Living Legacy: Rav Aryeh Levin, zt”l, ‘Father of the Prisoners’
By: Yehuda Alter
Sunday, 9 Nissan, marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Aryeh, known as the “Tzaddik of Yerushalayim” on account of his superhuman love and chessed—in addition to his tremendous piety and learnedness.
He was born to Rav Beinish and Ettel Levin in a town near Biyalistok. But then he went east to learn in the great yeshivos of Slonim, Slutzk, Volozyn and Brisk, under the giant luminaries who led those yeshivos.
When he was nineteen years old he came to Eretz Yisroel through a greatly arduous journey. He wrote about the first time he set eyes on the holy land: “When I saw the holy land from far, which Hashem has sworn to give us, I became a different person. I was overtaken with tremendous emotions, and tears streamed down my face from great joy.
Soon, he married Tzipporah Chanah Shapira of Yerushalayim, and settled there. Among their children would be Rebbetzin of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, zt’l.
In 1931, he became the chaplain to the prisons at the behest of Rav Avrohom Yitzchok Hakohen Kook, zt”l—work that he had been doing in any case since 1927—and volumes could be filled with his sacrifices that he made to uplift even the most downtrodden.
One story of thousands, which illustrate Rav Aryeh’s great love and character—with clear words that defined Rav Aryeh’s philosophy:
One day, he was walking in the street and encountered a young man whom he had been mekarev, but the person had since taken off his yarmulke. When he saw Rav Aryeh, he tried to avoid him—feeling terrible that he should see him in this way. But Rav Aryeh caught up to him and asked him, “Have I ever done something to you? Why are you avoiding me?” The young man, moved by his love and embrace, answered that he was embarrassed for Rav Aryeh to see him this way.
Rav Aryeh took the young man’s hands in his own, and said: “I am a short man. I cannot even see what is on your head. But I can see what is in your heart!”
This is the way he saw people; for their true essence.
On his visits to the prisons, he would take his young granddaughter, Bat Sheva Elyashiv, later Kanievsky. And it was here that she too absorbed his boundless ahavas Yisroel toward every single Yid—regardless of anything—and would continue this tradition from her humble home in Bnei Brak for decades.
Simultaneously, he was the mashgiach of Yeshiva Etz Chaim—and with his smile and love, he shaped countless young people with whom he had a special ability to connect.
His life was one saga of mesirus nefesh for others, until his petirah in 1969.
Upon his passing, he left the following points among his tzav’ah:
“I have always aimed to imbue in myself a deep faith in hashgachah protis; I have made the effort as much as possible to do for others; I was very careful to greet each person with a friendly demeanor; I have tried to be quiet even when insulted; I tried with all my strength to teach my family to love every person, and rather than hate sinners, to love and respect yirei Shomayim (to emphasize the positive); It is easier to learn a few new languages than to abstain from speaking improper words; my dear children: never involve yourself in any kind of machlokes.”