Tzadikim

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev

Chassidic leader

Born: Hoshakov, Galicia (Poland),, 1740
Died: Berdichev, Poland, 1810
 

Affectionately known as the Berditchover.

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 traveled to Mezritch where he studied Chasidut 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 Berdichev, 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 defense 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 God.  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 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 circumsizer).  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 of Berditchev  protect us all, Amen.

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