A fierce looking man ran out of the house, his eyes burning with murderous rage at the coach full of Jews. In his hand he carried a revolver. At his heels, his favorite pet, a massive black dog, yelped and snapped at the carriage.
One of the passengers approached the angry householder, who drew his gun and began to shoot at the coach. The gun clicked – but no bullets emerged. Again and again he pulled the trigger, but nothing happened.
Just then, a calm, holy face appeared at the window of the carriage. With a fascinated stare, the angry man lowered the gun and pulled the trigger. A bullet spewed forth and struck the black dog, killing it instantly.
At the holy passenger’s request, one of the travelers approached the householder. “Sir, we are Chasidim traveling with the holy Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev,” he stammered. “It is time for our evening prayers and we would like to ask your kind permission to pray in your house.”
“The Holy Rabbi of Berditchev? Why yes, of course, you have my permission,” said the man, as if in a dream. With that, he turned and strode into his house without a backward glance at his beloved dog.
The servants and friends were puzzled. They expected to enjoy the massacre of the Jews – these Jews who seemed not to know or care that no Jew dared step onto this property since the owner’s murderous reputation had become known. The disciples of Reb Levi Yitzchak were perplexed, too. Why had their Rebbe asked them to accompany him to this unknown place, leaving Berditchev very early, traveling quickly and stopping only once along the way to say Psalms? The homeowner himself was also confused. “I know the gun was in perfect order, and yet it would not shoot when I pointed at the carriage. It must be the power of that holy Rabbi,” he muttered to his friends.
News of the arrival of Reb Levi Yitzchak and the estate owner’s seeming change of heart reached the Jews living nearby. They began gathering at the estate to see Reb Levi Yitzchak and to pray with him. Many non-Jews also joined the gathering since Reb Levi Yitzchak’s holiness was known by the entire countryside.
Reb Levi Yitzchak led the evening prayers himself. Before saying the opening words, “And He is merciful, He forgives sin, and will not destroy. He turns back His anger many times and does not arouse his wrath,” the Rebbe began to sing a moving melody. It was sad and poignant and had a haunting effect on all who listened. It turned everyone’s thoughts to their own private world, contemplating past regrets and the evil and folly of a person’s actions. Each heart was full of despair and bitter regret. The disciples understood the melody to depict the suffering of the pure and holy soul, forced to leave the beautiful heavens, and come to this evil, false world.
But just as the notes seemed to fade into the very abyss of doom, the Rebbe raised his voice in a triumphant call of hope and salvation. The words, “Oh G-d, save. The King will answer us on the day we call,” were sung in a joyful tune, stirring everyone to confidence and hope. But, before the Rebbe had sung the last of the sad notes, the host cried out hysterically and fell to the ground in a faint.
Everyone was mystified by the events. The Chasidim now understood that the purpose of the journey had to do with their host. But what were the redeeming qualities of this Jew-hater that he merited the special attention of Reb Levi Yitzchak?
A few hours later, the Chasidim saw the host emerge, his eyes red and his face tear-stained. In broken Yiddish, the host stammered, “I am a Jew. I, too, am a Jew.” In wonder, they listened to his story:
“I was born in Germany to Jewish parents. As a young man I joined the Kaiser’s army. The higher I rose in rank, the looser my ties to Judaism became. By the time I was a personal guard of the Kaiser, I had totally disassociated myself from Judaism. Finally, I became a Jew-hater and relished every opportunity I had to persecute Jews.
“Now, with you and your Rebbe here, I remember that I am a Jew. I want to be a Jew again. Please, I beg of you, ask your holy Rebbe to teach me how to be a Jew again!”
The next morning, prayers were lead with a festive atmosphere. The host joined the Jewish villagers. He borrowed a talit (prayer shawl) and tefilin and asked to be shown how to use them. After prayers, he was closeted with the Rebbe for several hours, their conversation remaining a secret. The Rebbe warned his Chasidim never to breathe a word about this journey.
A short time later, the former Kaiser’s guard sold his estate and disappeared. Around the same time, a stranger came to live and study in Berditchev. He became a close disciple of Reb Levi Yitzchak and the father of one of the finest Jewish families.