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Days Of Awe

(EDITORíS NOTE: We never grow tired of repeating the wonderful stories of our gaonim and their pious deeds. It is our hope that we will be inspired by their devout and holy behavior. In the zechus (merit) of repeating these stories (V'Shinantam L'Vanecha) we pray that we will all enjoy a year of peace, good health and happiness.]

The month of Elul is upon us and the Days of Awe, the High Holy Days, are drawing near. Those who remember the towns and cities of Europe can still feel the awe that gripped ehrliche Jews during this period of time and the spiritual flame that burned in their souls.

Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev, the great defender of Jews, is forever linked to the Days of Awe. It was he who would rise, in the synagogue and fight the prosecuting angels who sought punishment for Jewish sins. Reb Levi. Yitzchok would always seek some answer, some vindication for his people. Here is one such story.

Through The Alleys

One year before Rosh Hashanah, Reb Levi Yitzchok received a letter from his great teacher, Rav Baruch of Mezrich. It was short but ominous:

"This Rosh Hashanah be especially watchful..."

Reb Levi Yitzchok trembled as he read the words. He must be especially vigilant now; he must find some righteous deed, some vindication for the nation to defeat the great menace that threatened them.

And so, as was his custom before Rosh Hashanah, Reb Levi Yitzchok began to wander through the streets and alleys of the poor section of Berdichev seeking that vindication.

Suddenly, he noticed a light burning in the window of a poor and dilapidated house. Through the window he could see a young woman sitting bowed, before a table and reading techinos (supplications).

Knocking on the door, Reb Levi Yitzchok entered. The woman was greatly agitated to see the great Rabbi, for she knew that he often would go through the streets of the city exhorting sinners to repent before Rosh Hashanah.

A Sinner

Without giving the rabbi an opportunity to speak, she began to cry:

"Rebbe, it is true that I have sinned, but I have repented and done all in my power to cleanse my sin."

"Do not be sad," said Rabbi Levi Yitzchok, "you are not a sinner. On the contrary, you have a great merit in heaven, and that is why I was led here. But tell me your story."

"As a little girl, I lived with my parents in a village not far from Berdichev. My parents rented a milking station from the local landlord. When I was 17 years old, my dear parents passed away and I was left alone.

"I decided to go to the landlord and ask that I be allowed to continue renting the station. When I entered his room and he saw me, he began to speak to me in an obscene way and I saw that he was filled with evil thoughts.

The Hair

"I became frightened and pushed him away. Seeing this, he changed his manner and said:

"'Do not be frightened; I will not hurt you. You can have the rental for three years at half the price. I only wish to kiss your hair.'

"And he took my locks in his hands and kissed them.

"All that night I could not sleep. I could find no rest for my soul for permitting that evil man to touch my hair. At dawn I arose, cut my hair and left the house.

"I came to the city and found a job as a servant girl in various homes. Eventually I married a good man, who died last year and I am alone again."

One Lock Left

Reb Levi Yitzchok heard the tragic tale and tears filled his eyes for this pure and righteous young woman.

"Have you saved any of that hair?" he asked.

"I have one lock left," answered the woman. "When times are bad and my heart grows sad, I take it out and look at it in order to validate G-d's punishment of me."

Reb Levi Yitzchok heard these words and left the house without a word.

Rosh Hashanah arrived, and the message of warning still burned in Reb Levi Yitzchok's mind. He went to the mikveh as dawn came, dressed himself in white clothing, donned his tallis (prayer shawl) and set off for the synagogue.

Filled With People

They synagogue was filled with people praying fervently. As they reached "HaMelech" (O Mighty King) all eyes turned to Reb Levi Yitzchok who would take the lectern and be the cantor.

Reb Levi Yitzchok approached and with a mighty voice filled with feeling he cried out, "HaMelech."

The people sensed that something was wrong and the feeling impelled them to greater fervor of their own. The Shacharis (morning service) was now concluded and Reb Levi Yitzchok left the synagogue to immerse himself in the mikveh once again, in preparation for the blowing of the shofar.

The people waited impatiently for his return and for the assurance that the Almighty had accepted their prayers. Finally, the great rabbi returned to the synagogue.

The Scales

Covering his head with the tallis he bent low over the table. Then he remained motionless for several moments as the silent congregants looked on in hushed awe.

Suddenly he raised his eyes to Heaven and cried out:

"Almighty G-d. Sovereign of the Universe! If You took all the sins of the Jewish people and placed them on one side of the scales and then took the lock of hair of the young woman and placed it on the other - would not the lock of hair outweigh all else?

"Merciful Father, that lock of hair is the difference between the purity and holiness of a Jewish maiden and the impurity of the depraved world.

"For her sake, forgive Your children, the People of Israel.

And the chassidic tradition tells us that the cry of the virtuous Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev rose to the Throne of Mercy and the Almighty tore up the evil decree.


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