Few people loved Bnei Yisrael as much as the great tzaddik, Reb Levi Yitzchok of Berdichev. His very fiber and being was permeated with love for the Jewish people and every Jew’s pain was his own. As the Yomim Noraim approached, he would gather together all his strength and ability to plead the case of his beloved nation before the Throne of Mercy.
One Rosh Hashanah, Reb Levi Yitzchok heard the pitiful cries of a poor man who lived next to his shul. He listened and kept quiet. When the time came to blow the shofar, Reb Levi Yitzchak ascended the pulpit, donned the kittel, took the shofar in his hand and began to recite the prayer of “Lamenatzeach’’ seven times. The congregation repeated the prayer after him.
Suddenly, Reb Levi Yitzchok stopped and waited. The congregation waited silently for the rav to make the bracha and begin to blow the shofar. One hour passed, and nothing happened. The people began to fidget and some were clearly frightened.
Reb Levi Yitzchok then put aside the shofar and addressed the congregation.
“My friends,” he said, “outside of my window sits a man who has been in prison for many years. Because of it he knows very little Hebrew and nothing of prayers. Hearing us davening in this shul has made him very sad and in a crying voice he is pleading to Hashem, ‘Father in Heaven, you know that I can’t pray, although my heart longs for prayer. All I know are the 22 letters of the Jewish alphabet, which I do hereby repeat before you. Will you in your infinite mercy arrange these letters into the proper words of prayer?’
“Hashem is now busy arranging these letters into words. We will have to wait until He is ready to hear us.”
Forbidden On Shabbos
Still another time, Rosh Hashanah fell on Shabbos and Reb Levi Yitzchok rose to proclaim: “Father in Heaven, according to Your own Torah, You are required to write a good decree for Your people, Your beloved children.”
The people looked at each other in amazement. What did he mean? Why was this Rosh Hashanah so special?
Reb Levi Yitzchok saw their puzzlement and explained as follows: “Today,” he said “is the holy day of Shabbos, when it is forbidden to write. Thus, even the Heavenly Court is forbidden to write today – except to save a life. That means writing an evil decree is forbidden – but a good one is permitted. To save a life it is permitted to write on Shabbos.”
The Price of Hair
One year on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, a young man training to be a barber passed by the home of Reb Levi Yitzchak. His head was uncovered, and his many wavy curls were carefully combed over his forehead.
Seeing him through the window, Reb Levi Yitzchak called him in and said: “Why do you grow your hair that way?”
“Because my job brings me in touch with many noblemen,” said the young man, “so I have to make myself look good.”
“Listen here. I’ll give you a gold ruble if you cut off those curls. After all, wearing your hair like the gentiles is against the commandment in the Torah – ‘You shall not walk in the way of their laws.’”
“No!” said the youth.
“Very well,” said the tzaddik, “then I will give you three rubles.” The youth did not agree – and still would not agree even when the offer reached 20 rubles.
“If you cut off your curls at once,” said Reb Levi Yitzchok, “I promise you a share in the World to Come.”
No sooner did the youth hear these words than his hand dived deep into his pocket for his scissors, and within seconds he had cut off his wavy curls.
“Master of the Universe!” exclaimed Reb Levi Yitzchak. “How strong is the faith of Your people, even the simplest among them! How many weary hours of work and trouble must such a young man go through to earn just one gold ruble! Why, 20 rubles is for him an undreamed-of fortune… And yet, what he was not willing to do for 20 gold rubles he did for a share in the World to Come, even though he has never laid eyes on it!”
The Heavy Load
It was the first day of Rosh Hashanah. The shul was crowded. Reb Levi Yitzchok himself was leading the congregation.
Reb Levi Yitzchok’s soft, vibrant voice touched the heartstrings of every worshipper. As he pronounced the words, his voice broke, and everyone’s heart was filled with remorse. Each pictured himself standing before the Judge of the Universe.
Reb Levi Yitzchok recited line after line of the solemn prayer, which the congregation repeated, until he came to the line: “To Him, Who acquires His servants in judgment…”
Here the Rebbe paused, for the words died on his lips. His tallis slid from his head, revealing his pale face; his eyes were shut, and he seemed to be in a trance.
A shudder passed through the congregation. A critical situation must have arisen in the Heavenly Court; things were not going well for the petitioners.
A few moments later, the color returned to Reb Levi Yitzchok’s face, which now became radiant with joy. His voice shook with ecstasy and triumph as he recited: “To Him, who acquires His servants in judgment!”
After the service, the Rebbe explained: “While we davened, I felt myself lifted up to the gates of heaven, where I saw the Satan carrying a heavy load. The sight filled me with anxiety, for I knew that he was carrying a bag full of sins to put onto the Scales of Justice before the Heavenly Court.
“For a moment the bag was left unattended, so I went to it and began to examine its contents. The bag was crammed with all kinds of sins: evil gossip, hatred without reason, jealousies, wasted time, which should have been spent in study of the Torah – ugly creatures of sins, big and small.