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16 Shvat 5775 - February 5, 2015 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Sparks of Greatness
HaRav Chaim Dovid Doctor of Pietrkov

In honor of his yahrtzeit, 20 Shevat (5618)

The deep lines and sad expression on the face of R' Yissochor Bernhardt said it all. A distinguished Jew in Pietrkov, he had not been blessed with children for many years.

Looking for a ray of hope, R' Yissochor traveled to Lizhensk to pour out his heart to the Rebbe, Reb Elimelech.

The Rebbe thought for a moment before answering. "There is a Jew here in town," he offered, "who has been unable to pay his rent and was thrown into jail by the local squire. The latter is now demanding an exorbitant sum to let him go free. If you will donate the entire amount to free this Jew, I hereby bless you that you will merit to have a son who will be a tzaddik."

A quick calculation revealed to R' Yissochor that the sum represented everything he owned. However, he did not hesitate — after all, his whole future was at stake — and handed over the money.

A year later, to the delight of everyone in Pietrkov, a son was born to R' Yissochor.

His parents invested all their resources into their long- awaited child's chinuch, and by the time Chaim Dovid was Bar Mitzva and joined the yeshiva of Pietrkov, he was well known as a gifted genius.

Their nachas was short-lived, however. Due to the negative influence of some friends in yeshiva, Chaim Dovid sought to learn knowledge beyond the pages of the gemora. He began to study the "wisdom" of the times and of haskalah.

Gradually, he was weaned away from the derech haTorah. He traveled to Berlin and then to Breslau, where he became renowned as a doctor. Such an expert was he in the field of medicine that upon his returning home to Pietrkov, he became the greatest specialist in the country.

Once, on an erev Yom Kippur, Doctor Bernhardt was out on an emergency call at the Squire Gerski, who was fatally ill. The doctor's efforts were unsuccessful and the gentile died.

Due to the late hour and inclement weather conditions, Doctor Bernhardt stayed overnight and only the next morning set out on his way home. His journey took him through countryside and rolling hills. Turning a corner, the doctor beheld the most breathtaking view of nature's beauty spread out before him. Luscious green hills of various shades, fields of flowers of every hue and a clear spring winding its way, all provided a feast for the eyes.

The words of Chazal returned to him from years before, " . . . One who stops learning and says `how beautiful is this tree' . . . he deserves death."

"Why," he wondered, "Is it forbidden to admire the wonders of creation? Probably the idea is that admiring the briah is not an end in itself but must be used as a tool with which to recognize and be subservient to the Creator of the world."

As these thoughts traversed his mind, the absurdity of the situation occurred to him. Here he was, a Jew long estranged from his faith who hadn't opened a sefer in years, and was now thinking out chiddushim on the words of Chazal.

Subsequently, he found his journey leading him through the town of Lelov, home to the Rebbe Reb Dovid'l of Lelov. An incident flashed through his mind.

A patient helplessly sick. All the doctors had given up hope of finding a cure. Yet a few weeks later word spread among the specialists that the man had been to a rabbi, Reb Dovid of Lelov, who had healed him.

Seeing that he was in the area, Doctor Bernhardt decided to satisfy his curiosity and meet this rabbi in person.

Making his way to the center of town he heard a thunderous sound coming from the large beis hamedrash. A huge chorus of voices rose to the heavens in heart-rending tefillos pleading for favorable judgment on this holiest day of the year.

The sound transported the Doctor directly back to his youth and, with a jolt, he realized it was Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur. Everyone dressed in white. His father in a tallis places his hands on his son's (Chaim Dovid), head and bentches him with tears streaming down his face. Standing nearby, his pious mother weeps silently, praying too for the future of her son . . .

"Doctor! A Doctor!" the panicky cries shook Doctor Bernhardt out of his reverie. He stepped inside and was rushed to the aid of a young woman who had recently given birth and had now fainted due to the fast.

After he had revived her, the woman's father, who was none other than Reb Dovid'l, shook the doctor's hand warmly and thanked him for coming to their aid at just the right moment.

Then and there he called the doctor in to his room, where a long private conversation took place. At the end of it, Reb Dovid'l pleaded with the doctor:

"Return, Chaim Dovid, return, and you'll give much pleasure to your Father in Heaven."

Meanwhile, the congregation was left in shul to wait and wonder. The precious minutes of the holy day was turning into an hour and soon it would be time to daven minchah and ne'iloh.

Finally, Reb Dovid'l stepped out of his room and strode purposefully into the beis medrash. On the way to his place, he whispered to one of the waiting Chassidim. "It was worth keeping all of you waiting in order to save and bring back this great neshomoh."

Mincha commenced and the Doctor, sitting in the small room, turned over the words of Reb Dovid'l in his mind:

"When Shaul Hamelech was looking for the asses that were missing (Shmuel I,9) it says, `Perhaps he can tell us the way upon which we have gone?' If they were asking advice as to what to do next they should have asked Shmuel, `Which way we should go?' and not in the past tense."

Explained Reb Dovid'l, "Every step that a person takes has its purpose, though he may not see the reason. They had gone to look for the asses and had been unsuccessful, and so were now asking Shmuel, `What was the reason and purpose for our walking around?' In the end it turned out to be so that Shaul would be told and anointed as King."

The doctor pondered.

"I thought I was going to heal the squire, but apparently I went for nothing for he ultimately died. Perhaps that wasn't the reason at all for my journey. Possibly the entire scenario only took place in order to bring me here and return me to my Source."

During the dancing after Kiddush Levonoh, the Rebbe took the doctor and danced with him hand-in-hand for a long while.

Exhilarated and uplifted, Doctor Bernhardt traveled home, his mind almost made up. Upon arriving, he was surprised to hear from his wife that she had been shaken up by the sound of the tefillos coming from the shul in Pietrkov and had decided to change their way of life — drastically.

They both became true baalei teshuva and "Professor Bernhardt" became "Reb Chaim Dovid Doctor."

He went to the Chozeh of Lublin, who made a deal with him: The doctor would heal the Chozeh's frail, sick body and, in return, the Chozeh would grant Reb Chaim Dovid Doctor a refuas hanefesh.

The Rav Hakodosh Reb Dovid'l Lelover, zt"l, revealed prior to his passing that the reason he came to this world in his present gilgul was solely to bring Reb Chaim Dovid Doctor back to the fold.

Following the advice of the Chozeh, Reb Chaim Dovid continued his work as a doctor, but only for a limited amount of hours. For the most of the day he sat in the beis medrash, wrapped in tallis and tefillin, learning Torah.

When he was called out to a patient, he would recite Tehillim on the person's behalf all the way. His prescriptions were headed with Be'ezras Hashem and most of his doctor's fees were distributed to the poor.

In addition, his house was open to every wayfarer and tens of the poor and lowly joined his table at every meal.


The owner of the pharmacy in Pietrkov was a virulent Jew- hater who tormented the Jews at every opportunity.

Once, Reb Chaim Dovid was walking in the vicinity on a hot summer's day. The sun beat down and Reb Chaim Dovid, feeling parched, sent his attendant in to the pharmacist to request a glass of water. Looking the Jewish attendant up and down with undisguised disdain, the pharmacist replied coldly, "I don't serve water to Jews." Hearing the wicked words, Reb Chaim Dovid marched in to him.

At the sight of the famous doctor, the goy hastily rose and extended his hand, a fake smile hovering about his lips.

Reb Chaim Dovid did not return the handshake, and even refused to look the rosho in the face.

"Listen here," he said sternly, "A pharmacist must be a reliable person, for nobody knows what he mixes into his potions. How can I rely on you, if you answer so cruelly to a person who requests a cup of water on a hot day?"

So saying, he withdrew the man's license and the Jews of Pietrkov breathed freely.


In the year 5575, after the histalkus of the Chozeh of Lublin, the masses wanted to crown Reb Chaim Dovid as Admor. The latter refused, and only after much pressing did he agree to accept kvittlech without a pidyon — on condition that no one call him Rebbe !


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