Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber of Vilednik:
He was known as a brilliant talmid chochom and a miracle worker, and to this day, people travel for hours along barely paved roads in the Northern Ukraine for an opportunity to daven at the kever of Rav Yisroel Dov Ber of Viledniki, hoping to receive his heavenly blessings.
Renowned for his efforts to inspire others to do teshuva, Rav Yisroel Dov was born in Katelna, located near Berditchev in 1780. His father, Reb Yosef, who taught children in the community, passed away when he was very young and Rav Yisroel Dov was inspired by his mother who nurtured him along the path to greatness.
After becoming seriously ill, Rav Yisroel Dov’s mother realized that she, too, was destined to leave her young son, and she asked him to bring her a sefer, any sefer. Unable to read the words on her own, Rav Yisroel Dov’s mother held the sefer tightly, calling on the letters themselves to intervene in the heavenly realms and to ensure that her son grow up to be an ehrliche yid.
Rav Yisroel Dov was orphaned several years before his bar mitzvah and was raised by members of the local community. Even at his young age, he devoted his every waking moment to learning Torah, earning the moniker “the iluy of Katelna.”
When he was 12 years old, the Chernobyler Rebbe, Rav Menachem Nachum, spent several days in the town, asking if there was anyone there who would be willing to make a siyum on any masechta of Shas the next day. When no one stepped up, he asked the young Yisroel Dov if he would accept the responsibility, and after agreeing to take on any gemara, the Chernobyler Rebbe handed him a copy of Bava Basra, the longest masechta in Shas. Undaunted, the young Yisroel Dov spent the entire night learning, concluding the gemara the next afternoon, telling the Rebbe that he was willing to be tested on the masechta to prove that he had indeed completed the job and was ready to make a siyum.
In his youth, Rav Yisroel Dov had the opportunity to visit with Rav Aron of Zhitomir and Rav Mordechai of Lyakhovichi, and he shared a close relationship with Rav Mordechai Twersky of Chernobyl. On one occasion, Rav Yisroel Dov traveled to Berditchev to hear the renowned Rav Levi Yitzchok’s Shabbos Hagadol drasha. Becoming so involved in the Rebbe’s words, Rav Yisroel Dov interrupted with detailed questions on several occasions, until Rav Levi Yitzchok felt that his drasha was no longer serving to inspire his baalei batim, finally asking Rav Yisroel Dov “are you crazy?” From that moment on, Rav Yisroel Dov found his formerly crystal clear thoughts obscured, a problem he ultimately shared with Rav Mordechai of Chernobyl who told him that while Rav Levi Yitzchok’s powerful pronouncement could not be undone, it could be circumvented by periodically engaging in strange actions. Following the Rebbe’s advice, Rav Yisroel Dov began studying the title page of every sefer he learned from with great intensity and exhibiting other somewhat unusual behaviors, a technique that successfully restored his lucid thought processes.
Rav Yisroel Dov became the rav of Veledniki after his marriage to the daughter of Reb Moshe Chetz, earning a reputation as a baal mofes when the Tzemach Tzedek sent him a woman whose husband had disappeared several years earlier. At first, Rav Yisroel Dov looked out his window and told the woman that he could see her husband standing on the mast of a ship, but after looking outside and seeing nothing, she began to cry. Seeing her pain, Rav Yisroel Dov told the woman to go home and that she would find her husband there, a prediction that proved true and cemented his place in Jewish history as a miracle worker.
In 1829 Rav Yisroel Dov became known as the “Tzaddik from Veledniki” and his followers grew to include many members of the Lubavitch offshoot of Strashelye who flocked to him after the death of their rebbe. Rav Yisroel Dov’s connection with Lubavitch was further deepened approximately 60 years ago when the Lubavitcher Rebbe told over a vort in his name about hanging silk curtains as a segula for the birth of a healthy son. While some listeners in 770 dismissed the story, the Lubavticher Rebbe insisted that it emphasized the importance of a Chasid listening to his rebbe, with one listener who hung silk curtains after hearing about Rav Yisroel Dov’s segula meriting the birth a son shortly thereafter.
Rav Yisroel Dov did not have any children of his own with either his first wife or his second, although he helped many who struggled in their journey to parenthood. In his lifetime, many people traveled to Viledniki to receive his brachos and Rav Yisroel Dov told his chasidim that even after his death, those who touched the handle to the door of his gravesite would be blessed. His sefer Shearis Yisroel, published posthumously fifteen years after his death in 1850, is divided into separate sections discussing the importance of becoming close to tzadikim, the yomim tovim and teshuva, and was printed at the request of Rav Aharon of Chernobyl, with the bracha of Rav Dovid of Tolna.
Over the years, Jews and Gentiles alike have traveled to Rav Yisroel Dov’s gravesite in Veledniki, where many miracles have been seen. Attempts by the Nazis to use his gravesite as a fuel depot had disastrous results, with one Nazi soldier dying and another becoming disabled as they attempted to stack barrels of fuels in the structure. While every house in Veledniki was destroyed by war, only Rav Yisroel’s ohel survived intact, and a plan by the Russian army to demolish the tzion was abandoned after trenches dug around the site mysteriously refilled themselves overnight. Attempts by the Communist regime to seal off the gravesite to prevent people from coming to pray also failed and throughout the year, and especially on Rav Yisroel Dov’s yahrtzeit, people flock to the site to pray there, to touch the door handle and to receive his brachos.
Yosef Shidler of CJ Studios traveled to Ukraine to film the holy Jewish sites. In part 6 presented on COLlive.com, they show the holy gravesite of Rabbi Yisroel Dov Ber, “the tzadik of Vilednik.”
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