April 16, 2024
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Sukkos: Festival of Gathering

Rebbe Aharon Perlow, zt”l — the third rebbe of the Karliner dynasty — was known by the name of his sefer, “Beis Aharon.” A beloved tzaddik and guide, the Beis Aharon was known for his joyful mesirus nefesh, sacrifice and dedication in fulfilling mitzvos.

One Tishrei, winter came early to the Russian countryside, and on Motzei Yom Kippur, the shtetl of Karlin was hit with an early season snowstorm. Even the symbolic cleanliness and purity of being covered in white was not an encouraging omen, for the snow prevented everyone from building their sukkah. The humble abode of the Karliner Rebbe had a retractable roof that could be rolled back to enable configuration as an “indoor” sukkah, but there was so much snow piled up on top that there was no way to open it for the chag.

On the night of Erev Yom Tov, one of the dedicated chasidim of the Beis Aharon made his way to the Rebbe’s house, bravely climbed up on the frozen roof and began clearing off mounds of snow. Berel — the kind and simple street-sweeper of Karlin — worked throughout the night, braving howling winds and sleet, with his hands becoming frozen from “shoveling” the ice, snow and slush with his old, broken broom. By day-break, the job was complete, and he had laid schach over the opening; the sukkah was ready in time for Yom Tov.

Seeing this, the Beis Aharon was ecstatic. He would be able to sit in the tzila d’mehemnusah, the “shade of faith,” and fulfill the great mitzvah of dwelling in a sukkah. Before Berel could humbly slip away, the Rebbe grabbed him, and in a state of mochin d’gadlus, expanded consciousness and joy, exclaimed, “How can I ever repay you for this awesome kindness? Please choose your reward: I could bless you with riches beyond your imagination; you and your children will lack for nothing … or,” he continued with sparkle in his eye, “I can bless you to be near me in Gan Eden, imi b’mechitzasi — with me, sharing in my portion, for eternity.”

Berel thought for a moment and said, “I’ll take the first bracha.” And from that day on, the poor street-sweeper chasid was indeed blessed with great wealth …

~

Wait, hold on … Berel chose money over being with his Rebbe for eternity? Is that an uplifting message to share in the sukkah? This probably isn’t the Yom Tov story one would expect in a Torah column meant to inspire. Is this an editor’s error?

An insight on this story is shared by Rav Yitzchok Hisiger, in the name of Rav Yisrael Grossman, zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Pinsk-Karlin:

Of course, for a devoted chasid, the possibility of spending eternity learning with his Rebbe would be nothing short of paradise. What could be a greater pleasure?

Berel was such a selfless person, that he was even willing to sacrifice his eternal reward of being with his Rebbe — a pleasure he would enjoy for himself — to gain the ability to help others. Berel reasoned that with the Rebbe’s blessing, in addition to being a baal chesed, he could become a generous baal tzedakah and expansively support the needy as well. How could the loving and thoughtful Berel opt for a supernatural reward that would only benefit himself, when he could gather so many other souls into the Rebbe’s bracha? For Berel, the ability to help other Jews was the greatest pleasure!

~

Sukkos is called “z’man simchaseinu,” the festival identified as the most joyous time of year. The Chasam Sofer points out why this is so: Isn’t every Yom Tov a time of celebration and simcha? On the other hand, the chagim can be a stressful time. All the expenses and preparations can be a great challenge to any family’s capacity. For aniyim (the poor), those who experience poverty to the point of struggling to provide for the needs of their families on a regular week, the chagim can be especially difficult.

On Pesach, kimcha d’ pischa provides meals and provisions for the poor. Yet, the ani remains quite aware that he is the recipient of charity; he is enjoying someone else’s success and generosity. Sukkos is called “Chag ha’Asif,” the Festival of Gathering, for it arrives at the end of the harvest season. As farmers would collect the bounty and gather in their crops, there would inevitably be forgotten sheaves, leftover stalks of wheat, fruit and other produce left behind. These halachically belonged to the poor, who could freely collect them three times a day. In this way, the agricultural and social laws of pe’ah, leket and shich’chah helped provide everyone in the community with their needs. This bounty was existentially different than receiving a handout. On Sukkos, all are meant to gather that which is already truly theirs.

The Chasam Sofer concludes that a true “z’man simchaseinu” is when everyone in our community is able to enjoy Yom Tov with their dignity intact.

~

There was a minhag in Galitzia of beautifying the sukkah with lavish and elaborate ornaments. Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz, the Divrei Chaim, zt”l, was opposed to this custom on the grounds that it was wasteful and distracted from the real joy of Yom Tov. “The best noi sukkah,” he said, “the most beautiful sukkah decoration, is the joy of knowing we have done our utmost to ensure that those who are lacking have all their Yom Tov needs met.”

~

May we always choose to gather each other into our blessings, and may this Sukkos truly be a “z’man simchaseinu” overflowing with bounty and revealed good for all!


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, the Hebrew Academy for Special Children. He is the mashpiah of OU-NCSY, founder of Tzama Nafshi and the author of “Baderech: Along the Path of Teshuva.” Rav Judah lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh with his wife Ora and their family.

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