Today in the ninth yahrtzeit of Rav Aryeh Leib Bakst zt”l, one of the Torah greats of America from the last generation who for over fifty years helped talmidim build themselves in Torah.
Rav Bakst was born in the Lithuanian town of Daltish in 5675 (1915) to Rav Yaakov Yehoshua Hy”d, the town rov who had close ties with Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzensky zt”l. In his youth he gained renown as the illui of Daltish and at the age of nine his father sent him to study under Rav Yaakov Neiman in the city of Lida, where he merited to see the Chofetz Chaim zt”l.
When he reached the age of bar mitzvah, Rav Grodzensky, recognizing his exceptional talents, sent him to study at the illustrious Yeshivas Mir. Despite his tender age, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Eliezer Yehuda Finkel zt”l, took a liking to him and encouraged him greatly. He also grew and flourished under the wings of the Mashgiach, Rav Yeruchom Levovitz zt”l and later under Rav Yechezkel Levenstein zt”l, who showed much fondness for him.
Later R’ Aryeh Leib followed Yeshivas Mir to Vilna, where he attended shiurim given by Rav Boruch Ber Leibowitz and the Brisker Rov, Rav Yitzchok Zev Soloveitchik zt”l. He joined the yeshiva in its wanderings to Japan and Shanghai, and later he would often recall the omol HaTorah of these periods. In spite of the terrible news that, except for his older brother Dovid who was with him at the yeshiva, his entire family had perished, he immersed himself in study.
In 5706 (1946) while still in Shanghai HaRav Mordechai Rogov– rov of Sainy, Lithuania, the nephew of HaRav Boruch Ber Leibowitz, the author of Ateres Mordechai and a talmid of Yeshivas Volozhin and Yeshivas Mir–chose R’ Aryeh Leib to marry his daughter.
After the war they traveled to the US where HaRav Bakst accepted a position as a rosh yeshiva in Detroit. He changed the whole face of the city and guided outstanding talmidim along the path of Torah, sweeping them off their feet with the fervor and love of Torah ingrained in him. In his mussar talks he passed onto his talmidim the way of life he acquired from his rabbonim.
He served as a rosh yeshiva for over fifty years and as a beacon of light for the Jews of the Detroit and his talmidim, many of whom became exceptional talmidei chachomim who cleaved to him and the joy and love of Torah coursing through his veins.
At the levaya, Rav Bakst was eulogized by Rav Avrohom Chaim Levin, rosh yeshivas Telz in Chicago and a member of Moetzes Gedolei HaTorah of the United States, the rov of the city, his talmidim and two of his sons, HaRav Yehuda Boruch Dov and HaRav Meir Simchoh, his successors at the yeshiva. They spoke of the great, irreplaceable loss for chareidi Jewry across the US, and the city of Detroit and the yeshiva in particular, stressing the rischo de’Orayso in his shiurim based on his constant labor in Torah study.
That Friday a mass levaya was held at Yeshivas Mir in New York, where hespeidim were delivered by HaRav Yisroel Garber; HaRav Shmuel Berenbaum, rosh yeshivas Mir of the US; his mechuton HaRav Elya Svei, rosh yeshivas Philadelphia; his mechuton HaRav Binyomin Tzeilberger, rosh yeshivas Beis HaTalmud; HaRav Simchah Schustal; HaRav Malkiel Kotler, rosh yeshivas Lakewood; HaRav Dovid Schustal, rosh yeshivas Lakewood; and his son-in-law HaRav Yehuda Svei.
The levaya continued in Yerushalayim that Sunday afternoon, setting out from Yeshivas Mir, where maspidim included the rosh yeshiva HaRav Nosson Tzvi Finkel; HaRav Chaim Pinchos Scheinberg, rosh yeshivas Torah Ohr; HaRav Yitzchok Sheiner, rosh yeshivas Kamenitz; HaRav Binyomin Carlebach and his son-in-law HaRav Dovid Oppen and grandson HaRav Mordechai Oppen.
We continue to mourn the loss of a great gaon and tzaddik, whose entire lifetime was a tapestry of ahavas haTorah and guiding talmidim on the path to Hashem and His Torah.
Rav Bakst zt”l was survived by his Rebbetzin, three sons, two daughters and sons-in-law, grandchildren and great-grandchildren following in the path he blazed for them during his lifetime.