Weekly Chasidic Story #668 (s5771-02 / 7 Tishrei 5771)
The Pre-Yom Kippur Toast
Nopbody could understand why Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev was delaying to begin the Yom Kippur Evening prayers.
Connection: Seasonal – Yom Kippur)
The synagogue was hushed, the worshipers were expectant – but Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, who stood before them at the lectern, robed in white, as they waited for him to thrill the air with the haunting strains of Kol Nidrei, remained silent. Dusk thickened into night, but still the tzadik stood silent. Struck by wonder, restrained by awe, no man ventured to approach him and to remind him that it was time to begin.
Suddenly the door flew open. A simple fellow bustled his way inside, found a spot to stand and pray at the back wall – whereupon the Berditchever began Kol Nidrei.
The curiosity of the congregants ran high. As soon as the prayers were over they surrounded the stranger and showered him with questions from all sides: “Who are you?” “What brings you here?” – and so on.
“I’m just an ordinary tailor,” protested the man, “and I live in a nearby village.”
“Come now,” they insisted. “Do we seem to you like the kind of folks who can be satisfied with some lame disclaimer like that? Didn’t we see with our own eyes that our rebbe held up the prayers until you arrived?”
But they could not extract another word out of him.
“We’re not going to let you out of here,” they warned him, “until you reveal to us your true identity.”
The deadlock was finally broken by the question of one of the locals: “Perhaps you’d like to tell us why you came to shulso late, and how you spent your day?”
“Okay,” said the tailor, “I’ll confess the whole truth. This morning, Yom Kippur Eve, at breakfast, I poured myself a wee bit too much of my favorite intoxicating beverage. After that my head was heavy, so I lay down a bit to rest.
“When I finally woke up I saw that I wouldn’t have time to eat a square meal before the fast and travel to town here as well. So I decided to forget about the meal, and just poured myself a glass of vodka – at least I should say LeChaim. But I didn’t have anyone around to say LeChaim to! So what did I do? I decided to say LeChaim to the Almighty!
“I poured Him a glass too and said: ‘LeChaim, Master of the Universe! Let us talk brass tacks. I admit that in the course of this last year I did not behave so well. I missed a few Afternoon and Evening prayers; I cut a few financial corners; and so forth. But, begging Your pardon, Master of the Universe – You haven’t quite behaved Yourself so perfectly either.
“‘Look how many women you left widowed, look how many children have been orphaned. How many fathers have You taken from their children, and how many children have You taken from their parents. And not only that. If we investigate a little bit more, we will probably even discover that You are guilty of tale bearing. Because how did my local squire ever find out about that spot of monkey business with the remnants of the cloth, if You hadn’t helped him smell a rat?
“‘Nevertheless, Master of the Universe, we’re willing to forgive You for everything – provided that You forgive us too.
“‘Do we have a deal? Great! Then let’s say LeChaim.’ Then I drank my whole glass of vodka, and was starting to get up when I realized, ‘Wait a moment. I almost forgot. You don’t drink!’ So I threw down His glass too and set out to town to pray in your synagogue here.”
His listeners heard his story, and let him go his way. And after the conclusion of the Day of Atonement, when they were breaking their fast, the Berditchever told them that the LeChaim of that tailor had burst its way through all the heavens; it was only right that they should all wait for him for Kol Nidrei.
[Source: I based this on the rendition in “A Treasury of Chassidic Tales” (Artscroll), as translated by Uri Kaploun fromSipurei Chasidim by Rabbi S. Y. Zevin, but I added some dialogue and a few extra ounces of vodka from the version I personally heard from a special-to-an-extreme elderly chasid, Rabbi Abba Pliskin of blessed memory, who used it to resolve my wonderment that any Jew could possibly allow himself to be in the situation of coming tipsy to Kol Nidrei.]
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (Deberamdiger) of Berditchev (1740-25 Tishrei 1809) is one of the most popular rebbes in chassidic history. He was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. He is best known for his love for every Jew and his active efforts to intercede for them against (seemingly) adverse heavenly decrees. Many of his teachings are contained in the posthumously published, Kedushat Levi.
Yerachmiel 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.