Friday, November 26, 2010

Yud Tes Kislev and the Berditchever

From the upcoming MeOros Kedushas Levi on the Chumash Volume on Bereishis:

Just before the Alter Chabad Rebbe, Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, was taken away on trumped-up charges of subversive activities against the government, his brother-in-law, Rav Yisrael Kosik, came to him and asked for instructions.
"Go immediately," said the Rebbe, "and I mean immediately, to Petersburg. Go just as you are now, without delay. Someone else should also go to Berditchev to inform Rav Levi Yitzchak so that he may pray for me."
Losing no time, Rav Yisrael left for Petersburg without even changing clothes. Nor did he return to his hometown in Babinovitch to obtain a passport, but instead borrowed one belonging to a friend. Meanwhile, someone else left for Berditchev, as the Rebbe had ordered, but in all the excitement and haste, the man forgot to note the name of the Alter Rebbe's mother, which is needed for the kvittel, the petition, which is called a pidyon nefesh (literally, "redemption of the soul").
In Berditchev the emissary informed Rav Levi Yitzchak of what had happened. The Berditchever fell to the floor in agony and cried bitterly over his mechutan's terrible predicament. Finally he composed himself enough to interrogate the emissary on the Alter Rebbe's state of mind when he was taken.
"Was he upset?"
Receiving an affirmative answer, Rav Levi Yitzchak inquired further.
"Was he deeply upset or just a little upset?"
"It appeared that he was only a little upset," 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."
Rav Levi Yitzchak was very impressed by this reply and commended the man's power of observation.
"Now tell me, what is the name of the Alter Rebbe's mother?"
The emissary, of course, did not know what to answer since in his haste to arrive in Berditchev he forgot to ask for the name. By the time he remembered to ask, he was already far along his way and was afraid to return because the Alter Rebbe had emphasized the importance of speed.
There was a Chumash on the table. The Berditchever opened it, and the first verse he saw was in parashas Miketz: "Yaakov saw that there were provisions [shever] in Egypt" (Bereishis 42:1). "The word shever," said the Berditchever, "is an acrostic for Shneur ben Rivka."
Someone asked the Berditchever why it couldn't be Rachel, which also begins with a reish. He answered that the word shever contains two letters from the name Rivka, a reish and a beis. And so it was. Rav Shneur Zalman himself sometimes signed his name "Shneur ben Rivka."70
The Lubavitcher Rebbe recorded another version of the story:
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 Rav Yaakov Smilianer. The letter said, "To awaken heavenly mercy and 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 over this pidyon nefesh so that "the letters will be engraved in your memory."
When Rav Yaakov reached Berditchev, he realized that he had lost the petition. But he was able to recite the contents of the lost letter from memory, since they were "engraved in his mind." However, when Rav Levi Yitzchak asked Rav Yaakov for the name of Rav Shneur Zalman's mother, Rav Yaakov could not tell him because he did not know it. The Berditchever lit up his lilke (a long pipe that many Rebbes once smoked) and said, "With this pipe I could burn up all of Petersburg!"
"Berditchever Rav!" responded Rav Yaakov. "Our Rebbe is a Russian Rebbe. He represents the attributes of Chabad — [the acronym of] chochmah, binah, and da'as, wisdom, insight, and knowledge." (Meaning that he did not need to resort to miracles.)
Rav Levi Yitzchak gave him a long look and said in jest, "See what a Russian chassid is like? For him even a Rebbe without a mother does fine!"
Rav Levi Yitzchak then left for the mikveh, with Rav Yaakov following behind. After Rav Levi Yitzchak immersed, he came out, washed his hands, and said, "Now I know that there are provisions [shever] in Egypt!" (based on Bereishis 42:1). Yes, there is hope because there is shever in Egypt," indicating that the Alter Rebbe would be released (since shever is an acronym of Shneur ben Rivka).
Upon his release from prison, the Alter Chabad Rebbe wrote three letters, informing of his release — one to Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, one to Rav Baruch of Mezhibuz, and one to all his chassidim. This is the letter he wrote to Rav Levi Yitzchak:
I have received a blessing and shall return one to my honored and beloved Rebbe and genius, the pious and ascetic master Rav Levi Yitzchak, and to all those who take shelter in his shade, the shadow of wisdom. May they all have life forever, especially his precious children, may they live.
I was drawn close to G-d, who uplifted me to inform the humble and the upright of heart of the joyous tidings. "Rejoice in G-d, you righteous" (Tehillim 97:12), and praise the Name of your G-d who performed a great miracle! I shall recount a tale that defies description — how G-d acted wondrously and magnificently on earth, made wondrous and great His great and holy Name, which publicly became exalted and sanctified, especially in the eyes of all the officers and people in the king's provinces. They, too, consider this matter so exceptionally wondrous that they said, " 'This must be from G-d, for it is wondrous in our eyes' (based on Tehillim 118:23). It is a sign that G-d is surely with us, and there is none other besides Him."
Who am I that G-d took me so far, that through so lowly a person as myself the Name of Heaven was exalted and sanctified? It must be because their principal battle was in essence a 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 will stand by us in every time of need, to bring us freedom and salvation, to widen that which is narrow and deliver us from agony and raise our horn for the glory of G-d, who forever sits on High and rejoices in His Creation, if it pleases Him.
It ought to be mentioned that this day that Hashem was with us is the day on which it twice said, "It is good" — the nineteenth of the Hebrew month of Kislev, the great anniversary of the passing of our holy Rebbe and teacher, zt"l [the yahrtzeit of the Maggid of Mezritch]. As [I was reciting Tehillim and] I reached the pasuk "My soul was freed in peace" (Tehillim 55:19),72 and before I even began the next verse, I departed in peace. 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 Reb Baruch, z"l.
Kol Tuv,
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim
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