(Courtesy: Rabbi Oded Mizrahi)
Rabbi Baruch of Mezibuz sat with his Hassidim in his Beit Midrash (study hall) and expounded on matters of Torah. Unexpectedly, he turned to them and asked, “Can any of you say something negative about Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev? The astonished Hassidim struggled to comprehend what was behind their Rebbe’s request. They supposed that he was trying to impress upon them the elevated level of the Rebbe of Berditchev, and to prove that no one on earth was capable of saying a bad word about him. So they didn’t answer him.
“Come on,” Rabbi Baruch pressed them, “I’m waiting to hear something bad about him!” The Hassidim were mystified by their Rebbe, but now they understood that this was what he really wanted. They raked their memories for something negative they may have heard once about the Rebbe of Berditchev, but to no avail. They were unable to satisfy their Rebbe.
An hour of unsuccessful efforts went by, by then the suspense of the Hassidim had become unbearable. Finally Rabbi Baruch explained his strange request:
I must now tell you that the Angels of Heaven are jealous of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. He perfectly embodies the verse, “you will find grace and good sense in the eyes of G-d and men” (Proverbs 3:4). He is so flawless in the study of Torah, fear of G-d, love of the Mitzvot and love of the Jewish People, that the Angels envy him. The result is that a great accusation has been provoked against him and his life is in peril. I must find some flaw in him in order to cool down the jealousy of the Angels.”
As soon as the Hassidim understood the meaning of their Rebbe’s strange wish¸ they tried with all their strength to find some fault in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, knowing that by doing so, they will save his life.
In the meantime, a wealthy merchant from Mezibuz entered the Beit Midrash. Most of his time was spent travelling from town to town on his many business dealings. When he heard what the Rebbe and his students were discussing, his eyes lit up. He waited for a moment of silence and said:
“I can tell you of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s shortcomings!”
All eyes were fixed on the merchant, who spoke with delight. Rabbi Baruch looked at him with penetrating eyes and said, “If so, tell your story!”
The merchant began his tale:
“A few weeks ago I happened to be in Berditchev on business. I woke up late in the morning in my hotel and went to the town’s Synagogue. At that late hour, all the Minyanim (community prayers) had already finished. To my surprise, I saw Rabbi Levi Yitzchak in the corner of the Synagogue, completely immersed in the morning prayer. I clearly heard that he was in the midst of reciting the blessing “Yotzer ohr” (literally, “[You who] creates light,” which is said before “Shema Israel”). I stood at the doorway, about to enter in order to pray alone. To my surprise, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak came over to me and said, ‘what will the Angel Michael say?! And what will the Angel Gavriel say?!’ Immediately afterwards, the Rabbi returned to his place and continued praying as usual.”
The merchant studied the faces of his listeners and raised his voice:
“So what can you say about this strange behavior of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak? What does all of what he said have to do with me? What is this business about the Angels Michael and Gavriel in the middle of the prayer,” the merchant asked with a contemptuous smile. “And most importantly: Since when is it permitted to interrupt in the middle of saying “Yotzer ohr” in order to speak to someone?!”
The Hassidim stared at the merchant, stunned that he had found a real flaw in Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. They breathlessly awaited their Rebbe’s reaction. Rabbi Baruch began:
“In the blessing “Yotzer ohr,” when we reach the words ‘Yotzer meshartim’ (meaning [You who] creates servants), the Angels Michael and Gavriel stand up in order to appeal on behalf of the nation of Israel. At that moment, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak joins them as well, and he also pleads for a favorable judgment for the Jewish people.”
The Rebbe turned his head towards the merchant and focused his penetrating eyes on his eyes:
“When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak saw you entering the Synagogue with your Tefillin bag in your hand, and in your coat pocket the silver spoon you stole from your hotel that morning, he tried to find some justification for you but didn’t succeed, since you are a rich merchant and have no reason in the world to steal.”
Rabbi Baruch’s eyes didn’t budge from the merchant. He raised his voice and said:
“That is why Rabbi Levi Yitzchak came over to you! He knew that even the Angels wouldn’t find any excuse for you, that’s why he called out, ‘what will the Angel Michael say?!’ and ‘what will the Angel Gavriel say?!'”
The arrogant smile was wiped off the merchant’s face, which became red and progressively turned pale. The Hassidim were left breathless by this revelation of divine insight of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rabbi Baruch.
In a moment, Rabbi Baruch’s gaze became softer, as well as his voice.
“If you desire atonement,” he said to the merchant, you must return to Berditchev and return the stolen item to its owner, go to the Tzaddik and ask forgiveness for your insolence toward him, and beg the Holy One, Blessed be He, to help you return to the proper path.”
Rabbi Baruch’s words entered the merchant’s heart like an arrow. He rose without a word and departed from the Beit Midrash of Mezibuz to Berditchev, determined to mend his ways. In conclusion, the merchant returned entirely to the path of the righteous, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev was saved from the jealousy of the Angels.
In commemoration of 200 years since the passing of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, the great advocate of the people of Israel.