Photo Credit: Feldheim Publishers

Title: Rav Shlomo Leib Brevda: The Life and Teachings of an American-Born Gadol
By: Anonymous
Feldheim Publishers



Rav Shlomo Leib Brevda: The Life and Teachings of an American-Born Gadol reads partially as a biography and partially as a lesson plan for life. As someone who attended Rabbi Shlomo Brevda’s lectures in person, I am saddened yet privileged to be writing a review of the memoir of this gadol of our generation. Rabbi Brevda wrote numerous seforim, gave over thousands of shiurim and was a rebbi to Jews from all walks of life. Rabbi Brevda inflected his divrei Torah with stories and humor; he also had a sharp sense for knowing where his audience was holding. He was just as comfortable speaking at kiruv programs as he was speaking at a beis medrash. All Rabbi Brevda wanted in life was for his words to be of practical benefit; he wanted to draw the Jewish people closer to G-d. Rabbi Brevda did just that through the various leadership positions he held in life.

Once Rabbi Brevda observed a bunch of boys about to board a bus to sleepaway camp, noting all the nosh and sports equipment they had brought along. He went over to them and gave them words of encouragement and wished them a good summer. After they had departed, only then did he observe with distaste the materialism and excess of America. While Rabbi Brevda was born in America, he lived in Israel for much of his life, where he pick up on a sense of a disdain for the gashmius of gallus America from his rebbi, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, zt”l, mashgiach of Mir. The above story demonstrates his ahavas Yisroel, in that he knew what to say, when to say it, and who to say it to.

Rabbi Brevda joined the Mir yeshiva when it came to America from Shanghai in the post-War years. The American boys who learned under Reb Chatzkel thought that the yeshiva world was the minority, that most people believed that materialism was the ikkur. Reb Chatzkel told them that when someone passes away, no one stands over the grave marveling at the person’s wealth. They talk about the person’s acts of kindness. This is emes; this is what you take with you. Rabbi Brevda always strove for truth.

He was a follower of the Vilna Gaon and spent much time authenticating and disseminating his works. Many customs, writings and teachings were brought down by the Gra, but many have also been lost. Rabbi Brevda sought to find, verify and clarify the writings he found. For example, the Vilna Gaon’s commentary on Mesilas Yesharim was actually a combination of two books that were accidentally published together. One sentence did not flow to the next. Rabbi Brevda found the two books from a 19th Century printing and reconciled the differences. The Gra’s holy work was now accessible to a new generation.

The fact that some of Rabbi Brevda’s followers turned to chassidus did not bother him; in fact, he even encouraged them. He said that one can learn from everyone. There is no one right way.

When Rabbi Brevda went on to learn in Israel in the 1950s, he became close to Rabbi Avrohom Yeshaya Karelitz, the Chazon Ish, even traveling four hours each way to seek his advice. He called the Chazon Ish and Rabbi Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik, the Brisker Rav, his Urim V’Tumim. He would listen to whatever they told him. However, the words of Reb Chatzkel penetrated his heart and transformed him.

As was the case with his strong adherence to the teachings of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Brevda strove for accuracy. He never wanted anything about him to be exaggerated. This book completes this task. Rabbi Brevda faced many challenges with the understanding and recognition that we have to accept whatever comes our way with happiness and joy.

Rabbi Brevda was told by Reb Chatzkel not to get involved with mentally challenged people. Despite helping a wide range of individuals, each with his own “pekel,” for whatever reason, daas Torah said to stay away from this area, so Rabbi Brevda avoided it. However, there was one mentally disturbed man Rabbi Brevda tried to help who ended up haranguing and harassing him for many years. Rabbi Brevda took this as a lesson to listen to his rabbonim.

Throughout his life, Rabbi Brevda suffered from numerous medical challenges; some of these tekufas are the subject of their own chapter in this book and a new chapter in the Rav’s life. For example, in the late 1960s, Rabbi Brevda moved from Israel to England for what ended up being a number of years to treat his kidney stones. Reb Chatzkel told to Rabbi Brevda to move his whole family with him. The words of his rebbi were prophetic as Rabbi Brevda’s kidney stone issue re-emerged, thus necessitating his staying in England much longer than expected. After a few years, the rav and his family moved back to Eretz Yisroel.

Rav Shach advised Rabbi Brevda to go to America in the early 1990s for treatment of another medical aliment, where he ended up living for the remainder of his life. He shopped at the kosher fish department in ShopRite, where my father works. My father would take me to Young Israel of Midwood to hear Rabbi Brevda speak. (Today, Rabbi Brevda’s lectures are played in the shul).

On Shabbos, Rabbi Brevda would cut his challah into small pieces and take small bites. This was the practice of Reb Chatzkel, who was afraid that after eating so little on Friday he would “devour” the Friday night meal. This practical lesson is a parable for Rabbi Brevda’s mussar: he didn’t want anyone to take on everything all at once. Rather, we can become better people through small steps. On prayer, Rabbi Brevda said that one should come to shul fifteen minutes early: learn mussar for 10 minutes and prepare for five. From Baruch She’amar onward, try to keep your eyes on your siddur for at least 10 minutes. Similarly, Rabbi Brevda would give tailor-made advice: some people were told to move to Eretz Yisrael to live amongst Torah scholars; others were told to remain in remote communities with little Torah presence; some were told to go to kollel while others were told to pursue a profession but set aside time for Torah. Rabbi Brevda even paid the kollel stipend of at least one avreich.

In reading about the ways of Rabbi Shlomo Brevda, we can be inspired by him, but only if we act on this inspiration. He felt the main benefit of his lectures was by listening to them carefully. I recall the rav speaking in slow and measured manner. If people were writing down what he was saying the whole time and not listening well, he sped up his words so they would stop writing and listen.

Rabbi Brevda was a fascinating storyteller. When he related the story of yetzias Mitzrayim on Seder night one felt as if he were crossing the Yam Suf at that very moment. When Rabbi Brevda was a boy, his father, Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok, would often tell him the story of akeidas Yitzchok, among other parsha stories. When Rabbi Moshe Yitzchok got to the part where Avraham Avinu is about to shecht his son Yitzchok, young Shlomo would clasp his hands to his ears in fright.

In a lecture to Lakewood East bachurim on Chol Hamoed Sukkos 2009, Rabbi Brevda told those gathered that Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin told his talmidim that if they ever had to close their gemarahs to do something else, they should say every few minutes, “When am I coming back?!” This was Rabbi Brevda; he gave so much of his time for others but also developed many chiddushim on the Gemarah, some of which appear in his sefer Igeros Shlomo, as well as in his commentaries on the Gra and his seforim on the Yomim Tovim.

On the occasion of Rabbi Brevda’s 10th yarhtzeit, Rabbi Boruch Gradon shared with Mishpacha Magazine that Rabbi Brevda was sometimes so weak that Rabbi Gradon literally had to drag the rav into a shiur. However, Rabbi Brevda’s strength soon returned. “Somehow, once he began the shiur, his strength would return. A man who moments earlier could barely walk was suddenly suffused with energy.” This author saw something similar in Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv at his Shabbos afternoon shiur.

Rabbi Brevda was a gabbai tzedakah, often taking on personally the financial obligations of the needy. Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed through his hands to orphans, widows, rabbis and others in need of help. But he never kept a penny for himself. He would have liked to do more in this area, but Reb Chatzkel told him that the main thing he should focus on is spreading spirituality.

When Rabbi Brevda passed away, he came to a family member in a dream to say that the Chevra Kadisha had not been paid. When the family looked into the matter, they discovered that while the bank transfer was initiated, it had not gone through. As the passuk in Mishlei states: “No wrong shall be caused for the tzadik” (12:21).

In this book, we also see the stories of Rabbi Brevda’s mentors and predecessors. During the Sinai campaign, Rabbi Brevda was at a wedding in Meah Shearim when rockets started firing down on the area. The guests dove under the tables. Rabbi Aharon Kotler, who was present at the reception, cried: “Father in Heaven! I want to live! I want to serve you! I want to learn your Torah!” The wedding party emerged unscathed.

Rabbi Brevda was a bridge across generations, utilizing the lessons of his rebbeim and parents to his students and family. At Rabbi Brevda’s levaya, Rabbi Yitzchok Ezrachi said that he met Rabbi Brevda many times, and Rabbi Brevda showered him with berachos each time. In his lifetime, Rabbi Brevda shared the derech Hashem with thousands of people. Hopefully, by reading the stories and teachings of Rabbi Brevda we can forge ahead on the path of Torah and mitzvos.

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