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Parshas Behaaloscha (5772)

Reb Yeruchom: The Man Who Knew Himself

This week (on Friday June 8th, the 18th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan) is the yahrtzeit (anniversary of the death) of Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz ZT”L, the famed Mashgiach (spiritual mentor) of the great Yeshiva of Mir in pre-war Poland.

Our Sages teach that relating or circulating the Divrei Torah (original Torah insights) of a deceased person on his yahrtzeit eternalizes his memory and causes a great aliyah (elevation) to his departed neshamah (soul).

On this, the 76th yahrtzeit of Reb Yeruchom ZT”L, I would like to share with you a beautiful insight of his based on a verse in this week’s Torah portion:

The Torah relates that the Jewish people in the desert were complaining bitterly (again) to Moses about the tasteless manna that they had to eat each day and about the lack of meat, and Moses began to despair.

He said to G-d: “Why have You done evil to your servant; why have I not found favor in Your eyes, that You place the burden of this entire people upon me? Did I conceive this entire people or did I give birth to it, that You say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a suckling, to the Land that You swore to its forefathers’? Where shall I get meat to give to this entire people when they weep to me, saying, ‘Give us meat that we may eat’? I alone cannot carry this entire nation, for it is too heavy for me!” (Numbers 11:11-14).

Rash”i, the preeminent Bible commentator, asks where we find anywhere previously in the Torah that G-d actually told Moses to put up with all the complaining of the Jewish people and to “carry them in his bosom as a nurse carries a suckling etc.” as our verse seems to indicate.

He answers that G-d commanded Moses (in Exodus 32:34) “Go, lead the people”, and it says in the same vein (in Exodus 6:13) “And He commanded them [Moses and Aaron] regarding the Children of Israel”, which is taken to mean that Moses and Aaron were to lead and care for the Jewish people with the understanding that the people might even stone them or insult them or be ungrateful to them – much the same way a nursing mother carries her child in her bosom and cares for him and feeds him no matter how badly the baby treats her in return.

Reb Yeruchom (in Da’as Torah on Parshas Beha’alosecha 11:12) suggests an alternative explanation: He writes that each and every one of G-d’s physical creations was given specific capabilities and strengths which enable it to achieve its desired goal here on earth. Mankind is no different. Each of us has unique, G-d-given qualities and talents which allow us to fulfill our potential and to accomplish our special part in the collective tikkun (rectification) that G-d desires for the world.

We don’t need a special commandment from G-d to tell us what our job is here on earth. We have only to explore and to look inside ourselves and see the special set of talents and strengths that G-d gave us to be able to know our main job and purpose in life.

So to answer Rashi’s question, Reb Yeruchom explains that G-d didn’t have to actually say to Moses: “Carry the Jewish people in your bosom and love them and care for them even when they drive you crazy”. All He needed to do was to create Moses with the love, strength and unbelievable patience inside him to be the leader of such a people. This was G-d’s way of telling Moses what he alone needed to do as nobody else could.

The only problem is that in order to know what our purpose is in life, we need to be able to know and understand who we are inside and what our main strengths and capabilities are – and that is sometimes not so easy to do. As the great Reb Yisrael Salanter once said: “A man lives with himself for seventy years - yet he does not know himself".

Reb Yeruchom was a man who knew himself. He spent many years studying Torah and Mussar (character refinement) and knew exactly what made himself tick. He knew his strengths and his weaknesses, and he understood very well what his purpose was on this earth.

And he also knew every single one of the over 400 students in the Mir Yeshiva. Each prospective student was first interviewed by the Mashgiach. After just a few pointed questions, he already knew the boy's many strengths and weaknesses, and could direct him in self-improvement. Reb Yeruchom could even tell the boy from which city he had come. He maintained that each city makes a distinct impression on its sons, and he could thus recognize the origins of the newcomer.

Reb Yeruchom cared deeply about the yeshiva students, concerning himself with their physical and spiritual welfare and worrying about them as if they were his own sons. When people would ask him why his beard had turned prematurely white, he would explain, "Each of these hairs is for a different boy in the yeshiva." To one questioner, he said, "You have only one son. I have hundreds."

If only we had someone like Reb Yeruchom ZT”L alive today, who could help us know ourselves and enable us to achieve our ultimate purpose here on earth. If only …

May his holy neshamah have an aliyah.


Editors Note: TORCH offers many daily Mussar classes throughout the Houston Area. These Mussar teachings are based on the lessons from the various Mussar Masters of yesteryear, including the teachings of Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe Z"L a devoted lifelong student of Reb Yerucham Levovitz ZT"L.

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