From the Rabbi - February 2017 Print
Two stories of the Chassidic Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev:
 
On his way to synagogue one Saturday morning, Rabbi Levi Yitchak met a Jew smoking on Shabbat.  “Surely” the Rebbe asked, “You have forgotten that today is Shabbat?” “No” replied the man, “I remember.”  “Then,” stated the Rebbe, “you obviously didn’t know that the law forbids smoking on Shabbat?” “No, I know that too,” he replied.”  The Rebbe looked to the heavens and said to God: “True, he violates the laws of Shabbat.  But you must admit one thing: nothing can make him tell a lie!”
 
One day while walking Rabbi Levi Yitchak was hit in the head by a garbage can.  After thorough investigation he found that the culprit was the wife of a vicious critic of Chassidic Judaism. “Don’t be angry with her God,” implored the rabbi, “she was only trying please her husband!”
 
I love these stories not just because they show a rather humorous side to usually serious genre of Chassidic stories, but because they point to an important truth.  Sometimes we think that to be truly honest and to tell the truth means being negative.  We think it’s easy to be positive and nice but telling the truth means being critical.  But actually it’s very easy to be negative, to let our negative emotions – anger, fear, frustration –drive us to say things that are hurtful, things that are critical of ourselves and others.  It’s easy to dismiss others because they get in our way or to demean others because of a trait we find annoying or frustrating. 
 
But what Rabbi Levi Yizchak of Berdichev teaches us is that truth is both positive and negative.  To be truly honest one must be willing to see both the good and the bad in all things.  When we seem to be favoring the positive we must force ourselves to look at the negative however unpleasant.  But the opposite is also true.  When we find ourselves looking negatively upon others or even upon ourselves, we should always do as Rabbi Levi Yitchak of Berdichev did and be as honest in our praise as we are in our criticism. The person we find most difficult in our lives, may also have traits that deserve praise.  It’s easy when we are angry or impatient forget this, but these stories remind us that it is our duty to be as honest about the good in others and in ourselves as we are about the bad. 


Rabbi Ilan Emanuel