Thursday, October 11, 2007

Arguing with the yetzer Hara - A Simchas Torah story from R' Levi Yitzchak

I mentioned that four days ago, Sunday October 7th, was R’ Levi Yitzchak from Bardichev’s yartzeit. I saw a great ma’aseh from Simchas Torah about R’ Levi Yitzchak in the sefer Sippurei Chassidim by Rav Shlomo Yosef Zevin.

In R’ Levi Yitzchok’s first year of marriage, he was not yet known as a great Tzadik and he was still being supported by his father in law, who was an important member of the community. On Simchas Torah, the Shul honored him with saying “Ata Horeisa.” He approached the bina and picked up the Talis. He remained there for a moment and then he put down the Talis. A few moments later, he picked it up again. And again, a few moments after that, he put it down again. This repeated several times until he yelled out “if you’re such a chossid and such a lamdan, then you do it!”, and then he returned to his place in the Shul, without leading the “Ata Horeisa.”

Everyone in the Shul thought this looked very strange and they thought that R’ Levi Yitzchak was either some kind of false Tzadik or meshugenah. His father in law was humiliated, given his position in the community but he felt it was wrong to ask his son in law for an explanation during the Hakafos. But as soon as they were over, he could no longer contain his curiosity. He approached R’ Levi Yitzchak and asked for an explanation for his strange behavior. And he answered with the following words:

“I’ll tell you the truth. When I picked up the Talis to say the “Ata Horeisa,” my Yetzer Hara said to me that he wanted come up with me and say the Ata Horeisa along with me. I adamantly refused him, and I asked him, “Who are you that you should go up and lead the Ata Horeisa?!” My yetzer hara then answered me, “Who am I?! Who are you!” So I answered him that at least I’m a lamadan, as I have learned much Torah. He answered me that he too was a Lamdan. I responded, “What do you mean? I have learned Shas and Poskim and know much Torah. He answered me that he had been right there with me learning, and he had learned all the same things I had learned. I then said, “But I am also a Chassid! I learned the derech haChassidus from great Tzaddikim.” He answered me that he was also a Chassid and that he had also learned the derech haChassidus from those same Tzadikim right along there with me. In frustration, and realizing that I would not be able to go up and lead the Ata Horeisa withouyt the yetzer hara leading it along with me, I threw down the Talis and yelled back at the yetzer hara, “If you’re such a chassid and such a lamdan, then let’s see you lead the Ata Horeisa by yourself!”

His father in law and the congregation were passified by that answer. I love this story for so many reasons. One is what it says about our learning in chassidus and derech avoda during the whole year and to be aware of the yetzer hara’s place in that, which may be legitimate. The other interesting thing is how in touch R’ Levi Yitzchok was with trying to drive out any yetzer hara or ga’avah in his leading of a part of the tefillah. To me, it’s just such a great ma’aseh. Anyone else have ideas on what we can learn from this ma’aseh?

-Dixie Yid

(Picture courtesy of


Alice said...

One point could be that the yetzer hara needs our cooperation to follow through on its schemes. But that's a bit obvious, so I think it's deeper than that. A rightous person would know that.

Maybe it's to show that we can't ever slack because we never put much distance between us and the yetzer hara.

Am I off base?

Alice said...

And I love that story.

DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Alice I think you're on target with the second thing you said. In Pirkei Avos it says "Don't believe in yourself till the day you die." I think this is telling us, just like you said, that you can never rest on your righteousness laurals and take it easy, thinking that everything that you do is going to be all good from now on. Life is a constant struggle to be greater and the yetzer hara never gives up. Like the gemara in Kiddushin says, the yetzer hara strengthens its self against the person *every single day.*

Thanks for the comment!

-Dixie Yid