Folktales of the Jews - Vol. 2

By Dan Ben-Amos | Go to book overview

13
Why Rebbe Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev
Deviated from His Custom

TOLD BY AZRIEL BEROSHI TO ZALMAN BAHARAV

The Hasidim of Rebbe Levi Yitzḥak of Berdichev asked him: "Master, why don't you perform the mitzvah of true and disinterested benevolence? Why don't you follow deceased Jews to the cemetery?"

Rebbe Levi Yitzḥak answered them: "I don't attend the funerals of rich men, even if they left money for tzedakah* to keep the heirs from getting puffed up and saying, 'The rebbe is honoring our father because he was very rich.' Nor do I attend the funerals of poor people, to keep the synagogue wardens and community leaders from being angry with me and saying that I am biased in favor of the poor, who were never able to support their families respectably. And because the Jews of our town are either rich or poor, I am not able to perform this mitzvah."

But when Yosef Halperin, a very rich man who owned a lot of property, died, Rebbe Levi Yitzhak set aside all his other engagements and studies and, contrary to his custom, attended the funeral. Seeing the astonishment of his disciples, Rebbe Levi Yitzḥak explained, "Reb Yosef Halperin's special merit compels me to deviate from my custom."

To explain himself to his associates, Rebbe Levi Yitzḥak told them three stories about the man's character and habits.

"Once a Jew whose business was selling grain to stores and bakeries lost two hundred rubles that he owed one of the wholesalers. Extremely distraught, he made a public announcement that he had lost his money. When Yosef Halperin, the local magnate, heard about this, he notified the rebbe that he had found the money. The merchant was happy that his money had turned up and Reb Yosef gave him two hundred rubles in bank notes.

"A few hours later, when the merchant called on a bakery, he found the money he had lost on top of a bag of flour. He wanted to return the two

*Charitable giving.

-92-

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