(Courtesy: R’ Tal Moshe Zwecker, Director Machon Be’er Mayim Chaim)
From the upcoming MeOros Kedushas Levi on Moadim
Two thieves were once brought to be judged before the Heavenly Court. The first one was a young man named Nachume’l the thief. All year long he hid deep in the forest robbing all passerby, young and old alike stealing from the rich and the travelling merchants. Only on the Erev Yom Kippur he would go to town and there he would begin to distribute all the money he had stolen to the poor and the indigent. Then he would enter the Beis Midrash and the entire day of Yom Kippur. For the entire day he stood immersed in prayer and supplication from the depths of his hearty and soul; with such fervor and sweetness that the very stones beneath his feet almost melted with joy. The day after Yom Kippur he would distribute what remained of his loot among the poor to cover their upcoming Yom Tov expenses and then once again he would vanish into the recesses of the dark woods where he would continue his disdainful practice of robbery and thievery.
The second thief brought to trial was named Yaakov Yoel, and he was an older Jew with a shining countenance sporting a fine long white beard. A merchant and businessman now retired in his old age he had turned over his business to his sons while he himself sat in the house of study learning Torah day and night. He sat in the Beis Midrash every day and almost never did he step foot outside it except once a year. When the day of the trade fair arrived in town and his sons hands were so busy that they could not do so they asked their father to please come into the store and man the register while they tended to the many details that took up their time. And it goes without question that no one harbored even a suspicion nor even a shadow of a doubt against such a pious Jew! Nonetheless when no one was looking and when all watchful eyes were turned away Yaakov Yoel would simply reach his hand into the register and pluck coin after coin out and drop them into his pocket! With this stolen cash he would purchase brandy and other spirits along with cakes and cookies that he would later set before the Chassidim in shul. After the daily davening, he mamash chalished – he simply famished for a shot of strong liquor and a tasty morsel to savor in the company of his fellow Chassidim or any other group pf Jews.
First the Heavenly Court listened to Yaakov Yoel’s plea, the old man began to argue on his own behalf explaining that “After all all I took was from own children, I took what I took from my very own store, from my own business that was once under my charge, I simply handed it over to them and further. . .”
However the Accuser Satan himself representing the case for the prosecution delayed no further and pounced upon the hapless Jew with a sneer dripping with venom and malice, “Nu So what then about the red handkerchief?!”
And now Yaakov Yoel hung his head in shame because Satan, the Accuser had indeed brought up a shameful memory! Almost every Rosh Chodesh, and every other occasion such as Mondays and Thursdays Yaakov Yoel would make his rounds after the morning prayers holding a red handkerchief. He would walk back and forth asking for a donation for a “very important matter and a pressing need!” Now it goes without saying that no one had even the merest suspicion against Yaakov Yoel with the long white beard!
And so he would collect copper coins, jingling gleefully in his red handerkerchief into which once in a while even a silver coin might be thrown to join the others while Yaakov Yoel smiled into the corner of his beard saying to himself, “Isn’t a Le’Chaim toasted by Chassidim an important matter after all?!” And now he stood there before the Heavenly Court accused of his crimes and misdeeds, dumbfounded and unable to utter even a single word in his own defense.
Next the court turned its attention to Nachume”l the thief and he spoke simply saying: “Master of the World what can I say? All of my actions are revealed before You. All year long I rob and steal and not one word of holiness passes my lips. On Erev Yom Kippur I distribute my money to the poor and afterwards all Yom Kippur long I engage in prayer and supplication my mouth lips do not close for Your sake and the sake of Your holy name! I have nothing more to say. Master of the World, do with me as You wish?!”
On the spot, Satan the Accuser opened his wicked mouth to prosecute before the Heavenly Court and he began to indict: “These are no simple thieves! Yaakov Yoel has grown his beard and peyos, has used his learning and his prayers as a way to people’s pockets! And Nachume”l keeps one Kosher Yom Kippur day the entire year in order to return afterwards to his thieving ways robbing others wholeheartedly and passionately! Simple thievery isn’t even good enough for them! Their thievery rides on false piety and false faith. They use holiness like a key to open foreign door. There acts are nothing short of a desecration of Your hallowed Name! Not even the wicked would have the heart to do as they do…”
Nonetheless the advocate for the defense, the goodly angel Michael was not disheartened. Rather than give up hope, he began to advocate and defend the sinners for their crimes.
“I would like to know,” he began, “just what did these two Jews do with the stolen money? Has anyone ever seen Yaakov Yoel sitting and eating a sumptuous meal? Has Yaakov Yoel ever lay himself down on soft comfortable cushions instead of the hard wood benches of the Beis Midrash? And with those few coins he gathered to buy le’chaim liquor, did he drink it alone or rather in the company of fellow Chassidim, where a tale of the righteous or words of Torah were shared and the hearts and souls of our brethren are warmed to serve You Hashem? His sons and fellow worshippers in the Beis Midrash, would they not have derived great pleasure and satisfaction from the good use their few coins were put to had they been told the truth?”
“And what did Nachum did with his money? Did he buy estates and property? Did he leave a fat inheritance behind him? He was but a young man, yet did Nachum spend his money on how own pleasures and delights? Rather every Erev Yom Kippur he gave out his money to the poor while he poured out his entire heart in prayer! Now if those poor souls who were robbed would know the good their money was being used for would they not have complained about the mistreatment of these souls?!”
“Nachum and Yaakov Yoel have somehow transformed robbery and thievery into an act of kindness. They found a way to draw out holiness from the depths of impurity and darkness itself! Not many tzadikim could have even succeeded in doing such a thing!”
Before passing judgment, having heard both sides of the argument, the Heavenly Court ordered Nachume”l and Yaakov Yoel to each in turn place their good deeds and weigh them against their demerits and misdeeds on the Heavenly Scales of Justice. And here is where the terrible incident occurred!
Nachum stood up and on the black side of the scale he placed all the years of his life, year after year. His eyes dimmed because there was not a year that was filled with misdeeds of robbery and theft and each act was as heavy as iron. The only counterweight he had to balance this out were the scant few days of Yom Kippur. These he placed on the other, white side of the scale and he began to breathe more easily as the scale began to tip towards the positive side. Each day of Yom Kippur was just one day but its weight was great for each day was soaked with tears and each teardrop heavier than iron. And as he placed the last day of Yom Kippur of his life on the scale he saw that – unbelievably his scale was still tipped towards guilty! For the difference of a hair’s breadth his soul felt like it would expire!
Yaakov Yoel also approached and trembling and sweating with trepidation he placed all the days of his manning the register during the fair alongside with his infamous red handkerchiefs on the black side of the scale. Each day of each fair and each handkerchief bore down the weight of the scale tipping the balance against him more and more. They were heavy laden the copper and silver coins, each coin heavy as lead. However once he began to place his learning, his prayers and his good deeds and acts of piety on the white side of the scale, their counterweight balanced out and began to tip the scales in his favor. Especially heavy were his inspirational songs and dances which he did on holidays, festivals and joyous occasions. He almost breathed a sigh of relief – almost, except that just like what happened to Nachume’l, the same thing happened to Yaakov Yoel as well! The indicator pointed to guilty, and as his nervous eyes watched the pointer, it trembled ever so slightly almost moving to the side of merit, yet no, it remained a hairs breadth away. What a heart ache!
They stood there each man next to his fellow despondently until Nachum’l turned to Yaakov Yoel with a wink. Unable to contain themselves and hold back they simply stretched out their right hands with a sideways glance to make sure no one was watching while they simply lightened the load a bit and removed just a bit from the black side of the scale! Obviously they didn’t realize that whoever steals from the scales of heavenly justice only increases his own guilt!
Just as their hands grazed the scale the entire scales and balance toppled over causing such a din, that the loud disturbance shook and rattled the entire heavens! A great commotion took place, this was the first robbery ever done in heaven! And now Satan leaped with glee to point his accusing finger at the two trembling forms and his accusations were dark as a raven:
“See for Yourself, Master of the World, Your own attributes of Mercy which You extend to these pathetic creatures are all for naught. They dare to rob the very Heaven itself and even in such close proximity to Your Heavenly throne of glory!?” The dark black sin rose up higher and higher ascending its way to the heights of Heaven, as all the souls left their heavenly chambers, and all the angles left their abodes and heavenly palaces in commotion. Even the goodly angel, Michael the defender and advocate had for once been silenced. He grew weak and he prostrated himself before the Heavenly Court begging for mercy and asked:
“All the seven heavens are crying out! Is there no angel or advocate who can plead on behalf of these two Jews? Please call forth Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, for surely he alone has the power and the strength to find some merit to defend these two Jews!”
Seeing this Nachum’l and Yaakov Yoel stood together in despair desperately clutching one another in fear weeping and crying copiously.
Now all of this took place on Yom Kippur and at that very moment the Berditchever Rav stood before the amud, leading the congregation in Mussaf in his Beis Midrash in Berditchev. Even before Mussaf began, he could feel that there was a great disturbance going on in Heaven, and that horrific judgments had been forecast, like black storm clouds spread out across the heavens. He was at the words of Mussaf, “Man’s origin is dust . . .” and just then he was summoned as a defense attorney before the Heavenly Court itself. When the Berditchever Rav saw these two poor Jews huddled there crying in despair he outsretched his two arms heavenward and called out brokenheartedly: “Helige Derbarmdige Tatte! Holy Merciful Father!”
As soon as these words were uttered a great wave of pure refined love and compassion was awakened and silence spread itself across the Heavens. The only sound heard on High, was the weeping of the two thieves who felt they were lost. The Berditchever felt his heart contract in pain and he raised his face heavenwards and opened his lips with words of prayer. He sang the prayers as was his holy custom with heartache and sweetness:
“Man’s origin is dust,” . . .son of Adam, such a lowly creature who is created from the very dust of the earth itself; “And his end is dust,” . . .he returns at the end back to the dust itself, “With his soul he obtains his bread,” . . .sometimes he has no choice but to sin to feed himself, and if that is not enough “He is compared to fragile shard of clay pottery” if he sins he is cast like broken potsherds!
“Heilige Derbarmdige Tatte! – Holy Merciful Father! First You hide from our eyes both Gan Eden and Your Presence the Shechinah, and You placed it in the next world. Then You placed the evil inclination into man which inflames the passions and desires in our hearts in this world. Is it any wonder that we are burned by this raging fire which You Yorself placed within us?! Let the heavens tremble and quake! For what is heaven itself compared to the tears of these broken hearted souls?!”
Once again the Berditchever raised his hands heavenward and his voice rose in a plea for mercy. With great love and a broken heart he said:
“Heilige Derbarmdige Tatte! – Holy Merciful Father!”
“Heilige Derbarmdige Tatte! – Holy Merciful Father!”
All the gates of mercy swung open immediately and Yaakov Yoel and Nachum’l were uplifted by Divine mercy. Seeing that it was an Es Ratzon – an auspicious moment of grace Rav levi Yitzchak seized the opportunity to plead on behalf of the entire world!
“How long shall the world be battered by pain and suffering?! All the calculated dates and projected times have passed! May the Holy and Merciful One send us the righteous redeemer, the Moshiach who shall redeem us and end the sins and sufferings of our world!”
Seeking to interrupt the Berditchever’s pleas, Satan called out red with rage:
“Is it not enough that the Berditchever is trying to bring thieves into Gan Eden?! He now has the audacity on the heels of their thievery and robbery of Heaven itself, to attempt to bring about the redemption and bring Moshiach to this world?!”
Even before the Berditchever Rav had a chance to open his mouth and attempt to answer the proceedings of the Heavenly Court were interrupted by a disturbance coming from the Beis Midrash down below. The source of the tumult was a weak older Jew who could no longer hold out. The Yom Kippur fast had taken its toll on his weak constitution and he began to faint. All those around him were trying to revive to no avail.
The Berditchever immediately interrupted his prayers before the amud, and he approached the aged Jew. He hugged and caressed him, caringly he whispered to him until the man regained his strength and opened his eyes.
Meanwhile . . .the Divine moment of grace, the Es Ratzon passed. . .And who knows, perhaps had there been no tumult down there in the Beis Midrash, perhaps, just maybe the Berditchever Rav would have succeeded? Who knows?