The news this week that Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz’s house was demolished saddened me, as it brought a rush of memories. I remember the first time I saw him. Rav Eliezer Sorotzkin of Lev L’Achim brought me to his home. But before we entered, Rabbi Sorotzkin showed me a small window and suggested that I look inside before entering. It was good advice. Peering through that side window into his room was like looking back in time into the room of a Litvishe rov in a small shtetel.
There was an aura about him, an air of complete tranquility that enveloped him. He sat there so calmly, a tall Litvishe yarmulka perched on his head, learning a blatt Gemara as if there was nothing else going on anywhere. It was clear that this was his only reality. He was a person at peace.
The room was old, the furniture was old, and he was old, but at the same time, he was so fresh and vibrant. I stood by that small window transfixed by the image of simplicity and greatness fused together.
“Come,” Rabbi Sorotzkin said. “Let’s go in.”
It was like waking from a dream. I felt like I was benefiting from Rav Michel Yehudah merely by simply standing there and studying him in his most natural pose.
When the father is home, even if he is learning in his study, the family feels more secure and behaves better. He is there if they need him. They feel his presence and his strength.
Rav Michel Yehudah was the father of bnei Torah. The methods of chinuch that have now become popular – love, acceptance and warmth – are methods he espoused many decades ago. He delivered his daily shiur well into his old age, bringing his ga’onus and penetrating lomdus to his “tenth grade shteller,” giving young teenagers new dimensions in Torah. He made himself available to his people, sitting in his humble room, where bnei Torah of all ages came to speak to him. Some sought emotional support, while others needed advice.
I last saw Rav Michel Yehudah a short time before his petirah. I was taking my son Ari, who was soon to be bar mitzvah, for a brocha. When we came, Rav Michel Yehudah was delivering a blatt shiur to a minyan of people, as he did every day since he stopped saying his daily shiur in yeshiva.
As we waited, I stood by that small window, the same one I had looked through prior to my first visit, and watched a rebbi teaching talmidim. Then they opened the door and allowed us to join him in davening Mincha. I can’t describe the feeling of being in that room and davening with the great gadol.
Alas, that window is no more. That room is gone. The next generation will never see it, never be able to go there and stand in the room where greatness was personified. They will never be able to stand at that window and imagine Rav Michel Yehudah sitting there, learning and teaching Torah, dispensing advice, direction and chizuk.
Rav Michel Yehudah Lefkowitz personified gadlus in his generation. His Torah lives on and his maasim tovim live on. The example he set and the talmidim he cultivated and nurtured live on. His memory lives on. As we commemorate his twelfth yahrtzeit this week, let us remember that this world and everything in it is temporal, but the Torah that we study, observe and support is eternal.