Photo Credit: Jewish Press

After being exiled, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana’s first home in the village of Chi’ili, Kazakhstan, was a single room in the dwelling of a crude Tartar couple who had a young child. The room had no door and was damp, muddy, and filled with swarms of mosquitoes. They lived in extreme poverty and discomfort, with no privacy. Though they never discussed it, pangs of hunger tormented them. Once, they did not taste a piece of bread for an entire month.

With World War II ravaging Europe, many refugees and displaced people ended up in the region where Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had been exiled. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak soon became well known among the Jewish refugees. Large groups of men and women, especially those women whose husbands were taken away for the war effort, would visit the esteemed rabbi and his wife, seeking counsel on various matters.


With meager resources at their disposal, and facing a constant threat to their very lives, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana heroically reached out to their brethren in need, helping in every way, materially and spiritually.

In 1944, as Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s sentence was nearing its end, his physical condition began to deteriorate. A serious illness was severely weakening him. Meanwhile, friends in nearby Alma Ata resolved to secure the rabbi’s release. They contributed thousands of rubles, giving of most of their wealth, to acquire proper permits for his relocation. After six weeks fraught with setbacks and obstacles, they were finally able to obtain the release documents. Immediately after Pesach, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana left Chi’ili and arrived in Alma Ata. In this large city, their living conditions improved and they worked more vigorously to help others in need. Yet through the summer the Rabbi’s illness grew worse. A young friend made a special trip from Leningrad to Alma Ata, together with a well-known doctor. The doctor did not have a good prognosis for the rabbi.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and Rebbetzin Chana endured those heartbreaking days with exceptional strength and fortitude. Despite the dire conditions, they continued to welcome any depressed or broken person into their home, attending to his or her specific needs and providing food when necessary.

On the 20th of Av, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s condition turned critical. Although he was no longer able to speak, he continued to murmur words of Torah or Psalms. That evening, Rebbetzin Chana took a short rest so that she would have the strength to continue caring for him; when she awoke, she found the house filled with people. Her husband had returned his pure soul to its Maker.

During his years as Rabbi of Yekatrinoslav, as well as while in exile in Chi’ili, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak wrote thousands of manuscripts of Torah encompassing and intertwining, in his unique style, Talmud, halacha, Kabbalah, and Chassidus.

Unfortunately, most of these manuscripts were destroyed by the Communists and the Nazis. However, when Rebbetzin Chana escaped Russia in 1947, she managed to smuggle out some of the manuscripts that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak had written during his years of exile.

At the behest of the Rebbe, these manuscripts were published in a five-volume set under the title Likutei Levi Yitzchak. In his father’s memory, the Rebbe would also explain a passage of these Kabbalistic teachings at many of his Shabbat farbrengens.

To this day, Likutei Levi Yitzchok remains one of the most unique works on Kabbalistic thought from the last century.

It is now the custom of hundreds of chassidim, from all over the world, to be in Alma Ata for Chof (20) Menachem Av. The brochos of all Lubavitcher chassidim are with them.


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Rabbi Shmuel M. Butman is director of the Lubavitch Youth Organization. He can be reached at [email protected].