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The Famous Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas

09/26/2018 01:45:15 PM


The Famous Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas

This is a story I tell to children. But it really isn't for them. It's for all of us who are tired of the phone ringing, the people who ask for just a little time, the family whose demands never end.  Did you ever wish they would all go away and leave you alone? And if they did, how long before you'd miss them? How long before you would discover that the greatest joy in life is knowing that you're needed and you're loved?

Everyone loved Rabbi Pinchas. Wherever he went, he was surrounded. As he walked briskly to the synagogue early on Shabbat, his students would catch up with him to try and catch a word of learning. As he sat in the synagogue praying, children would come and sit in his lap. When he rose to teach, the synagogue was packed. And when he went home, there were a dozen women with a dozen kugels, waiting for him.

“Taste this kugel, Rabbi, and give me your blessing!”

What could he do? He carefully tasted all twelve kugels, savoring the love baked into each one. Then joyfully he pronounced twelve blessings: “May your life and the lives of your children be as sweet as this wonderful kugel!”

On holidays, even more people came, especially on Sukkot. Sukkot is called zman simchataynu, the season of our joy. And no one's Sukkah was more filled with joy that the Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas. His students filled the Sukkah with learning. The community brought delicacies and treats for the feast. And children filled his Sukkah with laughter and song. It was said: If you haven't celebrated in the Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas, you don't know true joy!

But despite all this love, Rabbi Pinchas was bothered. He knew that a great rabbi must write a great book. Only if he wrote a great book, would he be remembered as a great rabbi long after he was gone. Rashi wrote great books. The Rambam did too. To be great, Rabbi Pinchas knew, he needed to write his own great book.

But how? He had no time to sit and write his great book.  He was always taking care of someone, answering someone's question, offering someone a blessing. He was always being the rabbi. When could he sit alone and write his great book?

As time went on, this bothered Rabbi Pinchas.

So one Yom Kippur, Rabbi Pinchas prayed a strange prayer: “Take all these people away from me! Day and night they pester me. Day and night, I listen to their needs. Give me quiet! Give me peace to sit and write my book! Let no one bother me!”

God heard the strange prayer, and asked Rabbi Pinchas, “Is that what you really want? To be alone?”

“Yes!” responded Rabbi Pinchas, “Let me be in peace to write my book!”

“Very well,” God answered, “your prayer is fulfilled.”

When Yom Kippur was over and the shofar sounded, no one invited Rabbi Pinchas to break the fast. There were no crowds of people, no platters of food, no plates of sweets and treats to fill Rabbi Pinchas' home after Yom Kippur. Instead, Rabbi Pinchas walked home alone, sat in his home alone, broke his Yom Kippur fast with a dry piece of bread, and wrote the first page of his great book.

The next morning, everyone in the town was busy putting up their sukkot for the coming holiday. Rabbi Pinchas waited for the men of the town to come with their tools and put up his sukkah. But no one came. So late in the afternoon, he tried to put up the sukkah himself. He smashed his fingers putting in the nails, dropped a heavy board on his toe, stuck himself with a thorn when he lifted the s'chach, the leaves for the sukkah's top, hurt his back dragging his table into the sukkah. But eventually, his sukkah was finished. It was crooked. It was ugly. But it was finished.

For the next three days, Rabbi Pinchas wrote and re-wrote the first page of his great book. Just as he had asked God, he was alone. No one bothered him. Soon, it was so quiet in his house, he couldn't stand it. So he went out for a walk. No one said hello. No one stopped to ask him a question. No one asked for a blessing. No one asked for his help. No one.

The first night of sukkot arrived, and Rabbi Pinchas sat in his sukkah, alone. No one came to celebrate. No one brought treats. No children, no laughter, no song. It was too quiet. Rabbi Pinchas ran out to the street to invite in a visitor. He went looking for someone, anyone to share his sukkah. But no one would come.

    “How can I sit in a sukkah alone? What kind of festival is that?”

So Rabbi Pinchas prayed the mystical ushpizin prayer inviting his holy ancestors to share his sukkah.

“May our father Abraham come and share my sukkah!”

Miraculously, the shining presence of Abraham appeared. But he would not enter Rabbi Pinchas' sukkah. He stood outside, near the door.  

So Rabbi Pinchas prayed again, ”May our father Isaac come and share my sukkah!”

    And the shining presence of Isaac came. But he too stood outside.

Rabbi Pinchas prayed for father Jacob, for Moses and Aaron, for King David and King Solomon. And miraculously, they all appeared, their mystical light filling the yard. But they would not enter into Rabbi Pinchas' sukkah. They stood outside.

Rabbi Pinchas was desperate. The loneliness drove him mad. So he prayed one more time. He asked God to visit his Sukkah.

God responded to the prayer of Rabbi Pinchas, “Where my children are not welcome, I am not welcome.”

Rabbi Pinchas began to cry. He threw himself down on the ground and wept and prayed aloud.

    “I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake. Bring me back my people. Bring me back my friends. Let them come and fill my life again. Please accept my prayer.”

God heard the strange prayer, and asked Rabbi Pinchas, “Is that what you really want? You know they will bother you until the day you die, and you may never write your book.”

“Yes!” responded Rabbi Pinchas, “Let them come and bother me, pester me all they'd like! Let them come and fill my life with all their needs! They are my blessing! Just bring them back to me….I need them. I need them so badly.”

“Very well,” God answered, “your prayer is fulfilled.”

Before Rabbi Pinchas could even pick himself up, there was knocking at the door. The whole town came to Rabbi Pinchas' sukkah. They came and fixed up his crooked, ugly sukkah. They brought platters and plate of treats for the feast. They brought learning. They brought questions. They brought laughter and song. They brought life.

And Rabbi Pinchas enjoyed every minute. Every question, every request for a prayer or a blessing, every child's song brought him joy. He enjoyed that Sukkot holiday more than all the others put together. And the next year, he enjoyed Sukkot even more.

Except for the very first page, Rabbi Pinchas never did write his great book. But he is remembered forever for his joy. They still say: If you haven't celebrated in the sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas, you don't know true joy!

One who is beloved by others, is beloved by God.
(Pirkei Avot 3:10)


Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784