The Lechovitcher watched from his window as the crippled man painfully hobbled down the street in the rain, looking for sukkah boards. His eyes welled with tears as he said, “Ribono Shel Olam, see how beloved Your mitzvos are by Klal Yisroel! Look how they are moser nefesh to fulfill Your will. Outside it is raining, and the streets are coated with mud; despite his distress, the crippled shoemaker is hobbling down the street, looking for sukkah boards. Look down from Your Lofty Place, and bless Klal Yisroel.”
Rav Mordechai then rushed up to his roof, found some boards, and told his shammas to rush after the shoemaker and help him build his sukkah before Yom tov.
NOT A SUITABLE CANDIDATE….
A bochur once applied to the Chasam Sofer’s yeshiva, asking to be accepted for the winter zeman. It was shortly before Sukkos, and the yard was filled with sukkah boards. The bochur was tested, and did very well. The Chasam Sofer watched him leave, and then decided not to accept him.
When asked about his decision, the Chasam Sofer explained, “I watched how the bochur carelessly stepped on the sukkah boards. One may not step on these boards, as they are Tashmishei Mitzvah. A bochur who is not careful with the kovod of sukkah does not belong in the yeshiva.”
EXEMPT FROM THE SUKKAH…
Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinski was old and weak, nearing his final days, when he welcomed a guest for Sukkos. Since Rav Chaim Ozer had no strength to go into the Sukkah, he begged the guest to go into the sukkah to be served.
“As for me, I have no koach,” said Rav Chaim Ozer. “A sick man is exempt from the sukkah.”
No sooner had the guest sat down than Rav Chaim Ozer himself arrived, weak and trembling from exertion. The guest was surprised, to say the least. “Why did the Rov trouble himself to come and join me?” he asked. “Didn’t the Rov say a choleh ispottur from the sukkah?”
“You are right,” replied Rav Chaim Ozer. “A choleh is exempt from mitzvas sukkah, but I am not exempt from the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim. How can I let you sit in the sukkah alone?”
CAST YOUR BREAD UPON THE WATERS….
There was once a saintly man who sat in his sukkah the first night of Yom Tov, surrounded by other talmidei chachomim, enveloped in pure simcha shel mitzvah. Suddenly, there was a knock on the door. A poor man entered, begging for a slice of bread. The chossid immediately got up and welcomed him, sitting the beggar down at the table and serving him royally. With great simchah, the chossid said to the pauper, “I am grateful to Hakodosh Boruch Hu for giving me the zechus to serve you with the portion of Avrohom Ovinu in the sukkah.”
That night, the chossid fell asleep, and dreamed that he was drowning in the sea. Suddenly, when he had given up hope of being saved, the pauper appeared, stretched out his hand, and pulled him out of the water.
When the chossid had recovered from the ordeal (in his dream) he asked his savior, “Who are you?”
“I am your father Avrohom,” the poor man replied. “I came to your sukkah in the guise of a pauper, to give you the opportunity of fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnosas orchim. I am sure that no harm shall befall you or your family this year.”
The chossid awoke, and was very grateful for the besurah he had been given. He lived a life of simchah and blessing, and was healthy until a ripe old age. Every year on Sukkos, he made a seudah for all the poor in his town.
A TIME FOR TESHUVAH, NOT FOR S’CHACH
In the city of Tzefas, the merchants who sold s’chach made a secret deal to raise the price of s’chach tenfold, in order to milk the local inhabitants of their money. When the askonim of the city discovered the deal, they decided to forbid the locals from buying s’chach that year. But first, they went to Rav Avrohom Kalisker to request his opinion.
Rav Avrohom agreed, yet before they left, he asked, “Out of curiosity, I would like to know why you are worried about the price of s’chach now, during the Aseres Yemei Teshuvah.”
“Because the community is very poor,” the askonim explained.
“Still,” the rov chastised, “if I would find a purse full of money during these days of teshuvah, I would not touch it. Now, during the Days of Awe, one must be occupied with thoughts of teshuvah, of pleasing the Borei Olam, and nothing else.”
A SOLDIER IN HASHEM’S ARMY
One year on the first day of Sukkos, shortly before dawn, Rav Yisroel Salanter was observed holding his four minim, and shaking them from side to side with tremendous d’veikus.
When someone pointed out that it was too early to be yotzei the mitzvah, Rav Yisroel explained, “I am simply acting like a soldier in the army. Before they go out to war, they first practice holding their weapons, marching to and fro, in order to become accustomed to serve. So, too, I am practicing my maneuvers, in order to fulfill the mitzvos properly.”
TO SERVE WITH JOY
The Kedushas Levi, the Berditchever Rav, would remain awake the entire night on Sukkos Eve, waiting with anticipation for daybreak, so that he could fulfill the mitzvah of the arba minim. As soon as the day dawned, the Berditchever took the arba minim, kissed them reverently, and rejoiced with this great mitzvah.
Chasidim relate that one year, in his zeal to take the esrog and lulav, the Rebbe shattered the glass of the cupboard, and cut his hand, which began to bleed. Yet in his great hislahavus, the Berditchever did not notice, and continued with the mitzvah of netilas lulav while his hands were coated with blood!
Likewise, on Motzoei Simchas Torah, the Berditchever did not close an eye. He remained awake the entire night, waiting for dawn and the opportunity to put on Tefillin once more. Every single mitzvah was infinitely precious to him, both the ones he fulfilled once a year, and the ones he fulfilled every single day.
During the last year of his life, on Motzoei Yom Tov, Rav Levi Yitzchok said, “In reality, my time has come to leave this world on the last day of Yom Tov. However, since it is difficult for me to part from my two beloved mitzvos, sitting in the sukkah and Arba Minim, I davened that my time be extended until after Yom Tov.” And so it was.
THE HADASIM DIDN’T “SMELL” RIGHT….
One year in Poland, it was difficult, if not impossible, to obtain kosher hadasim. All the hadasim that were imported from overseas were completely dried up and unable to be used.
The tzaddik Rav Shmuel Abba of Zichlin was very distressed about the matter, and determined to have a fresh bundle of hadasim to be mekayem the mitzvah of arba minim. His chasidim redoubled their efforts, trying to procure bundles of hadasim, yet among all the bundles, not a single one was suitable.
For Yom Kippur, a large olam of chasidim went to Zichlin, to be with the Rebbe, and the chasidim spoke of the Rebbe’s tzaar about the lack of hadasim. The wealthy g’vir Reb Yitzchok Zefkowitz from Azarkov took the Rebbe’s pain to heart.
He suddenly remembered that in a small shtetl near Azarkov, in the garden of the poritz, beautiful hadasim were growing. Thus, on Motzoei Yom Kippur, Reb Yitzchok immediately entered the Rebbe’s study and declared that he undertook to bring the Rebbe fresh hadasim for Sukkos. Rav Shmuel Abba’s face lit up, and he thanked the chosid for the news.
The next day, Reb Yitzchok traveled home, and immediately traveled to the neighboring shtetl, and visited the poritz’s estate. He offered the poritz a generous sum, for several bundles of fresh hadasim.
“I am sorry, but there are no bunches left,” the poritz said. “When word got around in the neighboring community about my myrtles, they literally grabbed them out of my hands, offering any price. I wonder why the normally level-headed Jews were so infatuated with myrtle branches, all of a sudden. Can you explain?”
Reb Yitzchok explained the significance of the Arba Minim, and how he had personally promised the Rebbe that he would bring him fresh hadasim. Seeing his distress, the poritz came up with an idea. “I have a friend in a neighboring village who also has myrtles growing in his garden. They are not sold yet, because the Jews don’t know about it. If you wait, I will send a messenger and explain our request.”
Reb Yitzchok waited anxiously for the messenger to return, and he wasn’t disappointed. In his hands, the messenger had numerous bundles of fresh, beautiful hadasim. Overjoyed, the wealthy man paid the messenger well, and brought home the bunches of hadasim.
Early the following day, he sent them to Zichlin with another chosid, Reb Yankel, who was headed to the Rebbe. Reb Yitzchok kvelled with nachas, visualizing the Rebbe’s gratitude and joy as he beheld the beautiful hadasim, fresh and pungent, a perfect accompaniment to the Arba Minim.
As Yankel entered the shtetl, everyone rejoiced with the news that the Rebbe would have hadasim after all….
However, imagine the chosid’s shock and surprise as Rav Shmuel Abba carefully scrutinized the hadasim, and announced “I cannot make a brochah on these hadasim, as I sense a tzelem (cross) on them.” And he asked the chasidim to dispose of the tainted hadasim.
The chosid arrived home, dejected, and told Reb Yitzchok what had occurred. The g’vir was very surprised, but knew that the Rebbe’s holy eyes could see what others could not. He resolved to go back and trace the origin of the hadasim at the poritz’s estate.
On Chol Hamoed Sukkos, Reb Yitzchok climbed aboard a wagon, heading to the nearby village. He had no trouble persuading the poritz, whom he had paid generously for the hadasim, to let him see the garden where the beautiful myrtles grew.
The poritz, chest puffed with pride, escorted his wealthy customer to the garden behind his estate. Reb Yitzchok was shocked and horrified to discover that it was the poritz’s family plot, a Christian cemetery, filled with idols and crosses! Now Reb Yitzchok understood that the Rebbe’s holy eyes sensed the impure source of these hadasim, and would not use them for Sukkos.
NO GUESTS IN THE SUKKAH
One year, Rav Pinchos of Koritz decided that all the chassidim who came to him for brochos and advice were taking away his precious time that could be used for avodas Hashem. He fervently davened that he lose his prestige in the eyes of his fellow Jews, and that he be shunned. Thus, Rav Pinchos would have more time to serve his Creator.
Rav Pinchos’s request was fulfilled. Shortly thereafter, the stream of chassidim and Yidden who came to him for a brocha trickled, then disappeared completely. He had simply lost his standing and esteem in the eyes of people. Rav Pinchos was ecstatic. He secluded himself and spent most of his time davening and learning without interruption. The only time he emerged in public was during davening.
Yet this new situation had its downside as well. As Sukkos approached, Rav Pinchos could not find a single Yid who was willing to help him set up his sukkah. After much searching, he found a goy who was willing to do the work, but he had no tools. Not a single neighbor would lend him the tools, however. Finally, his Rebbetzin begged one of her neighbors to lend her a hammer and nails, and eventually the sukkah was complete.
On Sukkos night, after Maariv, Rav Pinchos tried to invite guests into his home, as was his custom every year. However, that year no one agreed to join him. Dejected, he walked home alone. Before he entered the Sukkah, he invited Avrohom Ovinu, the first of the ushpizin, to join him. However, to his consternation, Avrohom Ovinu remained outside and refused to enter.
“Have you found my sukkah unworthy?” asked Rav Pinchos.
Replied Avrohom Ovinu, “I am not accustomed to enter a sukkah where there are no guests.”
Rav Pinchos realized that far from enhancing his avodas Hashem, his alienation from his fellow Jew was hampering his avodah. Thus, he davened to Hakodosh Boruch Hu that he once more find favor in the eyes of his fellow Jew, and merit to have guests on Sukkos.
A GOOD ESROG – AND A GOOD HEART
It was Erev Sukkos, late in the afternoon. Most of the townsfolk had already purchased their esrogim and lulavim, even the simple folk who had no money to spend on a mehudar. Now the olam was busy decorating their sukkahs, and preparing for Yom tov.
Reb Itzik, the Esrogim dealer, had already packed away his stock, and was busy figuring out how much profit he had earned during the busy pre-Yom Tov season.
Suddenly, there was a knock on the door.
Yichyeh, a native of Yemen who had recently moved to town, was standing at the doorway, a sack slung over his shoulder, eyes twinkling with joy.
“What brings you here on Erev Yom Tov?” asked Reb Itzik.
“Look what I brought!” said Yichyeh, unwrapping his bundle, and showing the esrog dealer a sack of esrogim, green and fresh, still wrapped in morning dew. It was obvious they had been cut that day.
“Where did you get them from?” asked Reb Itzik.
“I had some business to take care of outside the city, and on the way, I stopped at the orchard to check out the esrogim. Aren’t they beautiful?”
Reb Itzik scanned the esrogim with practiced eye. The first two were not especially noteworthy, but the third…he looked it over carefully with his loupe. It was truly an exemplary mehudar, an esrog that doesn’t come by every day. It was pale yellow, straight and clean from any stain, truly a dream for an esrog dealer!
However, Reb Itzik realized with a sigh, it was a day too late. Had such an esrog arrived yesterday, or the day before, he would have sold the esrog for a small fortune. As it were, he could probably only receive a pittance for the beautiful esrog, as no one was esrog shopping anymore.
With a heavy heart, the merchant bought the esrogim from Yichyeh, and went to lie down. He had barely dozed off when there was a timid knock on the door.
Reb Itzik jumped. Who could be coming to disturb him now? Most probably a miser, who was stingy to pay full price, and was now looking for metzias. The esrog dealer couldn’t tolerate these skinflints, who wreaked havoc with the esrog market and wasted precious hours of the esrog dealer’s time.
The knocking intensified. Yawning, Reb Itzik got out of bed, went to the door, and opened it a crack. He saw a thin, emaciated young man, who whispered, “Is there still an esrog to be bought? Or maybe even a hadar?”
Reb Itzik’s keen sixth sense told him this wasn’t a miser, looking for a cheap deal. He opened the door and ushered the shivering young man inside. Yet he couldn’t resist giving his would-be customer a lecture.
“Reb Yid, now you are looking for a hadar? Where were you until now? All the men in our town already bought their Arba Minim a long time ago. Were you asleep?”
“Excuse me, but I couldn’t buy an esrog until now,” the stammering yungerman apologized. “My wife is in the hospital for three weeks already, and some of my children have a high fever…”
Reb Itzik melted. Taking the Yid by the hand, he led him to the box of esrogim that Yichyeh had bought.
“Here, this is a beautiful hadar,” he said, showing him the perfect esrog. “But you should know, for a hadar one has to pay.”
The pale young man held the esrog in trembling hands, and scrutinized it carefully. He took out a loupe, looked at the esrog from every angle, for many long moments. The esrog dealer was already impatient. What was taking so long? At this rate, he would not be able to take a nap before the z’man.
“Nu, hurry up already! Can’t you see it’s a mehudar!” Reb Itzik started to say, when he noticed something that broke his heart. The poor Yid was sobbing as he beheld the perfect esrog, which he was certain he would not be able to afford. In those days, an esrog mehudar could cost upwards of a hundred rubles.
“How…how much is the esrog?” asked the man in a halting tone.
Reb Itzik smiled and said, “Reb Yid, you had mazel this year. Boruch Hashem, I had a good season, and no one is shopping for esrogim anymore. I decided to give you the esrog, no charge, with the stipulation that you keep me in mind during your tefilos.”
The young man’s face lit up with joy, Thanking Reb Itzik effusively, he took the esrog and went back home to his family.
It was truly a “good esrog”, but most of all “the story of a good heart.”
Before Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin became Rav in Yerushalayim, he was the Rav of Lomza. Simchas Torah was an exceptionally joyous Yom Tov in Lomza. A barrel of tar was ignited in the courtyard, and the children made candles from limestones and set the burning tapers all over the shul. In addition to the numerous candles and oil lamps, young boys also held hollowed out-apples with candles burning inside.
Erev Simchas Torah after mincha, the entire kehillah gathered before the home of the rov and accompanied him under a chupah. The Roshei Kehillah stood under the chupah with the rov, and everyone clapped and danced, as if accompanying a choson. The hakofos were one joyous rekidah shel mitzvah, which continued until the wee hours of the night.
One year, immediately after the hakofos, the rov motioned for the gabbai to approach. The rov whispered something in the gabbai’s ears, and immediately the gabbai went to the bimah, banged for silence, and made the following announcement.
“According to the rov’s request, we are beginning the hakofos all over again!”
Though it was very late and the dancers were exhausted, the entire kehillah blindly obeyed the Rebbe’s directive, without asking any questions. The Shaliach Tzibur went to the amud, began saying “Atoh Horaisoh,” and everyone said along with him. The hakofos began all over again, and the olam danced with their remaining kochos.
When the hakofos were finally complete, the exhausted congregation went home to make kiddush. However, it did not occur to anyone to question the rov.
Rav Yehoshua Leib’s beloved son, Rav Yitzchok Yerucham, later questioned his father when they were alone. “What was wrong with the first hakofos?” he asked.
To which Rav Yehoshua Leib replied, “A certain talmid chochom did not receive an appropriate hakofoh, according to his stature. Thus, it was worthwhile to repeat the hakofos, so as not to correct the injustice and restore kavod haTorah.”