Thursday, October 4, 2018

The Rebbe from Berdichev

One of the major themes of the recently–observed High Holidays is to “emulate” God. Just as God is merciful to humankind, so should we be. One of the greatest role models for this type of empathy was the famed rabbi of Berdichev, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak.

Legend has it, that on the day of his birth in 1740, the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, held a celebration informing those gathered, that the soul of a stark defender of the People of Israel had entered the world.

Levi Yitzchak studied with his father, Rabbi Meir of Husakov, until he married, at which time he moved to his wife’s town of Levertov. It was there where it was suggested that he study under the famed Maggid of Mezeritch, the prime disseminator of the Chassidic thought of the Baal Shem Tov. Ready to assume the spiritual leadership of a community, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak assumed several rabbinic positions, but Chassidism’s radical innovations were still too new, and, unfortunately, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak barely escaped several communities with his life. He did find a more welcoming home to his brand of Jewish thought in the Ukranian town of Berdichev, despite a majority population that was anti-religious and steeped in the anti-religious Enlightenment of the time.

Rav Levi Yitzchak’s trademark love of his fellow Jew manifested itself in his appeals to ‘Der Derbaremdiger’ (the Merciful One) on behalf of all Jews and his logic-defying defense of Der Derbaremdiger’s nation. Many poems and songs are attributed to him, most notably, the Saturday night classic “God of Abraham.”

Rav Levi Yitzchak led the Berdichev community for 25 years, from his arrival in 1785 until his passing in 1809. His yahrzeit is annually observed, on the 25th of Tishrei.

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