Just before the Alter Chabad Rebbe Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi was taken away, after his arrest on false trumped up charges of subversive and rebellious activities against the government his brother-in-law, R. Israel Kosik, approached him and asked for instructions.
"You," said the Rebbe, "go immediately, and I mean immediately, to Petersburg. Go, just as you are now, without any hesitation. Someone else should go to Berditchev to inform R. Levi Yitzchak, that he may intercede and pray." The Rebbe's order was carried out. Losing no time R. Israel Kosik left for Petersburg, in the very same clothes he was wearing. In order to carry out the Rebbe's order and leave in haste, he did not return to his hometown in Babinovich to obtain a passport, but instead he borrowed one belonging to a friend.
Someone else left for Berditchev, but in all the excitement and haste the man forgot to note the name of the Alter Rebbe's mother, which was needed for the kvittel and the petition known as a Pidyon Nefesh. Arriving in Berditchev he informed Rav Levi Yitzchak of all that had happened to the Rebbe. In hearing the account of the occurrences, the Berditchiver fell to the floor in agony and cried bitterly.
He then asked the emissary whether the Alter Rebbe was upset. Receiving an affirmative answer, he inquired further, whether he was deeply upset or merely superficially. "It would appear that he was upset only superficially," replied the emissary. "I noticed that he forgot to take along his house slippers, but he did not forget to take his Tallis and Tefillin with him." Rav Levi Yitzchak was very impressed by this reply and commended the man's power of observation saying "Der Litvak Kukt Gut," which means the Lithuanian observes well.
He then asked for the name of the Alter Rebbe's mother. The emissary did not know what to answer since in his haste to arrive at Berditchev he forgot to ask for the name. He had remembered that he did not know the name, but was then already far on his way and afraid to return because the element of speed had been stressed so much.
There was a Chumash on the table. The Berditchiver opened it, and the first verse he saw was in Parshas Miketz (Bereshis 42:1-2) "And Yaakov saw that there was 'shever' (food) in Egypt." Said Rav Levi Yitzchak: "The word shever is an acrostic for Shneur ben Rivka." When someone asked the Berditchiver if it could not be Rachel which also begins with a Reish, he answered that the word Shever contained two letters from the name Rivkah, both a Reish and a Beis. And so it was indeed. The Rebbe himself, sometimes signed his name "Shneur ben Rivka."
(Beis Rebbe I p28; Rabbeinu HaZaken p.42; Tiferes Beis Levi p16-17)
Another version of the story that was recorded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe:
Before the Alter Chabad Rebbe, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi was incarcerated on false charges he sent a Pidyon Nefesh, a letter of petition to Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev through Reb Yaakov Smilianer. The letter said: "To awaken heavenly mercy and try an attempt that all my thoughts will be actualized from their potential state with no spiritual injury or bodily harm." He told Rav Yaakov that he should read this Pidyon Nefesh so that "the letters will the be engraved in your memory."
When Reb Yaakov reached Berditchev he saw that he had lost the letter of petition. When he came before Rav Levi Yitzchak he recited the contents of the lost letter of petition from memory, since they were "engraved in his mind," since the Alter Chabad Rebbe had asked him to memorize it.
Rav Levi Yitzchak asked Reb Yaakov what Rav Shneur Zalman's mother's name was and Reb yaakov Smilianer did not know the answer.
Rav Levi Yitzchak lit up his Lilke (a long pipe that many Rebbe's once smoked) saying: "With this pipe I could burn up all of Petersburg!"
Reb Yaakov responded: "Berditchiver Rav! Our Rebbe is a Russian Rebbe, he represents the attributes of Chaba"d Chochmah Wisdom, Binah Insight and Daas Knowledge." (Meaning that he does not need to resort to miracles.)
Rav Levi Yitzchak gave him a good look and said in jest, "See what a Russian chassid is like?! For him even a Rebbe without a mother is fine!" (Since he did not remember the Alter Chabad Rebbe's mothers name.)
Rav Levi Yitzchak went to the mikvah, with Reb yaakov following him. When Rav Levi Yitzchak had finished immersing and he came out and washed his hands he said: "Now I know that there is food - shever in Egypt!" (based on Bereshis 42:1-2) Yes there is hope because there is shever in Egypt (since it spells Shneur Ben Rivkah).
(Shaarei HaMoadim #26 p140-141)
Upon his release from prison, the Alter Chabad Rebbe wrote three letters: one to R. Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, one to R. Baruch of Mezhibuz, and one to all the Chassidim. In these he informed them of his release.
This is the text of his letter to Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (Original Attached) :
"Behold I have received a blessing and I shall return one as well to my honored and beloved, the great Rabbi and genius, pious and ascetic the master Rav Levi Yitzchak, and to all those who take shleter in his shade, the shadow of wisdom. May you all have life forever especially his precious children may they live.
Whereas I was drawn by G-d, who uplifted me to inform the humble and the upright of heart of joyous tidings - "Rejoice in the L-rd, O you righteous," (Tehillim, 97:12) and praise the name of your G-d who acted towards you miraculously in unlimited degree. I shall recount and tell that which defies description - how G-d acted wondrously and magnificently on earth, made wondrous and great His great and holy Name which publicly became magnified and sanctified, especially in the eyes of all the officers and people in the provinces of the king; in their eyes too this matter is considered so exceptionally wondrous that they reacted and said 'this must be from Hashem, for it is wondrous in our eyes.' (Tehillim 118:23) It is for a sign that G-d is with us and there is none other beside Him.
Behold, who am I that G-d took me so far, that through so lowly a person as myself the name of Heaven was magnified and sanctified?! It must then be because the principal battle was that they had in essence undertaken to wage war against the teachings of the Ba'al Shem Tov, his disciples and their disciples. And it was G-d's will to favor us in the merit of the Holy Land and its inhabitants - this stood by us and in our support and will stand by us in every time of need, to bring us freedom and salvation, to widen unto us that which is narrow and to deliver us from agony, and to raise our horn in the Glory of G-d, the L-rd who forever sits On High and rejoices in His Creation, if it shall please Him so.
It ought to be mentioned, that this day upon which Hashem was with us, is the day on which it was twice said 'it is good,' - the 19th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the great anniversary of the passing of our holy rabbi and teacher, of blessed memory; (The Maggid of Mezritch's yahrzeit) and as we read in Sefer Tehillim the pasuk 'my soul was freed in peace,' (Based on Tehillim 55:19 "He redeemed my soul in peace from battles against me, because of the many who were with me.") before I even began the next verse - I departed in peace, and I hereby conclude with peace from the G-d of peace.
These are the words of your beloved friend, who constantly prays for your welfare,
Shneur Zalman, the son of R. Baruch of blessed memory." (Igros Kodesh Admor HaZaken Letter #38 p97-99)
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Phone: 972-2-992-1218 / Cell: 972-54-842-4725
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