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A Lesson In Silence, A Lesson In Emuna
Two Chassidim, Reb Shraga Faitel Levin and Reb Shmuel Berzhin
By E. Lesches

Quiet people are hard to penetrate. Their silence and unassuming way of life often serve as the perfect way to mask knowledge and sincerity. Although Chassidim of stature who did their utmost to avoid attention or honor were sometimes not as well known as Chassidim who taught and farbrenged, this obscurity was precisely what they wanted.

Such a person was Reb Shraga Faitel Levin. Reb Faitel was born to Reb Dovid Abba Levin, a Chassid known as the Melamed of Nevel. Reb Faitel learned Torah intensely: every spare moment he had was used to study Torah. Blessed with a photographic memory, Reb Faitel knew the entire Shas by heart (!) and committed many Chassidic works to memory.

Every Shabbos morning in Nevel, five children joined Reb Faitel’s four sons in learning Likkutei Torah. Due to the shortage of books, one child alone would read aloud, explaining the material to the other children, while Reb Faitel paced the room in deep concentration. If the child erred in his explanation, Reb Faitel would groan deeply, forcing him to repeat it again until Reb Faitel was satisfied.

Yes, both Chassidus and Nigla were part of Reb Faitel’s life. Every day, when he returned home from backbreaking labor, he ate a little food and sat down immediately to learn. His children frequently saw him sleeping at night with his head on his Gemara, or lying down at night for two, three hours – only to rise refreshed to study again until daybreak.

Despite his tremendous amount of knowledge, Reb Faitel was rarely heard to utter a word. Even during farbrengens and other gatherings he hardly ever spoke, remaining content to sit and listen. In the rare moment when he opened his mouth to say a few words, all became silent, leaning forward to hear every word.

When it came to the education of his children, however, Reb Faitel did not spare any words. He brought up his children in a refined way, educating them about the standards of behavior expected of them as Chabad Chassidim. Once, when his son came home an hour late, Reb Faitel demanded to know where he had been. “I was watching a game of kickball,” the boy replied.

“You spent an hour watching some goyim kick a ball?” Reb Faitel said in astonishment. He repeated the words again and again with great pain until the boy burst into tears. Though Reb Faitel raised neither voice nor hand, his methods left an indelible impression on the children.

One day, Reb Faitel was learning with Reb Shmuel (Mulle Chaim’s) Berhzin, the local shochet, in the shul of Nevel, when the shochet’s adult son suddenly arrived, searching for his father. The son, healthy and physically fit, had previously claimed he was sickly and weak in order to avoid the army draft. However, the army periodically conducted spot-checks to catch deserters and false exemptions, impelling the young man to flee town. With time, he had become a wealthy butcher, and arrived now, unannounced, to visit his father.

“What are you doing here?” Reb Shmuel demanded. “Do you want to get arrested, G-d forbid?”

“I’m just passing through,” his son explained. “The Rebbe Rashab is close by at his place of vacation and I am on my way to visit him.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Reb Shmuel. “I wish I could also go!”

His son did not miss a beat. “I will buy you a ticket,” he said, “but I must be on my way already.”

Reb Faitel promptly seized the opportunity to express his overwhelming desire to see the Rebbe, and to his pleasant surprise, the young man bought him a ticket as well. The group set out on their journey.

The Rebbe Rashab was staying at a resort location not far from the Black Sea. The trio reached the closest port on Friday morning. It was a few-mile walk to the village where the Rebbe was staying, with other small villages in between.

Before they began their walk, they decided to take a mikva in the Black Sea. Reb Faitel and the shochet immediately emerged from the water, but the son continued to swim around for quite a while. When he finished swimming, he rejoined the others to walk to the Rebbe’s home.

Suddenly, the son dropped to the ground and lay there motionless. All his father’s efforts to arouse him were to no avail; the young man was unconscious. Reb Faitel helped the distraught father carry his son to the nearest Jewish home, and as the son lay immobile in bed, their hosts ran out to fetch the closest doctor.

When the doctor finally arrived, he examined the patient. “I can’t understand what happened,” the father explained. “We were just swimming in the Black Sea and my son seemed hale and hearty. When we continued walking, he collapsed to the ground without a sound, and he’s been lying like that ever since.”

The doctor looked at them in astonishment. “The Black Sea?” he repeated. “You swam in that water?”

“We didn’t stay too long,” the shochet said. “My son was there longer than us. He probably swam for a few minutes.”

 “A few minutes!” the doctor shook his head in dismay. “I’m sorry, but there is little I can do. The water in that lake is contaminated with dangerous chemicals and prolonged contact has always proved fatal. Your son is in a coma, far beyond human help!”

The doctor packed his bag, and ignoring their protests, headed out the door. The shochet turned to Reb Faitel in desperation. “Only the Rebbe can help us,” he said. “We must go straight to him!”

They left the invalid in the house and continued their trip, arriving at the Rebbe Rashab’s residence on Friday night at midnight. When they arrived, the shochet immediately asked the gabbai of the Rebbe Rashab to grant him a yechidus, but he was refused.

“The Rebbe is not seeing anyone now,” explained the gabbai. “However, if you really must speak with the Rebbe, I suggest you wait outside his room, because the Rebbe always goes from one room to the next between three and four in the morning. Then you will be able to ask him whatever you want.”

And so it was. The shochet and Reb Faitel waited outside the Rebbe’s room for hours. Suddenly, at 3:30 a.m., the door opened and the Rebbe came out. “What do you want?” the Rebbe asked.

Reb Shmuel burst into tears and quickly related what had occurred. When he finished, the Rebbe made a dismissive gesture with his hand. “He will be here for Havdala,” he said. With that, the Rebbe went to a different room.

The pair looked at one another in amazement: the invalid was stretched out in bed, practically lifeless, and yet the Rebbe expected him to make the trip in time for Havdala! However, being true Chassidim, they did not question the Rebbe’s word. In fact, the shochet was so overjoyed by the Rebbe’s words that he decided to stay there until after Shabbos, for if the Rebbe promised his son would recuperate, then returning to the village would be a futile waste of time.

Meanwhile, on Shabbos day, back in the village, the young man suddenly awoke to find strangers looking sadly at him. “What am I doing here?” he said. “Where is my father?”

The son tried to get up, but fell back, exhausted by the effort. “Watch yourself!” the woman of the house screamed. “You are very ill and the doctor said you will die soon! Don’t move or you might make it worse!”

The family tried all they could to get him to stay in bed, but he resisted. “What do you mean?” he said indignantly. “I came here to see the Rebbe, not to stay in bed!”

Gradually, he mustered enough strength to sit up. Then he mastered standing and walking. After eating something, he left the house, against the strong exhortations of his hosts to remain and gather his strength.

When he arrived at the house of the Rebbe Rashab, he opened the door to find the Rebbe standing at the table with the becher in his hand, mouthing the first word, “Hinei,” of Havdala. He had arrived in time.

Decades later, one of Reb Faitel’s sons related this story to his children. “This story,” he observed, “illustrates the incredible emuna of the Chassidim of Nevel. This man had left his son on a deathbed with the doctor saying there was no hope for him, yet when the Rebbe said he would be fine, the Chassid did not even bother to return and observe his son’s health. The Rebbe had spoken; his word was enough!”


Reb Shraga Faitel Levin

“A few minutes!” the doctor shook his head in dismay. “Your son is in a coma, far beyond human help!”




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