314 (s5764-04 / 26 Tishrei)

Champion Lawyer

After a heated argument, both sides agreed to abide by whatever Rabbi Levi Yitschak of Berditchev would rule.


by Yrachmiel Tilles

A wealthy man in Berditchev had a reputation as a cheapskate, never contributing much to worthy communal causes.

When he died the Burial Society decreed an extra large sum for a cemetery plot, no doubt figuring the deceased owed at least that much to the community coffers.

The heirs were shocked and refused to pay. The Burial Society's representatives wouldn't budge. After a heated discussion, both sides agreed to abide by whatever the Chief Rabbi of the city, Rabbi Levi Yitschak would rule.

To everyone's amazement, the rabbi displayed great distress to hear of the man's passing, and decreed that the family should not be charged anything for the burial other than what they would freely offer. He also told them to inform him personally of the time of the burial, for he wished to participate in the funeral.

Word of their rabbi's surprising reaction quickly spread to the populace of Berditchev, and they all joined him at the funeral to honor the deceased. Afterwards, the braver members of the community queried the tzadik why he deemed it appropriate to show such honor to an unlearned Jew who was known to all unfavorable as a miser.

Rabbi Levy Yitschak smiled and said, "This man was brought to court before me three times and each time he won the case. Then these three lawsuits were of such an unusual nature that the deceased definitely deserves to be honored.

"The first case centered around a Jewish wine merchant, a man who would take advance payments from the storekeepers here, and travel with the money to buy wine in quantity from the wholesalers in one of the big cities. Once, as he was about to complete his purchase, he discovered that he had lost all of the money! Somehow it had fallen out of his pocket. He screamed and fainted.

"A doctor was called who aroused him, but as soon as the businessman realized where he was and remembered his loss, he fainted again. This repeated itself several times. The shock and grief were too much to bear; the doctor was unable to help him.

"At that moment the man whom we buried today passed by. When he heard the reason for all the commotion, he announced in a loud voice that he had found the money. Now the wine merchant was able to sustain consciousness, and upon receiving the entire missing amount from our man, thanked him profusely and went of to complete his business.

"What really happened is that the money had been found by someone else, a spectator at the scent who was unable to overcome the temptation and had silently stuffed the bills into his own pocket. But when he saw the extraordinary noble deed of the passing stranger, who had paid a huge sum of his own money in order to save the wine agent's sanity and perhaps his life, he began to regret his own behavior. The thought took root in his mind and grew and grew. He found himself unable to spend the money and, finally, decided to return it.

"He traveled to Berditchev and sought out the benefactor of the fainting wine agent. He explained to him that he knows that he had really given his own money, because he himself was the true finder, and now he regretted his actions and wished to return the money.

"But the wealthy resident of our town - the deceased - refused to accept the money! He said, 'The fact that you didn't return the money on the spot to its rightful owner is your problem. However, Heaven provided me the opportunity to do a great mitzvah, and I have no desire to sell it back.'

" They argues back and forth for a while and then decided to bring the case to me. I had to rule in favor of the deceased of course. A man can't be forced to accept money (against his will) [when it is not to his own benefit]. {she'lo b'tovato}.

The second case involved a poor man from Berditchev who wanted to travel far away in an attempt to change his luck. His wife, however, refused to let him. One day he came up with a plan. He told her that he had been hired by a wealthy magnate to attend to his business interests in distant cities. Since this would necessitate being away from home for an extended period, his employer had agreed to pay her a fixed amount for living expenses each Thursday, to be deducted from his salary when he returned.

"She felt secure with this arrangement, so she agreed to his departure. But the first Thursday, when she went to receive her fist allotment, the clerk in charge of disbursements told her that he had never heard of her or her husband.

"She screamed at him that her husband was not a liar; he shouted at her to leave him alone with her wild imaginings. As they each increased their volume, the noise reached the inner office of the proprietor, who hurried out to discover the source of the commotion.

"When he heard the woman's story, he told the cashier to pay her, saying, 'She is correct. I myself hired her husband and agreed to the conditions that she has stated. You may pay her the same sum each week till he returns.'

"A long time went by. Finally the husband returned. He was now a wealthy man, for G-d had granted him great success in his travels.

After the excitement of their emotional reunion, his wife told him that the arrangement had worked well; she had indeed received her steady allowance each week from the business, so the family had suffered no hardships during his long absence.

"The husband was astonished. But then he quickly realized what must have happened. He calculated the total amount that the business owner must have laid out, and hastened to see him, express his gratitude, and repay him.

"But the wealthy man, the one we buried today, refused to accept the money. He explained 'I didn't know you; I've never spoken to you; we never made an arrangement. Whatever money I gave the woman I gave her freely, in order to help her. It has nothing to do with you and I won't take your money.'

"They brought their 'dispute' before me and again I ruled in favor of the deceased, and for the same reason!

"The third case also involved one of our townspeople who was in a desperate financial situation. He had come upon an excellent business opportunity that promised great profit, but he didn't have any money of his own and wasn't able to muster the capital for the investment. He approached our deceased for a loan for the entire amount that he needed.

"'Hmmm, let's see,' said the rich man. 'You admit you have no resources. How will you pay me back if your 'investment' doesn't work out? Who will be the guarantor of the loan?'

"The would-be borrower answered promptly, 'The Guarantor of all.'

"'Ah,' replies our deceased. 'On His guarantee I am prepared to rely absolutely. Here is the money.'

"The investment indeed turned out to be highly profitable, although not as quickly as the borrower had hoped. Eventually he came to his benefactor to repay the interest-free loan.

"But the lender refused to accept the money. 'I already received the entire sum,' he insisted.

"'What are you talking about? I didn't pay you anything yet.'

"'True,' agreed the deceased. 'But the Guarantor you suggested, the Al-mighty, already paid me the entire debt, and quite a bit more too.'

"The borrower couldn't accept this so they brought the case to me, and again I ruled in favor of the deceased.

"Now, don't you agree that a man who won three such lawsuits deserves to be honored at his death, even if he portrayed himself publicly as a miser?"


Translated-adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from Sipurei Chassidim-Torah, pp. 53-55 (and first published on www.chabad.org). You may distribute this e-mail as long as full attribution is given, including Ascent's email and internet addresses.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740-25 Tishrei 1810) is one of the most popular rebbes in chassidic history. He was a close disciple of the second leader of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi DovBer, the Maggid of Mezritch. 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.


Yrachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit.

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