Thursday, 23 October 2008

Yahrtzeit - 25 Tishrei - Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev


Born: Hoshakov, Galicia (Poland), 1740
Died: Berdtichev, Poland, 1810
Affectionately known as the Berditchover.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak is one of the most known and liked of the Rebbes from the period of the beginnings of the Chassidic movement. His love for EVERY Jew (without fail) expresses itself in almost every story told about him. He is the ultimate example of what true Ahavat Chinam (baseless love) is all about. If Rebbi Levi Yitzchak is to find a fault in anyone, it must be in G-d Himself Who simply is not doing what He should to make things right in the first place! A famous teaching of the Baal Shem Tov expresses this very idea. When the Baal Shem Tov began the teachings of Chassidut, one thing that stood out was his hurt at the fact that Jews should find fault in each other – rather than seeing the fault as being a “problem” in G-d Himself. After all, if G-d has created man in the way He has chosen to, why does He become so upset with his behaviour?!

If G-d would just set up creation in a way that doesn’t cause a Jew to fail, then there would be no need to be upset at any Jew. While there are many Jews in today’s world who will find fault in everything that another does, pointing out that the reason for many punishments in the world are because of inappropriate behaviour etc., the Baal Shem Tov would rather shout at G-d Himself to sort matters out. It is not towards our fellow that we should be finding fault – but rather instead by venting our distress out at G-d to make things right! G-d is infinite. We do not need to make excuses for an infinite G-d! He can do anything! Man – a Jew – is finite, created with a vicious animal soul that continually distracts him from his true mission in this world. If we fail, it is because of this very animal soul that G-d has created within us. If G-d is not happy with our service – let him set us right so that we not come to rebel against Him!

Rebbi Levi Yitzchak well understood the difficulties encountered by the Jew trying his best to serve G-d with simplicity. This path is often filled with tests that most of us simply cannot succeed in – even at the best of times! While the many “righteous” of our generation will find fault in everything that another Jew may do, Rebbi Levi Yitzchak could only imagine seeing an absolutely good soul in front of him – lacking every possible iota of a blemish. A Jew is essentially good, and nothing he ever does can detract from this. If it appears that things are not right – or that he may not be behaving appropriately, a proper investigation must be done to find out just where the problem lies. Usually Rebbi Levi Yitzchak finds this problem with all sorts of various spiritual issues going on in the worlds above. Once he sees the situation as it should be, he acts as the greatest advocate imaginable towards the Jewish people in supporting every Jew to see to it that he be blessed with only the best. Rebbi Levi Yitzchak never seems to see a flaw in any Jew.

If anyone could fulfil the teaching in Pirkei Avot of judging everyone favourably – Rebbi Levi Yitzchak is the Rebbi to do this. It is a wonder how he manages to turn everything around for the good and to reveal only the goodness hidden inside every single Jew. We can only hope that he will be there for each of us whenever it is that we truly need him the most!

Rebbi Levi Yitzchak also composed the well known prayer "Gut Von Avraham" - G-d of Avraham. This is a special prayer recited by Jews at the end of the Shabbat before saying Havdalah. It is usually recited 3 times and is said to be a very great Segula (charm) for many many blessings! The prayer is easily available in a variety of languages and is usually printed together with the Tana Devei Eliyahu at the back of the book. See below for a free downloadable version.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been a child prodigy, acclaimed in his early years as an Illuy (genius). At the suggestion of his mentor, Rabbi Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsburg, Levi Yitzchak travelled to Mezritch where he studied Chassidut under the Maggid of Mezritch for many years. He served as rabbi in the cities of Britchval, Zelichov, and Pinsk; and for the last 25 years of his life he was the Rabbi of Berditchev, which under his inspired leadership grew into a flourishing center of Chassidut.

The Berditchever is one of the legendary figures of Chassidut, revered for his enthusiastic dedication to Torah and Mitzvot, but above all for his consuming love of God and his people. He became known as the defender of the people of Israel. He would argue with God, charging Him with being too stern a father to His children, pleading for an end to the long and cruel exile.

His work Kedushat Levi is a classic collection of chassidic thoughts arranged according to the weekly Torah portions; it includes a commentary on Avot, and an appendix containing a number of anecdotes that reflect his saintly life and his role as attorney for the defence of the Jewish people.

A Slave...

R' Levi Yitzchak was once visiting the supernal realms. While there, the Satan mounted a massive assault against the Jewish people. He and his helpers brought in box after box, filled with the sins of the Jewish people. Realizing that something must be done, Reb Levi, very quietly took the boxes and destroyed them. The Satan was incensed and demanded that Levi Yitzchak return his possessions. Reb Levi, of course could not. The Satan dragged Reb Levi before the Heavenly tribunal, accusing him of robbery.

After much deliberation, the verdict was handed down, guilty. A convicted thief must return double the worth of the stolen item or be sold into slavery. Reb Levi had no choice. He was put up for auction to the highest bidder. On one side the souls of the Patriarchs bid for this precious Tzaddik. On the other side, Satan and his accusers were delighted at the prospect of finally ridding themselves of their arch nemesis. The bidding was fast and furious. It looked bad for Levi Yitzchak, as Satan was gaining the upper hand.

Finally, the Almighty himself entered a bid. Even the Satan knows not to bid against G-d. Having won the auction, the Almighty remarked, "Now Reb Levi Yitzchak will be my servant-slave, exclusively."

Milk Or Coffee First?

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak once visited the Chozeh of Lublin. The Lubliner brought him some coffee and wanted to pour the coffee into the cup first and then add the milk. The Berditchever, however, asked him to please put the milk in first, and then the coffee, since, he said, "when I drink milk with coffee, I intend "Mikveh," because milk, chalav, in Gematria (numerical value) is Mem and the letter Mem together with Kiveh (coffee) equals Mikveh. When the Berditchever drank coffee, was he meditating on the Mikveh somehow?

The Cattle Merchant

A wealthy cattle merchant was in a dilemma. He had many head of cattle to sell, but the market bottomed out. He went to R' Levi Yitzchak for advice. The Rebbe told him to use a certain herb to help stop the bleeding at the next circumcision he performed (the man was a Mohel, ritual circumciser). The man asked the rabbi, again, about the cow problem. The Rebbe simply replied that he had given him his answer.

The man stopped off at an inn on his way home. While there, he discovered that the young son of the innkeeper was not circumcised. The innkeeper explained that the boy had two older brothers that died as the result of the Brit and he was therefore exempt from the Mitzvah, lest he too, succumb. The man proposed that he be allowed to do the Brit, since he had had experience with heavy bleeding. The man agreed on two conditions. First, that the man remain one full month to insure that no problems arise and two, that the man would have to put up a 400 ruble deposit. At the end of the month, he would get the deposit plus another 400 rubles payment. The man agreed.

The Brit took place and the child bled heavily. Heading the Rebbe's advice, the man applied the necessary apothecaries and the bleeding stopped. A week went by and the child showed no ill effects from the procedure. In the meantime, the price of cattle picked up. He asked the innkeeper if he could be absolved of his conditions. The innkeeper refused. Another week went by and the prices of cattle soared. The man grew quite anxious as he wanted to get rid of his cattle. The innkeeper still refused. After four weeks the price of cattle hit an all time high. The man bid the innkeeper farewell received his deposit and payment and sold his cattle.

May the merit of the Tzaddik
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak ben Meir of Berditchev
protect us all, Amen.
For more TERRIFIC stories of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak, see the wide selection of stories on Chabad's site right HERE:
For another terrific site filled with stories and teachings of Rebbi Levi Yitzchak click HERE!

To read more stories (if these are not enough!) do check out ASCENT's site, do a search for Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and enjoy!

One more link filled with Rebbi Levi Yitzchak's teachings, stories and translations can be seen HERE. You can also download a free copy of Gut Von Avraham - the special prayer composed by Rebbi Levi Yitzchak to be recited each Motzei Shabbat just before Havdalah.

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