Chassidic Story #157

(s5761-04 / 17 Tishrei 5761)
The tzaddik, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, promised him the blessings of wealth and children, but even this did not help.


All of Berditchev was in a quandary. Sukkot was just around the corner, and there was not a solitary etrog in the whole town. The Rebbe, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, told a group of his chassidim to wait at the nearby crossroads in the hope that they would encounter some passerby who owned an etrog. Sure enough, a wagon soon trundled by, and the man inside it had an unusually beautiful etrog with him. He was on his way home. The trouble was that his home was in some far-off town, and he was only bypassing Berditchev.

They brought the stranger to their rebbe, who immediately entreated him to spend the festival with them, and by lending his etrog enable the whole community, including the tzaddik himself, to carry out the mitzvah of pronouncing a blessing over the Four Species. The stranger would not agree. He was on his way home to spend Yom-Tov with his family. How could he suddenly upset their festive joy and his own? The tzaddik promised him the blessings of wealth and children, but even this did not help. He had wealth and children, thank G-d, and was in need of nothing.

Then the tzaddik said: "If you will oblige, I hereby promise you that you will share my lot in the World to Come!"

The stranger immediately changed his mind, and agreed to stay on in Berditchev for the duration of the festival. The tzaddik was overjoyed, and so was the whole community - and so was the stranger.

Now at this point a secret order was issued by the tzaddik to all the townsfolk of Berdichev: no one was to allow this guest to eat in their sukkah. Not a soul could guess what the reason could be, but - it was an order from the rebbe.

On the first night of the festival that unsuspecting fellow returned from the synagogue to the room that he had rented in someone's house. There, indoors, he found everything prepared - wine for Kiddush, two loaves, candles, and a festive meal. He was dumbfounded. Could it be that the householder, such an upstanding and observant Jew, did not have a sukkah?

He went out to the yard, and duly found a sukkah set up exactly as the Law requires. Inside it he could see his host and all his family sitting happily around the table, He asked to be admitted, but was refused. Why so? There was no answer.

Somewhat downcast, he proceeded to call on the neighboring families, each of which he found sitting happily in its sukkah. He begged to be admitted - but in each case the response was the same baffling refusal.

It finally came out that behind all of this there was an order from the tzaddik. He ran off to his house in consternation, and asked: "What's this all about? How have I sinned to deserve this?"

Reb Levi Yitzchak replied: "If you will waive your claim to that promise I made you about the World to Come, then I'll straight away give the order that you should be admitted to a sukkah."

The stranger was shocked - but held his peace. What was there to do now? On the one hand there was this promise of the tzaddik that he would share his lot in the World to Come. On the other hand, there was a mitzvah waiting to be fulfilled - to eat in the sukkah.

The sukkah won the day. Unthinkable, that's what it was - that a Jew like himself, who all his days had observed the mitzvah of the sukkah, this year shouldn't? All the House of Israel were sitting in their sukkot on this night - and he would be eating like a gentile, indoors, G-d forbid?

He told the tzaddik that he released him forthwith from his promise about the World to Come, and (at the tzaddik's request) even gave him his hand in confirmation. Then off he went and quietly ate his festive meal in someone's sukkah.

As soon as the festival came to an end, Reb Levi Yitzchak called for him.
"Now," he said, "I hereby return my promise to you. I wanted you to learn, my son, that I didn't want you to pick up your portion in the World to Come cheaply, through an easy bit of bargaining. I wanted you to earn it, through your deeds. That is why I so arranged matters that you should be put to the test with regard to the mitzvah of sukkah. Now that you have withstood the test, and demonstrated the ultimate self-sacrifice for the sake of fulfilling that mitzvah, you truly deserve to share my portion in the World to Come!"

[Adapted from A Treasury of Chassidic Tales on the Festivals (Artscroll-translations-adaptations by my esteemed colleague, Uri Kaploon).]








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