Though I would like “ordinary individuals” to be the primary focus of this blog, I’m posting the following story about R. Aryeh Levine (1885-1969) because it illustrates how far we must go to love one another. I thought this idea would be most appropriate on day when we mourn the tragic consequences of the lack of this very love.
A story about R. Aryeh Levine, a saintly rabbi who lived in Jerusalem in the mid twentieth century, shows how a virtuoso at loving others handled . . . a difficult case. R. Aryeh gravitated toward the neglected and forgotten. Thus, sometime in the 1930s he became the self-appointed chaplain for Jerusalem’s central prison. This was during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine, and gradually the prison began to fill with Jewish freedom-fighters who were trying to outs the British. In spite of the fact that he was far from being a “political animal,” R. Aryeh ministered to these convicts with such love and solicitude that he became known as the rabbi of the underground.
This was not a politically popular position in the eyes of the most Orthodox community, who looked askance at the various underground movements. One rabbi who vociferously opposed R. Aryeh was R. AB. He was a man of unbending principles and as such could make no peace with the secular state and had little regard for those who fought to bring it into existence. For him, none of the Torah’s standards could ever be compromised. Every Friday night, R. AB would protest the violation of Shabbos at a movie theater situated on the border of his neighborhood, and every Friday night he would end up in jail.
During one of R. AB’s prison stays, R. Aryeh approached him with Kosher food from his family. R. AB rose from his cot, turned his back to R. Aryeh, and cried, “I do not want to look at you. You have associated yourself with them, you are as wicked as they, and it is forbidden to look in the face of a wicked person.”
R. Aryeh quietly walked away. Later he told another rabbi, “Today I encountered a man of such personal integrity that he would not compromise his principles even for his own personal advantage.”
This is how to love your neighbor.
– Tzipporah Heller, Let’s Face It: The Eight Essential Challenges of Living