Living Legacy: Rebbe Lieber Hagodol of Berdichev

Living Legacy: Rebbe Lieber Hagodol of Berdichev

Yehuda Alter 

The 28th of Tishrei marks the yohrtzeit of Rav Lieber of Berdichev about whom the Ba’al Shem Tov [or the holy Ruziner, according to another version] is said to have remarked, “Many tzaddikim have giluy Eliyahu. But Eliyahu Hanovi has giluy Rav Lieber.” 

Rav Eliezer Lieber was born in the year 1667 to Rav Avrohom Ashkenazi, the son of Rav Shmuel, who was the son of Rav Shamshon of Ostropolya, Hy”d, who was killed during the massacres of Tach v’Tat, and was descended from Dovid Hamelech.

In this exalted home, Rav Lieber was raised toward a life of Torah and avodah. At the time, his father resided in the city of Krakow, but was forced to leave due to the persecution by the goyim towards the Yidden of the city. He settled in a town near Berdichev, and was appointed as a maggid in the town. When he was niftar in the year 1691, his son Rav Lieber was appointed in his stead. From then on, he became known as Rav Lieber Hagodol. 

The story is told that one day, Rav Lieber went out into the forests to daven mincha. Due to his great deveikus in davening, he did not hear the oncoming official. The official began to beat him mercilessly. When he realized that he was beating a G-dly man, he began to apologize. Rav Lieber made his apology conditional upon his erecting a grand beis medrash on that very spot, and this was later called “Rav Lieber’s Shul.” From then on, Berdichev became a Jewish metropolis. 

The ahavas Yisroel of Rav Lieber was otherworldly. One of his prize talmidim said that his own ahavas Yisroel was one-thousandth of the love that Rav Lieber had for another Yid. 

The Ba’al Shem Tov was a close chaver with Rav Lieber, and would journey to Berdichev multiple times a year to visit with him, and to immerse in his mikvah. 

Rav Lieber reached the ripe old age of 93 when a terrible pandemic broke out in the city.

He called together four men and told them the following: “I will accept upon myself the gezeirah, and I will soon be niftar. I assure you that if you will ensure kavod hameis for those who passed away, no harm will befall you.” 

And this is exactly what happened: Rav Lieber was soon niftar—serving as an atonement for his generation—and the mageifah ceased in its wake. 

Today, there are many G-d-fearing descendants of Rav Lieber in communities around the world who proudly carry forth his living legacy. 

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