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Reb Baruch's Tallit

by Shlomo Carlebach and Susan Yael Mesinai

Everybody knows that the heilige Rav Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev and Rav Baruch of Medzhibozh were the very opposites of each other. Reb Baruch was very civilized. When he davened, he barely moved. When he sat with his family at the Shabbes table, he was so regal he was the king of the world.

But when Rav Levi Yitzhak prayed, he jumped from one end of the room to another. He would dance, turn around, fall to the ground. At his table, one had to be very careful. You never knew what to expect. In the middle of kiddush, he could go absolutely wild, take the wine bottle, pour it up, pour it down, throw the cup into the air.

Reb Levi Yitzhak wanted so much to spend a Shabbes with Rav Baruch, the Baal Shem Tov's grandson, that he finally invited himself.

Rav Baruch said: "You can come, but you have to behave my way. Especially at the table, with my family, you must be very proper."

Reb Levi Yitzhak of Berdichev thought about it. "The only way I can behave is if I don't open my mouth. I won't even pray, except to say 'Amen,' because the minute I daven, I'm no longer myself."

So he said to Reb Baruch: "When we're making kiddush, don't ask me to say a blessing. Let me be absolutely silent, because it's the only way I can control myself."

The two rebbes agreed. Reb Levi Yitzhak came for Shabbes. They davened and he only answered "Amen." The praying went beautifully. Everybody was sure that by kiddush, Reb Levi Yitzhak would start jumping on the table. But, no, Reb Baruch made kiddush and Rav Levi Yitzhak only said "Amen."

Everybody knows that it's a minhag, a custom on Friday night, to eat sweet fish and sour fish. The deepest question in the world, and a big controversy among the rebbes, was which fish to eat first. Some said sweet fish, because then you have the strength to bear the sour. Others said: "Let's get the sour fish out of the way, so that the end will be sweet."

But both ways are holy.

Rav Baruch was civilized. He had a little hasid, like a waiter, bring the fish on a platter and ask each person which he preferred to eat first - sour fish or sweet. So the waiter came, sadly enough, to Reb Levi Yitzhak and asked, "Do you like sweet fish?"

That's all the poor hasid had to ask. Rav Levi Yitzhak said: "Do I love sweet fish? I love HaShem! I love only God!"

And he took the whole platter of fish and threw it up to the ceiling. And the fish began to drip onto Rav Baruch's tallit, because in those days the big rebbes always wore their prayer shawls for the feast on Friday night.

Everyone was aghast. Everyone, that is, except Rav Baruch who, for all his civilized behavior, would never wash his tallit after that feast because, he said, the stains were very holy. "These stains are caused by a Jew who really loves God. How can I wash them out?"

After Rav Baruch's death, the tallit was passed from one rebbe to another to wear on Shabbes, but never washed. During this century it became so precious that the rebbes only wore it for Yom Kippur. The holy Munkatcher Rebbe, the last to possess it, wore it only for Neilah, the final prayer of Yom Kippur. He must have foreseen the destruction that would be coming into the world with the Holocaust. For the holy Munkatcher's last will was to be buried in Rav Baruch's tallit, covered with the stains caused by one who loved only God.

[small decorative rule]

From Shlomo Carlebach and Susan Yael Mesinai, Shlomo's Stories: Selected Tales.

Copyright © 1994. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. To order: The Jason Aronson Home Page

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