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Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev (1740–1809) spent his life acting as the self-appointed character witness for the Jewish people, engaging in a constant dialogue with G‑d, pointing out the unique qualities of every Jew he met. The following is one of the best-known “Berditchever” stories:

It was the afternoon before Passover, and Rabbi Levi Yitzchak was wandering through the streets of the Jewish quarter seeking out local smugglers. From one he quietly asked for a quote on contraband tobacco, from another he inquired about the availability of smuggled brocades and embroideries. No matter the merchandise he sought, everything was available for the right price.

However, when he started asking his newfound acquaintances to supply him with some bread or whiskey, those very same businessmen who had previously proved so accommodating balked. “Rabbi,” said one, “are you trying to insult me? The Seder will be starting in just a few hours, and no Jew would have even a speck of chametz left in his home or business.”

No Not one merchant was able to come up with even a crumb of bread or a dram of alcoholmatter the price offered, not one merchant was willing or able to come up with even a crumb of bread or a dram of alcohol. The town had converted into a chametz-free zone.

Thrilled with the results of his failed quest, the rabbi looked up to heaven and declared: “G‑d Almighty, look down with pride at Your people! The czar has border guards and tax commissioners dedicated to his commands. The police and the courts are devoted to tracking down and punishing smugglers and black marketeers, and yet anything one could possibly want is available. Contrast this with the faith and fidelity of Your Jews. It has been over 3,000 years since you commanded us to observe Passover. No police, no guards, no courts and jails enforce this edict—and yet every Jew keeps Your laws to the utmost!

Mi k’amcha Yisrael—Who is like Your nation, Israel?!”

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum is spiritual leader of Moorabbin Hebrew Congregation and co-director of L’Chaim Chabad in Moorabbin, Victoria, Australia.
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Haggege léon usa April 10, 2016

hazak Reply

Ian McNair Benoni , South Africa via chabadnc.com April 10, 2009

ENCOURAGEMENT What an encouragement when we live in a time where anything goes. Reply

Anonymous April 17, 2008

Der Berdichever I love the Berdichever character and his stories, but is smuggling an acceptable occupation? Reply

Natana Kulakofski Worcester, MA/USA April 16, 2008

The Pintele Yid Cathy is missing the point of this beautiful story. Not even a gonif - a thief - would stoop so low as to own chametz so close to Pesach. After midday on erev Pesach, no Jew is allowed to own chametz. This story happened after midday.
The point of the story is this: if not even a lowly thief would degrade himself further by owning chametz, what does that say for the rest of us? What does that say for those of us who say,
"Oh, I can't be bothered checking my shampoo bottle to see if it's chametzdik." and similar uninformed statements we've all heard.
No Jew - not even those among us who do not follow in the path of our Fathers and Mothers - is allowed to own even one crumb or one tiny drop of chametz during Pesach. That is why we sell it to a non-Jew before midday erev Pesach.
This story gives me a much-needed chizuk to finish up my Pesach cleaning.
A joyous Passover to you, Cathy, and to everyone out there in the chabad.org readership and authorship! Reply

Cathy April 15, 2008

No bread B ut if they wanted couldn't they find a gentile who would sell them some bread?

Something is missing from this story. Like, the smugglers were totally unwilling to have chometz in their possession even for the short time it would take to convey it to him from the gentile. Reply

Anonymous Ithaca, NY via chabadcornell.com April 15, 2008

The Berditchever Rebbe I loved seeing this story up -- my grandmother came from this town!
Thanks. Reply

chabad.org fan April 15, 2008

I have heard this beautiful story countless times since I was a young child, and yet, even now, as a grandmother, reading it gave me the chills.
As the years pass, I realize more and more "mi keamcho Yisroel". Reply

Erwin Sandor Bucharest, Romania April 14, 2008

Mi K'amcha Yisrael !, Minister of Defense... Good to be informed about Jewish World. Reply

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