Living Legacy: Rav Chaskel Levenstein, zt”l, A Legend of Mussar
By: Yehuda Alter
Shabbos, 18 Adar, marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Chaskel Levenstein of the Mir and Ponovezh, a giant of mussar who inspired generations of Bnei Torah in Europe and later in Eretz Yisroel toward a life of avodas Hashem.
He was born in Warsaw in 1885, and his mother was nifteres when he was only a young child of five. At around bar mitzvah, he was forced to go out to work due to poverty. But at the end of the first week, all of his earnings were stolen from him—am event that propelled him to leave it all behind and dedicate his entire life to Torah and mussar, spiritual possessions that could never be taken from him.
He traveled to Radin, where he learned under the Chofetz Chaim, and later to the Mir, where he became a disciple of Rav Yeruscham Levovitz, the famed Mashgiach. He served in yeshivos around the Lithuania, but when Rav Yeruchom was niftar, he was called to the Mir to take his place.
When the war broke out, he escaped along with the yeshiva to Shanghai. Here, he emerged as the leader of the Mir… taking charge of many weighty decisions that faced the yeshivs during those years.
Following the war, he came to America first, and served as the mashgiach of the Mirrer bachurim here. A number of them would go along with him to Eretz Yisroel. After a few years in the Mir, he went over to Ponovezh.
At his levaya, Rav Eliezer Shach, Rosh Yeshiva of Ponovezh, noted in his hesped that had Rav Chaskel lived 500 years ago—in the times of the Rishonim—he would still have been recognized as a spiritual giant. Rav Shach also would tell the bachurim, “Don’t think that prior to the war there were many people like this…he was a rarity then too.
His entire essence was musar’dig, and he impacted his talmidim as much by his conduct as by his words of mussar; his ehrlichkeit and middos shone forth so brightly.
His sons-in-law, the brothers Rav Ephriam Mordechai and Reuven Yehoshua Ginsberg, published his teachings in the sefer Ohr Yecheskel.
Rav Chaskel was niftar in 1974 at close to 90 years of age.
Among his talmidim were many of the greatest Roshei Yeshiva of the next generation—who in turn transmitted his mussar teachings to their own talmidim, keeping his legacy alive for generations to come.