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Thursday, October 23, 2008


Rebbe Levi Yitzchak’s True Love

Tonight is the 25th of Tishrei, and the 198th 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 can be found in previous posts:
The Yamim Noraim and the Defender of Israel
What Can the Angel Michael Say for You?
Longing for the Singing and a New Beginning


The following story is adapted from the book entitled Shlomo's Stories: Selected Tales, by Reb Shlomo Carlebach and Susan Yael Mesinai, published by Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ.
It shows the great love Rebbe Levi Yitzchak had for Hashem, as only Reb Shlomo could tell us:

The Rebbe Reb Baruch's Tallis
by Shlomo Carlebach and Susan Yael Mesinai
Everybody knows that the heilige Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev and the Rebbe Reb Baruch of Medzibuzh were the very opposites of each other. The Rebbe Reb Baruch was very civilized. When he davened, he barely moved. When he sat with his family at the Shabbos table, he was so regal he was the king of the world.

But when Rebbe Levi Yitzchak prayed, he jumped from one end of the room to another. He would dance, turn around, fall to the ground. At his table, one had to be very careful. You never knew what to expect. In the middle of Kiddush, he could go absolutely wild, take the wine bottle, pour it up, pour it down, throw the cup into the air.

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak wanted so much to spend a Shabbos with the Rebbe Reb Baruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, that he finally invited himself.

The Rebbe Reb Baruch said: "You can come, but you have to behave my way. Especially at the table, with my family, you must be very proper."

Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev thought about it. "The only way I can behave is if I don't open my mouth. I won't even pray, except to say 'Amen,' because the minute I daven, I'm no longer myself."

So he said to the Rebbe Reb Baruch: "When we're making Kiddush, don't ask me to say a blessing. Let me be absolutely silent, because it's the only way I can control myself."

The two Rebbes agreed. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak came for Shabbos. They davened and he only answered "Amen." The praying went beautifully. Everybody was sure that by Kiddush, Rebbe Levi Yitzchak would start jumping on the table. But, no, the Rebbe Reb Baruch made Kiddush and Rebbe Levi Yitzchak only said "Amen."

Everybody knows that it's a minhag, a custom on Friday night, to eat sweet fish and sour fish. The deepest question in the world, and a big controversy among the Rebbes, was which fish to eat first. Some said sweet fish, because then you have the strength to bear the sour. Others said: "Let's get the sour fish out of the way, so that the end will be sweet."

But both ways are holy.

The Rebbe Reb Baruch was civilized. He had a little Chassid, like a waiter, bring the fish on a platter and ask each person which he preferred to eat first - sour fish or sweet. So the waiter came, sadly enough, to Rebbe Levi Yitzchak and asked, "Do you like sweet fish?"

That's all the poor Chassid had to ask. Rebbe Levi Yitzchak said: "Do I love sweet fish? I love Hashem! I love only G-d!"

And he took the whole platter of fish and threw it up to the ceiling. And the fish began to drip onto the Rebbe Reb Baruch's tallis, because in those days the big Rebbes always wore their prayer shawls for the feast on Friday night.

Everyone was aghast. Everyone, that is, except the Rebbe Reb Baruch who, for all his civilized behavior, would never wash his tallis after that feast because, he said, the stains were very holy. "These stains are caused by a Jew who really loves G-d. How can I wash them out?"

After the Rebbe Reb Baruch's death, the tallis was passed from one Rebbe to another to wear on Shabbos, but never washed. During this century it became so precious that the Rebbes only wore it for Yom Kippur. The holy Munkatcher Rebbe, the last to possess it, wore it only for Neila, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. He must have foreseen the destruction that would be coming into the world with the Holocaust. For the holy Munkatcher's last will was to be buried in the Rebbe Reb Baruch's tallis, covered with the stains caused by one who loved only G-d.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael – may Rebbe Levi Yitzchak’s merits protect us all!

Great story Yitz. Last Shabbat I was at the Bar Mitzvah of a direct descendant of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.
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