As Rabbi Berel Levine celebrates the completion of his extensive ‘Divrei Shalom’ commentary on the Alter Rebbe’s Hilchos Shabbos, he is already looking to the future, with a far-reaching goal in mind.
By Anash.org reporter
As Yidden around the globe celebrated 3,335 years since the giving of the Torah, Rabbi Berel Levine, Chief Librarian of the Rebbe’s library, is celebrating a personal momentous achievement which was years in the making.
Just days before Shavuos, the eighth and final volume of Rabbi Levine’s extensive ‘Divrei Shalom’ commentary on the Alter Rebbe’s Hilchos Shabbos arrived from the press. The volume, which also includes indexes on the full set, completes the series on Chelek Beis of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch.
The series on Hilchos Shabbos follows a previous set of Hilchos Pesach – Chelek Gimmel of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. The set on Hilchos Pesach includes six volumes, and was published over the previous few years.
The seforim were already welcomed to great acclaim in the Chabad world and far beyond, with many saying that it made the study of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch a totally new experience. Rabbi Tzvi Freeman, senior writer and editor for Chabad.org said that the seforim made it feel “like someone opened the windows and turned on the lights.”
“Even someone who never made it through Pesachim in yeshiva can have an idea of what’s going on. And the hagaos and Kuntres Acharon – he makes it all clear. It’s the only seder limud I have that’s so engaging it can pull me in even after a long, weary day,” he wrote.
In a letter to Rabbi Levine he wrote “I’m going through Hilchos Pesach [with Divrei Shalom] and the kelev is no longer a kelev, the achbar is no longer an achbar. They became מחזיקין ריעותא במקומה ואין מחזיקין ממקום למקום. That’s so much more interesting and relevant than imagining eating a dog’s leftovers from under a pile of bricks.”
In honor of the milestone, Rabbi Levine sat down with Anash.org for an interview, explaining the aim of his commentary, who it is geared for, and even giving a glimpse into future plans.
Anash.org: Thank you for taking the time to speak to us about your new seforim.
Firstly, can you tell us what motivated you to author a multi-volume commentary on the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch?
Rabbi Levine: Let’s start with the recent history of the Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch. After decades of being reprinted from a single older print, the time had come for a new edition.
Over eight years, from 5760 to 5767, I stood at the helm of a full team of talmidei chachomim who toiled to compile and clarify the sources of the Alter Rebbe’s pesokim. Each source was duly noted at the bottom of the page. In addition, if the halachic topic being discussed by the Alter Rebbe was also discussed in another place in Shulchan Aruch, we noted it in the footnotes, as well as other seforim that discuss the Alter Rebbe’s words.
After that revolutionary new edition was published, I received many thanks for the footnotes and annotations, saying it totally transformed the study of the Shulchan Aruch. At the same time, I was asked repeatedly to make another edition that would actually quote the sources, to avoid the need to search for many seforim to properly understand the Alter Rebbe’s words.
A: So is that when you started working on ‘Divrei Shalom’?
RL: No, it didn’t start so fast. At the time, it seemed to be too big of a project to take on. It was only a number of years later that I began. I first started with Hilchos Pesach, and then continued with Hilchos Shabbos.
A: Can you tell us about ‘Divrei Shalom’: What is the aim of the commentary?
RL: The ‘Divrei Shalom’ commentary was written to make it accessible to every learner to truly understand the halacha written in the Shulchan Aruch, and to also give a wider understanding by seeing the sources from where it was drawn.
Inside the text of the Shulchan Aruch we added punctuation, divided the sei’ifim into sections, and added headings to the sei’ifim. In the more complicated halachos, we added a summary of the topic in the footnotes.
The sources where the Alter Rebbe drew the Halacha are all quoted, at least in brief, starting from the Gemara and continuing through the poskim, Rishonim and Acharonim. In places where it seems that there is a contradiction in the Alter Rebbe’s words from one halacha to another, we added an possible explanation, as well as noting where others discuss these topics.
A focal point of the commentary is to stress the chiddushim of the Alter Rebbe, which can be easily missed because they are written in a very condensed manner.
A: That indeed sounds amazing. Who are the seforim geared for? More seasoned scholars, or anyone studying the Shulchan Aruch?
RL: The commentary was written to help even those who are not involved ‘head and shoulders’ in a sugya to understand the Alter Rebbe’s words on the topics. So we specifically avoided any extra pilpulim and lengthy explanations to make the sefer beneficial for anyone. On the other hand, even talmidei chachomim who have been studying the Shulchan Aruch for decades are sure to find insight and explanations in the book that will help their study.
A: Now that you have concluded the two series on Hilchos Pesach and Hilchos Shabbos, what is the next project?
RL: I am actually continuing the Divrei Shalom project, and I am currently writing the commentary on Hilchos Yom Tov. With Hashem’s help, I hope to continue and write the commentary on the entire Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch.
A: Thank you again, and may Hashem give you the koach to continue this incredible project!