Rav Nosson Levine zt”l – Trip To Reisha (Rzeszow) by Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim Seminary

In April of 2017, the Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim Seminary visited the city of Reisha. Included in their tour was a visit to the Beis Hachaim of Reisha.  Below are videos, pictures and a transcript of the address delivered at the ohel of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l by Ms. Margalit Gita Mitzner, a student of the seminary and a fifth generation descendant of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l. 

Special thanks to the following for making this trip possible:

  • Heritage Seminars and B’ikvot – FOLLOWING by TOUR PLUS
  • Dr. David Bernstein: Historian and Guide, Dean of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies
  • Mrs. Debbie Shohat: Administrator and Educator, Heritage Seminars
  • Rabbi David Katz: Director of MMY

21 views
The Michlelet Mevaseret Yerushalayim Seminary inside the ohel of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l, accompanied by Dr. David Bernstein.

12 views
The reading of the matzeiva by Dr. David Bernstein with students of MMY.

The Kever of Rav Nosson Levine Zt"lAbove: a dated photograph of the
Kever of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l
before the ohel was constructed

Above: An enhanced visual rendition of the Nusach of the Matzeiva of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l

Above: MMY Outside the Ohel of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l 

Below: The transcript of the address delivered at the ohel of Rav Nosson Levine zt”l by Ms. Margalit Gita Mitzner.

Rabbi Nosson Levine ZT”L was born in the Western Ukranian shtetl of Brody in 1858. His background was unique in that he was a Torah scholar of the highest echelon, yet he was also well-educated in secular knowledge. He was a student of his father-in-law, Rav Yitzchak Yehudah Shmelkes, author of the “Beis Yitzchak,” a six-volume set of Halachic Responsa. He also studied at the Brody gymnasium–a four-year university attended by famed scientists and artists during his time.

Rav Nosson had a unique combination of intellect, wit, and personality, which was recognized by the nearby community of Rohatin, who appointed him as Rav of their town in 1896.  He was greeted with respect by both Jews and Christians in Rohatin. His sermons were appreciated by everyone–even by the non-Jewish local officials, who would also attend his Shabbos sermons, which incorporated divrei Torah, worldly topics, current events, and popular humor.

While serving Rohatin, Rabbi Levine advocated for the establishment of high-caliber Jewish schools and Jewish curricula in the public gymnasia to prevent the widespread assimilation that was prevalent in Rohatin at the time. In a speech he delivered to the general Rabbinic Congress in May, 1900, he spoke about the current state of Jewish youth–”How sad is the picture now, in which Jewish students are so poorly educated that they celebrate our holidays while at the same time violating the laws of the Sabbath and the Holy Days. We have to incorporate a suitable curriculum in every gymnasium that would enable Jewish students to withstand the pressure to violate Shabbat and Yom Tov. The Jewish student must first be an exemplary Jew who respects his People, his Torah, and his nationality.”

In 1904, Rabbi Nosson Levine was appointed rabbi of Rzeszow (Reisha). He was chosen by a majority of the Jewish Rzeszow community, despite opposition from the Chassidim in the town. But Rabbi Nosson Levine ultimately proved himself to be a beloved rabbi to all members of the community. The Chassidim soon came to revere him, too, and trusted him as their rabbi. He was well-known for his sharp piskei halacha, his active role in his community, and his hospitality.

In addition to advocating for Jewish education, Rabbi Nosson Levine developed a reputation as the chief posek of this town that we are visiting now–Rzeszow. He received numerous letters with halachic and philosophical questions from many neighboring towns. He compiled them and was planning to publish them as a sefer called “Beis Nediv,” but unfortunately passed away in 1926 before completing the process. His sons later planned to publish the work, but the responsa were sadly lost during WWII. However, some of his drashos were published in various rabbinic anthologies, which have survived both World Wars. Years later, Rav Shmuel Levine, Z”L, one of Rav Nosson’s sons, organized and complied “Beis Nediv,” which was published by Machon Yerushalayim in Jerusalem, Israel.
        
When Rabbi Nosson Levine passed away, his son, Rabbi Aharon Levine, was elected by a majority vote to become the Rabbi of Rzeszow in 1927. Like his father, Rav Aharon Levine was a sought-after Rav who was a scholar both in Torah and worldly subjects, a renowned posek, and an eloquent speaker, who was fluent in both the Polish and German vernacular. He was the first Orthodox Rav to serve, while then a very young man, as an Advisor to the Austrian Emperor in 1913 and was the only  Orthodox Rabbi in his time to be elected as a representative in the Polish Sejm—the Polish Parliament, where he advocated for the interests of all groups of Jews at the time. His oratorical abilities and dignified rabbinic garb and bearing were said to have made a profound impression on the entire government body, and with his impeccable eloquent Polish, he was able to persuade the government to support values of Jewish interest, including the funding of Jewish schools.

Rav Aharon Levine was one of the founding members of Agudas Yisrael and an active participant at the 1st Knessiah Gedola in 1923. He was amongst the great rabbis who strongly advocated for the building and settling of Eretz Yisrael under halachic auspices.

Once he joined the Sejm, Rav Aharon Levine would travel regularly by train between his home town and the capital city of Warsaw. During these very long train rides, he would not waste a moment of time. It was then that he penned one of his famed sefarim, “Hadrash VeHaiyun,” a five-volume commentary on Chumash and the Megillos, which he wrote without sources in front of him. He published many other sefarim including: Mateh Aharon, Birkas Aharon (commentary on Talmud), Davar Beito, and Sheilos U’teshuvos “Avnei Chefetz,” which was lost during WWII.

During the war, Rav Aharon Levine, as a rabbi and communal leader, was on the “most wanted” list of the Nazis, who chased and persecuted him and his family. He was eventually imprisoned by The Nazis in the former house of the Chofetz Chaim in Radin, which had been converted to a jail. While some of his children were able to escape Poland and survive the war, sadly, he was found in hiding and killed by the Ukrainians, alongside his brother, Rav Yechezkel Levine, HY”D. His Rebbetzin, Doba, HY”D, was taken to Belzec with their daughter, Priva, and ultimately perished. As Rav Aharon did not have a gravesite, his son, Rabbi Dr. Isaac Lewin, erected a plaque in his memory, which was placed in the Ohel where his father, Rav Nosson Levine, is buried.

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Chazal say that when one relays Divrei Torah once uttered by someone who is no longer alive, the lips of the Niftar utter the words along with the speaker. Thus, it is a remarkable opportunity for me today, as a fifth generation direct descendant of Rav Nosson Levine ZT”L, to relay a message applicable to our Heritage Tour from Rav Nosson Levine at the very site of his kever.
 
In the Sefer Hadrash VeHaiyun, Rav Aharon Levine, commenting on a pasuk in Parshas Yisro, wrote in the name of his father, Rav Nosson, a drush on the 4 pesukim in the Torah that begin with the word “Atem.”

These four pesukim, according to Rav Nosson Levine, chronicle the history of the Jewish people over time and portray a poignant message relevant for all of us on this tour.

The first Pasuk alludes to the lowest point of our history—a time we will be commemorating very soon at the Pesach Seder.

אתם קחו לכם תבן מאשר תמצאו. שמות ה: יא

Take the straw from wherever you can find it.

In response to Moshe’s pleas on behalf of his fellow Jews, who were embittered by the back-breaking work imposed by the cruel Egyptians, Pharoah responds: “You Jews have too much time on your hands… Not only will you have to build bricks, but you will now need to go out and find the straw to build the bricks.” This was the lowest point of the enslavement when we suffered under Egyptian oppression.

Then comes the 2nd Atem from Parshas Yisro:

אתם ראיתם אשר עשיתי למצרים.  שמות יט:ד

By contrast, this “Atem” represents the pinnacle of our history as a nation—a time when we witnessed miracles of an extraordinary nature—Yitzias Mitrayim and Kreias Yam Suf—miracles so great that the nations of the world also marveled over Hashem’s wonders.
But what happened after that? Have we seen miracles of such a magnificent nature ever again?

It seems that after that 2nd point in our history, “Olam K’minhago Noheg”—nature went back to normal, and there were no miracles of that great magnitude ever again.

But then comes the “Atem #3” to tell us that we are wrong. Hashem indeed has performed miracles for us that are, in actuality, even greater than the miracles of Yetzias Mitzrayim and Krias Yam Suf when the forces of nature were disrupted.

אתם נצבים היום כולכם.  דברים כט 

This 3rd Atem is telling us that the simple fact that we are “Nitavim”–standing here today is an even bigger miracle than all of the miracles of the past. After generations of nations have tried to persecute us, we still stand a strong and vibrant nation. We are survivors! 
In the words of Rav Nosson cited by Rav Aharon:

העם הקטן והנדכא הזה, יחדש בכל עת כנשר נעוריו ויעמדו כנד נגד משברי וגלי הזמן, אשר יעברו עליו לשטפו ולא יכלו לו

How fitting a message this is today, as we come to Atem #4:

אתם עדי נאום ה’.  ישעיהו מג:י

This pasuk literally speaks to us today. All of us standing here today are witnesses to this full chronicle of history—that Hashem has performed the most magnificent of all miracles by preserving us as a people.

The fact that we can all take this Heritage tour from Israel and back and see the sites where we once flourished as a nation but then suffered terribly and are here again, standing strong is the greatest testament to Hashem’s greatest miracles!

May the memories of Rav Nosson Levine ZT”L and Rav Aharon Levine, Hashem Yikom Damo, be a zchus for all of us, and may we continue to witness ongoing miracles of continuity of this nature!

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Links of interest relating to Rav Nosson Levine zt”l
(tip – Click on any link below and then hold down the Ctrl key and press the F key. A text box will appear in the top right of the browser. Enter “Lewin” in the text box and scroll down to easily find references to Rav Nosson Levine.)

  1. The History of the Jews of Rzeszow –  The Rabbis of the City
  2. The Rohatyn Way by Dr. Isaac Lewenter, New York – (Scroll down to section 3)
  3. A History of the Jews of Rohatyn
  4. The History of the Jews of Rzeszow
  5. My Grandfather Rabbi Nathan Lewin by Rabbi Dr. Isaac Levin of New York (scroll down to get to the article)
  6. On the History of “Mizrachi” in Rzeszow