The Life of Rabbi Yehuda Zev Leibowitz
Date of Passing: 27-Elul. Rebbe Yehuda Zev Leibowitz of saintly and blessed memory was a hidden tzaddik whose life was wrapped in mystery; he was the spiritual guide of Rabbi Arush...
Translated by Chana Cohen
The holy tzaddik Rabbi Yehuda Zev Leibowitz, ob’m, teacher and spiritual guide of Rabbi Shalom Arush Shlita, passed away on 27 Elul, 5770. This unique article tells about important events in his lifetime, some of his actions and the way he conducted himself.
To attempt to put the mysterious figure of the genius and tzaddik R’ Yehuda Zev Leibowitz down on paper is a very difficult undertaking. Taking the packed chapters of this holy and righteous man’s life and condensing them into a short article is nearly impossible. His life was made up solely of devotion to the Glory of Heaven, and he was barely connected to This World at all. He endured plenty of illness and suffering as well, which alone have the power to uplift and sanctify one who bears them. He was steeped in the hidden worlds of Torah and service of G-d on levels which have no boundaries and cannot be measured, for how can we put boundaries around or measure something which is way above and beyond our understanding and capacity?!
What is more, all of his life he took great pains to hide his awesome knowledge of both the revealed and hidden Torah. He also greatly concealed the way he detached himself from worldly pleasures, as well as his exceptional righteousness. All of this makes writing about him all the more difficult.
Rebbe Yehuda Zev would try to lower his stature in front of the masses. He wished to appear before them as a simple man, so that they would distance themselves from him. He did everything in his power to oust from his circles any curious onlookers or others who attempted to push their way in. However, when he was with the spiritual greats of Israel, he would reveal himself and open before them a window into his world. He did this through the letters he exchanged with them which were full of his great and continuous love for Torah, and during his visits with them. Then the purest of pearls would fall from his lips, one after the next, ideas spanning the entire breadth and depth of the Talmud.
In front of a handful of people who assisted R’ Yehuda Zev and devoted themselves to him, who helped and supported him through his illness and in his old age, he would reveal some of his greatness. However, he did it in a manner of revealing a small amount and concealing double. Rav Aharon Stern Shlita, may he be remembered for the good, accompanied R’ Yehuda Zev for decades. Particularly in the last decade of R’ Yehuda Zev’s life, Rav Aharon Stern did not budge from his side. Most of the holy stories in the article below are his personal testimony of things that he saw with his own eyes and heard with his own ears.
It is noteworthy to mention that even after R’ Yehuda Zev was confined to his bed, one could sense that despite being engulfed in suffering and feeling very weak, and with all of the medical and orthopedic equipment surrounding him, he still recited blessings and prayers in a melodious voice and with the vitality of a young man within the walls of a yeshiva (Orthodox Jewish study hall), and at all times he was immersed in thoughts of learning and other holy thoughts. The writer of the article attests: “I remember once when I was in his bedroom, for a few moments I walked with my hands behind my back. However, R’ Yehuda Zev, whose entire being was simplicity and humility, couldn’t stand things like that. He mentioned to me that he didn’t seek people who pace with their hands behind their back, for it is a sort of vanity and an act of importance which wasn’t fitting for the nature of the house and the atmosphere… if this was the atmosphere in his house, and I would write endlessly about it on the front pages of the newspapers and talk about his greatness in public, it wouldn’t even begin to describe the countenance of a man whose entire being radiated simplicity and innocence, so much so that as a person standing on the other side you could not begin to imagine who it was…”
In His Youth
R’ Yehuda Zev was born on 6 Tishrei, 5682/October 8, 1921 in the city of Orshua. At the time of his birth, the Admor (Chassidic leader) of Satmar of blessed memory served as Rabbinical leader of the city. R’ Yehuda Zev’s father, R’ Yechiel Tzvi, was known as “The Rebbe from Orshua”, and eventually served as Rabbinical leader of the town as well. R’ Yehuda Zev’s father was his first teacher of both the revealed and the hidden Torah. R’ Yehuda Zev wrote many ideas and discourses concerning the hidden Torah which were relayed to him by his father. Rav Yoel Hirshfong of blessed memory later testified to this in a letter which he wrote to R’ Yehuda Zev, as follows: “My beloved friend, the holy and pious Rabbi, son of the holy one, R’ Yehuda Zev Leibowitz”. The holy Rebbe Yissachar Dov of Kamarna of blessed memory wrote about R’ Yechiel Tzvi in a letter to R’ Yehuda Zev as well: “I remember his holy father R’ Yechiel Tzvi, may G-d avenge his blood and may his memory be blessed, who was known for his self-sacrifice, his Torah knowledge and his fear of heaven, and that which is famous doesn’t need to be proven.”
When R’ Yehuda Zev grew older, he was sent to learn in the city of Margaretten, in the study hall of the Rav of Margaretten ob’m. He made great strides in his learning, and also furthered his learning under Rav Yudel Greenwald ob’m in Sekelhid. After that, he continued his learning in Satmar, in the court of his most prominent teacher, the holy Rebbe Yoel of Satmar ob’m. R’ Yehuda Zev’s father also moved to Satmar at this point, where he served as a teacher in the city, and his righteous wife ran a grocery store in order to contribute to the family finances. At this point R’ Yehuda Zev was in close proximity to his parents and his beloved Rebbe, whom he served with total dedication.
The following story illustrates the warm and close relationship between R’ Yehuda Zev and the Satmar Rebbe, Rebbe Yoel Teitelbaum, ob’m. One Purim, after having a little wine, he approached the Satmar Rebbe and requested his permission to speak. The Rebbe acquiesced and R’ Yehuda Zev said, “The name Yoel spells out the first letters of the verse ‘Hashem is with me, I shall not fear’ (Psalms, 118:6), as well as the expression, ‘May you merit lengthy years and blessed days.’ The Satmar Rebbe greatly enjoyed these clever acronyms, and for many years whenever he would meet R’ Yehuda Zev, he would proudly remind him of the acronyms of his youth.
The Years of Rage
During the Holocaust, R’ Yehuda Zev was exiled to the concentration camps where he endured hell on earth. Though the Nazis left his body shattered, they couldn’t break his strong spirit. His brother related that they had arrived in the concentration camp as a group of three hundred young men from Satmar, and by the end of the war only thirty men out of the original group had survived. R’ Yehuda Zev was known to everyone in the camp as, “The one who recites Kaddish (memorial prayer for the deceased)”, for amidst all the horror, when he would see the wagons transporting the bodies of those who were killed to burial, he would run after the wagons and recite the Kaddish in a loud and passionate voice to uplift their souls.
R’ Yehuda Zev related the following to Rav Stern: In the city where he lived in Hungary, there was a non-Jewish orphan boy named Ivan. He was a poor and neglected child who became the punching bag for the city children. They would beat him up and humiliate him in every possible way. He roamed the streets in ragged clothing, and the only one who took mercy on him, took him into his home and gave him food, drink, and clothing was R’ Yechiel Tzvi (R’ Yehuda Zev’s father). When his own children pressed him for an explanation of his actions, he answered indirectly by quoting the verse, “Send forth your bread upon the water, for after many days you will find it,” (Ecclesiastes 11:1). Years later, when R’ Yehuda Zev was in the concentration camp, this same Ivan was in charge of the kitchen. He recalled the kindness that R’ Yehuda Zev’s father had shown him in his youth, and he would smuggle out a small amount of food and water for R’ Yehuda Zev. This enabled R’ Yehuda Zev to survive the war. Later R’ Yehuda Zev would praise his father’s foresight.
At the end of the war, shattered and in pain, when all that was left of his family were one brother and two sisters, R’ Yehuda Zev sailed on an illegal immigration ship headed for Israel. As soon as they reached the shores, they were taken to Cyprus and detained there. After a short stay they were allowed into Israel. When R’ Yehuda Zev arrived in Israel and disembarked from the ship, he was shocked to see the righteous and holy R’ Yosef Voltoch and the Rebbe of Kamarna ob’m waiting for him beside the gangplank with great joy. When R’ Yehuda Zev related this to Rav Stern, he wondered how they had known that R’ Yehuda Zev was arriving in Israel. R’ Yehuda Zev responded that he too was very surprised, and it seems likely that Elijah the Prophet revealed it to them…
- Read about Rav Yehuda Zev’s Will. Anyone who follows it is promised to be saved from the birth pangs of Mashiach and the War of Gog U’Magog!
- Following Rav Yehuda Zev’s Will gives practical example of how we can implement his advice. Rabbi Yehuda Zev and Our Kids explains how children can follow his Will also!
- Read Rabbi Leibowitz’s message for all of us in these turbulent times in No One Left Behind.
This holy article should be an elevation to the soul of Bracha Katon bas Sara, may her memory be blessed tntzb”h.