous Chofetz Chaim. He arrived in Radin, eager to behold the famous godol hador. He found and followed the Chofetz Chaim. He watched him daven. He watched him walk; he watched him speak and interact with people.

What the young man saw, however, left him initially disappointed. As he watched, he couldn't see anything especially great about him. He davened like other people; he walked like other people.

Later, though, after some more time in Radin, the young man was suddenly struck by something: Although the Chofetz Chaim was not doing anything different, there was something beneath the surface that made him very, very different from an ordinary person.

For me, the regularness and tznius of Rabbi Yehudah Lebovits captured some reflection of this story of the Chofetz Chaim. The subtleness was powerful: Here is a man with an unusual closeness to Hashem. Here is a man whose greatness is not only in what he does but in who he is.

And of who he was, I feel we may only have a hint.


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