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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Mordechai Lipskier

Playing basketball outside the sukkah


It was a frigid winter day and the holy Reb Moshe Leib of Sassov, who was learning at home, rose from his seat and went to the window as if expecting someone. Soon a figure appeared in the distance, lumbering through the high snow in his heavy fur coat. It was Sender, a coarse young man from the neighboring town who had never received a Jewish education. The Sassover went outside and invited him in. “My dear Yid, why are you risking your life? Please come in and warm up.” Sender was reluctant to accept, but felt compelled when he saw that it was the holy Sassover. Before he knew it, the Sassover sat him near the fire with a warm drink and whisked his coat away to dry. He gave him some food and schnapps, and Sender was so relaxed he fell asleep near the warm oven. By the time he awoke, evening had fallen and he was disappointed that he would have to push off the remainder of his journey to Brody until the following morning. “Please” said the Sassover, “it would be our greatest pleasure if you would stay the night.” And the two davened Mincha together, then Maariv, and ate a delicious supper. After arranging a comfortable bed for his guest, the Sassover returned to his studies. Sender lay in bed but the sweet sound of the Sassover’s learning kept him awake. He felt as though the words were penetrating his soul, cleaning out years of dirt piled up inside. He watched the Sassover sit on the floor and perform Tikkun Chatzos, until Sender finally fell asleep on a pillow drenched with tears of heartfelt teshuva. The next morning, after davening and eating, Sender went on his way. The Sassover’s family was eager to hear more about this mysterious guest. Was he a hidden tzaddik?

But the Sassover assured them that the guest was a simple, ignorant Jew. “He had fallen so low,” the Sassover explained, “that he joined a band of thieves in the city of Brody. Yesterday he was on his way to meet his group and carry out a terrible crime. He left our home a new man and never did return to his group in Brody.” Reb Yisroel Ber of Yashnitzah shared this story to explain Avraham Avinu’s practice of teaching people about Hashem. How did he do it? By bringing them into his home.[1] In the Sassover’s case, it was the cold. In Avraham’s, it was the heat. In life, there is no single reason people end up on the wrong path, but the solution is almost always the same: invite them in, show them love, show that you care. Once they feel this, they’ll be receptive to all the beautiful Torah and Yiddishkeit we have to teach them. And the story continues. Yona Gelerenter, owner of Kesser Hats in Crown Heights once told me this story. A man came to his store many years ago to buy a hat for one of his grandchildren and shared, “I grew up in a non-observant home in Connecticut. One afternoon, I was playing basketball in my driveway when my neighbor came over and asked that I stop, it was disturbing their festive meal in the sukkah. I was disappointed to have to stop playing, but that didn’t bother me as much as the realization that I wasn’t allowed to partake in such a beautiful experience. ‘Why don’t they invite me to join their meal?’ I asked myself. At the time, my only answer was that I was clearly not good enough. “Years later, when I was finally embraced and invited to partake in my heritage, I realized that I was good enough. Every Jew is good enough. Why didn’t my neighbor invite me? I think they simply underestimated the potency of a neshama and the power of their very own sukkah. They didn’t fathom that a boy like me can be elevated through them.” There are many times when our festivities are disrupted by others. It may be our own child acting out during the Shabbos meal, or a non-observant Jew bouncing a ball. Instead of viewing their noise as an annoyance, let’s try hearing it as a knock on our door, begging to enter. The ushpeeze of the first night is Avrohom Avinu. In Chabad tradition, there are also the chassidik ushpeezin, the first one being the Baal Shem Tov. They both exemplified the idea of seeing the potential in a fellow Jew, and doing their utmost to embrace them and invite them in. Let Sukkos be our jump-start to emulating them. And may we soon be zoche to sit with all our fellow Jews in the sukkah of Moshiach.  Gut Yom Tov, Rabbi Mordechai Lipskier [1] In thus interpreted a Rashi in parshas Vaera. When we read that Avraham sat at the opening of his tent, Rashi explains, liros im yesh oiver v’shav v’yachnisem b’beiso – “to see whether there were any passersby, whom he would bring into his house.” The word oiver, passersby, also means to go astray. Avraham sought out those who were on the wrong path in life and was determined v’shav, to bring them to teshuva. (Adapted from “Shabbos Tish” vol. two.)


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