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
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
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
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
"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