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October 8: Levi Yitzkhak of Berditchev

October 7, 2015

98965963Known as the “defense attorney for the Jewish people” because of his legendary public arguments with God over issues of justice, fairness, and worldly evil, Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak of Berditchev, Ukraine died there on this date in 1809 (his tomb is shown at left). A child prodigy, he was a disciple of the Maggid of Mezeritch, who was the successor to the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of khasidism. Levi Yitzkhak, who served as rabbi of Berditchev for twenty-five years, became a luminary among the early khasidim and authored Kedushat Levi, a classic collection of philosophical and religious nuggets arranged according to the weekly Torah portions. He was known for fervent, ecstatic prayer and for a compassionate and forgiving attitude towards his followers, which led to many stories about him. A typical one tells of him discovering that the women working at matse-making were very exploited; he told his congregation, “The enemies of Israel accuse us of baking unleavened bread with the blood of Christians. But no, we bake them with the blood of Jews!” In another, he shouts down from a rooftop to bring a halt to the activity in the busy marketplace, then declares: “Jews! There is a God in the world!”

“I, Levi Yitzkhak, the son of Sarah from Berdichev, has come to have a trial with You on behalf of the Israel, Your people. What do You want from the Israel, from Your people?” —Levi Yitzkhak