A Lesson For the Children – This is a story that took place in Russia about seventy years ago. It was an especially difficult time for the Jews of the Soviet Union. President Stalin fought in a very cruel way against anything that was at all reminiscent of Judaism, and anybody “suspected” of any links to Judaism was very severely punished. Many people were arrested, tortured, and sent away to faraway lands and forced labor camps, from which it was very rare to return alive.
Shaul, the hero of our story, was a simple Jew, but all of the harsh threats did not deter him. Quietly and modestly, Shaul would gather friends and neighbors for a “minyan” for prayer, and he also organized lessons for Torah study. Everything was done in complete secrecy and in the underground. When Sukkot arrived, he even had the audacity to build a small Sukkah. Shaul did these and many other things, completely ignoring his own personal safety in order to encourage the Jews to observe their religion even under very harsh circumstances.
One summer, the secret police increased their raids, and many people were arrested and even sentenced to death. Shaul’s wife, who feared for his safety, begged him with tears in her eyes to leave the city for a short time. She was sure that the secret police knew about him, and that the end was near, G-d forbid. Shaul understood his wife’s fears, but he said: “And if I do go away, what will happen to all of our neighbors? Who will take care of organizing a minyan? Will there be a minyan for Rosh Hashanah? Who will blow the shofar? It is simply not possible…” Shaul thought about the matter and decided that his public responsibility required that he stay at least until Rosh Hashanah. He therefore asked his wife to have a little more patience. He promised to leave right after Rosh Hashanah.
Rosh Hashanah passed peacefully, and Shaul decided that he must at least remain until Yom Kippur, in order to organize the fasting and the prayers. And then Sukkot was just around the corner…
All the time, Shaul’s wife tried to convince him to run away, and he put her off one day at a time. “I will build the Sukkah, not in its usual place but behind the storeroom, in a way that it will be well hidden from the outside. With G-d’s help everything will be okay and right after Sukkot I will run away.” The Sukkah was smaller than usual, but it was filled with great joy, as Jews came on the first night of the holiday to recite the Kiddush, one at a time, and to recite the blessing for the Sukkah. Some of them even stayed to eat a full meal.
Finally, Shaul decided to part from his friends and to flee from the city. That night, he returned home later than usual. He spent an especially long time with the young people, because he could not know when he would see them again. He entered the Sukkah, which was completely dark. He sat down, drank a glass of water, and sat there for a while. Every minute sitting in the Sukkah was precious to him.
Evidently, he dozed off, and then suddenly he was awakened by loud knocks at the door of his home. “Here it is, they have come to take me,” he thought to himself. He tried not to become excited, to remain calm, and to see what would happen. He heard his wife’s voice, replying to the shouts of the unwanted guests. Evidently they searched the house thoroughly. Afterwards, he once again heard them talking: “This is very surprising. I was sure that we would catch him, and look how the bird has managed to flee.” Then there was silence, followed by the sounds of the retreating footsteps of the secret agents, showing that for the time being the danger had passed.
Shaul moved very fast. He did not even go into his own house. Rather, he left immediately through the back entrance. He avoided the main streets of the city and in a roundabout way went to the train station. He jumped onto a train that was just leaving, without even knowing where it was going, but it did not matter to him at all. The main thing, he thought, was to get away as fast as possible.
It took some time, but eventually the family was reunited in a faraway city. Only then was Shaul able to tell his wife and his daughters the wondrous way that he had been saved – thanks to the mitzva of Sukkah that he had observed that night.
Source: “Holidays of Yisrael”. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il). Translated from the Hebrew by Moshe Goldberg. To subscribe to receive the complete version of Shabbat B’Shabbato please write to email@example.com.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.