Weekly Chasidic Story ##1139 (s5780-02/
8 Tishrei, 5780)
The Kol Nidrei Plot
His opponent concocted a plan on how to put Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
to shame in shul on Yom Kippur.
Connection: Seasonal -- YOM KIPPUR
Story in PDF
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The Kol Nidrei Plot
One of the members of the Jewish community in Berditchev was a
fierce mitnaged (opponent) of the Chassidic movement in general and Rabbi
Levi-Yitzchak in particular. He tried his utmost to cause disturbances in
the Rebbe's holy work. Despite the many insults suffered from him, he never
answered him back. This infuriated the mitnaged even more. In his heart he concocted
an entire plot on how to put Rabbi Levi Yitzchak to shame in public.
Since he knew that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had a beautiful voice and that many people
always came to hear him praying on the holy day of Yom Kippur, and especially
the prayer of 'Kol Nidrei', he made up his mind to disturb Rabbi Levi
Yitzchak in this prayer specifically.
On the eve of the holy day, the mitnaged came to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's
house and asked to speak to the rabbi in private. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak welcomed
him in, and his opponent explained to him that because it was the Eve of Yom
Kippur and each person must ask forgiveness from people whom he might have hurt
during the year, he also wanted to ask for forgiveness for all that he had done
to the rabbi.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak immediately forgave him with a full heart.
His new 'friend' then took out a big bottle of vodka that he had brought with
him, containing 96% alcohol. He asked the rabbi to say 'l'chaim' as a
sign of forgiving him. He poured out a big glass of vodka and handed it to Rabbi
Levi Yitzchak. The Rabbi said 'l'chaim' and blessed his opponent with a good
and prosperous year.
When the mitnaged was about to leave, he turned to the rabbi and said
that since he was not sure that the rabbi had forgiven him with a full heart,
he wanted the rabbi to say 'l'chaim' once again. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak
accepted his request and once more the mithnaged poured him a full glass of
The mitnaged went towards the door, as if intending to leave the tzadik's
room, but instead turned around and came back, asking the rabbi to say just
a 'small' 'l'chaim' for him
and then another one...and then
And Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, the defender of all Israel and the lover of his people,
how could he refuse the request of a Jewish man on the Eve of Yom Kippur? In
the end, the mitnaged made sure that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak finished the
whole bottle of vodka.
The man hoped that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak would be unable to pray properly due
to the influence of the large amount of vodka that he had drunk. Maybe he would
vomit or do something else that would portray him in a negative light to the
large congregation attending the Kol Nidrei prayers in the synagogue.
It was twilight time. All the synagogues were filled with Jews, standing in
awe on this holiest of holy days. The last Jews hurried along, dressed in their
white robes and prayer shawls, in order to get to big synagogue in Berditshov
where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was to officiate. In the background, quiet words of
Tehilim were being recited. Everybody was busy making a final spiritual
reckoning, purifying his soul before the Day of Forgiveness. Within a few moments
the shadows of darkness would descend on the city and the Holy Day would commence.
The awe of the Holy Day was clearly felt upon the faces of all the people in
the big synagogue.
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, wrapped up in his prayer shawl, rose to approach the Holy
Ark. The sound of his sweet voice, so full of emotion, could be heard in every
corner of the synagogue. The Kol Nidrei prayer had begun.
The whole congregation was lifted above the physical reality, borne by the exalted
words of prayer emanating from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. "And the whole congregation
of the sons of Israel shall be forgiven..."
Even the mitnaged, who had arrived specially to see the 'drunk man's
show' could not but feel the impact of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak's prayers and admire
his beautiful voice, so full of emotion and devotion. Not the smallest reminiscence
was felt of drinking a whole bottle of vodka containing 96% alcohol.
After the evening prayers were completed, nearly everybody remained in the shul
to recite the book of Tehilim (Psalms), as is customary on this night.
When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak reached the verse (Tehilim 41:12) "By this I knew
that You wanted me, since my enemy will not cause harm upon me", Rabbi
Levi Yitzchak repeated this verse over again.
Suddenly he turned to the people in the synagogue and said: "How did King
David, who had so many opponents, know that he had found favor in G-d's eyes?
The answer is: 'since my enemy will not cause harm to me' - which can be understood
in an additional sense - that my enemy will not be harmed because of me."
The mitnaged understood full well towards whom these words were directed.
He realized that the rabbi was arousing compassion for him, that he - the opponent
- should not be punished because of what he had intended to do against Rabbi
There words of pure love entered his heart. He became a changed person, and
soon thereafter, a true follower of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev.
Source: From "Chassidic Gems", compiled by Tuvia Litzman, who heard
it from Rabbi Levi Pressman.
Connection: Seasonal - YOM KIPPUR!
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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