Tuesday, March 27, 2007
How the Prisoners Saved Their Rabbi’s Daughter
Reb Aryeh is not known for Negina, but his life was certainly a Great Song to the One Above. Last year’s post, Tzaddik of Yerushalayim - in Our Time, can be found here.
The following has been adapted and excerpted from an article by Dovid Rosoff, author of Land of Our Heritage, Safed: The Mystical City, The Tefillin Handbook, and When Heaven Touches Earth. It appears on the Jewish Mag website.
In 1931 the British authorities requested that the Chief Rabbi appoint a prison chaplain who would visit the captives on Shabbos. Rav Kook turned to Rav Aryeh Levin, who worked as the supervisor in the Eitz Chaim Talmud Torah, and asked him to take the position. Rav Aryeh accepted, on the condition that he would not receive any compensation for his time. Every Shabbos morning Rav Aryeh walked from his house in Mishkenos to the Russian Compound, where the main Jerusalem prison was located. He prayed together with the prisoners, sat and talked with each one, acted as an emissary between them and their families, and generally filled the vacuum in their lives. He never tried to force his religious values on them; at most he gave them a Book of Psalms to read. The inmates were captivated by his genuine warmth and sincerity, and the honor and respect with which he treated them.
The most heartbreaking situation he encountered was the predicament of the prisoners that were condemned to death. Rav Aryeh made every effort to appeal the sentences and reduce the punishment. Once he even threw himself in front of the High Commissioner’s moving limousine in order to present his petition to him. Concerning those he could not save, like Dov Groner, Moshe Barzani, and Meir Feinstein, Rav Aryeh said: “None of us has any idea how high is the spiritual rank of these martyrs.”
Mattityahu Shmuelevitz, whose death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, wrote in a letter to a friend: “Yet there is one person in particular to whom I remain grateful first and foremost; a dear, precious Jew about whom you told me nothing; but it was he who stormed heaven and earth for me; and more important - it was he who brought me closer to my Maker in those fateful days... He left and we remained in the prison. He couldn’t take us with him out into the free world, but he always brought the outside world in to us.”
Very often, we read or hear stories of how a great Rabbi or Chassidic Rebbe foresaw what would happen to one of his followers, or how he saved him from a great distance in space or time. But it is rare indeed to read about the opposite – how the followers actually helped their mentor. But Rav Aryeh Levin merited such aid, as the following indicates.
Saving Their Rabbi’s Daughter from Paralysis
SHABBOS IN Jerusalem’s central prison was as one would have expected. There was happy anticipation in the air as the prisoners waited for the arrival of Rav Aryeh Levin, who would bring some light and hope into their otherwise drab existence. Rav Levin arrived on time for his regular weekly visit. As usual, he had the prisoners join in Shacharis (the morning prayer service); and as usual, when the time came, he began reading the weekly portion from the Sefer Torah (scroll).
As he was in the middle of the Torah reading, one of the Arab guards approached and asked him to come outside, as there were people waiting for him. Rav Aryeh, however, had no wish to interrupt the reading and motioned to the guard to be so kind as to wait until he was finished.
A few minutes passed by and once again the guard appeared with the same request. Once more, though, the rabbi motioned to him to wait until he finished reading from the Sefer Torah. Soon, however, the captain of the guard himself came, and asked Rav Levin to accompany him. There could be no further doubt: something quite serious must be afoot. Rav Aryeh asked one of the inmates to continue the reading, and he left the cell with the captain of the guard.
Once outside, he saw his son-in-law waiting for him at the prison entrance. In his heart he knew at once that some accident had occurred. However, he did not utter a word, and with the wisdom of silence between them they set off by foot to the Sha'arei Chessed neighborhood, where his married daughter lived.
As they reached his daughter’s home, Rav Aryeh saw members of the family and medical doctors gathered there. It was then that he learned the news: his daughter had been stricken by paralysis. The only comfort the doctors could give him was that in their opinion, her total incapacitation would likely give way to partial paralysis over the course of time, and perhaps in a number of years she would recover completely. After an emotional meeting with his daughter, he reminded members of the family that “the rescuing help of the L-rd can come in the twinkling of an eye.”
That night, when Shabbos was over, the Arab guard from the prison knocked at his door. Burning with curiosity, the inmates at the jail had bribed him to go to Rav Levin’s home and find out the reason for his sudden departure. Rav Aryeh explained what had happened and told them not to worry.
The next Shabbos the prisoners flocked around him and asked how his daughter was. “As well as can be expected,” he said emotionally.
During the Torah reading, an unusual thing occurred during the Mi Sheberach (“may he be blessed”) prayer recited after each of the seven aliyos, in which one asks the L-rd to bless and protect the man just called to the Torah. It is customary that the man called to the Torah pledges a sum to charity.
As Rav Aryeh duly recited the Mi Sheberach for the first prisoner called to the Torah, he was taken by surprise to hear the man announce that he was pledging a day of his life for the recovery of the good rabbi’s daughter. When the time came for the Mi Sheberach of the second called, he announced that he forfeited a week of his life for the sake of the sick woman. The third man called pledged a month of his lifespan; and so it went. At last it was the turn of the seventh man, Dov Tamari, who later became a professor at the Technion in Haifa.
“What is our life in prison worth,” he cried, “compared to our rabbi’s anguish? I pledge all the remaining days of my life to the complete recovery of our rabbi’s daughter!”
Rav Aryeh looked at the young man and burst into tears. He was moved beyond words to see how devoted these men were to him and how much affection they bore him. Unable to continue with the prayer service, he shook hands warmly with every single one of the inmates and went straight home.
That evening, after Shabbos, members of his family came to tell him that his daughter was beginning to show signs of recovery: she had started to move some limbs. A few days went by, and her health returned completely, in utter contradiction to the medical prognosis, which predicted a long period of illness and convalescence.
In 1965 (5725), four years before his passing, Rav Levin was honored at a ceremony assembled by the veteran underground resistance fighters from the Mandate period. Timed to take place on his eightieth birthday, it was held in the courtyard of the old central prison in the Russian Compound.
Rav Aryeh stood up to speak. “The importance of this assembly is that it has brought friends together. Moreover, this good meeting is taking place on the other side of the prison bars...It particularly makes my heart glad to see the families of the prisoners, especially the little children, since I have always loved small children.”
Then he added, “I do not know if I shall be privileged to be with you again like this. All I ask of you is this: Tell your children: There was an old Jew in Jerusalem who loved us so very much!” With that he burst into tears, and among the thousands of people there, not a dry eye was to be found.
Zechuso yagein Aleinu – May Reb Aryeh’s merits protect us!
A freilicha and and koshera Pesach mit zeis.