Adapted by: Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales
(Artscroll), as translated by my esteemed colleague, Uri Kaploun.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev once set out on a journey, accompanied by two attendants. On Friday they arrived at a small town, and, since the tzaddik made a point of never traveling on Friday afternoon, they decided to stay there for Shabbos.
It so happened that over the months before their arrival, this town had been visited by a series of charlatans. These resourceful gentlemen had provided themselves with the retinue of two attendants expected of a visiting tzaddik and, through carefully studied theatricals, had managed to dupe the simple folk who lived there. On each occasion, the crooks swiftly slipped away, with even more resources than when they had come.
The abused townspeople therefore suspected Reb Levi Yitzchak too, and, to make matters worse, one of their number claimed to have once seen the Rabbi of Berdichev, and his memory told him that the newcomer did not resemble him in the slightest. His cronies therefore decided that in the synagogue the next day, on Shabbos, they would call this scoundrel to the Reading of the Torah and then and there abuse him and beat him up so heartily that he would be lucky to get out of their town alive.
The two attendants of the tzaddik smelled something wrong, and begged him to set out in time to reach some other township before Shabbos. But the Rebbe was insistent: he had never traveled on Friday afternoon, and he was not going to relax his principles now.
Dusk settled over the township, and Reb Levi Yitzchak made his way to the local shul in order to join the congregation in welcoming Shabbos. Unable to contain the rapture and ecstasy that engulfed him in prayer, he prayed as he always did – with violent gesticulations and the voice of one possessed. Having made up their minds about him before they had as much as seen him, the congregants sarcastically marveled: “Now this one is a real expert at making an impression on people!”
The unusual sounds emanating from the shul were overheard by a gentile who was driving by the doorway on his way through the township to a village some miles away. He asked the nearest Jew: “What’s all the noise about?”
“We’ve got some character visiting our town,” said the local Jew, “who says he is the rabbi of Berdichev. That’s him shouting his way through the prayers.”
The gentile continued on his way until he arrived at the village of his destination. At his lodging place, the Jewish innkeeper asked, “What news did you pick up on the way?”
“I passed through a little town,” replied the new arrival, “and heard the weirdest screaming coming out of the synagogue. So I asked one of your people what it was all about, and he said they have some rabbi visiting them, and that’s how he prays.”
“Any idea where the rabbi is from?” asked the innkeeper.
“Berdichev, I think they said,” answered the gentile.
Now this conversation was heard by the melamed (teacher) who was employed by the innkeeper as a resident tutor for his children. The melamed had once met the tzaddik, and his heart was instantly kindled with a desire to see him again. If it was true that Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was actually in the neighboring town, how could he not go to visit him! There was no choice: he would set out at once.
After he had already made some headway, a thought that crossed his mind suddenly stopped him in his tracks: “What on earth am I doing? Tonight is Shabbos! It’s absolutely impossible to walk the whole distance to that town without exceeding the permissible Shabbos limits. How can I keep going and desecrate Shabbos?”
So he stood, giving this objection weighty consideration. He finally decided: “No matter what! If the tzaddik is so near, I just have to go ahead and greet him!”
After having gone a little further he stopped again.
“Come now,” he told himself, “you’re acquiring a mitzvah by paying with a sin. Where does it say you’re allowed to desecrate Shabbos in order to be able to earn the mitzvah of paying your respects to your rebbe?”
He stood stock still, thought it through again from all angles, and then decided: “Onward!”
And so right through the night he strode and stopped, stopped and strode, until by daybreak he was on the outskirts of the town. By the time he found the synagogue, the congregation was ready for the Reading of the Torah, and, as he peered eagerly through the window, he saw the tzaddik himself, making his way towards the Torah. Just as the long awaited moment arrived for the irate townsfolk to teach their newest impostor a lesson he would never forget, the back door burst open, and the teacher from the nearby village, who was known by them to be some kind of scholar, ran in a frenzy up to the tzaddik, and wailed: “Rebbe! Oy, Rebbe! I’ve desecrated the Shabbos!”
“Not so, my son,” the tzaddik assured him quietly, “you have not desecrated the Shabbos, because your walking to here can truly be called a life-saving mission. If you had not arrived at this very moment, my life would have been in real danger.”
The townsfolk, overhearing, realized that they had suspected an innocent man,-and that this time a genuine tzaddik was in their midst. They hastily begged his forgiveness.