"Say to the Israelites: 'On the fifteenth day of the seventh month the LORD's Festival of Tabernacles begins, and it lasts for seven days.'" Leviticus 23:34
A note to our readers: Today marks the second day of Sukkot, which is observed for seven days. Throughout this week, our reflections have been tied to this biblically mandated holiday. Since no work can be done today, this devotion was prepared in advance for you.
A story is told about Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz who lived in 18th-century Russia. Rabbi Pinchas was a uniquely righteous man but hardly anyone knew it. This suited the holy man just fine, as he had plenty of time to study the Torah, pray, and meditate. However, eventually news about the rabbi's greatness got out. At first, only a few Jews came seeking his advice and blessings. But then the trickle became a stream of people all waiting to see the holy rabbi.
Rabbi Pinchas was not at all pleased with his newfound fame, but he couldn't turn the people away. Yet, he felt that he wasn't serving God properly since he could no longer focus on study and prayer. So he prayed to God that the villagers would despise him so that they would no longer come to him.
God fulfilled the request, and soon people stopped knocking on the rabbi's door. When the rabbi went out in public, people averted their eyes in disgust. The rabbi was quite all right with the situation; now he had his time back to study and pray. The rabbi enjoyed his isolation until the holiday of Sukkot arrived and he couldn't find anyone to help him build his sukkah booth or lend him tools.
At the last minute, he managed a flimsy sukkah. On Sukkot, a holiday that celebrates fellowship and unity, it is traditional to bring home guests for the meals. However, no one would accept that rabbi's invitations. On the first night of Sukkot, Jews symbolically invite the spirit of Abraham to join the festive meal, but as the story goes, even Abraham refused to join the rabbi.
Shaken up, the rabbi prayed to God that the people would approve of him once more. Once again throngs of people were waiting in line to speak with the rabbi. Once again, the rabbi didn't have much time to study and pray, but now that no longer bothered him, as his priorities had changed.
It's not by accident that Sukkot follows just days after the High Holy Days. Those days are very much about our personal connection with God. But lest we get too caught up in our one-on-one relationship, Sukkot comes around to teach us that loving others and serving others is all part of serving the Lord.
While it's essential to pray and study the Bible, we need to make people a priority, too. This week, carve out time to serve a friend in need, a stranger who needs help, or a family member who needs our time. The best way to bond with our Father is to love His children.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President