Rabbi Yitzchak Weitzhandler shlit”a succeeds in entering Kollel Choshen Mishpat in the city of Torah, Lakewood, New Jersey. There, he interviews the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu Levin shlit”a, who was a student at Yeshivat Kfar Hasidim together with our Rebbe Rav Eliezer Berland shlit”a, and who today is one of the Torah greats of the generation.
Interview courtesy of Kav HaMeda Breslov 02-800-8800. From the United States 845-640-0007. From the UK 44-330-390-0474.
“The head of Kollel Choshen Mishpat in the Torah city, Lakewood, and who serves as an answerer of questions at one of the largest yeshivas in the world, Yeshivat Lakewood — the Gaon Rav Eliyahu Levin shlit”a”
Interviewer: “Rav Weitzhandler, over the course of the years we’ve been trying to interview Rav Levin shlit”a who learned for years with our Rebbe Rav Berland shlit”a. We always heard that he has a story about the work of [receiving] insults of the Rav while still in Kfar Hasidim. Baruch Hashem, we merited that you were the messenger to catch up with him.”
Rav Weitzhandler: “Yes, and I’m happy that Hashem gave the merit to see this Tzaddik. He is a righteous Jew, great in Torah from his shoulder up. The Chasidim would say about the author of HaYesod v’Shoresh HaAvodah, that Rabbeinu would praise him – this is written in Chayei Moharan – that he leaped from this world without all the lusts. The Chasidim said about him that he was a Chasid before Chasidut.
“Rabbi Levin – [we’re] discussing here a Jew the age of Rav Berland shlit”a. I think that he is a little bit younger. He’s found in Lakewood, which is the great city of Torah… and he has a private Kollel… He lives without superficial etiquette.
“Discussed is a Jew who, for example, in the terrorist attack at the Twin Towers, a man went missing who until today is unfound, and his wife was an Aguna [a ‘chained’ wife: e.g. a questionable widow, and thus unable to remarry]. They asked Rav Eliashiv what to do. Rav Eliashiv sent the people to Rav Levin to solve this case. He is number 1 in Chosen Mishpat. I tried a number of times to catch up with him. I thought that he didn’t want to be interviewed, but it turned out that really he didn’t feel well… In the end, he saw me in the middle of his learning and called me over to sit next to him.
Rav Levin: “Rav Eliyahu Lopian would work on concentrating on holy names in the first blessing of the Amidah prayer… and also to concentrate on names in Bircat HaMazon [the blessing after meals]. I remember that there were 42 words to concentrate on. I don’t know if we’re talking about names, or words in the first blessing.
“Rav Lopian asked in a meeting and said [that] each person who doesn’t concentrate should write a half-grush [a small currency denomination at the time] for himself for every name which he doesn’t concentrate on. Afterwards, at the next meeting he asked each person, how much do you owe. One answered 3 grush, another 2 grush. He reached Rav Eliezer Berland and [asked] how much he [owes]. They spoke a bit in Yiddish and Rav Berland answered him ‘a half-grush.’
“Rav Lopian was shocked and asked, ‘a half-grush? Perhaps you were confused with the Yiddish and meant….’
“Rav Berland answered, ‘No, a half-grush…’ Rav Lopian really became excited about this.
“The paradigm of Rav Berland at the yeshiva in Kfar Hasidim was that he wasn’t afraid of insults, to serve Hashem and not to fear, not to hold oneself back because of insults.”
Rav Weitzhandler: “To say, Rav Berland rejoiced in insults?”
Rav Levin: “Yes, so much! The reality was such that it was impossible to interrupt him from serving [Hashem] because of insults.
“The second incident where I remember him was on Tisha B’Av, that Rav Berland was sitting on his knees; it seems to me that this was even after Chatzot (midday), after the Kinot. He was in great movement, bending down and rising up, saying Kinot and mourning over Jerusalem. This continued for a time after everyone had already left the Yeshiva.
“On Friday, when everyone had left, Rav Berland would sit and learn with all his strength. We were with him for two and half years at Kfar Hasidim. Rav Berland went after this to Kollel Chazon Ish. Then I would talk to him sometimes at Ponevitch. This was already after his wedding. I was at his wedding.
“He got married at a young age. At the table… he sat with the older guests, the more important ones, and they spoke amongst themselves, [saying] that the [Torah] Greats say that getting married at a young age is the right thing. Afterwards, the older youths told me that they regret having spoken about this, because they didn’t notice that Rav Eliezer Berland was present there with them, because he takes everything seriously, that one needs to get married at a young age, and he arranged for someone to ask and arrange for him a match.
“Rav Berland decided after seeing that they were right — he said and acted. They knew that by Rav Berland there’s no hesitating. If there’s something to do, then we do it. They didn’t want to take responsibility for him getting married at a young age.
“He got married in the year 5619 [1959 L’minyanam] at the age of 20-21. Then, they wouldn’t get married at an age like that. He’s 84 today. They said afterwards– the older ones — that by him there’s no hesitating. I assume that his entire life afterwards was managed in this way…
“Once on Yom Kippur at Ponevitch, I asked Rav Berland how to arouse oneself to repentance on Yom Kippur. I saw how he was so focused in prayer, so I asked him how to arouse oneself. I was young there.
“He said to me: ‘It’s simple. Ask for Torah insights. Ask and this arouses.’ This is a sign that he lives in the midst of these things.
“Once I asked him to ask the Steipler for me, ‘What happens when I’m in the middle of Tachanun and the prayer leader already is saying Kaddish?’ He answered that the Steipler said – I don’t remember exactly – that after saying two verses of Tachanun, it’s possible already to answer Kaddish…something like that.
“In his childhood, Rav Berland learned in the school in Haifa, people who lean more towards Mizrahi [religious nationalist]. I asked them afterwards, ‘How was Rav Berland [when he] was by you?’ He answered me, ‘He belonged to the Future World.’”
Rav Weitzhandler: “Rav Berland related to me that they summoned him to the [Army] Recruiting office like all the young people, and he arrived without a Teudat Zehut [identification document]. They told him that they would give him another date and he should come with a Teudat Zehut. He arrived and this was a day for women. He didn’t go in and fled from them. Until today, they’re searching for him.”
Rav Levin: “Yes, he was exactly like that.”
Rav Weitzhandler: “Someone said in your name that Rav Berland said to fast for a full week. Is this correct?”
Rav Levin: “I don’t remember. It could be.”
Rav Weitzhandler: “But was there an idea like this, of fasting?”
Rav Levin: “I remember that Rav Eliyahu Lopian related [this], but I don’t remember if he said the name of the one fasting. He said that someone was fasting a full week, but so that [people] wouldn’t know that he was fasting, he would come to the dining hall at the end of the meal, so that they wouldn’t discern that he didn’t eat.
“The merits of Rav Berland will protect. Everything that they’re saying in Israel about Rav Berland, I don’t believe all these things, and also you shouldn’t believe [them]!
“Such things are not relevant to him. Behold, Rav Eliyahu Lopian never once made a mistake – and you need to know that the state made many mistakes…
“You should all be successful, and also Rav Berland should be successful – send him regards.”