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Story: Sukkot, 10/18/19

10/20/2019 04:25:59 PM


Rabbi Charlie

The following story is a modern retelling of a Tunisian folktale that I learned about from the brilliant story tellers Nina Jaffe and Steve Zeitlin (While Standing on One Foot, p. 81-86, adapted).

Once there was a man named Jacob Leibman, who lived in a small apartment on the top floor of a six-story house in New York City. Jacob lived alone, but he had many friends. Neighbors were always stopping by to see him, and children loved to find him at a free moment when he would sit on the stoop and tell them stories about “the old days.”

Jacob liked to share his holiday traditions with his neighbors and their children too. On Hanukkah, he always passed out dreidels and chocolate gelt. On Passover, out would come the matzah and gefilte fish. He would even invite his friends in for a Seder, and let the children look for the afikoman, which they always found hidden behind the curtains or under the couch in his small living room.

In the whole neighborhood, there was only one person who didn’t get along with Jacob. Of course, he didn’t get along with anyone else either. That person was the new owner of the building, Mr. Thomas R. Block. If there was ever a leak in the pipes or a hole in the walls to report, Mr. Block was nowhere to be found. But if he saw children sitting on the steps or caught a tenant putting a holiday decoration in his doorway, he was sure to raise a fuss.

One year, as autumn leaves began to tumble from the trees onto the city sidewalks, Jacob began to prepare for Sukkot. He gathered pieces of wood for the sukkah walls. He collected autumn fruits for decorations, and pine branches to cover the top. He brought a table and chairs for the guests he planned to invite, and carried all these things up to the roof of his house. Now, it happened that on the day before the holiday, Mr. Block was paying an unusual visit to the building. As soon as he saw Jacob carrying his leaves and stacks of wood up to the roof, he began to shout.

“Mr. Leibman! I order you to take that garbage off the roof by sundown, or I’ll have you evicted! This kind of thing is illegal-it’s completely against building regulations!” And with that, he stomped off.

But Jacob had decided that enough was enough. He was tired of putting up with Mr. Block and his harassment. Besides, Sukkot was an important holiday. Jacob decided, Mr. Block or no Mr. Block, the sukkah must stay up.

The very next day, Jacob found himself in front of a judge, with Mr. Block waving a citation at him. “Your honor!” he cried. “This tenant is breaking the building code against my specific orders! I can have him evicted!”

The judge looked down at the defendant from her high bench. “Well, Mr. Leibman, what do you have to say for yourself?”

Jacob had never been in court before, but he spoke up clearly. He told the judge about the sukkah and that it had to be built under an open sky.

“In this city, where else do you have an open sky, except on the roof?” He explained that the sukkah had to stay up for seven days and seven nights.

“Your honor,” Jacob continued, “this is the holiday when my people remember how our ancestors wandered in the desert without a real home. It’s a biblical commandment to build a sukkah, and I have always kept it. Sukkot starts tonight, right after sundown tonight! Sitting in the sukkah has never caused any problems before - I hope you will decide in my favor.” And with that, he sat down.

The judge listened carefully. She knew that the sukkah would do no damage to the building, and that the tenant should be able to observe his holiday in peace. Yet she also knew that the landlord had the city law on his side. She thought for a while, then spoke.

The judge spoke sternly to Jacob and said, “It is true that building a sukkah on your roof is against our city ordinances. You must take it down, or the hall force of the law will be brought against you.” Mr. Block smirked to himself. Then the judge smiled and looked kindly at Jacob. “Yes, the sukkah must come down. I will give you exactly eight days to comply, and not a minute more!”

When it comes to showing compassion and combatting intolerance, sometimes we need to get creative. The same can be said when it comes to standing up for ourselves so we have the ability to observe our traditions.

Sukkot is Z’man Simchateinu – the Time of Our Rejoicing. With just a couple days left, I hope that you are able to find great joy during this wonderful festival of Sukkot!

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom!

Thu, July 9 2020 17 Tammuz 5780