An Understated Giant
January 12, 2023
Tribute to Rav Yisroel Aharon Lebovics ZT”L
The Lakewood community and the Torah world at large lost an understated giant on Sunday with the petirah Rav Yisroel Aharon Lebovics zt”l, a talmid chacham of immense magnitude, a quiet baal chessed, a man whose every interaction left an indelible impression on those fortunate enough to know him.
R’ Yisroel Aharon not only lived for Torah; he lived through it. While many strive to spend their days learning Torah and performing mitzvos, he did it in practice, with limud Torah and gemilas chassadim encompassing every aspect of his life.
A life of Torah
Born and raised in Switzerland, R’ Yisroel Aharon learned under the esteemed tutelage of Rav Yitzchak Koppelman before embarking to Eretz Yisrael to study under Rav Shach in Ponovezh, with whom he forged a deep kesher and learned with b’chavrusa. Arriving on US shores in 1978, R’ Yisroel Aharon enrolled in Bais Medrash Govoha, where he blossomed into a ben Torah par excellence and nurtured a close relationship with the mashgiach, Rav Nosson Wachtfogel, with whom he maintained a deep and personal relationship until the mashgiach’s petirah in 1998.
R’ Yisroel Aharon continued establishing links to gedolei Torah for the rest of his life, his primary objective being to gain from his proximity to greatness. Over time, numerous gedolim and rabbanim became part and parcel of his life and many of them visited his home and held daily sedarim with him.
R’ Yisroel Aharon’s home was inside the walls of the beis midrash; his residence on Lawrence Avenue was but a temporary dwelling in which to raise a family and recharge so he could once against return to the koslei beis midrash.
His chavivus for Torah and mitzvos was so deep and comprehensive that properly conveying it is a nearly impossible task.
“From the moment he woke up until he closed his eyes at night, nothing inhabited his mind other than learning more Torah, davening, and performing mitzvos,” his daughter told this writer.
In his unquenchable thirst for yedias haTorah, R’ Yisroel Aharon received semichah on daled chelkei Shulchan Aruch from a staggering 17 different batei dinin in Eretz Yisrael—a demonstration not only of his Torah prowess, but also of his constant fight against complacency in his Torah growth.
Being makir the tov
Though he repelled all efforts to be mechabed him, R’ Yisroel Aharon nevertheless gained almost legendary status for his astonishing level of hakaras hatov to those who did him a favor, no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential.
“He was constantly doing for others but refused to be recognized for his chessed,” Rabbi Sadya Grama, a neighbor of R’ Yisroel Aharon for more than two decades, says. “Yet if someone else did a favor for him, he would never forget it, and when something positive occurred because of that favor, even if it was indirectly connected to it, he would remind you of it—even many years later.”
R’ Yisroel Aharon’s family merited to see this attribute of ceaseless hakaras hatov on countless occasions. Before making kiddush each Friday night, their husband and father would review the past week and openly thank Hashem for every divine kindness he’d experienced; not a single instance of hashgachah pratis and tovas Hashem was taken for granted.
A familiar scene would play out each Sukkos, as at each seudah R’ Yisroel Aharon would hearken back to the days of his youth in Switzerland, when prohibitive taxes on sukkahs would force the kehillah to use a communal sukkah. He would juxtapose that experience with his contemporary circumstances, thanking Hashem for providing him with a sukkah of his own.
When a Lebovics family member suffered a severe burn some 20 years ago, R’ Yisroel Aharon and his wife had to celebrate Pesach at a burn center in Livingston, New Jersey as they cared for their child. On each subsequent Pesach, R’ Yisroel Aharon would thank Hashem for enabling him to make the Sedarim at the hospital and for now allowing him to make the Sedarim at home.
A life of shleimus
R’ Grama says his late neighbor had an unparalleled combination of greatness in Torah, avodah, and gemilas chassadim.
“He was the embodiment of a ben Torah, a prime example of being misavak ba’afar ragleihem shel tzaddikim, and a gomel chessed beyond what anyone knows, and probably will ever know,” R’ Grama says.
“Every week, he would print out divrei Torah pamphlets and distribute them in Kol Shimshon, simply to be mezakeh the rabbim. And there are so many such examples.”
The family relates that on Purim their father would often be gifted platters and showered with thanks from seemingly random strangers. They weren’t strangers at all, but rather individuals and families that he had helped throughout the year in various ways—all without the knowledge of his own family. When questioned by his children about what chessed he had performed for them, R’ Yisroel Aharon would simply brush it aside and change the topic of conversation.
It was this devotion to others that was the first thing noticed upon R’ Yisroel Aharon’s petirah. When he rose from his bed at 3:30 a.m. each morning, R’ Yisroel Aharon would wash negel vasser and then place a bowl with a cup filled with water at his wife’s bedside so she could wash her hands immediately upon waking.
On Sunday morning, Mrs. Rivky Lebovics woke at 4:20 a.m. She noticed that her husband had left the room, but the negel vasser that he placed for her each morning was nowhere to be found. Immediately, she knew something was wrong. Leaving the room to investigate, she found her husband, who had collapsed. In death, as in life, the difference he made was immediately recognizable.
Ultimately, what R’ Yisroel Aharon wished for most was the arrival of Mashiach and a return to our home in Eretz Yisrael. Being metzapeh l’yeshuah was an integral part of who he was, and he often encouraged his children to perform mitzvosto hasten the Geulah.
Following his levayah at Bais Medrash Govoha, the aron was flown to Eretz Yisrael where a second levayah was held, followed by kevurah on Har Hazeisim. Upon completion of the kevurah, R’ Yisroel Aharon’s son texted the ultimate nechamah to family members who had remained in America: “Tatty is finally home.”
“From the moment he woke up until he closed his eyes at night, nothing inhabited his mind other than learning more Torah, davening, and performing mitzvos”