Courtesy: Gilda and Bob Kurtzman (January 18th, 1998)

Levi Yitzhak from Berditchiv according to a prayer song he composed, brought the Master of the Universe to a “din toyra” on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur. We are not dealing with a mythical figure but an actual person. Levi Yitzhak (c. 1740-1810) ben Meir was the son of a prominent rabbi. His father was attracted to what was then a young movement: hasidism and Levi Yitzhak became a hasid .

After Levi Yitzhak was ordered a rabbi he preached and practiced hasidism much to the “chagrin” of the “misnagdim” (anti-Hasidism). He was admired even by the “misnagdim” for his knowledge of Talmud and “Halacha” (Jewish law). He was utterly devoted to his people Israel and only rebuked their waywardness with loving care. He suffered the misfortunes of his fellow Jews and along with other Jewish leaders turned to the authorites to remove the prohibition on Jewish settlement in the villages. He stressed the good that is in man and always pleaded the cause of Jews.

He said that only those who admonishes Jewish people gently, elevate their souls and always extols their righteousness is worthy of being their leader. Levi Yitzhak always sees the positive in what individual Jews do. While Jews rebuked a “baal agola” (wagon driver) while praying with “talis” and “tefilin” they were greasing the axles of the wagon . According to the legend Levi Yitzhak turns to the Holy One Blessed Be He and says: How wonderfull are your children Israel, while he is working he prays to you.(For a full picture of the historical Levi Yitzhak and the legend see Encyclopedia Judaica,volume 11 pp. 102-104)

Popular tradition has preserved prayor songs attributed to Levi Yitzhak. In singing his prayers he addressed the Creator in Yiddish. He is most famous for “The Kaddish of Reb. Levi Yitzhak” According to one tradition Levi Yitzhak overwhelmed by the suffering the physical and spiritual woes of his brethern and as the defender of his people he comes before the Almighty on Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur and in a sense brings the Almighty to trial

Levi Yitzhak prepares his case very carefully and tries to avoid bringing any evidence that can be refuted. He says good morning Master of the Universe, I, Levi Yitzhak son of Sara come to bring you to trial in the name of your people Israel.( A dear departed friend once said , you notice Levi Yitzhak identifiies himself as son of Sara and not Meir). You know when they make a blessing for someone who is ill and wish him a quick recovery they call him son of and mention his mother’s name. We want to identify the ill person as definitely as possible. We know for certain who his mother was but… In the song Levi Yitzhak asks what does the Almighty want from them ,why all this suffering why all the terrible decrees. He mentions great nations that were and are gone. The English claim that their king is a king. The Italians claim that their kingdom is a kingdom, but I Levi Yitzhak son of Sara say the KING WHO SEATS ON THE HIGHEST THRONE IS THE KING. I will not move from this place and a miracle should occur and an end to all the suffering hould come, now ( Nothing happens no sign is given Levi Yitzhak realizes he has lost the trial but he has not lost his faith and with tears in his eyes and heart proclaims his faith “Yisgadal vyiskadash shmay raba” (Magnified and consecrated is His name).

It is a powerful piece and has been a favorite number for Yiddish singers, especially cantors. Some of the most famous renditions that I have heard are by Jan Peerce, Moishe Oiysher and Moishe Kousevitzky.