Weekly Chasidic Story #1806 (s5779-04/
23 Tishrei 5779)
Great Tongues of Roaring Fire
"It is impossible to hear him and not be inspired. Don't you know that?"
Connection: This Thursday, Tishrei 25, is the 218th yahrzeit of the
Story in PDF
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Great Tongues of Roaring Fire
There was a brilliant young man in Romania who appeared to be headed for greatness
in Torah scholarship, but his curiosity drew him to read many books on the philosophy
and theology of other religions.
Before long, he became exceedingly confused. He had always accepted his Jewish
heritage as a matter of course. That was how he had been brought up, that was
how he lived, and therefore, that was what he believed. His exposure to other
ideas and views, however, disrupted his equanimity.
He floundered and wandered, and eventually, he decided to abandon Judaism and
convert. He decided to pay a visit to the local priest to discuss his plans
The next morning, as he walked toward the church, his heart was pounding violently.
Should he go through with it? Was this the right thing to do? Was he really
Lost in his tormenting thoughts, he hardly noticed his surroundings. Suddenly,
he found himself in the midst of a large crowd, being jostled from all sides.
"What going on?" he asked a red-faced man pushing his way through
The man paused in his pushing and looked at him in dismay. "Where have
you been, my friend? Have you been hiding in a hole under the ground? The holy
Rabbi Levi-Yitzchak of Berditchev is here, and he is going to
lead the Morning Prayers in the synagogue.
"Hearing him pray is the experience of a lifetime. His holy words are like
great tongues of roaring fire reaching out to the gates of Heaven. It is impossible
to hear him and not be inspired. Don't you know that?"
"So I've heard," said the young man.
Despite his resolve to meet with the priest, he was overcome with a desire
to hear the prayers of a holy tzadik one last time before he converted.
The crowd was very dense, almost impenetrable, but he fought and clawed his
way forward and reached close enough to the entrance of the shul to hear
the sweet passion of the R. Levi-Yitzchak's voice.
The words, although faint and distant, tugged at his heart and soul, and he
yearned to hear them better. With a sudden surge of strength that he did not
know he possessed, he forced his way through the crowd and plunged into the
shul, exhausted but exhilarated.
The Berditchever was standing at the prayer leader's stand, tightly wrapped
in his tallit, trembling violently with fiery devotion, his hands outstretched
toward the heavens.
He was saying the second of the two blessings that precede Shema prayer,
the one that beseeches the Creator to give us the wisdom to understand the Torah
and properly fulfill its commandments. All of a sudden he interjected in Yiddish,
saying, "Master of the Universe, You have so many angels," and then
went on to describe the many different kinds of angels that inhabit the upper
"They all serve You, and I, Levi-Yitzchok ben Sara-Sosha, want to serve
You as well."
He paused for a moment, and his whole body quaked and shook with intense concentration.
"Veha'ir eineinu besorasecha!" he thundered. "Enlighten
our eyes with Your Torah!"
The Rebbe's words penetrated to the very depths of the young man's heart, and
the floodgates of his tears burst open. He wept and wept until he could weep
no more, and right then and there, he abandoned his misguided notions of conversion
and resolved to remain a faithful Jew.
Right after the conclusion of the prayers, as soon as R. Levi Yitzchok stepped
away from the stand, he came over to the astonished young man and took him by
the hand. "Come sit by my side, young man," he said in a gentle tone.
"Stay next to me the entire day, and you will be fine."
From that day on, the young man lived an inspired life. He learned Torah and
served the Al-mighty diligently. Eventually, he became an important rabbi, and
a known tzadik in his own right.
Over the years he told his story to a few individuals, but it is generally
retold without mention of his name, in deference to the greatness that he achieved
after his encounter with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev.
Source: Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from ??? (original source unclear).
Bio: Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev [of blessed memory: 5500 - 25
Tishrei 5571 (1740 - Oct. 1810)] is one of the more popular rebbes in chasidic
history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch, successor
to the Baal Shem Tov. He is best known for his love for every Jew and his perpetual
intercession before Heaven on their behalf. Many of his teachings are contained
in the posthumously published Kedushat Levi.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor
of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories
to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells
them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.
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