The Passing of the Berditchever
When Rav Yitzchak of Neschiz married the Berditchever's granddaughter, the Berditchever said that under no circumstances could he promise to support the young couple for more than four years. This was quite a surprise to all, since it was customary to support a young couple for longer. It was only when the four-year period was over that everything became clear. At that time, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev passed away.1
Not long before the Berditchever's passing, a wealthy Jew living in Berditchev was involved in a dispute with Rav Levi Yitzchak. This wealthy man had invited the Rav Yechiel Michel of Rachov (another tradition says that he was from Morchov) to serve as a rav in Berditchev. When the Rachover arrived, the townspeople were certain he and Rav Levi Yitzchak, who currently served as rav in official capacity, would clash in a difference of opinion.
It seemed that things might come to a head at a bris to which both rabbis had been invited. Since the Berditchever had decreed that all circumcisions were to be conducted in the shul to honor Eliyahu HaNavi, they brought the baby there for the bris. The shamash misunderstood his instructions and instead of inviting just one of the rabbis to the bris, he invited both of them, the Rachover and the Berditchever, to the Bris.
Both rabbis lived close to the shul, one to the right of the building and one to the left, and both set out for the bris at about the same time and ended up arriving simultaneously in front of the shul. This was their first meeting face to face in Berditchev, and each stood at the doorway, waiting to allow the other to enter first. They stood there in silence for some time until finally one of the guests came out and said, "Let the Berditchever go in first since he was the rabbi here before," and so the Berdicthever entered the shul first.
After the bris, the two rabbis parted ways, but it was clear from this incident that the Berditchever respected the Rachover as a great individual. Theirs was a relationship where reproof was out in the open while their precious friendship was kept hidden from the public eye. Nonetheless, the local populace knew of their affection for each other.
When the Berditchever grew ill and bedridden, the Rachover also took ill. The Berditchever passed away that night, and the funeral was scheduled for the next day. That morning the Rachover called over his son Rav Asher and chastised him for concealing the news that the Berditchever had passed away. "Why didn't anyone tell me that the rav has passed away?" he said. "In any case, I knew it in my own way."
They admitted to him that indeed the Berditchever had left this world. The Rachover asked his son to tell Rav Yisrael of Pikov, the Berditchever's son, that when they carried the bier the funeral procession should pass by his home since he had urgent matters to tell the Berditchever. His son promised, and when the funeral procession passed by, he descended from his sickbed and approached the Berditchever's bier. He whispered into Rav Levi Yitzchak ear, speaking at length. None of what he said was audible to anyone except for the last words he spoke, a quote from a verse: "Count for yourself seven weeks" (Devarim 16:9). Seven weeks to the day that the Berditchever passed away the Rachover rav left this world as well.3
There is a tradition from the Maggid of Petriva and Rav Yisrael of Vizhnitz that Rav Levi Yitzchak passed away right after Sukkos. They related that the Berditchever grew weak after Yom Kippur, and his condition was life-threatening. He prayed that he might live a little longer so that he would merit to fulfill the mitzvah of waving the four species, which he yearned and waited for all year long. His prayers were answered and he lived until Isru Chag (the day after Sukkos). He passed away on the night of the twenty-fifth of Tishrei.4
When news spread of his passing, one of the chassidim of Rav Baruch of Mezibuzh rushed to tell his Rebbe the news of the Berditchever's passing. Rav Baruch was known to criticize Rav Levi Yitzchak's ways, and the chassid thought he was bringing "good" news. Instead, Rav Baruch practically fainted and began to cry and wail in distress.
He admonished the harbinger of such terrible news. "Don't think that when I spoke against Rav Levi Yitzchak I did so in order to diminish his stature or blemish his honor! Rav Levi Yitzchak rose to the loftiest levels, to the highest spiritual realms above that of even the ministering angels, and I was afraid they would harm him in their jealousy. Therefore I used trickery and guile to hide my intentions and pretended to belittle and mock his holy ways to silence their jealous accusations."5
When Rebbe Nachman of Breslov talked about the passing of Rav Levi Yitzchak, he said, "Even the average individual should feel the loss of a Tzaddik such as Rav Levi Yitzchak. 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 snuffed out and the world has filled with a great darkness."6
"The Berditchever said before he passed away that when he arrived in the next world he would not rest nor give any other Tzaddik respite rest until he succeeded in bringing Mashiach." Thus spoke Rav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta and Mezibuzh on the day he left this world. Before he passed away, the Apter Rav cried and wailed about our bitter exile. Why does Mashiach ben Yishai tarry so long? That is when he mentioned the Berditchever's promise. "However," he concluded, "when he ascended on high, they showed him such lofty spiritual levels and engaged him in such magnificent supernal chambers that he grew distracted that he forgot his mission.
"I, however, will not forget!"7
1. Zichron Tov, Mei'Avodas Hashem 13, p. 16.
2. See the story in Vayeira entitled "In Honor of Eliyahu" above and the tradition of Rav Shalom Gutman of Yas that corroborates this ruling of Rav Levi Yitzchak.
3. Kisvei Rav Yoshe 32, p. 144; Eser Oros 3:40.
4. Toldos Kedushas Levi (Munkacz) 8:103; see also Sichos HaRan 196.
5. Toldos Kedushas Levi (Munkacz) 8:108; Eser Oros 3:22.
6. Toldos Kedushas Levi (Munkacz) 8:105; see also Sichos HaRan 196.
7. Otzar HaSippurim, vol. 18, p. 25.
R' Tal Moshe Zwecker
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