In the countryside between Russia and the Ukraine is a nation called Belarus. Like other Eastern European nations, its borders have been subject to regular manipulation. In the town of Valozhyn is found an old soviet bakery; It’s a large dilapidated yellow building with prominent green letters affixed to its outer walls, indicating the purpose of the structure in Russian. The bakery’s plumbing is old; its pipes are rusted and are constantly leaking water into the basement. In that dank room under dark waters lays the memory of Yeshiva Etz Chayim. Over one-hundred years ago, this submerged basement was the ground floor of what was then known as “the mother of all yeshivos.”
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, known by the acrostic of his name, “Netziv,” was Rosh Yeshiva (President) of the institution at the time of its closing by Russian authorities in 1892. Of the last students to receive smicha in Valozhyn was Rav Feivel Levertoff z”l; perhaps because of the yeshiva’s untimely closing, the Rav received ordination quite early. He was just a teenager.
At the age of nine, Rav Levertoff z”l had stumbled across a page of Jewish text lying in the snow. Rather than see it trampled he picked up the page and began to read it. It was about a boy only a few years older than himself who had gone to the Beis Hamikdash in Jerusalem during Pesach, there he astounded the Rabbis with his wisdom. Feivel didn’t recognize the story. When he returned home and showed his father the page, Rav Shaul Levertoff placed it in the furnace; he instructed his son to never read those books again. In the burning of that page a fascination for the young Jew he had read about was kindled. By the age of perhaps only 17 or 18 Rav Feivel Levertoff z”l had unlocked a secret hidden from the world. He had decided to follow the Mashiach as described in the B"Ch. At that young age Feivel was received into the Anglican Church. He would eventually move to England, become ordained as a priest and hold services at a church in Shoreditch near London.
Unlike so many Jews through history Rev. Paul P. Levertoff z”l was not running to the Church to escape Judaism. He was running to Mashiach, who is the desire of the true Hasid. In his work “Love and the Messianic Age” Rav Levertoff z”l wrote of gathering the “Divine sparks.” These sparks, bits of Godliness, can be found even in the darkest of places. In the gathering of sparks the Hasid becomes involved in the work of God and hastens the coming of Mashiach. The service held in Shoreditch was no usual Anglican mass. The Rev. wore a kippa and tallis. At the church in Shoreditch Jews gathered for kriat Torah. Rav Levertoff z”l was gathering sparks. Jews, lost in a non-Jewish world that had no place for them, found redemption in what Rav Levertoff z”l called, the “diSeudata deMalka Kadisha”, Meal of the Holy King. This was also the name of the sidur he wrote and used during those days.
May we all remember the sparks he gathered and the light that was his life. Rabbi Paul Phillip [Feivel] Levertoff z”l was an inspiration and a true Hasid. His yahrtzeit is to be observed on Av 1.