Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev became the rav of Pinsk in the year 1771, taking the place of the Toras Yekusiel. At that time a great gathering of misnagdim the opponents of Chassidus was held in Shklov. They made many false accusations against the chassidim so that soon the situation in Pinsk became too difficult for Reb Levi Yitzchak to bear. It was under the backdrop of the gathering in Shklov that Reb Levi Yitzchak received the letter that would be the cause of his mentor's premature passing.
Reb Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the author of the Tanya and the Shulchan Aruch, was in Mezritch learning with the Maggid. One Shabbos, nine other students of the Maggid arrived: Reb Shmuel Shmelke of Nikolsberg and his brother Reb Pinchas, the author of Hafla'ah, Reb Nachum of Chernobyl, Reb Levi Yitzchak, Reb Zev Wolf of Zhitomir, the holy brothers the Rebbe Reb Elimelech and Rebbe Zisha, Reb Leib, and Reb Shlomo of Karlin. Reb Shneur Zalman was the youngest among them; most were already serving as rabbis of various towns and cities.
While they were there, a letter arrived from Pinsk. It was from Reb Levi Yitzchak's wife. Her letter described the suffering his family had to endure at the hands of the misnagdim. (Some say they were even chased out of town so that a new rav by the name of Avigdor would take Reb Levi Yitzchak's place. Others say that the family actually showed up at the Maggid's residence.)
Reb Levi Yitzchak's colleagues were greatly distressed by the news. They decided that they would have the letter read before the Maggid during the Shabbos meal, for they considered the matter quite serious. Since Reb Levi Yitzchak was directly involved in matter, he was the obvious choice to read the letter for the Maggid.
While Reb Levi Yitzchak read the letter out loud before his Rebbe, the Maggid remained silent and did not utter a word. (According to some versions, he reread the letter at each meal, yet received no response each time.) The Maggid's disciples wondered at this, and on motza'ei Shabbos they gathered together to decide what to do. Perhaps the Maggid's silence, they speculated, was a sign of acquiescence that it was up to them to decide how to handle the affair. They took a vote on whether to issue a ban of excommunication against the misnagdim. But in order to do so, they needed a quorum of men for a minyan, and they were short one man. They decided that they must convince Reb Shneur Zalman to join them though they knew it would be difficult to persuade him to do so without the Maggid's permission.
Reb Shmuel Shmelke had an idea. They sent Reb Zisha to Reb Shneur Zalman to ask him if issuing cherem in such a situation was permissible. If he would answer yes, they would ask him to join them. If no, they would try to think of something else.
In the end, Rebbe Zisha convinced Reb Shneur Zalman to join them, and they placed a ban of excommunication against the misnagdim and the people of Pinsk for persecuting the chassidim and Reb Levi Yitzchak and his family.
Midnight had long passed when the Maggid's students returned and went to sleep in the Maggid's dormitories. But Reb Shneur Zalman could not sleep; he was feeling uneasy about the night's events. He felt that something was wrong. As he took his place on a small three-cornered pillow by the wood-burning stove, he felt that somehow the Maggid must know what they had done.
Sure enough, he could hear the Maggid's footsteps, a distinctive sound since he suffered from a sickness that had affected his legs and Reb Shneur Zalman could hear the Maggid's crutches bumping on the floor. Curious to find out what his Rebbe would do, Reb Shneur Zalman feigned sleep. Through slitted eyes, he saw his Rebbe enter with a candle in hand and look in the face of each of his disciples. When he reached Reb Shneur Zalman, the Maggid said, "Ribbono shel olam! Master of the world! This llittle Yid lying here on this little pillow will be the Rebbe of all the provinces in Russia?"
His voice woke the sleeping students. They washed and stood up, and Reb Shneur Zalman did likewise.
"My children," the Maggid said to them, "what have you done?"
"We could hold back no longer!" they cried. "How much can we suffer? We had no choice."
"I knew there was a great danger, and it was not for naught that I did not act! Now it is too late, for by this act you have lost your head and your leader. But you have been rewarded with one success that from now until the end of time, whenever there shall be a disagreement between the chassidim and their opponents, the chassidim will emerge victorious."
So it was that in that year, the year 1773, on the nineteenth of Kislev, we lost the great refined light of the holy Tzaddik, the Maggid of Mezritch.
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
Phone: 972-2-992-1218 / Cell: 972-54-842-4725
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