Selected by: Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic
Tales (Artscroll), as translated by the incomparable Uri Kaploun.
Rabbi Baruch of Mezhibuzh, sometimes used to speak harshly of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev. One Friday night, when the Chassidim were gathered around his table, he announced: “If anyone here is willing to speak evil of the Rebbe of Berdichev, I hereby promise that he will be rewarded by receiving a portion in the World to Come.”
One young man present wanted to step forward at once, but the elder Chassidim who stood near him dissuaded him. “G-d forbid that you should do such a thing and say loshon hara [‘evil speech’] on a Chassidic rebbe,” they said. “Our Rebbe no doubt has some profound intention in saying what he did; his words are not to be taken at face value!”
The next day, at the Shabbos midday meal, the same offer was repeated, and again no one present dared oblige – except for the same young man, who again seemed intent on earning the great reward effortlessly. His friends once more appealed to him to hold back. He agreed, certain that he would be given one more chance to do what he wanted, at the late afternoon Third Meal.
And so it happened. This time, as soon as Rebbe Baruch repeated his strange announcement, this impetuous young man broke loose from the entreaties of his friends, and burst his way forward towards the tzaddik.
Seeing his efforts at pressing his way through the crowd, Rebbe Baruch called to him: “Come near, my son, come near, and tell me what you know of the Rebbe of Berdichev.”
“I once traveled on business to Berdichev,” said the young man, “and it occurred to me that this would present me with a fine opportunity to drop in on his shul to watch him at his prayers, for I had been told that this was a wonderful sight. So I took off time that morning to go to his synagogue. When I arrived there and heard the sound of his ecstatic prayers I did not dare to walk in; I just remained standing at the entrance. But when he reached the passage…..”yotzer meshartim vasher meshartav – “He creates ministering angels who stand in the heights of the universe” – the tzaddik suddenly jumped towards me, and in the middle of his prayers, when one is least allowed to interrupt oneself by speaking, he demanded of me in anger: “What will the Angel Michael say? What will the Angel Gavriel say?” Then he ran back to his place.
“Now whichever way you look at it,” concluded the young man, “this episode sounds crazy. How was he allowed to speak in the middle of the morning prayers? And on top of that to be angry? And what do those strange words about the angels mean? And what did he want altogether?”
Rebbe Baruch of Mezhibuzh heard the young man out to the end of his story, and then responded to him in the hearing of that entire assemblage: “You should know that Rebbe Levi Yitzchak is an advocate for all of Israel in the Heavenly Court, speaking up in defense of his fellow Jews even when they have sinned. When in the course of their morning prayers Jews in This World reach the passage that speaks of the ministering angels who stand in the heights of the universe, that is the moment at which Michael and Gavriel and all their hosts speak in defense of the House of Israel, seeking to have them acquitted of the charges that have been laid against them. And when the rav of Berdichev reaches that passage, he joins them on their noble endeavors and reinforces their arguments.
“But when he suddenly saw you standing there before him, besmirched with the sin that you had committed that very morning in your inn – for did you not pocket a silver spoon that caught your fancy at breakfast? – he was enraged, because he could find no mitigating circumstances to submit to the Court in your favor. You are a prosperous man, lacking nothing. Why then did you steal that silver spoon? This was what made the tzaddik ask in desperation: “What will the Angel Michael say? What will the Angel Gavriel say?”
The young man was shaken to his very foundations. His entire being surged with shame and regret for his conduct. He begged his rebbe to guide him to repentance, but Rebbe Baruch declined: he said that only the tzaddik of Berdichev could teach him how to atone for his sin, and only by following his instructions would his repentance be found acceptable in the Court in the World Above. The young man complied, and in the fullness of time found peace for his soul.
Rabbi Boruch of Mezhibuz [1753 – 18 Kislev, 1811], the town of the Baal Shem Tov, was the son of R. Yechiel Ashkenazi and Adel, the daughter of the Baal Shem Tov. He was one of the pre-eminent Rebbes in the generation of the disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch and had thousands of Chassidim.