(Author: Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis)
Much of Europe was flooded as our Hineni group made its way to visit the kevarim– the grave sites of our holy sages in the Ukraine.
The rain kept coming down in torrents. Much of Europe was flooded as our Hineni group made its way to visit the kevarim – the grave sites of our holy sages in the Ukraine – the Ba`al Shem Tov, the Ba`al HaTanya, the Bresslover Rebbe and the Berdichiver Tzaddik. From Kiev, we were scheduled to depart for Eretz Yiroel, and it was with Israel in mind that we packed, never thinking of raincoats or umbrellas. But incredibly, every time our bus stopped at a grave site, the rain stopped.
In my last column, I described our experiences in Breslov, and now I invite you to come with me to Berdichev
It was 10:30 PM when our tour bus pulled into the shtetl. We were tired and hungry, but in our excitement, we felt no discomfort. It had been an awesome day. To daven at so many holy sites is a dizzying experience, and now we would have the privilege of praying at the tsion of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok — the Berdichiver. Our schedule called for a stop at the local shul, where Rabbi Breuer, the spiritual leader of the community and his rebbetzin awaited our coming.
Rabbi and Rebbetzin Breuer are the most amazing people. They are New Yorkers, who, after marrying off their children, decided that they would like to express their appreciation to HaShem by giving back to Am Yisroel. They consulted the Skwerer Rebbe who advised them to settle in Berdichev. In the ten years of their stay, they have brought many Jews back to Torah. They gather youth from all over the Ukraine, infuse them with Yiddishkeit, and then send them off to either Eretz Yisroel or the United States. That night, we actually met an elderly Berdichev couple whose grandchild was now learning in Lakewood as a result of the efforts of the rabbi and his rebbetzin, and this was only one of many such stories.
One cannot help but be overwhelmed at the awesomeness of the miracles that we are witnessing…Jews who had been regarded as spiritually dead, coming back to new life. If we would just absorb that which we are witnessing with our own eyes, we would realize that indeed we are living in Chevlei D`Moshiach — the period that is described by our prophets as “the birth pangs of Moshiah.”
We had spent almost a week in Russia and the Ukraine and had adjusted to kosher Russian cuisine, which was not exactly what we are accustomed to in the United States, so you can imagine our delight and surprise when we found in Rabbi Breuer`s shul, a magnificent table set with the finest heimishe food awaiting us.
By the time we finished dinner, it was close to chatzot – midnight, and it was at that magical hour that we went to pray at the tzion – the grave site of the Berdichiver Tzaddik. The cemetery was pitch black, and we had only one flashlight for our entire group, but, guided by Rabbi Breuer, we found the Ohel. To me, this visit was one of the highlights of our trip. If you will recall, some time ago, I wrote about a promise I had made to read a letter that my granddaughter had written from summer camp describing the terrible tragedy that had befallen one of her Israeli camp-mates who had been the victim of a homicide bombing in a pizzeria in Karnei Shomron I has made the commitment to read that letter at the grave site of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok because he is renowned as the loyal advocate of the Jewish people, and if anyone could present our case in front of the Keesay Ha Kavod, I felt it would surely be him.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok composed many beautiful prayers that are recited to this very day by our people, among which is “Gott Fun Avraham“, said every Saturday night as the holy Sabbath departs. The Berdichiver stated that this prayer should be recited three times to assure blessing in the coming week. It has become very much a part of my own motzeiShabbos ritual as it is in countless Jewish homes.
The stories of the Berdichiver are legion. He loved his people with a blind passion and saw only good in every Jew. And now, as we entered his Ohel, I discovered, hanging on the wall near his grave, yet another prayer from this tzaddik that I had hitherto not been familiar with. Like most of his prayers, it was written in Yiddish, so that all might understand. If ever there was a time when this prayer of Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was needed, it was now. So I share just the first few lines with a prayer of my own – that HaShem accept the petition of this great tzaddik.
“Ribbonoh Shel Olam – Lomir machen a beyt — Master of the Universe, Let us make a deal – Ich vell Dir geben chatoyim, avonos, unpshoyom – I will give you all our intentional and unintentional sins…”Oy veh, Tateh, Oy my Father – Tomer vest Du fregen – but perhaps you will ask, ‘Vos Du vest mir geben derfar? – What should You give me for this? …”Du vest mir geben – You will give me mechila, slicha, v`kaporah – You will give me forgiveness, total cleansing and atonement….Oy veh, Tateh.
This heart rending prayer concludes with the immortal words, “Yisgadal, V`Yiskadash, sh`may rabo…”
And now, we approached his grave site. With trepidation I reached into my bag for my granddaughter`s letter, but I couldn`t read it… The tears came too fast, so I wept it, and everyone in the group wept it with me”
When we finally departed from Berdichev in the middle of the night, we all felt different — we all felt as if together with all our prayers, our neshamas also soared.
Before concluding, there is yet one more story about the Berdichever, who is also known by his sefer, “The Kedushas Levi” that I would like to share with you.
The story goes that the Satan was making a powerful case against the Jewish people, and was placing box after box of their sins before G-d`s Holy Throne.
Realizing what was happening, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok destroyed all the boxes. The Satan was infuriated and demanded that the Berdichiver return them immediately. When Rabbi Levi Yitzchok refused, the Satan dragged him before the Heavenly Tribunal and accused him of theft.
After much deliberation, the judgement was declared: “Guilty!”
According to the law, a convicted thief must return double the value of the stolen items or be sold into slavery, so Rabbi Levi Yitzchok was put on the auction block. On one side, the patriarchs bid for him, and on the other, the Satan, The bidding was intense and things didn`t look good for Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, but then the Almighty G-d Himself entered into the bidding and the Satan was silenced. Thus, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok , the loyal servant of the Jewish people became the loyal servant of G-d.
May we learn from the Berdichiver Tzaddik that the way to come close to G-d is to become the champion of every Jew.
May HaShem grant us and k`lal Yisroel a good gebensht yahr