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Wednesday, September 26, 2007


The Angel of Death Provides a Chassid with Wood for a Sukka

In honor of Sukkos, I present the following Reb Shlomo Carlebach story, who said that the Karliner Rebbe [the second Rebbe Aharon] would tell it over every Sukkos. This is a joint collaboration between Laizer of the Wilderness City blog and me. It originally appeared on Laizer’s blog as The Karliner Chassid and The Rich Man, and was supplemented by a comment of mine. I have now incorporated the comment into the story, with some light editing. I don't have an English copy of this story. I did see a video of Reb Shlomo telling it, and it is a truly great story. I do have a Hebrew version, from R. Shmuel Sivan's "Lev HaShamayim" sefer [Elul-Tishrei]. It's on page 246...


So without further ado, on to our story:

There was a Karliner Chassid, who lived in a small town, in a small, broken-down house. He didn't have much of anything, but he was joyous.

Every year, when Sukkos came, he would wait until everyone else had built their sukkos, and he would go around and ask for whatever they had left over - a rotten board, a rusty nail. From these leftovers he would build his sukka, and all seven days he would sit in his sukka and sing with great joy.

Across the field from the Chassid lived a rich man. He owned the local factory and employed most of the town. His house was large, and he didn't lack for any material thing. The rich man had everything he could imagine, but he wasn't happy. He was more than just not happy; he was really sad - downright miserable.

The sukka that the rich man had built every year was a wonder - the size of a football field, with an oak table, candelabras, running water - everything he could imagine. But every year he sat in his sukka, and he heard the Karliner Chassid singing from across the field, and it drove him crazy - absolutely crazy.

There's nothing that makes a sad person sadder than to meet a happy person, and there's nothing that makes a sad person happier then to meet another sad person.

As Sukkos approached one year, the rich man had an idea. He went around to everyone in the town and told them, "When the Karliner Chassid comes around asking for a rotten board, a rusty nail - don't give it to him." What could anyone do? The rich man owned the town. When the Chassid came around to each person, he shrugged his shoulders, turned his palms up, and shook his head. Sorry, not even a rusty nail.

The Chassid was about to give up - when suddenly, he got an idea. In those times, since many people in Russia and Poland couldn't afford marble or stone tombstones, the burial society used wooden planks instead. Written on each one were the Hebrew letters Peh-Nun, an abbreviation for "Po nitman," or "Here lies..."

The Chassid knew that there were many such planks in the cemetery, so he thought: "Certainly there won't be hundreds of people who die in this town over Sukkos. So who should care if I borrow a few planks, and return them after the holiday?"

Meanwhile….the day before Sukkos arrived, the rich man looked across the field and smiled - there was no sukka outside the house of the Karliner Chassid.

Sukkos came and the rich man sat in his sukka, at his oak table, with his candelabras and everything he could imagine. He made Kiddush in peace and blissful quiet. He began to eat his fish, in peace and blissful quiet. Then, from across the field, he hears…singing! He jumped up! How can it be? He looked outside and saw, across the field, a shabby sukka propped against the Karliner Chassid's house.

He ran across the field and burst in on the Chassid, "Where did you get the wood for this Sukka?!"

The Karliner Chassid received him with a glowing face, "Shalom Aleichem! Come in! Sit down!"

Standing, the rich man repeated, "Where did you get this wood?"

"I'll be glad to tell you, just come in and sit down," the Chassid told him.

The rich man's eyes darted to the Chassid, the sukka, the door, and back to the Chassid. Frowning, he sat in the half-broken chair across from the Chassid.

The Karliner Chassid said, "Let me tell you a story. Yesterday, I was looking around town for some way to build a Sukka, asking for a spare board here, a spare nail there. Strangest thing, I couldn't find anything. Everyone used up just what they had, there was nothing left over. It got pretty late, maybe 3 am, and I was still walking around town. Now, who do I run into...but the Angel of Death! I said, 'Angel of Death! Shalom Aleichem!'

And he said, 'Aleichem Shalom.'

I said, 'So what brings you to town?'

And he said, 'I just have one more pickup before the holiday comes in.'

I said, 'One more pickup, huh? Mind if I ask who it is?'"

"Now you wouldn't believe," the Karliner Chassid continued, leaning forward, staring right at the rich man, "but he said your name!"

"I said, 'That guy? You came to get that guy? You don't have to bother.'

The Angel of Death said, 'Don't have to bother, huh? Why's that?'

I said, 'You don't have to bother, because that guy is so sad, it's like he's already dead.'

'He's that sad huh?'

'Yup, he's that sad.'

'Well, if he's that sad, I guess I don't have to bother. Thanks for saving me the work!'"

"Now as the Angel of Death was about to leave, I asked him for a little favor. I said, 'Listen, I helped you out, maybe you can help me out?'

And he said, 'Sure, what can I do for you?'

I said, 'I really need a Sukka for the holiday.'

He paused, and than said, 'You know, I'm not scheduled to be back here until after the festival. In the burial society, they have the wooden stakes they put in a new grave before [or instead] they put up the headstone, the wooden stakes that say 'Here lies' at the top. I'm not planning to be back here, so you can use those to build your sukka.'"

"And that's exactly what I did," the Chassid said. "In fact, if you look up there, you can see that on each board, it says 'Here lies.'"

And with that, the Karliner Chassid burst into a joyous song.

But… the Chassid's words pierced the rich man's heart like arrows. He began to cry from the depths of his heart. Finally, he asked the Chassid, "What can I do? I cannot remove the sadness from my heart. Tell me, I have everything, but no joy. And you, who have nothing - from where do you get all this joy?"

The Chassid responded: "If you want to be joyous, you must go to the holy Karliner Rebbe. There you can learn what true simcha really is."

The rich man went to Karlin, and although he had been full of anger and sadness, became one of the greatest Karliner Chassidim. He just needed someone to ignite his spark.

Reb Shlomo notes that he heard that there were even several letters of correspondence between the Karliner Rebbe and this man.

Chag Sameach to all!

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