Succor in the Sukkah
Ki Yitzpeneini Besukko–A Chavrusa in the Sukkah Leads to Reunion
Seven years after the horrific massacres perpetrated by the Ukrainian Cossack leader, Hetman Bogdan Chmielnicki, yemach shemo, in the towns of Podolia and Wohlin, the bloodthirsty murderer awoke once more. This time he headed for Lithuania, where he continued his maniacal barbarism, wiping out one Jewish community after another. It was no wonder, then, that even residents of the fortified city of Vilna were terrified when they heard that Chmielnicki was on the way.
With what was Vilna fortified? The Vilna Voivode,1Voivode is a Slavic title denoting a “war-leader” or “warlord” in Central, Eastern and Southern Europe since the Early Middle Ages. During the Byzantine Empire it referred to military commanders mainly of Slavic populations. Prince Janusz Radziwiłł, set up armed men at the gates, to keep the city safe when the feared Cossacks would arrive.
But one fateful Wednesday, when the Yidden arose early to go to shul, they noticed an eerie silence blanketing the city. Then the truth hit them. The soldiers in the fortresses had abandoned their posts! The townsmen were gone! The Voivode Radziwiłł had escaped and the gates were left wide open for the murderer to enter and carry out his evil plans.
Seeing this, the Yidden returned home straight away and packed up their families. They had to flee from their hometown to save their own lives. There was utter chaos everywhere, as whoever had a horse and cart tried to get away as fast as possible. Behind the wagons ran the less fortunate people on foot.
Among the people escaping was a Jew named R’ Aron Shmuel. He too gathered his family quickly, and taking the hands of his son Hershele and his two young daughters, escaped from Vilna westward toward Poland. They reached the town Kurów, which is not far from the famous town of Lublin.
But it didn’t take long for Chmielnicki to direct his steps there too. R’ Aron Shmuel tried to hide with his family in an attic, but it was not a secure hiding place and he fell, resulting in a slipped disk in his back. And then, tragically, his two young daughters were killed.
Limping and broken-hearted, he struggled on with his son to find a more secure place of refuge, and with his last ounce of strength, he reached Cracow.
Looking for a Sukkah
“Tatte, it’s almost Sukkos, where will we eat? Do we have to eat in the sukkah?”
“Hershele, you are such a sweet child. Instead of looking for a place to stop and rest our worn and aching bodies, you are already busy worrying about Yom Tov! Let’s go over to the gabbai whose job it is to place the visitors, and hopefully we’ll get a card with the name of a host for Sukkos.”
As they approached the gabbai, he spoke first.
“Welcome, R’ Yid.”
“I wanted to ask…can you please give us an invitation card to the home of a comfortable, well-off Yid with whom we can eat on Sukkos?”
“That’s what everyone requests! You do understand that I can’t provide that for everyone. Tell me, do you think that will guarantee you more food and better accommodations? I know of well-off people who are really stingy and don’t serve generous meals. And then again, I know of people of more limited means who open their homes wide to guests and serve plenty of food. Why are you so sure that a financially well-to-do person will give you what you need?”
“No, no, that’s not why I asked. I’m just hoping that a well-off person will have a big sukkah with enough space for me and will allow me to sleep in it.”
“Ahh, if this is the reason for your request for a comfortable home, then very well, I will grant it, since you look to me like a G-d fearing Jew. Here, this is a card with the address of a Yid with a comfortable home. He will certainly allow you to sleep in his sukkah.”
“Thank you! A gitten Yom Tov!”
“Oh, that’s wonderful news.”
“Yes, the gabbai was very understanding and gave me a card for what I asked. Usually he doesn’t do that.”
“Welcome, R’ Yid. What’s your name?”
“Thank you for having us. My name is Aron Shmuel Koidanover from Vilna and this is my son Hershele. Here, I have the card from the gabbai.”
“Let me see. Ahh, yes you will be my guest for Yom Tov. Make yourselves comfortable.”
“I have several sukkahs. If you would like, you and your son Hershele can join us in the sleeping sukkah.”
“Thank you so much!”
“R’ Aron Shmuel?”
“I would like you to meet and get to know my son-in-law, R’ Yidel. He is young, but he is a great talmid Chacham. He sits and learns by the rav in the klauss.”2Beis Hamedrash.
“Here? By the great Rebbe, R’ Heschel?”
“Oy, the Rebbe, R’ Heschel! My Rebbe! My Rebbe!” R’ Aron Shmuel thought to himself, “Oh, I look awful these days. I have torn clothes. I am limping. I am so embarrassed to go up to him like this, but I miss his Torah so much! I will try my best to ensure that no one notices me, so that no one finds out who I am. And when Yom Tov is over, I’ll quickly leave.”
“You look deep in thought, R’ Aron Shmuel.”
“It’s nothing, nothing. The Rebbe, R’ Heschel is very well-known.”
“Yes, he is. At the se’uda we will be able to speak some more.”
Indeed, that is how it was. They ate the Yom Tov meal in a beautiful, large sukkah and they sang zemiros that uplifted the Yom Tov meal, as well as the hearts and souls of all who were there.
Preparation for the Shiur
“I see that you are not yet going to rest. Aren’t you tired?”
“No, tomorrow afternoon, we all get together in the Rebbe’s sukkah and he is going to give a shiur. I am not completely ready yet, so I’m going to learn a bit more.”
“Could we learn together?”
R’ Yidel and R’ Aron Shmuel sat and learned through the whole sugya with the Rishonim.
“Let me share a thought with you,” R’ Aron Shmuel suggested to R’ Yidel.
“A Torah thought?”
“Yes. Tomorrow the Rebbe, R’ Heschel will ask the following kushya.”
“How do you know that?”
“Listen to what I have to say, but don’t question me.” R’ Aron Shmuel laid out a very deep kushya in full.
“Do you know what I have to say to you? You are right! This question is really the type that the Rebbe asks. So, if you know the question, then perhaps you can share the answer, too?”
R’ Aron Shmuel gave him a clear answer.
“Who is this R’ Aron Shmuel?” R’ Yidel thought to himself. R’ Aron Shmuel had reviewed the whole shiur with R’ Yidel and told him all the questions the Rebbe, R’ Heschel would ask, and the answers as well. “He seems to be some sort of hidden talmid chacham. Who is he really?”
“I have to tell you, I feel that I am going to the shiur very well-prepared, and it will be a very good shiur. I can’t wait for the Rebbe to ask the questions and I’ll be able to answer!”
“Yes, good luck with it, and gut Yom Tov.”
“Gut Yom Tov. Let’s go to sleep in the sukkah.”
The Rebbe and his Talmid
On Yom Tov afternoon, R’ Yidel attended the shiur of the Rebbe, R’ Heschel, and to his astonishment the Rebbe asked the question exactly as R’ Aron Shmuel had predicted. R’ Yidel decided to seize the opportunity, and he proposed the answer that R’ Aron Shmuel had told him. This happened three times, and the third time, the astonished Rebbe, R’ Hershel paused and said, “R’ Yidel, I know you very well, and indeed, you have a very sharp mind. But today you have been outstanding. I haven’t seen this from any of my talmidim in a really long time. For every question I posed, you had an amazing answer!”
“Uh oh,” thought R’ Yidel, “the Rebbe senses something is going on. He doesn’t believe the answers are mine, what am I going to do?”
“You had such sharp and deep answers to all the questions. Have you become such a great lamdan overnight?”
“Tell me R’ Yidel, does your father-in-law have a guest for Yom Tov?”
“No wonder! I am sure the guest is none other than my dear talmid, R’ Aron Shmuel Koidanover!”
“Yes, Rebbe! That is the name of the guest.”
“Please be so kind and call him over here.”
R’ Yidel ran to get R’ Aron Shmuel, whose embarrassment completely melted away with the thought that he would finally be reunited with his Rebbe again. Understandably, his simchas Yom Tov were complete.
R’ Aron Shmuel and his son no longer had to wander from town to town. The Rebbe, R’ Heschel ensured that R’ Aron Shmuel was fully taken care of until he had a plan for the future.3Source: Kuntres Acharon, in the Sefer Chanukas Hatorah; Preface to Kav Hayashar.
Printed in Kankan issue 15