Kedushas Levi by Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditshov
How the Serpent Tricked Chavah
And he said to the woman, "Even though G-d said, 'Do not eat from any of the trees in the garden.' The woman answered... "G-d has said, 'Do not eat from it...lest you might die.'" The serpent said to the woman, "You shall surely not die..."
The usage of the word af, "even though," does not make any sense [even though Hashem said not to eat of the tree then what?] Also, we must analyze why Chavah changed the facts when she said that Hashem said to her, "Lest you might die." She made it sound as if there was some doubt, but Hashem Himself declared, "On the day you eat from it you shall surely die" (Bereishis 2:17). Death was certain. In truth, however, as our Sages point out, man did not die on that day he lived a thousand years.
We must understand what trickery the serpent employed to fool the woman into transgressing Hashem's commandment. The serpent built his argument by saying, "Heaven and earth were formed by the word of G-d" (Tehillim 33:6), and it is known that all the worlds and all the creatures came into existence by G-d's spoken word, as we see from the ten utterances, "Let there be light..." and so on. Their primary life force and existence comes from that utterance of Hashem. Now, since He is the source and life of all life, and His words are living and everlasting, how can it be that the tree of knowledge, which was also created by the word of Hashem, could be something so harmful and deadly, when it was created by the source and root of all life itself?
Therefore the serpent said, "Even though [af] G-d said, 'Do not eat from any of the trees in the garden,' how can this be? It [the tree] was created by G-d's spoken word, which gives it life and existence since it was drawn from the Source of all life, and so surely it is something that gives life and not something that causes death! Therefore, although Hashem said not to eat it, who says you have to listen to that command? Rather, you should listen to the utterance that G-d spoke to give life when creating the world."
However, this was just a trick of the serpent. In truth, we know the root and source of the tree of knowledge are the 288 sparks before they fell and were shattered, which have such a high supernal source.
[The Noam Elimelech explains that "this alludes to the 288 sparks of holiness that fell to a lower spiritual state and were scattered during the shattering of the vessels. It is our divine duty in this world to rectify and elevate these sparks..." During Creation, the sefiros (divine attributes), which are compared to vessels, were unable to contain the great awesome light of the Infinite and therefore shattered. The sparks of holiness from that light were exiled and dispersed among all mundane physical matter. This created a state of imperfection that can only be rectified by tikun effectively refining this material world and elevating the sparks back to their original source. This is accomplished by performing the will of the Almighty in this physical world through His holy Torah and its commandments, the mitzvos. The sparks of holiness that are scattered among the world from the breaking of the vessels were swallowed up by the klippos, literally, "shells" or "husks." Thus the good, holy spark is like a fruit or nut, which is surrounded by an outer shell or peel. In order to eat and benefit from the goodness of the fruits, one must first break the shell or remove the peel. So, too, everything in this world has an outer exterior, a false shell, that can be peeled away to reveal its true inner beauty.]
Adam's sin caused these 288 sparks to fall and shatter, and they descended very low until they were clothed in a mixture of good and evil in the husks and shells known as "klippas nogah" and in physical matter. Now this is man's primary objective when serving Hashem in this world: to transform darkness into light and to elevate those sparks back up to their root source. Therefore Hashem commanded Adam not to eat from the tree of knowledge because he did not have the ability to draw the light of those sparks down here below in the same form that they existed up above, since their source and root were very lofty. Thus, when Adam sinned, the sparks fell and descended down and down [and became clothed in the husks and shells of impurity].
Through the service of the Tzaddikim, as they engage in Torah study and mitzvos, the darkness in which the sparks are clothed is transformed into light, and they ascend higher and higher back to their root source. And when they ascend, their light increases so that the light dominates the darkness, as our Rabbis said, "In the place where ba'alei teshuvah, penitents, stand even completely righteous Tzaddikim cannot stand" (Berachos 34b). We can compare this to a son who grew distant from his father and strayed to the crooked path. When he later repented and returned to his father, his father derived great joy and delight from his return [more than if he had stayed on the straight path all along].
Therefore Hashem said, "On the day you eat from it you shall surely die," meaning that on that very day, when you eat from it, you will be drawn into an aspect of death, since you are causing the sparks to descend and clothe themselves in the physical world and in the husks and shells of the klippas nogah, which is an aspect of death. However, afterward, due to the service of the Tzaddikim through Torah study and mitzvos, they will be transformed from darkness into light and ascend higher and higher to their root source, and this will bring even greater joy and delight [than before].
Before Adam and Chavah sinned, they did not fully grasp this idea of elevating and refining the sparks, and therefore they did not understand Hashem's warning about temporary death. They thought "death" meant death forever, and they therefore had difficulty understanding how this [tree], which, as we explained above, had been created by the Source of all life [could cause death]. They misunderstood Hashem's intentions and thought that He meant that since the tree of knowledge had such a great light that they themselves could not draw down, they could not handle such a light, as our Rabbis said, "Four entered the orchard..." (Chagigah 14b). Therefore they said, "Lest you might die" meaning that perhaps we shall not merit this great light, and it will be impossible for us to grasp it and endure it, and perhaps it may even cause death. This doubt was planted by the serpent's arguments.
This is why the snake told them, "You shall surely not die..." There is no reason to doubt you will certainly not die, since you are on such a lofty level you can surely endure and bear this [great light]. Especially once you eat from it and "you shall be like G-d, knowing good and evil" you will advance to such a high level that you will surely be worthy of such a great light. This is how the serpent tricked them. Understand this.
The Stolen Spoon: The Tale of a True Penitent
The Rebbe Reb Baruch of Mezibuzh was well known as an outspoken critic of Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. One Friday night, during the Rebbe's tisch, when his chassidim were
gathered around his table, Rav Baruch declared, "If anyone here will speak evil of the Berditchever Rav, I promise that he will be rewarded with a portion in the World to Come."
Immediately a young man stepped forward, prepared to offer Rav Baruch an evil report about the Berditchever. Here was the perfect opportunity to acquire his portion in just one moment! Eager to secure his claim, the chassid did not even stop to think for a second that perhaps Rav Baruch might have ulterior motives behind his request. The elder chassidim standing near him were horrified and dissuaded him from coming forward. "Heaven forbid that you should do such a thing!" they said.
The next day, during the Shabbos day meal, Rav Baruch repeated his offer. "My proposal stands. Whoever can bring me an evil word about the Berditchever is guaranteed a portion in the next world!" he announced. Just like the previous night, silence prevailed. None dared open their mouths to utter a word against Rav Levi Yitzchak none that is except for the same young man, who without any compunctions seemed intent on speaking ill of the Berditchever and claim his reward. The opportunity had presented itself how could he hold back what he knew about Rav Levi Yitzchak? Why, it was a veritable sin to hold out on his Rebbe, was it not?
Again his fellow chassidim appealed to his common sense and convinced him to stay silent. He agreed, certain that he would be given one more opportunity to finally do what he wanted, later during shalosh seudos, the third meal of Shabbos.
The time indeed came. Rav Baruch repeat his request, and this time the young chassid paid no attention to his friends imploring him to refrain from speaking out. He ran forward, eager to unburden himself. Seeing the young man pushing his way through the crowd, Rav Baruch beckoned to him. "Come close, son, and tell me all that you know about the Berditchever!"
The young man told his tale. "I once traveled to Berditchev on business during the trade fair, and I decided that this would be a good opportunity to visit the beis midrash where the Berditchever davens and observe him in prayer. I had been told that it is a spectacle to behold his devotions, which are so wonderful that they can only be described as supernatural. I felt that it would be of great benefit to me to observe such pure and holy worship. So I set aside some time during my working hours to visit the beis midrash.
"As I neared the entrance to the study hall, and I the sound of the Berditchever's ecstatic prayers. I did not dare venture inside. I could not enter. I just stood rooted to the spot in wonder and awe. Then the Berditchever reached the passage "Yotzer mesharsim va'asher mesharsav kulam omdim b'rum olam He fashions the ministering angels, His servants who stand at the heights of the universe" (found in the morning blessings preceding the Shema). Suddenly he jumped up and ran toward me, and he yelled in a fit of hot anger, 'Vus vet der malach Michoel zogen?! Vus vet der malach Gavriel zogen?! What will the angel Michael say? What will the angel Gavriel say?' He raised his hand and slapped me soundly on the cheek! Then he ran back to his place and resumed his prayers.
"Now I ask you," said the indignant young man, "how was the Berditchever allowed to speak in the middle of the blessings? And to strike a fellow Jew in anger? What did those strange words about the angels mean? And why did he do all this in the midst of his prayers. The whole thing sounds crazy!"
Rav Baruch patiently listened to the young man's story till the very end. When the chassid finished, Rav Baruch addressed everyone present.
"You should know that Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev is an advocate on behalf of all of Klal Yisrael before the heavenly court. He speaks out in defense of all Jews and searches for merits to defend them and quell the forces of judgment against them. He even searches for merits to defend them when they have sinned, Heaven forbid! At the time when this young chassid came to the Berditchever's beis midrash, they were davening the Yotzer blessing that precedes Shema. At that time in the morning, when Jews all over the world reach the verse that speaks of the ministering angels, who as servants stand at the heights of the universe, that is the very moment when the archangels such as Michael and Gavriel and all their hosts gather together to defend Klal Yisrael and seek their merits, as it says, 'If there will be even one defending angel out of a thousand to declare a man's uprightness on his behalf' (Iyov 33:23). They try their best to seek out a defense for each Jewish soul to protect it from the rod of judgment hovering over him and to send down an abundance of blessings upon him to cleanse him of the stains of guilt and iniquity.
"When the Berditchever Rav reaches that point in his prayers, he enters the fray and joins the supernal ministering angels, seeking to find merits for Jewish souls. While you were standing there and observed that he reached this point in the davening, proclaiming that the ministering angels stand at the height of the universe, his soul ascended on High. He was spiritually elevated to the highest heights to seek out merits and advocate on behalf of Klal Yisrael. Then he saw you standing there before him, besmirched with the sin that you had committed that very day at the inn when you stole that silver spoon during the meal he was enraged, because he could find no merit on your behalf to bolster his argument in your defense before the heavenly court.
"You see, sometimes a thief steals in desperation, out of poverty and hunger. Then Rav Levi Yitzchak can argue that the thief did not steal in order to purposefully transgress the commandment prohibiting theft, nor did he steal because he yearns for luxuries or because he desires that which is not his own. He only stole to satiate the pangs of hunger that assail his wretched existence and to quiet the rumblings of his empty stomach. He steals knowing that he might get caught, but what can he do? What other choice does he have?"
Rav Baruch's temper rose, and his anger reached its boiling point as he turned to the trembling young man who stood dumbstruck, like a thief caught in the act. Rav Baruch pointed an accusing finger and thundered, "But you are a prosperous and wealthy merchant who lacks nothing! Why did you yield to the temptation of the evil inclination? Why did you steal that silver spoon? The Tzaddik of Berditchev could find no defense on your behalf, and that is why he shouted at you, 'What will the angel Michael say? What will the angel Gavriel say?' What will they say to defend you against the crime you committed?"
The young man began to cry and begged forgiveness for his repugnant conduct. But Rav Baruch could not comply. "Only by approaching the Tzaddik of Berditchev can you repent and receive atonement for your crime. Ask him to prescribe to you a path for repentance and that he should forgive you!"
The young man did so and became a true ba'al teshuvah.
The Story of his Passing
There is a tradition from the Maggid of Petriva and Rav Yisroel of Vizhnitz that Rav Levi Yitzhak passed away right after Succos. He related that the Berditshever grew weak after Yom Kippur and his condition was life threatening. However he prayed that his days might be lengthened so that he might still merit fulfilling the mitzvah of shaking the four species of the lulav and esrog which he yearned and waited for all year long. His prayers were answered and he lived till Isru Chag and passed away on the night of the 25th of Tishrei. (Toldos Kedushas Levi Munkacz 8:103) (See also Sichos HaRan 196)
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov said "Even the average individual should feel the loss of a Tzadik like Rav Levi Yitzhak. Everyone now feels that there is something lacking in the world. There is a depressed mood everywhere. One might feel it in his business, which no longer runs as smoothly as before. Another might feel it in his bones, which somehow seem displaced. If your eyes are truly open you will see that world has become dark, for a great light has been extinguished in the world. A great candle's light has been truly snuffed out and that the world has filled with a great darkness." Many had reported that flames had been seen rising from the bier of Rav Levi Yitzhak. (Toldos Kedushas Levi Munkacz 8:105) (See also Sichos HaRan 196)
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
Director Machon Be'er Mayim Chaim Publishing
Chassidic Classics in the English Language
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