Sunday, August 8, 2010

Motzei Shabbos Sipurei Tzaddikim: Rav Levi Yitzchak and the Angels

Rav Baruch of Mezibuz sat with his Chassidim in his BeisMidrash (study hall) discussing the deeper aspects of the Torah. Unexpectedly, he turned to them and asked, "Can any of you say something negative about Rav Levi Yitzchak MiBerditchev? The astonished Chassidim struggled to comprehend what was behind their Rebbe's request. They supposed that he was trying to impress upon them the elevated level of the Rebbe MiBerditchev, and to prove that no one on earth was capable of saying a bad word about him. So they didn't answer him.

"Come on," Rav Baruch pressed them, "I'm waiting to hear something bad about him!" The Chassidim were mystified by their Rebbe, but now they understood that this was what he really wanted. They raked their memories for something negative they may have heard once about the Rebbe MiBerditchev, but to no avail. They were unable to satisfy their Rebbe.
An hour of unsuccessful efforts went by, by then the suspense of the Chassidim had become unbearable. Finally Rav Baruch explained his strange request:

I must now tell you that the Angels of Heaven are jealous of Rav Levi Yitzchak MiBerditchev. He perfectly embodies the verse, "you will find grace and good sense in the eyes of G-d and men" (Proverbs 3:4). He is so flawless in the study of Torah, fear of G-d, love of the Mitzvos and love of the Jewish People, that the Angels envy him. The result is that a great accusation has been provoked against him and his life is in peril. I must find some flaw in him in order to cool down the jealousy of the Angels."
As soon as the Chassidim understood the meaning of their Rebbe's strange wish¸ they tried with all their strength to find some fault in Rav Levi Yitzchak, knowing that by doing so, they will save his life.

In the meantime, a wealthy merchant from Mezibuz entered the Beit Midrash. Most of his time was spent traveling from town to town on his many business dealings. When he heard what the Rebbe and his students were discussing, his eyes lit up. He waited for a moment of silence and said:

"I can tell you of Rav Levi Yitzchak's shortcomings!"
All eyes were fixed on the merchant, who spoke with delight. Rav Baruch looked at him with penetrating eyes and said, "If so, tell your story!"

The merchant began his tale:

"A few weeks ago I happened to be in Berditchev on business. I woke up late in the morning in my hotel and went to the town's Synagogue. At that late hour, all the Minyanim (community prayers) had already finished. To my surprise, I saw Rav Levi Yitzchak in the corner of the Synagogue, completely immersed in the morning prayer. I clearly heard that he was in the midst of reciting the blessing "Yotzer Ohr" (literally, "[You who] creates light," which is said before "Shema Israel"). I stood at the doorway, about to enter in order to pray alone. To my surprise, Rav Levi Yitzchak came over to me and said, 'what will the Angel Michael say?! And what will the Angel Gavriel say?!' Immediately afterwards, the Rav returned to his place and continued praying as usual."

The merchant studied the faces of his listeners and raised his voice: "So what can you say about this strange behavior of Rav Levi Yitzchak? What does all of what he said have to do with me? What is this business about the Angels Michael and Gavriel in the middle of the prayer," the merchant asked with a contemptuous smile. "And most importantly: Since when is it permitted to interrupt in the middle of saying "Yotzer Ohr" in order to speak to someone?!"

The Chassidim stared at the merchant, stunned that he had found a real flaw in Rav Levi Yitzchak. They breathlessly awaited their Rebbe's reaction. Rav Baruch began: "In the blessing "Yotzer Ohr," when we reach the words 'Yotzer Meshartim' (meaning [You who] creates servants), the Angels Michael and Gavriel stand up in order to appeal on behalf of the nation of Israel. At that moment, Rav Levi Yitzchak joins them as well, and he also pleads for a favorable judgment for the Jewish people."

The Rebbe turned his head towards the merchant and focused his penetrating eyes on his eyes:
"When Rav Levi Yitzchak saw you entering the Synagogue with your Tefillin bag in your hand, and in your coat pocket the silver spoon you stole from your hotel that morning, he tried to find some justification for you but didn't succeed, since you are a rich merchant and have no reason in the world to steal."

Rav Baruch's eyes didn't budge from the merchant. He raised his voice and said: "That is why Rav Levi Yitzchak came over to you! He knew that even the Angels wouldn't find any excuse for you, that's why he called out, 'what will the Angel Michael say?!' and 'what will the Angel Gavriel say?!'"

The arrogant smile was wiped off the merchant's face, which became red and progressively turned pale. The Chassidim were left breathless by this revelation of divine insight of Rav Levi Yitzchak and Rav Baruch.

In a moment, Rav Baruch's gaze became softer, as well as his voice. "If you desire atonement," he said to the merchant, you must return to Berditchev and return the stolen item to its owner, go to the Tzaddik and ask forgiveness for your insolence toward him, and beg the Holy One, Blessed be He, to help you return to the proper path."

Rav Baruch's words entered the merchant's heart like an arrow. He rose without a word and departed from the Beit Midrash of Mezibuz to Berditchev, determined to mend his ways. In conclusion, the merchant returned entirely to the path of the righteous, and Rav Levi Yitzchak MiBerditchev was saved from the jealousy of the Angels.

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