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Being Led: A Story for Sukkot

10/11/2022 07:53:29 PM


Rabbi Moshe Rudin

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Being Led: A Story for Sukkot


This is a story about the great Rabbi, author and community leader Avraham ben Yitzchak Antibi of Aleppo (Syria), 1765-1858.  Rabbi Antibi’s great accomplishment was leading the Jewish community of Aleppo through a terrible crisis following a devastating earthquake.  This is a lighter hearted story about the rebuilt community: 

You may have heard that during the holiday of Sukkot, we invite the holy shepherds of Israel to join us in spirit in our Sukkah.  On the first day we invite Abraham and Sarah, then Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Rachel and Leah, Moses and Miriam and Aaron and so on..  Now generally we think of this as no more than a memorial.  But some people say they can actually see the holy souls that we invite… 


Ezra Chalak the spice dealer would always promise his wife Shulamit that he’d build a nice Sukkah but never did… it was always another excuse. 


One year, Shulamit had  had enough.  On the day before the festival, she collared him in this spice booth in the old city and demanded in front of all of his customers to come and build the Sukkah.  He refused citing how busy he was with his business.  She grabbed the hooked pole used to close the store and rolled the door down so he had no choice.  If you’ll leave me alone, then I’ll build it, he finally grumbled. 


With great complaining and wacking his fingers with the hammer, Ezra built the sukkah. 


The next morning, Sukkot, Ezra slept in and missed services.  Rabbi Avraham leaving the shul and heading toward his accustomed practice of going to his magnificent sukkah with the notables of the city, suddenly took an unexpected turn, heading north closer to the merchants’ quarter instead of the upper part of the city where he lived..  The elders accompanying him were surprised but went with him.  Others, seeing the deviation as they left their shuls, followed him out of curiosity until 400 people were walking with him.  


He arrived at his odd destination: the home of Ezra Chalak.  Ezra’s wife, noticing the crowd descending on her home ran upstairs to call her husband.  The whole city is here, led by Rabbi Avraham Intibi himself!  You must be in trouble for skipping shul and violating the Rabbi’s instructions!  Get up, Ezra!


Tell them that I went to my brother’s in Damascus for the holiday, pleaded Ezra.  In his panic, he jumped out of bed and dove into the wardrobe.  I can’t lie to the Rabbi! Said his wife.  Tell them I’m not here, said Ezra.  I’m ordering you as your husband!


Meanwhile, Rabbi Avraham and four hundred of the Jews of Aleppo, men women and children, had arrived at Ezra’s Sukkah.  Where is Ezra, Rabbi Avraham asked Ezra’s wife. 


Ezra’s wife was a smart one.  "He’s not here, Rabbi," she answered obeying her husband.  "He’s not in his bed, he’s not at his store and he’s definitely not hiding in the closet!"


"Oho, so that’s how it is," said Rabbi Avraham.  He marched right past Ezra’s wife up to the bedroom and stood outside the closet.  "Ezra!" He called. 


"I’m not here, Rabbi!" came a plaintive voice from within. 


Y"ou come out here and greet your guests," said the Rabbi.  "Otherwise, I’m going to stand right here all day and all night and you know I never break my word!"


What could poor Ezra do?  He threw on some clothes there in the wardrobe- it being dark, he made a few odd fashion choices but when he came out, no one said anything only, Chag Sameach, Ezra!


Soon they were in the Sukkah.  Of course, there were far too many guests to actually fit into the small hut, e so most of the visitors took seats on fence posts, stairs, barrels and everywhere else they could.   Nevertheless, the Rabbi commanded that two more chairs be found and brought into the Sukkah and wouldn't say a word until this was done.  

"Say Kiddush!" Commanded the Rabbi. 

Ezra protested. "Kiddush?  Me?  I don’t know how–"

but the Rabbi wouldn’t hear it.  Pulling out a Siddur, he read each word carefully with Ezra.  "Now, bless us, Ezra."

"Rabbi, why do I have to bless everyone?  Is this to punish me for not coming to synagogue?"

"Ezra!" said the Rabbi tenderly.  "You know me better than that.  Of course not!"  

"But only a great person is supposed to give a blessing," said Ezra. 

Rabbi Avraham put his hand on Ezra’s shoulder. “You are a great person, the greatest here.  But perhaps in a hidden way."

The Rabbi turned to the assembled Jews of Aleppo. "And everyone, after Ezra blesses us, go home and bring your lunches here for everyone to share.  We’re dining with Ezra and Shulamit."


This was the last straw for the befuddled spice merchant.

"Why, Rabbi?" he  blurted. "Why the two extra chairs?  and Rabbi, why all this?  If not to punish me, why did you come here?"


The Rabbi looked into the young man's wide, tearful eyes. "Ezra," he said.  I don’t know why I came.  I simply followed."


The Spice Merchant was astonished. Followed?  Followed who?  

Rabbi Avraham explained. "Every time I leave the synagogue on Sukkot, I see our father Abraham and our mother Sarah.  They walk in front of me back to my home and Sukkah.  But today, as I followed them, I saw that they turned toward your house and your Sukkah and now, there they are, holy, blessed beings of light and love sitting in your Sukkah.  This must be the holiest spot in Aleppo."


 When a person does a Mitzvah, Ezra, even if - or maybe especially if it’s just to please a loved one, even they don’t feel like it or it’s hard for them, you never know what a powerful effect it may have.  Chag Sameach.


And it was true,  That year, Ezra and Shulamit were blessed in every way- and the next year, sure enough, Ezra once again put up his Sukkah and made sure to place two more chairs next to their new baby’s cradle. 

Thu, June 20 2024 14 Sivan 5784