The Sukkah in Danger
by Tzvi Jacobs
Rabbi Irving Greenberg had a brand new sukka stored away in his basement. But for eight straight years Rabbi Greenberg did not use it.
Rabbi Greenberg, who was a high school science teacher in the New York City public school system, served for eight years as the rabbi at the Interboro Jewish Center in the formerly middle-class Jewish neighborhood of East New York. During the years that Rabbi Greenberg was at the Center, one Jew after another was mugged or even murdered in the neighborhood.
In the yard of the Center, was a sturdy, wooden sukka. But every night during Sukkot, the tenants of the apartment building overlooking the sukka hurled bricks and stones at the sukka.
In 1985, a week before Rosh Hashana, the Center's president called Rabbi Greenberg: "We're closing the shul. We can't even get a minyan."
Though sad to see the shul close, Rabbi Greenberg was happy to have the chance to put up his sukka on the deck of his Oceanside, Long Island home, facing the waterfront. Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg looked forward to evening, when they would eat the first holiday meal in their sukka.
Just before sunset, Mrs. Greenberg lit the Yom Tov candles. The sun sank into the horizon and the sky filled up with thick clouds. A fierce storm whipped across the waterfront. The house shook from the violent wind. Five minutes later the storm ended as suddenly as it had begun.
Rabbi Greenberg walked onto his deck. Amazingly, the sukka was still standing, but the bamboo poles, which served as the s'chach or roof of the sukka, had all tumbled to the ground. Without the s'chach, the sukka was not considered a sukka, and one was not allowed to eat in it.
Rabbi Greenberg felt dejected. It was already evening and the holiday had begun. On Yom Tov, it is forbidden for a Jew to put s'chach on the sukka. But where was he going to find a non-Jew tonight? Especially one who would come out in this weather?
"We sacrificed and suffered these past eight years. And now this happens!" the rabbi said to his wife.
Just then, Rabbi Greenberg recalled a story he had once heard.
In a Jewish village in Eastern Europe, the entire community helped a poor groom get started in a business. Following the community's advice, the young man bought a horse and wagon and went to the market to buy flour, which he would then sell in the village. While riding his wagon homeward with the sacks of flour, a violent wind flipped his wagon over. All the sacks of flour fell against the rocky ground and ripped open, and the wind blew the flour away. The young man turned the empty wagon back over, and feeling totally distraught, went straight to his rebbe and told him about the terrible misfortune.
"G-d made that wind," the rebbe said. "I must call G-d to a court hearing."
The rebbe pleaded the case for the young man. After a while, the rebbe looked up and smiled. "You have won the court case. Now, return to your village and all will be well."
On the road home, the groom's wagon got stuck in the mud. He took a broken branch and tried to dig out the wheel. The branch struck against something hard. It was a chest. He pried it open and it was full of gold coins and jewels. After searching for its owner, it was ruled that thieves apparently had hid this treasure in the ground, and being that here was nobody to whom he could return the treasure, he was allowed to keep it. The young man and his wife invested their fortune wisely, and became known throughout the land for their generosity and warm hospitality.
After recalling this story, Rabbi Greenberg put his head on the table and cried. For eight years he was unable to eat a holiday meal in a sukka because of the danger of eating outside in East New York. But, now, Rabbi Greenberg finally had the opportunity to eat in his own sukka and G-d's wind blew the s'chach down.
After a while of intense meditation and crying, Rabbi Greenberg lifted his head, smiling. "I feel like I won the court case," he said to his wife.
Barely two minutes later, there was a knock on the door. A man stood at the door with rope and a tool set.
"Robby, what are you doing here?" Rabbi Greenberg asked in surprise.
"I came to fix your booth," Robby said. Without even waiting for a response, he walked out onto the deck.
Rabbi Greenberg was shocked. He had not seen Robby in maybe nine or ten years. Robby was a non-Jew who worked as a licensed electrician for an observant Jew. Every time the business was closed for a Jewish holiday, Robby would stop in the Ocean Harbor Jewish Center in Oceanside, Long Island, and ask Rabbi Greenberg, who at the time served as the rabbi of the synagogue, what each holiday was all about.
"Robby, you've never been to my home. How did you know where I lived?"
"I knew you lived in Oceanside, so I looked up your address in the phone book," Robby answered, while anchoring down the sukka with ropes. Robby lived in Long Beach, which was one town over. "Now, Rabbi, if you don't mind waiting inside your house, I'll be finished in no time."
About half an hour later, Robby stepped into the house. "It's all done, Rabbi. Now, have a happy holiday."
"Robby, who sent you? How did you know to come here? You must be an angel of G-d."
"No, I'm no angel," Robby laughed. "During the storm, some feeling lured me to go onto my veranda. When I saw the strong winds knocking down all the booths, I said, 'I bet Rabbi Greenberg needs help.' "
Robby smiled and again wished them a happy holiday. That Sukkot, Rabbi and Mrs. Greenberg celebrated an unforgettable holiday in a sukka that came "from Heaven."