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Sunday, October 07, 2007


What Can the Angel Michael Say for You?

Tonight is the 25th of Tishrei, and the 197th yahrzeit of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.
The Berditchever is one of the legendary figures of Chassidus, revered for his enthusiastic dedication to Torah and Mitzvos, but above all for his consuming love of G-d and his people. He became known as the defender of the people of Israel. He would argue with G-d, charging Him with being too stern a father to His children, pleading for an end to the long and cruel exile.
His work Kedushas Levi is a classic collection of Chassidic thoughts arranged according to the weekly Torah portions; it includes a commentary on Pirkei Avos, 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.
More about him, and especially his Negina, can be found in my previous post, Longing for the Singing and a New Beginning.


The following story is another gem from Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski’s wonderful book, Not Just Stories, lightly edited for my blog.

We must exercise great caution regarding the disputes between the Chassidic masters. We are accustomed to arguing over turf or because of rather selfish personal interests. This was definitely not the case in disputes between Chassidic masters. We may not be aware, even to this day, why these spiritual giants were occasionally involved in sharp disputes, but the following example can show us that these were not petty arguments.

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev is not only considered the most beloved of Chassidic masters by later generations, but was highly revered by all his contemporaries. Rebbe Schneur Zalman said of him, ''G-d is a tzaddik in Heaven, and Rebbe Levi Yitzchak is a tzaddik on earth." The Chozeh [Seer] of Lublin said, "I thank G-d every single day that He has given us Rebbe Levi Yitzchak.'' Rebbe Shmelke of Nikolsburg said, "The longest period of time I can retain an uninterrupted communion with G-d is three hours. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak can be in constant communion.''
This otherwise unchallenged tzaddik was the target of the sharp words of the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh, the grandson of the Baal Shem Tov. Rebbe Baruch never missed an opportunity to mock Rebbe Levi Yitzchak and belittle him. It was widely known that Rebbe Baruch was sharply critical of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak.

One time, two merchants of Medzibuzh went to Berditchev for business, and went to see for themselves what Rebbe Levi Yitzchak was like. When they entered, they found Rebbe Levi Yitzchak to be standing in prayer, and in the midst of his prayer, he ran over to one of the merchants, seized him by the lapels, shook him and said, "What can the angel Michael possibly say about you?" and then returned to his prayers.
When the two returned to Medzibuzh, they hurried to Rebbe Baruch to tell him of Rebbe Levi Yitzchak's bizarre behavior, hoping to give him more material to scoff at him. When the merchant related how Rebbe Levi Yitzchak had accosted him, Rebbe Baruch suddenly shouted at him, ''You scoundrel! You thief! I demand that you promptly return the money that you stole from your comrade.'' The man was shocked into admitting that he had stolen some money from his friend.
Rebbe Baruch then said, "The angel Michael is the defender of Jews, and when a Jew sins, the angel Michael pleads his case before the Heavenly Tribunal, and presents mitigating circumstances to obtain a more lenient judgment, pointing out human frailties and the difficulty in resisting temptation. For example, if a person steals because he is impoverished, the angel Michael enters a plea that the person's destitute state caused his judgment to be distorted, and that he stole only out of desperation. But when someone who is well-to-do, like yourself, steals money from a fellow merchant, what kind of plea for lenience can the angel Michael offer for you? That is what Rebbe Levi Yitzchak meant.''
Then Rebbe Baruch said, ''Rebbe Levi Yitzchak is a tzaddik whose omniscience allows him to see everything. The reason I constantly criticize him is because all Jews pray daily for the coming of Moshiach [the Messiah] and the restoration of the service in the Temple in Jerusalem. But some of the angels say to G-d, 'What need is there for a restoration of the Sanctuary? There you have Rebbe Levi Yitzchak, whose prayers and service are every bit as great as that of the High Priest in the Sanctuary.' I therefore criticize him, to enter my protest and to show G-d that I am not satisfied with his being a substitute for the High Priest, and that we must have the Redemption with the return of the Temple in Jerusalem.''
Rebbe Baruch's attacks on Rebbe Levi Yitzchak were thus hardly of the nature of a personal feud.
Zechuso Yagein Aleinu v'al Kol Yisrael - May the Kedushas Levi's merits protect us all!

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