A Letter Written By Yisroel Levin z”l to a Camper

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Lechvod my dear camper Ari n”y,

A couple of weeks ago I came home on a Friday for a few hours. (In bais medrash you have no seder Friday afternoon, so a lot of guys go home….) I remember finding your invitation and I was so excited, but when I saw the date I felt really bad, it was the Shabbos right before an off Shabbos, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to leave yeshiva. So I brought the invitation back with me, planning on sending back a return card informing you that I couldn’t come, but of course I procrastinated and by the time I got around to it, I realized it wouldn’t be mailed to you on time, so I’d have to call.

I called you up, intending to apologize and explain I couldn’t come, but when I spoke to you and you asked if I was coming, right away I changed my mind and decided I’m going. But when I spoke to my rosh yeshiva he felt that it wasn’t a sufficient reason to miss a Shabbos in yeshiva. After a long back and forth he said that if I absolutely insist on going then he won’t stop me, but I should come speak to him the next morning.

I called you again to ask you if it’s truly important to you that I come, and after our second conversation, it was settled, I told you I’m coming. The next morning Erev Shabbos, I spoke to my parents, and they told me that if I had to pressure the rosh yeshiva so much then it’s obviously not the right thing to do, and therefore I shouldn’t come home. I was so upset, was really excited to participate in your simcha! But at the end of the day, kibbud av v’eim is number one. So I told the Rosh Yeshiva I would stay for Shabbos and he was very happy with me. He told me that it will be a lesson for you, one day iy”H when you’re a choshuve bachur, of the importance of staying in Yeshiva for Shabbos, and that also my mesiras nefesh and learning that Shabbos will be reckoned as a zechus for you.

Even so, the call to you that afternoon was the hardest call of my life, I felt so horrible. I decided I would have to buy you a present and bring it to you next week. I have never bought anybody an expensive present before but when it came to you I felt it was deserved! Being a counselor isn’t always easy, sometime you could get stuck with a rough bunk, I have in the past, and it’s not fun. But this summer I got lucky, they gave me THE BEST bunk in the division!! But even in a real amazing , pumping, awesome fun bunk you truly stood out as someone special.

Ari, you have a special maturity well ahead of the average seventh grader, and it made it very easy to relate to you! On top of that you were also very expressive and genuine open with your feelings and I always knew how you felt I was doing as a counselor. But it doesn’t end there, you have so so much personality and humor and that made it so fun to shmuz and chill with you.

Ari, you have such sterling middos. You were always expressing appreciation, making it a pleasure for me and Avrami to give of ourselves to the bunk. You would always compliment me and say I was the best counselor, and that really meant tons to me, and even if here and there a camper would be giving me a hard time, your positivity let me know I was still doing a good job.

Ari, you were truly a pleasure to have in the bunk EVERY SINGLE DAY, and you more than deserved the “Best-in Bunk” award!! ( I really missed having you in the bunk second half!) Ari, trust me, you have unlimited potential to continue being more and more amazing. Please don’t stop growing in every way and continue providing your parents, who must’ve been doing a fantastic job helping you become as amazing as you are, mountains and mountains of nachas! I’m positive you will! ( And please show them this letter so they can shep more nachas, because I don’t think I said enough on visiting day!)

I wanted to buy you a present that is practical and meaningful. The most important present I got was a set of ArtScroll Interlinear siddurim. I use them every day, and they have truly changed my tefillah. I really hope they do the same for you!! (I’m including a second letter discussing the importance of tefillah, reviewing some of what we learnt this summer.) It was expensive for me, but for you it’s worth it and I know you will appreciate it.

Ari, sometimes it’s hard for me to keep in touch but please feel free to call, text or email me at any time and I will do my best to respond! 516.787.1128. yisroellevin@gmail.com

As you know from the summer, tefillah is very important for many reasons. The most basic reason is that it’s the most direct way of talking to our Father. It is impossible to be a true yid if you don’t have a relationship with the Ribbon Shel Olam. It just doesn’t make sense. Therefore to really grow and to be a true eved, and even more so, a ben to Hashem one must be able to speak to our Av Harachaman. He wants to give like any loving father does, but he’s waiting for us to ask, and naturally we also have an infinite gratitude for all that He has given us. There’s something very interesting about tefillah; for some people the words flow and gush naturally, and every tefillah is truly enjoyable, while for others it’s just impossible, every minute is tortuously boring, and just reading the words is difficult.

What’s the reason behind this phenomenon? It’s just words? The answer is that tefillah is an accurate gauge of where you are holding spiritually. If one is doing his best to learn when he should, to do the mitzvos he should, and to keep his mind pure and abstain from aveiros then tefillah is exciting and enjoyable, but if one is unfortunately not living the way he should be, and he gives into his taivos and his mind is impure, every tefillah is unendurable and he can’t even bring himself to say the words!

So trust me Ari, if you’re doing the right things you will love davening! Another important aspect of tefillah is that you’ll always have Someone to turn to! No matter what you’re going through you have an opportunity to pour out your feelings to a “listening ear”.

There have been many times this year that I’ve felt crushed by my situation, missing my brother, and longing for the day I’ll see him again. Then when I would daven Shemonah Esrei I would let everything out, I would ignore everyone around me and cry my heart out, applying the words of Shemonah Esrei to my situation and longing for the geulah, when everything will be better, or rather perfect. Then when I was finally done, I’d say oseh shalom, finish davening, wipe my tears away and I’d feel a thousand times better.

These are just a few aspects of tefillah, and there are many more, but to really take advantage of this opportunity and to really grow, you need to understand the words you’re saying. I’ve found the ArtScroll Interlinear Siddur to be the most effective way to learn the meaning of tefillos. I suggest you read the introduction in the siddur when you get a chance, it details the way to gain from the format, as well as other helpful concepts of tefillah.

We spent a lot of time this summer on Shemonah Esrei, particularly the first bracha. I want to write a brief review of what we discussed as the first bracha is particularly important, because one must have kavanah at least by the first bracha. And if not, you’re not yotzei your chiyuv of tefillah.

השׁם שׂפתי תפתח: Imagine the setting and opportunity of entering the presence of the most powerful ruler in the world. (The story with the African dictator.)

בּרוך אתה השׁם: You Hashem are the source of all blessing.

אלקינו ואלקי אבותינו: Our G-d, and most importantly, the theme of the entire Bracha, The G-d of our forefathers, who you loved so much. (Please do for us on their behalf, the story with R’ Schwebel.)

אלקי אברהם, אלקי יצחק, ואלקי יעקב: G-d of Avrohom – chesed, Yitzchok – avodah, Yaakov – Torah. (Remind Hashem of their Zchusim.)

הקל: G-d, His attribute of mercy

הגדול: Great, in His acts of Chesed

הגבּור: Strong, in his acts of justice

והנורא: Awesome, deserves to be feared because of his power

קל עליון: The ultimate (highest) G-d, Not that there are any other gods Chas Vsholom, but he’s the only true G-d.

גומל חסדים טובים: He does good kindnesses, what’s really best for us, contrary to what we may assume. If He does it, it’s what’s best, and if He withholds a request, it must be for the good. Story with the butterfly in a cocoon and the nailclipper.

וקונה הכל: He creates everything, and therefore owns everything, and therefore we must do His will. (The story with your Lego world, the mentchies have to follow your orders.)

וזוכר חסדי אבות: He remembers the goodness of our forefathers, and does for us on their behalf.

ומביא גואל לבני בניהם: He actively brings a redeemer to their descendants, every day he’s bringing Moshiach a little closer.

למען שׁמו: For the sake of His name, for when Moshiach comes, the entire world will acknowledge his rulership.

בּאהבה: With love, because He’s our Father, and a father loves his children no matter what, and does for them even when they’re not deserving.

מלך עוזר ומושיע ומגן: King, Helper, Savior and Shield,. Ascending levels of protection. (Story with the ATV on the edge, helps regain control, saves after fall, or never even gets endangered.)

בּרוך אתה השׁם, מגן אברהם: You are the source of all blessing, The shield of Avrohom. (Particularly Avrohom, because Hashem promised him והיה בּרכה.)

Ari, the more you understand the tefillos, the deeper your davening will become and suddenly you’ll find your Shemonah Esreis are taking longer and what might happen is some of your friends might begin teasing , “Ooh, Ari thinks he’s a tzaddik.” This is a classic reaction for many people who become jealous when they see others growing, they try to drag you down to their level, because it is easier than being motivated by you to grow. Trust me, this will happen a lot in life, anytime you grow others will try to make you feel insecure about it. Never give in! And eventually they’ll grow up and be inspired by you.

Ari, I have confidence in your tremendous potential to grow! I know you can forge a deep connection with the Ribbon Shel Olam through tefillah. There will be ups and downs, take pride in the ups and don’t let the occasional downs crush you.

Ari, please take this letter to heart, please don’t just read it once, please keep it somewhere safe and reread it every once in a while, hopefully as you grow you’ll notice more things in this letter, things I’ve learnt from my rabbeim and experiences.

Ari, you’re a bar mitzvah now, you have a lot more responsibilities, but you can do it! And if you ever need a boost, speak to your rabbeim, find one you can relate to, they’re there for you.

Sincerely, with pride in My awesome camper,

Yisroel Levin

16 COMMENTS

  1. Amazing! What a special person.
    Bichllal, who writes letters these days? And such a long one? What a gifeel for yenim. A counselor who really truly cared about his campers.
    What a tremendous loss for all of Kllal Yisroel.
    May the family have an emmesdika nechama.

  2. I criedxreading the letter, what a special and tieyerer neshama he is. May moshiach come soon. I am so saddened by this unbearable loss.

  3. Yisroel ZTL, I never met you
    But I wish I did!
    May your be a melitz yosher for all of us

    We are inspired to daven better after reading your letter!

  4. I cried as I read the letter. I haven’t davened shemonah esrei lately as BH I’m busy with my family. But this morning, right after I ready this story, I was somehow able to find 10 minutes to daven. Before I took 3 steps back, I said, Hashem this shemona esrei is because of Yisrael. Please let it be a zechus for his neshama. What a davening! Thank you! Although I never met you yisrael, you and your kallah have taught me so much. BezH moshiach will be here very soon and klal yisrael will suffer no more.

  5. I keep rereading this! and keep crying! thank you for the inspiration Yirsroel! yehi zichro baruch!may mashiach come soon!

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