As yom tov approaches, please enjoy these two Sukkos stories that took place with Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev, excerpted from the book ‘Story Bites: Short Stories to Savor’ by Dovid Zaklikowski.
By Dovid Zaklikowski – Hasidic Archives
The Rejected Guest
The festival of Sukkos was approaching, but not a single person in the town of Berditchev had an esrog, the citron fruit needed on the holiday. Even in a good year, citrons were difficult to find in Eastern Europe–often a whole town would perform the mitzvah with just one esrog. However, this year, on the eve of the holiday, it appeared as though they wouldn’t have even a single one for the community.
As a last resort, the famed Chassidic leader Rabbi Levi Yitzchok (1740–1810) sent several followers to the crossroads near the town in hope that they might waylay a traveler with an esrog who would be willing to spend the holiday with them.
There, indeed, they met a man traveling home by coach with his prized citron. He sympathized with their plight, but refused to stay. He had not been home for a long time and was looking forward to spending the festival with his family. The locals pleaded with him to remain for just a few more minutes and sent an urgent message to summon Rabbi Levi Yitzchok.
The rabbi arrived and added his entreaties to those of the townspeople. Still, the man refused. Just before his carriage began to move, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok offered the man a deal: if he would remain in town for Sukkos, when he left this world, he would share Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s own chamber in Heaven.
The man accepted the offer and agreed to stay. The people returned to their holiday preparations with renewed joy. They would be able to fulfill the cherished mitzvah after all! Amidst the commotion, the guest did not notice the rabbi pulling aside his congregants, one by one, for a brief conversation.
After prayer services that evening, the guest arrived at the home of his host family for the evening meal in the sukkah, but, shockingly, they told him he could not eat with them. Bewildered, he knocked at the house next door, but they, too, refused him entrance. He begged for an explanation. After everything he had done for them, how could they refuse him the simple hospitality of a holiday meal?
The people directed him to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok. The guest walked to his house, arriving just as the rabbi was about to begin his own meal. Frustrated and hungry, the man complained bitterly about the rude treatment he had received. Would the rabbi be willing to host him? No, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok replied, he would not be permitted in any sukkah in the town. “Unless . . .”
If he would forfeit his share of their deal, he would be welcome to join them, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok said.
Seeing that the rabbi had outwitted him, the man agreed.
The next day, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok invited the man back into his sukkah and explained the reason for his strange behavior. “When I first promised you a share of my spiritual reward, you were not worthy of receiving it. Only by giving it up for a chance to observe the holiday properly in this world could you prove yourself worthy of such a place in the World to Come.”
The Invalid Esrog
With effort and great expense, the people of Berditchev had managed to obtain a single esrog to use on the holiday of Sukkos. The precious citrus fruit was kept in the home of the town’s rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok. The townspeople were to visit the rabbi every day in order to make the blessing over the “four species.”
On the first day of the festival, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok’s aide began to prepare for the numerous visitors. First, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok would perform the mitzvah, followed by the other rabbis, and finally the rest of the community. Dejectedly, the aide reflected that he would likely be the last in line, despite his commitment to helping everyone else.
On the spur of the moment, he decided to make the blessing first, without anyone knowing. He seized the fruit, but it slipped through his fingers and fell to the ground. In horror, he saw that the stem had broken off, making it invalid for use.
The aide went to Rabbi Levi Yitzchok and began to weep. No one in the town would be able to perform the mitzvah, and it was his fault. He expected the rabbi to become angry. Instead, Rabbi Levi Yitzchok turned his eyes upward and exclaimed, “Master of the World! Look what kind of nation you have! They care so much for your commandments that they weep when they cannot fulfill them.”