Surah Leah looked in the mirror -- and she didn't like what
she saw. These braces ruined everything! They were needed to
straighten her teeth, yes. They would help correct her bite,
she knew. But still... tears sprang to her eyes. It wasn't
easy. It really wasn't.
Shmuel was twelve years old. And an independent twelve- year-
old at that! Being the third child of four and the only boy,
this year, he decided, things were about to be
"Tatte, let's put the table like this in the succa, okay? And
the chairs like this." Shmuel drew an outline on a pad of
paper at the kitchen counter. After much concentration, he
added, "We really should add one more board on each side to
make the succa bigger since I'm a lot taller now. This way
we'll be more comfortable when you and I sleep down
Mr. Levine shook his head at Shmuel's unusual assertiveness.
But he went along with his son's suggestions.
A few hours later, the sweating father and son team looked
proudly at the finished succa. With the extra two boards
they'd bought, it looked enormous.
Two more days until Succos.
"You don't mind that Shmuel wants to have a say on everything
about the succa?" Mrs. Levine asked her husband later that
evening when the house was quiet.
"Why should I?" Mr. Levine smiled to his wife. "Shmuel's been
learning quite well and he davens really nicely. If
he's acting like an adult, then why shouldn't he feel that
he's honestly contributing to designing and building the
succa, like an adult?"
"He sure is excited about it."
Mr. Levine nodded. "It's good that his excitement revolves
around doing mitzvos."
The next morning, Surah Leah and Rachel, aged 15 and 13
respectively, lugged the two boxes of succa decorations down
to the succa. Within moments they were back.
"Ima! Abba! Shmuel says that he's in charge of the
succa and only he's going to decorate it!" Rachel's
cheeks were flushed with anger.
Surah Leah continued where Rachel had left off, "It's not
fair! Honestly, Ima! Who made Shmuel the `big succa boss'
around here, anyway?"
"Girls, I know it seems unfair to you but really..." Mrs.
Levine sat down to give her daughters her full attention.
"The two of you have been monopolizing the decorations for
years now. Let Shmuel be in charge. Even if it's not fair,
it's certainly not bad! I have an idea," her eyes lit up.
"You girls have been asking me for a while now to let you
bake chocolate chip cookies. Now's a good day for that! And
what better addition can we make to our succa, anyway?" She
gave the girls a wink.
Rachel couldn't help but smile at Surah Leah. "Okay, Ima,"
they said simultaneously.
The threesome went through a few recipes, deciding on the one
written on the old chocolate chip bag. The girls wrote down
the ingredients they would need and were out the door, list
and money in hand.
Mrs. Levine looked over at her husband. "Don't you think
Shmuel's overdoing this a bit?"
He shook his head. "With all the girls and you, what is there
to do around here? Everything's taken care of for him. Let
him be `the big succa boss,' as Rachel said." He smiled.
"Leave him be."
All the way to the store, Surah Leah complained, "If Shmuel's
in charge of decorating the succa, you know it's going
to be the most horrendous succa in the entire
neighborhood! I won't be able to bring any of my friends
over." She gingerly ran her tongue over her braces.
"Everything, absolutely everything is ugly!"
"I don't think everything's ugly, Surah Leah. In fact, when
you smile, you're beautiful, even with those braces," Rachel
answered. "Besides, maybe he'll do a good job."
Surah Leah glared at her younger sister.
"Surah Leah! Really, ever since you got braces, you seem to
think the whole world has come to an end."
Surah Leah looked at Rachel with a tight-lipped, tight-
cheeked expression that seemed to imply that the world really
had come to an end!
It surely seemed like a lot more than just two months since
she had smiled. Rachel wondered how they would get through a
whole week of Surah Leah's complaining, pouting and anger.
Rachel sighed. There was the grocery store. At least they
would have chocolate chip cookies. That was some
An hour and a half later, Mrs. Levine called Shmuel from the
living room window. She could see the succa from there, or at
least, she could see the s'chach that Shmuel had spent
over an hour arranging, getting it `just right'. With the
aroma of fresh cookies wafting through the house, Mrs. Levine
wanted to make sure that Shmuel got a much deserved snack.
"Shmuel!" she called again. There was no response. "Hmmm,
maybe he's NOT in the succa?" Mrs. Levine wondered out
"I'll go get him." Eight-year-old Miri ran out the door. She
came back and shrugged. "He's not there, Ima. Can we eat a
few cookies without him? They really smell yummy!"
"Fine," Mrs. Levine answered. "Surah Leah and Rachel sure are
two great bakers!"
Mrs. Levine cupped Miri's chin in her hand. "Next year, maybe
you'll start making cookies, too, sweetie."
"And they'll smell just as good, too!" Miri said, skipping
into the kitchen.
"Hmmm, I wonder where he is," Mrs. Levine thought to
Surah Leah tried to enjoy her cookies but they kept catching
in her braces. She just couldn't get used to the things.
Everyone was so happy with the upcoming Yom Tov. She wished
she were, too. She wished a lot of things.
"Come on, girls! Say an `al hamichya' and let's bring
down as much as we can with the elevator now."
"But Ima, we have all day tomorrow!" Rachel protested.
"There'll be plenty to do tomorrow. Let's go."
With blankets draped over some arms, pillows clutched in
others, as well as Miri carrying a tablecloth and
challa cover, all four of them stood open-mouthed to
see the still sealed boxes of decorations resting peacefully
in the corner of the succa. Three bees were buzzing about
"Shmuel hasn't put up even one of the succa decorations!
We'll have the emptiest, ugliest succa on the block! He is
the most irresponsible..." Rachel stopped herself and
lowered her eyes as her mother's stern glance fell on her.
"He'll do it." Mrs. Levine looked at the simple sanded boards
around them and the green pine needles overhead. "I'm sure
he'll do it tonight."
But he didn't. Nor the next morning, either.
At breakfast the next morning after Shmuel had downed a cup
of milk and run out to who-knows-where, Surah Leah said,
"Ima, let's decorate the succa ourselves!"
Mr. Levine interjected, "Shmuel said he'd do it and I have
confidence in him that he will."
"He's probably playing in that empty lot again. Why do we
have to do all the helping around here while he gets to play
all the time?" Surah Leah grimaced. "He thinks setting up the
boards and s'chach is everything and then he goes and
disappears! Some `succa boss' he is!"
Mr. and Mrs. Levine just looked at each other, a worried look
in their eyes.
A dirty, disheveled Shmuel dashed in just as Mrs. Levine was
taking her candlesticks down to the succa to light. "Shmuel!
Where were you? Never, mind. There's no time. Shower and go
to mincha as quickly as you can."
"Ima, Miri davened so beautifully at shul with
me!" Rachel said, squeezing the proud Miri's shoulder gently
as they waited to wash their hands in the bucket they had
prepared outside the succa.
Surah Leah scowled, "Beautifully? Well, nothing about
this Succos is beautiful." Growling in Shmuel's
direction, she added, "No thanks to you!"
"Stop that, Surah Leah!" Mr. Levine sighed, the washing cup
poised for action. "I know there are things you're not
satisfied with in your life right now, but it is Yom
Tov. Let's keep the atmosphere happy."
They had already eaten some challa and just begun the
fish course to the accompaniment of a buzzing bee, when there
was a knock at the succa door. The elderly Mrs. Gordon, who
lived two floors below them, poked her head in.
"May I sit down?" she asked, plopping down onto an empty
chair close to the door, inside the succa, her cane resting
diagonally against her legs. "I just had to stop by to thank
Shmuel!" she said breathlessly.
All eyes turned towards the blushing Shmuel, then back to
"Thank Shmuel for what?" Surah Leah asked.
"Why, he didn't tell you? Such a modest boy!" she said, still
Everyone looked at her quizzically and waited.
Finally, her breathing was almost regular. "First of all, he
did all of my shopping for me. He saw me making my way to the
store and he absolutely refused to let me go! He insisted
that I rest on a bench under a tree and he graciously took my
shopping list. When he came back, he carried all the bags to
my house and even put them away while I sat and gave him
instructions where to put them. He refused any reward. Then
he came an hour later to check up on how I was doing. My
husband hasn't been feeling well, so after Shmuel peeled all
my vegetables, he went with my husband to the esrog
dealer. My husband was very appreciative to have
someone patiently go with him, even though he walks so slowly
these days. He was so glad to pick out his own arbaa
minim. The esrog he chose is a real beauty, too!
And for me... what can I say? This Shmuel of yours! Blessings
on your head, my boy, and the heads of the whole family."
Mrs. Gordon heaved herself up and began to go slowly out.
Mrs. Levine jumped up to escort her. When she came back in,
she looked at Shmuel, who was looking intently at the pattern
of the tablecloth. She wondered who was more speechless,
Shmuel or the rest of the family.
Shmuel looked up, then quickly back down. "When she offered
me a prize, I told her I'd rather she put some coins in the
pushka in my name. Was that okay to say?"
Mr. Levine nodded. "That was a wonderful thing to say, and a
wonderful thing to do -- helping out like that. Why didn't
you tell any of us?"
Just then, Mr. Kahane knocked on the open succa door. "Good
Yom Tov!" he boomed. "You have a fine young man here." Mr.
Kahane was a widower in his sixties, a strong man with a
voice that could be heard a block away, although he was such
a good-natured person that everyone loved him even if they
felt they needed to wear earplugs in his presence.
Mr. Levine stood up and the two men shook hands.
That's when everyone noticed the bandages on Mr. Kahane's
"Are you alright? What happened?" Mr. Levine asked, offering
him the empty chair.
Mr. Kahane shook his head and waved his unbandaged hand at
that noisy bee. "Yesterday I was grappling with my succa
boards, when I slipped and gashed my hand deeply. Your son
was passing by and immediately ran to help me. He came with
me to the hospital as well, which meant a lot to me. He was
helping me right now before Yom Tov, too. I don't know what I
would have done without him!"
Shmuel shook his head. "Fourteen stitches! I hope it's not
hurting so much now."
"It'll be fine. It'll be just fine!" Mr. Kahane smiled to
Shmuel, then turned to Mr. Levine. "If Shmuel hadn't
straightened up my apartment, it wouldn't have felt like Yom
Tov, or I would have done it myself and been in even worse
pain." Mr. Kahane was talking in an uncharacteristic subdued
voice. No one said a word. But everyone was thinking.
After Mr. Kahane left, Mr. Levine asked quietly, "What other
mitzvos have you been up to the last couple of days
that you haven't mentioned, Shmuel?"
He just shrugged, looking down intently at his bowl of soup.
He was obviously uncomfortable being the center of attention
"Well, I want you to know, son, that I'm very proud of
The bee that had been buzzing around their heads flew out of
the succa window and there was complete silence.
Surah Leah looked around at the decoration-free succa. "You
know, Shmuel, this is the most beautiful succa in the whole
neighborhood!" Then, very softly, she added, "It's decorated
with chessed, the kind that our guest tonight is sure
to appreciate." She winked at her father.
Everyone looked around. There were no guests in the succa
just then. Mr. Levine smiled, "Our ushpizin guest, of
course, Avrohom Ovinu!"
Shmuel grinned at his father and at Surah Leah in
appreciation. She flashed a brilliant smile right back at him
-- silver braces and all.