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The Stranger Who Wanted to Go to Heaven

The Stranger Who Wanted to Go to Heaven

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Art by Leopold Pilichowski
Art by Leopold Pilichowski

The etrog shortage that hit Berditchev troubled its famed rabbi, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, giving him no rest. Determined to celebrate Sukkot with an etrog, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak instructed his messengers to fan out and search the roads for any traveler who might be carrying the coveted yellow fruit.

One of the messengers approached a traveler and asked him whether he was carrying an etrog. The man said yes. However, the traveler explained to the messenger that he needed to continue onward to his destination. He did not relent even when the messenger pleaded with him to spend Sukkot in Berditchev to allow Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and his community to fulfill one of the holiday’s vital mitzvahs. After all, the traveler said, he was just returning from a lengthy journey and had plans to be home by the holiday, and he did not desire to spend it in Berditchev.

Meanwhile, word of the traveler’s etrog quickly reached Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Not waiting for the etrog to arrive at his doorstep, the rabbi quickly made his way to the traveler. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak began to lay his community’s predicament before the traveler, but the latter refused to hear of it until Rabbi Levi Yitzchak offered the stranger a portion of his own reward in the World to Come.

Hearing this, the traveler agreed. He arrived at a local inn in Berditchev, intending to stay there for Sukkot. The townspeople of Berditchev, triumphant about the etrog, were ecstatic.


Sent by Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, a messenger hastily crossed the town to inform the innkeeper of the rabbi’s instructions: the man with the etrog was not to be given entry to the inn’s sukkah. The same instructions were disseminated throughout the town: all householders were to refuse the man with the etrog entry into their sukkahs.

The traveler, oblivious to this instruction, returned from the synagogue and appeared at the entrance of the inn’s sukkah, ready to chant Kiddush and settle down for the festive meal. But the innkeeper, as per Rabbi Levi Yitzchak’s request, barred the traveler from even setting foot inside the hut. The traveler began to shout at the innkeeper, who stood his ground, ignoring the man’s protests. Realizing that his screaming was useless, the traveler hopped over to the neighbor and asked him if he could celebrate the holiday night inside his sukkah. To the traveler’s bewilderment, the neighbor said no. And when he continued to walk about the town looking for a place to make Kiddush, the answer was always no. The traveler had a growing suspicion that some sort of concerted effort was afoot. How could everyone refuse him use of their sukkah?

And so the traveler decided to ask some of the residents, pestering them until they revealed the instruction from Rabbi Levi Yitzchak. Armed with this information, the traveler ran to Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, forcibly voicing his thoughts:

“Is this how you repay me?”

But Rabbi Levi Yitzchak interjected, saying, “Here’s the deal. If you disregard my earlier promise of sharing my portion of the World to Come with you, I will allow you to enter my sukkah. “Here’s the deal. If you disregard my earlier promise of sharing my portion of the World to Come with you, I will allow you to enter my sukkah.”

The traveler stood rooted to his spot, a battle waging inside of him. But in the end, the choice was obvious. As much as he wanted to delight in the rewards of the World to Come, his desire to observe the significant mitzvah of sitting inside the sukkah was more important.

“Fine,” the traveler acquiesced.

The following day, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak invited the traveler, along with other Jews of Berditchev, for the festive meal in his sukkah. Rabbi Levi Yitzchak then turned to the traveler and remarked:

“Now I once again assure you that you will indeed have a part of my reward in the World to Come. When I first made the promise to you, you did not deserve it. Now that you were willing to give it up in order to do a mitzvah, you are indeed deserving of that lofty reward.”

Adapted from Shemuot Vesippurim Vol. 1, page 248

Adapted and translated by Asharon Baltazar from Rabbi Rephael Nachman Kahan's Shemuot Vesippurim.
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Feigele St Johns FL October 1, 2017

deceiving but just
luring the Traveler not to go home to his family was deceiving but the reward at the end was justified Reply

Aaron November 6, 2017

Good story, bad title. Reply

Bat Rachel October 7, 2017

This is the kind of story that feeds antisemitism. How they could be so mean & embarrass him, we're not supposed to do that ! It leaves me cold. Reply

Amanuel October 6, 2017

Judaism is so beautiful and so are Jews with all creations of the world!!! Reply

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