Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz was a spiritual giant in his generation. At first his greatness was mostly unknown to his contemporaries, but he had no regrets; indeed, it suited him just fine. He spent his days and most of his nights in Torah study, prayer and meditation. Rarely was he interrupted.

But then, word began to spread, perhaps from fellow disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, that Rav Pinchas was very, very special. People began to visit him on a regular basis, seeking his guidance, requesting his support, asking for his prayers, and beseeching his blessing. The more he helped them, the more they came. The trickle to his door became a stream, and the stream became a night-and-day constant flood of increased knocks at his door and outpourings of personal stories and requests for help.

Rav Pinchas was bewildered. He felt he was no longer serving G‑d properly, because he no longer had sufficient time to study, pray and meditate as he should. He didn’t know what to do. He needed more privacy and less distraction, but how could he turn away dozens, and even hundreds, of people who genuinely felt that he could help them? How could he convince them to seek elsewhere, to others more willing and qualified than he?

Rav Pinchas prayed and so it was . . .

Then he had an idea. He would pray for heavenly help in the matter. “Let G‑d arrange it that people not be attracted to seek me out!” he thought. Let G‑d make him be despicable in the eyes of his fellows!

“A tzaddik decrees and Heaven agrees,” they say. Rav Pinchas prayed, and so it was. In a short time, no longer did people visit him. Not only that, on those occasions when he went to town, he was met with averted heads and a chilly atmosphere.

Rav Pinchas didn’t mind at all. Indeed, he was delighted; now he had all the time he could desire for study, prayer and meditation. The old pattern was restored, and rarely was he interrupted. No one was coming to him to seek his guidance, request his prayers or beseech his blessing.

Then the Days of Awe—Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—passed, and there remained only four brief busy days to prepare for the Sukkot festival. Usually (or rather, every year until now), there had always been some yeshivah students or local townspeople who were only too glad to help the pious rabbi construct his sukkah. But this time, not a single soul arrived. No one liked him, so no one even thought to help him.

Rav Pinchas could not get a single Jew in the neighborhood to lend him tools . . .

Not being handy in these matters, the rabbi didn’t know what to do. Finally, having no choice, he was forced to hire a non-Jew to build his sukkah for him. But the gentile did not possess the tools that were needed, and Rav Pinchas could not get a single Jew in the neighborhood to lend him tools because they disliked him so much. In the end, his wife had to go to borrow them, and even that was difficult to accomplish due to the prevailing attitude towards her husband. With just a few hours remaining till the onset of the festival, they finally managed to complete a flimsy minimal structure.

As the sun slid between the forest branches and the rebbetzin lit the festive candles, Rav Pinchas hurried off to shul. He always made a point to attend the congregational prayers on the holidays; besides, he didn’t want to miss the opportunity to acquire a guest for the festival meal, something so integral to the essence of the holiday.

In those days in Europe, people desiring an invitation to a meal would stand in the back of the shul upon the completion of the prayers. The householders would then invite them upon their way out, happy to so easily accomplish the mitzvah of hospitality. Rav Pinchas, unfortunately, did not find it so simple. Even those without a place to eat turned him down without a second thought. Eventually, everyone who needed a place and everyone who wanted a guest were satisfied, except for the tzaddik, Rav Pinchas.

He trudged home alone, saddened and a bit shaken up . . .

He trudged home alone, saddened and a bit shaken up at the realization that he might never have another guest, not even for the special festive meal of the first night of Sukkot. Alas, that too was part of the price of his freedom . . . It was worth it, wasn’t it?

Pausing just inside the entrance to his sukkah, he began to chant the traditional invitation to the ushpizin, the “seven heavenly guests” who visit every Jewish sukkah. Although not many are privileged to actually see these exalted visitors, Rav Pinchas was definitely one of the select few who had this exalted experience on an annual basis. This year, he raised his eyes and saw the Patriarch Abraham, the first of the ushpizin and therefore the honored guest for the first night, standing outside the door of the sukkah, maintaining a distance.

Rav Pinchas cried out to him in anguish: “Father Abraham! Why do you not enter my sukkah? What is my sin?”

Replied the patriarch: “I am the embodiment of chessed, serving G‑d through deeds of lovingkindness. Hospitality was my specialty. I will not join a festival table where there are no guests.”

The crestfallen Rav Pinchas quickly reordered his priorities. He prayed that everything be restored to as it had been, and that he should find favor in the eyes of his fellow Jews exactly as before. Again, his prayer was answered. Within a few days, throngs of people were again finding their way to his door, seeking his guidance, asking his support, requesting his prayers and beseeching his blessing. No longer could he devote all, or even most, of his time to his Torah study, his prayer and his meditation. But thanks to his holy Sukkot guest, this was no longer seen as a problem.

Biographical note:
Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz (1726–10 Elul 1791) was considered to be one of the two most preeminent followers of Chassidism’s founder, the Baal Shem Tov, as well as of his successor, the Maggid of Mezeritch.

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