Monday, September 26, 2011

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A Tzadik and Uman

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Excerpted by Rabbi Nati @ Mystical Paths

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender zt”l (1897-1989)

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Bender, a Breslev tzadik and leader of the last generation, came to Uman in 1915 as a refugee from the World War I from Poland. He became the student of Rav Avraham Chazzan, zt”l. He remained in Uman for 20 years living and teaching Breslover Chassidut, and was chosen to be the Chazzan for Rosh Hashanah prayers at the Kibutz.

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s personal study schedule was incredible, he followed the seder of Rebbe Nachman which was to cover as much of the major Jewish works as possible. (Mishna, Gemora, Midrash, Zohar and Halacha) and to finish them each year. He was very diligent in following the advice of the Rebbe Nachman regarding saying Tikun Chatzot (midnight lamentations) and Hisbodedus (personal prayer in the field).  For nearly 75 years he never missed getting up in the middle of the night to recite the chatzot. Yet when he was asked once about what was most precious to him he responded, “I spent 30 yeas in Russia and I still believe in Hashem!”

In 1935 he and Rabbi Eliyahi Chaim Rosen were arrested for requesting assistance for the starving Jews of the Ukraine . There was a famine at that time and their crime was to contact an American Jewish relief organization, as this was seen as subversive activities. They were miraculously granted a reprieve as the judicial representative was secretly Jewish, and they were released to Uman (the burial place of Rebbe Nachman of Breslev).

To stay away from the authoriites Rabbi Bender fled and ran from place to place. At the outbreak of World War II he fled to Siberia and was able in 1949 to emigrate to Israel. Until his passing in 1989 he was the recognized leader of the Breslover community in Jerusalem.

Bender risked his life to return to Uman again for the Rosh Hashana pilgrimage of 1938. By this time the Soviet authorities had clamped down on religious observance by closing down the Breslover synagogue in Uman and converting it into a metalworking factory, and keeping close surveillance on illegal prayer gatherings. Bender and another twenty six Hasidim from outside Uman risked their lives to spend Rosh Hashana in that city.

To avoid being recognized in the Breslover minyan (now being held in a private apartment), Bender went to the house of a friend shortly before the holiday began and asked for permission to pray in the man's basement.

At 7:00 on the morning before Rosh Hashana, he slipped out to Rebbe Nachman's gravesite for a few minutes to recite Tikkun HaKlali (the "General Remedy" prayers from Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, which is customarily recited at the gravesite). He was spotted by another Jewish man known to be a government informer.  Rabbi Bender pleaded with the man not to report him, but as he walked back to his friend's house he noticed the informer following him. Since he was familiar with the back roads of Uman, he managed to shake him off his trail.

The informer went straight to the police who mounted a citywide search for Rabbi Bender on Rosh Hashana itself. Though they entered the house in which he was hiding and searched all the rooms, including the darkened basement, they overlooked the one room in which he hid.

As soon as the holiday was over, several Hasidim helped Rabbi Bender escape the city by bandaging his entire head, leaving only his eyes uncovered, and accompanying him on a night train to Kiev.  Rabbi Bender’s rebbizten (wife) was on the same train. She debarked at a small village called Khrystynivka (Charsinvaka), located two stations away from Uman, purchased two tickets for Kiev, and reboarded the train. Bender met his wife in the Kiev station and disposed of the tickets he had bought in Uman.

But the informer had followed on the same train, following Mrs. Bender, and spotted Reb Levi Yitzchok without his disguise in the station calling over a policeman. Though Rabbi Bender was arrested and interrogated, he insisted he had not traveled from Uman but from Khrystynivka.

The police believed him and released him. Bender spent the remaining war years in Siberia and the post-war years in Poland. He became rabbi of the displaced-persons camp at Bad Reichenhal, Germany.

This is the kind of leadership that inspire the Breslev mashpi’im of today such as Rav Berland, shlita and Rav Arush, shlita, and many others who are infused with this very spirit and continue to lead today in the path of Breslover Chassidut.

If we stand in the field in personal prayer, we can still hear the echos of the giants of yesterday.

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