May 25, 2024
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“Reb Motteleh,” Rebbe Mordechai Twersky of Rachmastrivka, was a descendant of the Meor Einayim, also known as the Chernobyler Maggid, a student of the Ba’al Shem Tov. Reb Motteleh was an oheiv Yisrael, a lover of the Jewish people. He had the soul of an artist, and was a master coppersmith and woodworker. The Rebbe’s prized possession was a uniquely beautiful wooden Sukkah that he had inherited from his ancestors, and that he himself had adorned with exquisite engravings of the shivat haMinim, various pesukim, and tzeirufei Sheimos, mystical formulas and hidden Kabbalistic names of God.

In 1906, when the Rebbe embarked on the long, strenuous journey to Eretz Yisrael from Ukraine, he insisted on shlepping the heavy boards. Once he had arrived, Jews from all over would come to bask in the holiness of the Rebbe’s sukkah, to marvel at the beautiful wood carvings and enjoy the palpable simchat haChag in the Rebbe’s presence. One year, however, the sukkah inexplicably disappeared, and in its place stood simple, thin boards and scraps of wood. The Rebbe said nothing, and no one dared inquire.

In the spring of 1920, while on the way back from Kotel, the Rebbe was attacked by an Arab mob and died shortly after from his wounds— he was murdered al kiddush Hashem. Thousands attended his levaya on Har haZeitim where he was eulogized by both Rav Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook and Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld.

After the funeral, a man from a moshav in the North stepped forward to share his story. A few years earlier, his son fell deathly ill. Doctors were at a loss, and the only relief for the boy’s excruciating pain was soaking in hot salt baths. At the time, during World War I, the Land of Israel was under Turkish rule. Firewood in the Holy Land was already scarce, but the Turkish government then confiscated all lumber and stray wood for fuel in the war effort. Barely a stick could be found in all of Jerusalem.

The man came to the Rachmastrivka Rebbe for a bracha for his ailing son. Without a moment’s hesitation, the Rebbe instructed his gabbaim to chop his cherished sukkah to pieces, and to be burned to heat the bathwater for the boy. Later, the boy merited a full recovery.

The chasidim would say that it was not the heat of the fire that saved the boy, but the warmth of the Rebbe’s ahavas Yisrael, his love and sacrifice for a fellow Jew.

Rebbe Tzvi Elimelech of Dinov, the Bnei Yisaschar, said in the name of Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz: the word “sukkah” is an acronym for Somech V’ozer Kol Hanoflim, a reference to Hashem as the “Supporter and Helper of all who have fallen.” A most appropriate way for us to express the sense of being in Divine embrace of the sukkah, sheltered in ananei haKavod, the clouds of Glory, is to emulate Hashem’s ways: to be sensitive supporters of our brothers and sisters, and to help them fulfill their needs.

There was a minhag in Galitzia of beautifying the sukkah with lavish and elaborate ornaments. Rebbe Chaim of Tzanz, the Divrei Chaim zy’a, 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 Hashem bless all of Am Yisrael with a joyous Yom Tov, and the fulfillment of all our needs b’gashmiyut u-v’ruchniyut!


Rav Judah Mischel is executive director of Camp HASC, and mashpiah of OU-NCSY. He lives with his wife, Ora, and eight children in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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