Moshe Phillips
Moshe Phillips INN:MP

In the Torah portion Lech Lecha we read about Abraham and Sarah, the founding ancestors of the Jewish nation. In the narrative Abraham and Sarah make aliyah, literally ascending to the Land of Israel, to make their home there. Aliyah and Zionism have been an inseparable, living part of the Jewish nation ever since. This Zionism has been in our genetic makeup from the very first.

The story of Abraham and Sarah as a couple only occupies two of the 54 parshiyot (portions): an extremely small part of the Torah. And yet, we, throughout our people's history, have been enriched by their trademark modeling of kindness, devotion to family, bravery, covenantal responsibility, and aliyah as illustrated again and again in the portions of Lech Lecha and VaYera.

One man, who was animated by their example, was Rabbi Aryeh Levin, (1885-1969). Known as the "Tzadik ("Righteous" One) of Jerusalem", he was a spiritual hero to the members of the Jabotinsky movement. The underground soldiers of the LEHI and the Irgun who were imprisoned by the British in the 1930s and 1940s were attended to with devotion by Rabbi Aryeh in his official capacity as a British mandate prison chaplain.

A look at Rabbi Aryeh's embodiment of the ways of Abraham are well worth examining.

We read in Lech Lecha how Abraham heeded G-d’s command to “leave your country, your people, and your father’s household” and go off to a faraway land. Imagine how hard it was for him to leave behind his parents, not to mention his familiar and comfortable surroundings. Imagine how long it must have taken him to traverse the many hundreds of miles to Eretz Canaan, and how difficult that journey must have been. He arrived in a land that he had never seen, where he encountered untold hardships, a few of which the Torah recounts. Abraham, the first Zionist, did not flinch at making such sacrifices.

Rabbi Aryeh Levin was born and raised in a small village in Czarist Russia in 1885. When he resolved to immigrate to the Land of Israel, at the age 20, he, too, left behind his parents, his siblings, and familiar surroundings. He arrived in the Holy Land in 1905, when it was still ruled by the backward Ottoman Turks. Much of the country consisted of swamps and desert. Can any of us imagine moving to a region where there wasn’t any electricity, hot running water, nor indoor plumbing?

Contrast that with far too many American Zionist leaders today, who would never consider moving to Israel even in our times, when the Jewish State has all the modern conveniences that one can enjoy in the United States.

Rabbi Levin grew up speaking Yiddish and Russian. He arrived in Eretz Yisrael just as Eliezer Ben-Yehuda’s revival of the Hebrew language was kicking into high gear. The rabbi knew the Hebrew of the Torah and Talmud; now he had to master modern conversational Hebrew. Contrast that with some contemporary American Zionist leaders who do not know an alef from a bet and cannot be bothered to make an effort to learn the Jewish national language.

The remarkable biographyA Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin by Simcha Raz contains countless stories that show Rabbi Aryeh following in the footsteps of Abraham and Sarah.

Rabbi Aryeh also served for many years as the chaplain of the Shaarei Tzedek hospital in Jerusalem. There he once saw a close friend late at night at the hospital. He seemed perfectly fit, leading Rabbi Aryeh to inquire why he was at the hospital. Behind him Rabbi Levine saw the man’s wife limping. Pointing to his wife, the friend said, “Our foot hurts.” Rabbi Aryeh saw this as a tale worth sharing and he often did.

דרכו של סבא. הרב אריה לוין זצ"ל
רישום: ש' כהן

He was devoted not just to his own wife but constantly sought to help couples get married and did everything in his power to help couples if they were struggling. When Yitzhak Shamir, Israel's seventh prime minister, was wanted by the British authorities in the 1940s for his underground leadership activities, his secret wedding ceremony was arranged by Rabbi Aryeh.

Rabbi Aryeh's devotion to the idea of family was limitless in other ways as well, and he smuggled family notes in his clothes that he delivered to imprisoned underground soldiers at tremendous personal risk. He was known as the Father of the Prisoners, loved and cared for them.

Lech Lecha includes the moving story of Abraham entering into the covenant with G-d that included the family of Abraham and Sarah being permanently granted the Land of Israel and the physical sign of that covenant, that is, the circumcision, the brit milah. Here, too, Rabbi Aryeh's life and work was connected to the story of Abraham. Rabbi Aryeh was often asked to be the sandek, the honoree who has the baby boy sit on his lap during the brit ceremony.

One of the highlights of any brit is when all present unite and say out loud "Just as he entered the covenant so may he enter into the Torah, the marriage canopy, and good deeds."

Rabbi Aryeh Levin's life was one replete with good deeds. Today's American Zionists would do well to emulate all of these facets of Rabbi Aryeh's life, and for certain, we should all recommit to placing aliyah at the center of importance in all we do as part of the Zionist movement.

Moshe Phillips is national director of Herut North America’s U.S. division. Herut is an international movement for Zionist pride and education and is dedicated to the ideals of pre-World War II Zionist leader Ze'ev Jabotinsky. Herut's website is

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