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It’s Chai Elul – Happy 321st Birthday Ba’al Shem Tov!

In honour of the Besht’s special day, here’s a beautiful Ba’al Shem Tov story about Sukkot.

One Sukkot the leaders of the Medzhybizh misnagdishe community came to visit the Ba’al Shem Tov in his sukkah.  In the fashion of Talmudic scholars, they examined the sukkah, they measured the sukkah, they debated the sukkah – and surprisingly, they all declared as one – not Kosher!  The Ba’al Shem Tov’s sukkah does not meet the halachic requirements of a Kosher Sukkah.  The Besht debated the issue with them trying to prove that his Sukkah was indeed kosher – but not even the Ba’al Shem Tov could prevail against a bunch of misnagdim who actually agreed on one halachic opinion!

The Ba'al Shem Tov's Seat - (C)Andy Alpern, 2018 - sukkah360.com
The Ba’al Shem Tov’s Chair – (C)Andy Alpern, 2018 – sukkah360.com

The Ba’al Shem Tov then laid his head on his arms and went into a deep meditation.  A few minutes later, the holy Ba’al Shem opened his hand; he was holding a piece of parchment that stated: “The Sukkah of the Ba’al Shem Tov is Kosher.”  The note was signed by the Archangel Metatron.


Now of course the Ba’al Shem knew how to build a Sukkah that would be considered Kosher by the strictest authorities!  And surely, the Ba’al Shem wanted to observe the mitzvah of leishev baSukkah in the best possible way!  So why not just build a Sukkah that was impeccably kosher according to the highest possible standards?!?  Why construct a sukkah that requires an excuse note from the Archangel Metatron – Chancellor of Heaven?!?  What was the founder of the Chassidic movement trying to demonstrate with his just-barely-kosher sukkah?

To my mind, the Ba’al Shem Tov built his Sukkah according to the basic halachic standard, and not to the most stringent halachic chumra in order to validate every Sukkah built with a sincere Jewish heart. 

Ba'al Shem Tov Shul - (C)Andy Alpern, 2018 - sukkah360.com
Ba’al Shem Tov Shul – (C)Andy Alpern, 2018 – sukkah360.com

With his good-enough Sukkah the Ba’al Shem was emphasizing the importance of Jewish inclusion over halachic stringency – the importance of Jewish unity over the all-too-Jewish temptation to one-up the Shwartzes next door with our kosherer than kosher _______________ (insert preferred Jewish noun here).

Sukkot is the ultimate pilgrimage holiday, the chag when EVERYONE who was able, came to Yerushalayim to celebrate the harvest and party together at a week-long festival.  It is on Sukkot that Am Yisrael is commanded to sacrifice seventy bulls in the temple for the welfare and well-being of all seventy nations. 

So as we pray at the end of Sukkot, may we be blessed and merit to sit in the Sukkah made of the Leviathan’s skin – a sukkah that like haShem’s love is big enough and strong enough to include and embrace everyonechassidish and litvish, tzaddikim and apikorsim, Am Yisrael and Umot haOlam –  insert your favourite binary opposites here.

The best part is that our Panoramic Sukkot are both Kosher and beautiful – so those never need be binary opposites again! 

If you have an insight or teaching to share, please do so below.  And if anyone out there knows how to print a panorama on Leviathan skin, please be in touch.

Ba'al Shem Tov Shul, Medzibuzh, Ukraine - (C)Andy Alpern - sukkah360.com
Ba’al Shem Tov Shul, Medzibuzh, Ukraine – (C)Andy Alpern – sukkah360.com

Thank you to Rabbi Allen S. Maller and Michael Elmaleh for their teachings on the Ba’al Shem Tov’s Sukkah.

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