Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev: 25 Tishrei


Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (1740–1809), also known as the Berdichever Rov, was a leading disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch and an outstanding figure in the early Chassidic movement. He served as rabbi of several cities, including Ritchvol (Ryczywół), Zhelichov, Pinsk and most famously, Berditchev. He was also a disciple of Chassidic leader Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsburg, whom he succeeded as rabbi of Ritchvol. Among his own disciples was the young Reb Noson of Nemirov (later Breslov) before he met Rabbi Nachman.

The Berditchover Rov was known as the "defense attorney" for the Jewish people, because he constantly sought to intercede on their behalf before God. He was also known as Der Baremdiger, the “Merciful,” due to his boundless compassion. Due to this, many consider it to be beneficial to recite his name and mother’s name in times of trouble: “Levi Yitzchak ben Sarah Sasha."

His mystical teachings were later published as Kedushas Levi, which is arranged according to the weekly Torah portion, and which almost immediately became a Chassidic classic. (Selections from this work were translated to English by Rabbi Arye Kaplan in his anthology, Chassidic Masters (Chapter 6). There are now other translations, as well.)

Reb Levi Yitzchok also penned a haskamah (approbation) to the commentary Keser Nehora, which was eventually combined with the Nusach of the Zlotchover Maggid and published in Berditchev as Siddur Tefillah Yesharah (the “Berditchever Siddur”). This Siddur was widely used by countless tzaddikim, chassidim vi-anshei ma’aseh.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was close with another prominent disciple of the Great Maggid, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, author of the Tanya and founder of the Chabad school of Chassidism. Later they became machatanim, relatives through marriage.

He also defended Rabbi Nachman of Breslov against the denunciations of Chassidic elder Rabbi Arye Leib of Shpola, known as the “Shpoler Zeide.” (See Chayei Moharan, #122). He even declared, “If I thought people would listen to me, I’d cry out with a voice that could be heard from one end of the world to the other, ‘Whoever wants to be pure and saintly and serve G-d should attach himself to Rabbi Nachman!’ “

This admiration was mutual. Rabbi Nachman called Reb Levi Yitzchok the “Pe’er (glory) of Israel,” a term the Gemara associates with the Tefillin (Berakhos 11a). Accordingly, when Reb Levi Yitzchok undertook a difficult journey (I seem to remember that this journey was to raise charity for pidyon sh’vuyim, but I haven’t located a source for this), Rabbi Nachman asked to have his Tefillin checked. (See Chayei Moharan, #270; also see ##533 and 599 re. Rabbi Nachman’s great esteem for the Berditchover Rov.)

Reb Noson writes that Lesson 67 in the second half of Likutey Moharan alludes to the Berditchever Rov’s passing – of which Rabbi Nachman was aware b’ruach hakodesh before the sad news came to Breslov. (See Chayei Moharan, # 45; Sichos HaRan #196.)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchok passed away on the 25th of Tishrei, 5570 (1809), a year before Rabbi Nachman’s passing, and is buried in the old Jewish cemetery in Berditchev. At that time, it was reported that a pillar of fire was seen accompanying his bier. Upon hearing this, Rabbi Nachman remarked, “Whoever has eyes in his head will see that on the day Rabbi Levi Yitzchok died, a great darkness descended upon the world…” (Sichos HaRan #197). His holy grave site is still visited by thousands of Jewish pilgrims throughout the year. Zekhuso yagen aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, amen.

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