Today my family and I joined Rabbi Benji Levene touring the neighbourhoods of Nachlaot in Jerusalem. Benji is R’ Aryeh Levene’s grandson and although raised in the US Benji spent many summers living with his Grandfather. The tour recreates the atmosphere of those old neighbourhoods from several decades ago, and more importantly as much as it is a tour, it is an educational experience.
We heard many beautiful stories, and there was even a lilt of frustration in some of them. This comes from a feeling that many of these stories are subtly edited later by others to suit a certain religious reality in 2014. What Benji saw with his own eyes as simple acts of kindness, have taken on spiritual and ultra-religious proportions. Without saying it out right, he seemed to suggest that this dilutes the greatness of R’ Aryeh and his peers rather than amplify it.
I shall share one simple story that summed up so much of R’ Aryeh’s outlook.
Benji tells of an instance during which R’ Aryeh was approached by someone who told him repeatedly that he is one of the 36 hidden saints of the Jewish People (ל”ו צדיקים נסתרים). R’ Aryeh’s response was that sometimes that might be true, and sometimes not.
This seemed a strange answer, either you or are not one of the hidden saints! When asked R’ Aryeh had a unique answer. Each person, according to him, has the potential to be such a saint. Sometimes we reach this level, even we only reach it for a few moments. We may have performed an act of such sublime kindness that we are momentarily elevated to such a level.
This is so classically R’ Aryeh. He saw the good in every person, and was himself constantly looking to perform acts of loving kindness for his fellow Jew. For him it was completely obvious that we all have the potential to be the saint of our generation, it needed no complicated logic or high philosophy, just a simple view of every other human-being he met, and the ability to pierce through the outer layers of our behavior, which occasionally cover up our potential for higher good. Indeed, because of his own humility, it reflected his own desire to strive to do good and be a better Jew, never assuming that he was elevated in any way above others.
Benji is continuing in R’ Aryeh’s way, including his humility. He looks for the good in every person he meets and pays no attention to the outer kernel or background. This is how he behaves personally, and also through his life’s work at Gesher.
I am proud to count Benji as a friend, and proud to help him with the work at Gesher.
I pray that we all have the strength to accept every person and every Jew in a positive light only seeking the good in them. I pray that we understand what R’ Aryeh understood, which is that each one of us has the potential to be the Tzadik of our generation!