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The Moment: Issue 1009

“If only most people had a fraction of Chaim Levi’s happiness”

Living Higher


his week marks the shloshim of Chaim Leiby Gruner, a beloved bochur who overcame daunting challenges to live a life of 28 years with joy, friendship, and a love for Torah and kedushah.

A son of Rav Dovid Yehuda and Mrs. Chavy Gruner of Lakewood, Chaim Levi was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, a degenerative disease that causes progressive weakness and loss of muscle mass, which confined him to a wheelchair from a young age. Although Chaim Levi’s physical strength slowly ebbed away, he remained full of dogged determination and unbridled love for Yidden and Yiddishkeit, spreading simchas hachayim to all he came in contact with.

Chaim Levi had a wide circle of “best friends” from different backgrounds and stages of life whom he drew together with his infectious smile. He spent many weekends and evenings with his ever-growing fan club. At the shivah, his nurse recalled that when he initially read Chaim Levi’s medical report, he conjured up an image of a boy withering in bed, depressed and withdrawn. But when he showed up to the Gruner house, the patient wasn’t there. He asked the previous nurse where Chaim Levi was.

“Oh,” replied the first nurse nonchalantly, “he’s hanging out with friends. He should be back around midnight or so.”

The nurse went on to relate that he had to fill out medical forms to report on the patient’s mental health. “If only most people had a fraction of Chaim Levi’s happiness,” he remarked wistfully.

Chaim Levi was especially fond of Jewish music. In his younger years, he would regale those around him with chassidishe niggunim, and even as he lost his ability to sing, his love for niggun never abated. He was up on all the latest releases, attended chasunahs and concerts with his chevreh, and was on a first-name basis with a who’s who of Jewish music.

He was also smitten with Eretz Yisrael, and managed to visit it four times in his short life, despite all the arrangements and accommodations such trips entailed. Volvi Weiss, a devoted friend of Chaim Levi’s, recalled their Succos trip to Eretz Yisrael. Prior to the trip, Chaim Levi spent hours on his phone working out logistics — where to eat, where to stay, where to find a medic. Their packed itinerary included visits to tishen, rebbes, rabbanim, and kivrei tzaddikim.

A highlight of their trip came on what is Simchas Torah for chutznikim, when Israelis celebrate hakafos shniyos. To accompany the hakafos, an American tourist had rented a large Jerusalem event space and booked a band and a star-studded lineup of singers. Knowing how much Chaim Levi loved a good matzav, he invited him to join.

But Simchas Torah morning saw Chaim Levi get off to a late start; he slipped into a nearby shtibel to daven Shacharis. His friends knew how much he was looking forward to the extravaganza, and hinted to him to daven quickly. When Chaim Levi started Shemoneh Esreh, he got completely enveloped in his davening, not noticing anything around him and finishing well after the event.

“That was Chaim Levi,” recalled Volvi Weiss. “It didn’t make a difference how excited he was for something — when he connected to Hashem, that was the only thing in the world that mattered.”

(In the shtibel, a mispallel was inspired by watching Chaim Levi, and bought him one of the most sought-after kibbudim for $5,000.)

At the 13th Siyum HaShas in MetLife Stadium, Chaim Levi heard a speech about a man with ALS who completed Shas with Daf Yomi. After that, Chaim Levi committed himself to learning the daf. He learned in Beis Medrash Mayan HaTorah every day, methodically going through the daf for two and a half hours. He learned the Gemara with two separate chavrusas, and he was a dedicated participant in Reb Eli Stefansky’s MDY shiur. Even when he got home late from one of his outings, Chaim Levy wouldn’t retire until completing the daf.

Despite his unfathomable challenges, Chaim Levi made it halfway through Shas. He passed away shortly after Daf Yomi concluded Perek Eilu Metzios, dedicated to halachic discussions of lost objects. With Chaim Levi’s passing, his family, an ever-growing group of friends, and Klal Yisrael has lost a metziah of the highest caliber.

Yehi zichro baruch.


I heard from the Philadelphia Rosh Yeshivah [Rav Elya Svei ztz”l] that he was in the yeshivah for one of its first Rosh Hashanahs. At the time, there were barely 25 talmidim in the yeshivah. The Zeide [Rav Aharon Kotler ztz”l] addressed them using the term ligyon shel melech — “army of the king.”
Rav Elya told me he thought to himself, Oy, this is Hashem’s army? Twenty-five yeshivah bochurim?
“But look!” said Rav Elya. “Look at what the Rosh Yeshivah saw all the way back then. He saw the koach of ligyon shel melech that would emerge from his small group of bochurim.”

—Rav Malkiel Kotler shlita, rosh yeshivah of Beis Medrash Govoha, addressing an asifah of thousands of bochurim before bein hazmanim. As he stood before the throngs of talmidei yeshivah, the message and prophecy of his sacred grandfather echoed with blazing realization. That small group of bochurim birthed a generation of bnei Torah, a true army, fighting as they grow, winning as they learn, and vanquishing darkness with a light that the whole world will soon see.

Much has been written about Senator Joseph Lieberman z”l since his passing, and many stories about his tenure in office continue to come to light. This letter, penned in 1999, is a testament to his concern and dedication for Jewish education and his willingness to leverage his position for the sake of a Higher Authority.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 1009)

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