R. Eliyahu Levin, known as “Elya Paritcher” in Lubavitch, after his hometown of Paritch, was one of the illustrious pillars of the Chassidic community in Samarkand in our time. By virtue of his exemplary personal conduct, this remarkable Chassid contributed tremendously to Samarkand’s Chassidic community and enhancing the level of education for the children. From the time of my youth, and increasingly after my marriage, I would approach him with difficult inquiries in Halacha. I enjoyed visiting him greatly, and despite the number of visits, I never ceased to be amazed and inspired anew at the refinement, humility and modesty of this Chassidic genius.

I enjoyed visiting him greatly

My first memory of R. Eliyahu is from an event that, at the time, left a distinctly unpleasant flavor in my mouth, and even resentment toward him. It took some maturity on my part until I fully grasped the significance and implications of what had occurred. A member of our community was marrying off his daughter and wanted the merit of having R. Eliyahu Paritcher as the officiating rabbi at the ceremony. The chupah ceremony was to take place in the courtyard of the bride’s home. A relative of mine, Yaakov Pil, shared a courtyard with the family of the bride, and being that weddings were quite rare in Samarkand, I, just ten years old at the time, took advantage of the opportunity to attend the ceremony.

As the announced time arrived, a sizeable crowd had assembled, but for some unknown reason the ceremony was not starting. When I wondered aloud why everyone was waiting, I was told that R. Eliyahu Paritcher was insistent upon a particular condition for the chupah and refused to perform the ceremony until the family met his request. R. Eliyahu was a man short in stature who spoke in a soft, quiet voice and in a most refined, unobtrusive manner. During this particular affair he did not shout at all; he spoke softly, yet his voice rang with firmness and fervor. A little while later, I heard that the issue was the bride's immersion in a mikvah before the wedding, but as a young child, I had no idea what this was all about. I felt terribly sorry for the bride, groom, and the many guests.

The bride’s parents were extremely embarrassed and discomfited that the guests had to wait for so long. They promised to pay R. Eliyahu far more than they had originally agreed if he would proceed with the ceremony, but he stood his ground. The wedding traditions were sacrosanct, and mikvah was a crucial element of the laws governing Jewish marital life, he insisted; the bride must go to the mikvah before the chupah. The bride vowed to go afterwards, the parents begged him to begin, and the guests soon grew irate. But the diminutive R. Eliyahu proved to be a mighty warrior of a man, and was undeterred in the slightest by the commotion erupting around him.

When he saw that they were not prepared to follow his directives, R. Eliyahu requested forgiveness from the parents and guests and explained that as long as they refused to follow the instruction of the Torah, he would be unable to proceed with the chupah, and would soon head home.

When the parents recognized that they had no other choice, they consented, and all those assembled waited until the bride had returned from the mikvah. Upon her return, R. Eliyahu conducted the chupah ceremony.

At the time, I couldn't grasp the magnitude of what was at stake

At the time I couldn’t grasp the magnitude of what was at stake, and I certainly didn’t understand R. Eliyahu's strange stubbornness. Yet as I grew older and understood that the matter in question concerned no less than the foundations of a Jewish home, I gained a profoundly heightened value and appreciation for R. Eliyahu. This event is seared in my memory as a paradigm of a Jew remaining steadfast and fervent in advocating for the observance of the Torah and its laws.

Sacrifice for Mikvah

The observance of mikvah and the enormous significance attached to it calls to mind a remarkable story I recently heard. During the massive wave of Russian Jewish immigration to Israel in the 1990s, the religious world became somewhat disillusioned with the new immigrants. For many years they had heard accounts of these Jews maintaining religious life with brutal self-sacrifice. After encounteringthese storied émigrés, many religious Jews were amazed to find that the majority of them had scarcely a conception of what Judaism was all about.

The majority of immigrants from Russia were the second or third generation of Jews following the Communist revolution. They were born into an atheistic environment oppressive of any remaining shred of Judaism and lived in an atmosphere entirely devoid of holiness. Our Sages urged us, “Don’t look at the vessel but at what is within,” and in many cases, despite the fact that on the surface these immigrants appeared to be simple Jews, their hearts were ablaze with a flaming Jewish fire. When ignited, this flame burst forth in a true manifestation of sacrifice and martyrdom.

One particular couple in their sixties arrived with the large influx of immigrants to the Holy Land. They were childless and did not particularly stand out in the community in which they settled. They lived in anonymity and near-destitution in a tiny apartment, like many other elderly immigrants. After a number of years of living in this fashion, the husband passed away. At his funeral, ten men were conscripted to accompany him on his final journey. When they assembled at the funeral home, there was no oneHis grieving wife asked to say a few words present to eulogize him. At that point his grieving wife asked to say a few words in front of his lonely casket.

She stood over the coffin, rent her garment and made the blessing declaring G‑d "the true Judge”. Her eyes flooded with tears, and as they cascaded down her worn cheeks, she bent over her husband and said, “Meir, you are departing this world and have left me here alone, bereft of children. You are now going to the World of Truth. If they ask you why we didn’t have children, tell them the truth: because in the city where we lived in Siberia, there was no mikvah!”

The Code of Law by Heart

In my youth I often had the opportunity to visit R. Eliyahu with various inquiries concerning the kosher status of chickens, and after my marriage I would approach him with the questions of concern to young couples. Observing his approach to halachic decision making, I noticed one astounding trait of his: he would never give a ruling based on his memory alone. He would always first open the Shulchan Aruch, the Jewish Code of Law, review the relevant law thoroughly, peruse the commentaries, and only upon concluding his examination would he present a ruling on the question posed to him. Even if the same query had been asked of him several days earlier, his method of delivering a verdict wouldn’t change.

Due to his poor vision, R. Eliyahu had to bring the book up to his nose to read it, practically grazing his face with its pages; for some reason he did not wear glasses. Even when he grew older and his vision weakened considerably, he continued this custom of giving a halachic ruling only after closely consulting and examining the pages of the Shulchan Aruch.

It was only during the final years of his life, when his vision deteriorated to the extent that it became impossible for him to see even a short distance away, that I became aware of just how broad his knowledge of the Code and its commentaries really was. When I would come to him with a question, he would ask me to fetch the right volume from the bookshelf, and from memory he would guide me to the precise page that was relevant to the case.

When I began to recite from the book, he would inform me the precise location on the page I could find the Halacha that applied to the issue in question. He would say, “Go down such-and-such number of lines and then read to me.” After I had read what he requested, he would ponder for a while about the implications of the law, and then he would ask me to read the views of the commentators. There, too, he would direct me with tremendous precision, knowing exactly which lines were relevant.

I was utterly dumbfounded by R. Eliyahu. Here was a saint of a Jew with such an awesome knowledge of the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries that he knew every single line of its fine print as well as he knew the palm of his hand. And yet, in spite of this almost surreal depth of comprehension, he never relied solelyHe never relied solely upon his own memory upon his own memory, ruling only after he himself had read - or I had read aloud to him - the actual words of the text!

The fact remains that despite his incredible genius, in both intelligence and character, R. Eliyahu still remained a most modest and unassuming individual who tended to blend into the woodwork. The Mishna declares that "anyone who pursues honor, honor will escape him; anyone who flees from honor, honor will follow him". To me, R. Eliyahu cannot be depicted as a man who “fled from honor”, for the simple reason that he did not value honor at all. As he once exclaimed in surprise during a discussion on the concept, “I don’t understand the expression - why does a person need honor?!”