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The Unpopular Tzaddik

The Unpopular Tzaddik


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 nights in Torah-study, prayer and meditation. Rarely was he interrupted.

But then, the word began to spread, perhaps from fellow disciples of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, that Rabbi 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 daily flood of personal stories and requests for help.

Rabbi Pinchas was overwhelmed. 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 go elsewhere, to others more willing and qualified than he?

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 him out! Let G‑d make him be despicable in the eyes of his fellows!

"A tzaddik decrees and Heaven agrees," they say. Rabbi Pinchas prayed and so it became. 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.

Rabbi Pinchas didn't mind at all. Indeed, he was delighted. The old pattern was restored; rarely was he interrupted.

Then the "Days of Awe" of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur passed, and there remained only four brief busy days to prepare for the Sukkot festival. In previous years, there had always been some yeshiva students or local townspeople who were only too glad to help the pious rabbi construct his sukkah-hut. But this time, not a single soul arrived. No one liked him, and no one even thought to help him.

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 hired man did not possess the tools that were needed, and Rabbi 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, Rabbi Pinchas hurried off to shul. Despite his solitary ways, 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. Rabbi Pinchas, unfortunately, did not find it so simple. Even those without a place to eat and desperate for an invitation to a sukkah in which to enjoy the festival meal, 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, Rabbi Pinchas.

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 Sukkos. 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, Rabbi Pinchas 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, Rabbi Pinchas was definitely one of the select few who had this 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 of the festival—standing outside the door of the sukkah, keeping his distance.

Rabbi 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 loving-kindness. Hospitality was my specialty. I will not join a table where there are no guests."

The crestfallen Rabbi Pinchas quickly re-ordered his priorities. He prayed that everything be restored to as it had been, and that he should find favor in the eyes of his fellows exactly as before. Again his prayer was answered. Within a short time, 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 to his meditation. But thanks to his holy Sukkot guest, this was no longer seen as a problem.

Biographical Note:

Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Koretz (1726-1791) was considered to be one of the two most pre-eminent followers of the Chassidism's founder, Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (along with Rabbi Israel's successor the Maggid of Mezritch).

A master storyteller with hundreds of published stories to his credit, Rabbi Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder of Ascent of Safed, and managing editor of the Ascent and Kabbalah Online websites.
Image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher’s art, click here.
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Cecile Cameron March 16, 2016

I find this happening with many people. My husband included. We need to focus not only on the intricate study of the torah, but on the application of it. People mean so much and this story really emphasized the heart of the torah. Reply

suzy hander woodland hills, ca October 22, 2014

I love your terrific stories. Please never stop telling or writing about them. Reply

Sam Blitz Cape Coral, FL via September 19, 2013

It proves that no man is an island. Reply

Mary Calumet, MI October 5, 2012

Prayer "The prayers of a righteous man availeth much." I would dare say that a righteous woman's prayers avails as well. I have also heard that "living for others is looking Heaven in the Face." To balance one's life with prayer and servitude is a challenge indeed. Baruch Hashem. Reply

ruth housman marshfield hills, ma September 30, 2012

this is a fascinating story... I wonder, given this story, about the many very religious Jews who study night and day, and unfortunately, there are many, who seem to leave the care of the children, the home, to the women, who toil really hard, while their "men" study night and day. And this is not just about Judaism.. Could there be some way to make this more equal, and could this story not also apply to them? And to all people who bury themselves too much in books, whether holy or not, because the pursuit of knowledge must also involve the act of imparting this, as in actions towards others, as in community immersion. Perhaps a religous site like this will not print this, but it seems to me, there has to be a middle ground, and that surely, it's wondeful to pull away and immerse or OD in G_d, as in the name itself, but to overddose has its pitfalls when it comes to practice, and practice makes perfect, or so they say.

This is a great metaphor for all who leave the world beware and be aware of each other. Reply

Funmi Odubekun Lagos, Nigeria September 30, 2012

THE UNPOPULAR TZADDIC I have learnt that one can pray for favor with G-d & man & at the same time pray for "disfavor"! Hm, thank G-d for His mercies & understanding in granting the Rabbi a second chance to "undo" his earlier request. I'm sure he must have learned a lot from this experience. Good for him because experience cannot be bought & good for us for learning from his experience. Reply

Anonymous September 30, 2012

I love Chabad's stories! Entertaining and you can learn very much from them! The greatest thing is that they're true! Reply

nahomi October 13, 2011

wooww I learned so much! Reply

Z'ev זאב בן אהרהם Freed B''er-Shev''a, ישראל October 11, 2011

Doing & Guests I am reminded of an ancestor who had just attended to a circumcision and was hosting a very special guest. This was a special one as it was an adult. The visitor had to help bring comfort. The host heard the sounds of some trekker & so left the honorable guest to see about the hiker who might need some hospitality along the way. When Abe left The King to see to the traveler; The King was not displeased by the abrupt departure of the patient nor did He lose his patience.
Yes, we can interrupt prayer to perform special deeds. Now, please let us pray that our 'neighbor', Gil, will soon be sitting in a succah with his family. This was just on the local news at 20:30 - Israel Standard Time = 1hr ago! Reply

Zevulun SakonNakhon September 26, 2010

The Unpopular Tzaddik Rabbi Pinchas's experience teaches that by helping others we help ourselves. After all, our souls are unified as part of the Oneness of G-d! Reply

Issachar Joshua yemi-esan lagos, Nigeria September 21, 2010

Thoughts on this story It teaches that as one gets closer to G-d through the Bible study, prayers and meditation one gets better equipped to help others in the presence of G-d. just like Moses was so great he could stand the presence of G-d closely and he eventually had to buid the Tabernacle outside of the camp. Reply

Dr. Harry Hamburger Miami, Fl. September 20, 2010

Our purpose This story teaches an important lesson, that at the time of Sukkot we should not be the "species" of Jew that is all Torah study, and no good deeds. Just as an animal must eat lower life forms to survive, we as beings with a G-dly soul are placed on this earth to elevate those lower than us, rather than ourselves. We must leave the study hall, and go out onto the street to teach and help our fellow man. G-d's face shines down on us when we study Torah, and looks up to us when we help our fellow man! Reply

Anonymous Galus, USA October 8, 2009

For a tzaddik like Rebbe Pinchas, it must certainly have been true that the world needed him. But for the likes of me, surely I could be excused if I might ask for a little peace and quiet in which to focus my thoughts, humble as they are? No! We must activly seek out guests for our sukkah - preferably poor guests - it is a very great mitzvah. The Zohar has very harsh words for the one who keeps his sukkah mitzvah all to himself! Oy, Rabbono shel Olam (Master of the World)! Please let me be happy about these guests I am going to have tonight in my sukkah and the mitzvah they give me! Conquer my selfishness that wants for a beautiful and contemplative experience ..... Reply

Anonymous via October 2, 2009

The world exists on three 3 pillars Torah, Avodah, and Gemilath Chesed (Torah, service, and acts of kindness) said our sages. We need all three, and SKOIAck (kudos) to Judy Resnick for her phenomenal comment that I think was even more powerful than the story! Chag Sameach! Shabbat Shalom! May we all be sealed for the best year yet! Moshiach now! Reply

Carmen October 1, 2009

This story teaches us... that our destiny is after all in our own hands and that we must be thoughtful about it; we must bear the consequences of wrong taken paths, correcting them. It can take sometimes a whole life, and sometimes can't even be accomplished in one's actual only one life, needing sometimes more time in other lives (so I believe).The opportunity is here however. The more we rush to get the chances, the best. The more we distract in not true (tv,void of meaning readings,gossipings,etc...) matters, the worst. Reply

Amit October 19, 2008

The Importance of Doing As I have tried to prioritize in my life, I have thought this:

If in Heaven and on Earth we can pray and study Torah, however only on Earth can we do mitzvot, then should it not be our priority to do mitzvot here, when we can?

Does this seem like correct thinking? Reply

Judy Resnick Far Rockaway, NY October 12, 2008

Contemporary Example The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of blessed memory, the greatest Tzaddik (holy man) of the last century, could have spent the years of his life in solitude, praying to the Creator and studying sacred writings at the highest possible level. Instead, the Rebbe zatzal gave himself totally to the entire Jewish people: holding meetings with individuals throughout the night until daybreak; answering thousands of letters; speaking at Fabrengen and other public events for hours on end; issuing proclamations; giving haskamos (approbations) to good works when needed. There were some saintly rabbis who stayed hidden from the world, afraid that contact with lesser people would interfere with their personal path. This story tells us, as the Rebbe's life tells us, that this is not the way most Jews should choose. Instead, the Rebbe showed that a Jew cares foremost about the well-being of others, and adherents of Chabad chasidus follow this road today. Reply

lissauer denver, CO October 20, 2005

the unpopular tzadik To me this story teaches us 2 things: One is that there must be balance in our mortal lives. The second is that... our lives depend on chesed [acts of loving-kindness] more than anything... Reply

Yerachmiel Tilles Safed, Israel April 6, 2005

Dear Shawn,
Surely the second explanation you offered is true. But the true are not contradictory. Thank you for writing. Reply

shawn April 5, 2005

The Unpopular Tzaddik Would it have been better if he had said or asked for G-d to do his will? Or did G-d allow this happen to teach something? Reply

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