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Capturing the Moon: Classic and Modern Jewish Tales

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Capturing the Moon

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Capturing the Moon
Classic and Modern Jewish Tales
By Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein
Behrman House Publishers, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-87441-840-8.

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - September 1, 2009

Please note: An excerpt from this book, the folktale, The Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas, follows this review.

Within the pages of Capturing the Moon, Rabbi Edward M. Feinstein retells thirty-six Jewish folktales that are drawn from both modern and classical sources, and from around the globe. These uplifting and engaging stories entertain as they impart important lessons about our Jewish heritage and values, such as developing positive character traits, and they provide important lessons that readers can incorporate into their everyday lives.

Rabbi Feinstien has organized the stories in this collection into six thematic sections that include: What makes this book really unique is not just Rabbi Feinstein's flare for crafting an unforgettable story, but the fact that he has added a series of questions at the end of each story. These question will make readers, of all ages, really think about what they have just read. As well, these questions can be used as a foundation from which to study and discuss the stories with your children, students, or friends. Most important, this is not just a children's book. No matter your age, you will find Capturing the Moon inspirational. It is also, simply put, a delightful book to read and older readers will find that many of the stories in this collection are old friends that they will enjoy visiting with, as well as introducing them to, younger readers. Capturing the Moon is a 'must have' addition for every home, school, and public library.

Rabbi Feinstein is the senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino, California and he is a respected educator who serves on the faculty of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies of the American Jewish University, the Wexner Heritage Program, and the Shalom Hartman Institute. He is the well-known author of Tough Questions Jews Ask: A Young Adult's Guide to Building a Jewish Life. He is also the editor of Jews and Judaism in the 21st Century.

The following excerpt from Capturing the Moon has been provided courtesy of Behrman House Publishers.

The Sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas

Ever get tired of the phone ringing, friends asking for just a little of your time, family members making ceaseless demands? Ever wish they would all go away and leave you alone? And if they did, how long would it be before you missed them? How long before you would discover that the greatest joy in life is knowing that you're needed and loved?

* * *

Everyone loved Rabbi Pinchas. Wherever he went, he was surrounded. As he walked briskly to the synagogue early on Shabbat, his students would catch up to him to try to acquire a morsel of learning. As he sat in the synagogue praying, children would come and sit on his lap. When he rose to teach, the synagogue was packed. And when he went home, a dozen women with a dozen kugels were waiting for him.

"Taste this kugel, Rabbi, and give me your blessing!"

What could he do? He carefully tasted all twelve kugels, savoring the love baked into each one. Then joyfully he pronounced twelve blessings: "May your life and the lives of your children be as sweet as this wonderful kugel!"

On holidays even more people came, especially on Sukkot. Sukkot is called Z'man Simchateinu, the Season of Our Joy. And no one's Sukkah was more filled with joy than the sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas. His students filled the sukkah with learning. The community brought delicacies and treats for the feast. And children filled his sukkah with laughter and song. It was said, if you haven't celebrated in the sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas, you don't know true joy!

But despite all that love, Rabbi Pinchas was bothered. He knew that a great rabbi must write a great book. Only if he wrote a great book would he be remembered as a great rabbi long after he was gone. Rashi wrote great books. The Rambam did too. To be great, Rabbi Pinchas knew, he needed to write his own great book.

But how? He had no time to sit and write his great book. He was always taking care of someone, answering someone's question, offering someone a blessing. He was always being the rabbi. When could he sit alone and write his great book?

As time went on, this problem nagged Rabbi Pinchas.

So one Yom Kippur, Rabbi Pinchas prayed a strange prayer: "Take all these people away from me! Day and night they pester me. Day and night I listen to their needs. Give me quiet! Give me peace to sit and write my book! Let no one bother me!"

God heard the strange prayer and asked Rabbi Pinchas, "Is that what you really want? To be alone?"

"Yes!" responded Rabbi Pinchas. "Let me be in peace to write my book!"

"Very well," God answered. "Your prayer is fulfilled."

When Yom Kippur was over and the shofar had sounded, no one invited Rabbi Pinchas to break the fast. There were no crowds of people, no platters of food, no plates of sweets and treats to fill Rabbi Pinchas's home after Yom Kippur. Instead, Rabbi Pinchas walked home alone, sat in his home alone, broke his Yom Kippur fast with a piece of dry bread, and wrote the first page of his great book.

The next morning the townspeople were busy putting up their sukkot for the coming holiday. Rabbi Pinchas waited for the men of the town to come with their tools and put up his sukkah. But no one came. So late in the afternoon he tried to erect the sukkah himself. He smashed his fingers hammering in the nails, dropped a heavy board on his toe, stuck himself with a thorn when he lifted the s'chach, the leaves for the sukkah's roof hurt his back dragging his table into the sukkah. But eventually his sukkah was finished. It was crooked. It was ugly. But it was finished.

For the next three days, Rabbi Pinchas wrote and rewrote the first page of his great book. Just as he had requested of God, he was alone. No one bothered him. Soon his house was so quiet he couldn't stand it. He went out for a walk. No one said hello. No one stopped to ask him a question. No one asked for a blessing. No one asked for his help. No one.

The first night of Sukkot arrived, and Rabbi Pinchas sat in his sukkah alone. No one came to celebrate. No one brought treats. No children, no laughter, no song. It was too quiet. Rabbi Pinchas ran out to the street. He went looking for someone, anyone to share his sukkah with. But no one would come.

"How can I sit in a sukkah alone? What kind of festival is that?" Rabbi Pinchas asked himself. So he prayed the mystical Ush'pizin prayer inviting his holy ancestors to share his sukkah: "May our father Abraham come and share my sukkah!"

Miraculously, the shining presence of Abraham appeared. But he would not enter Rabbi Pinchas's sukkah. He stood outside, near the door.

So Rabbi Pinchas prayed again: "May our father Isaac come and share my sukkah!"

And the shining presence of Isaac came. But he, too, stood outside.

Rabbi Pinchas prayed for our father Jacob, for Moses and Aaron, for King David and King Solomon. And miraculously they all appeared, their mystical light filling the yard. But they would not enter Rabbi Pinchas's sukkah. They stood outside.

Rabbi Pinchas was desperate. The loneliness was driving him mad. So he prayed one more time. He asked God to visit his sukkah.

God responded to the prayer of Rabbi Pinchas: "Where my children are not welcome, I am not welcome."

Rabbi Pinchas began to cry. He threw himself down on the ground and wept and prayed aloud: "I am sorry. I have made a terrible mistake. Bring me back my people. Bring me back my friends. Let them come and fill my life again. Please accept my prayer."

God heard the strange prayer and asked Rabbi Pinchas, "Is that what you really want? You know they will bother you until the day you die, and you may never write your book."

"Yes!" responded Rabbi Pinchas. "Let them come and bother me and pester me all they'd like! Let them come and fill my life with all their needs! They are my blessing! Just bring them back to me. I need them. I need them so badly."

"Very well," God answered. "Your prayer is fulfilled."

Before Rabbi Pinchas could even pick himself up, there was knocking at the door. The whole town had come to Rabbi Pinchas's sukkah. The townspeople came and fixed up his crooked, ugly sukkah. They brought platters and plates of treats for the feast. They brought learning. They brought questions. They brought laughter and song. They brought life.

And Rabbi Pinchas enjoyed every minute. Every question, every request for a prayer or a blessing, every child's song, brought him joy. He enjoyed that Sukkot holiday more than all the others put together. And the next year he enjoyed Sukkot even more.

Except for that very first page, Rabbi Pinchas never did write his great book. But he is remembered forever for his joy. They still say, if you haven't celebrated in the sukkah of Rabbi Pinchas, you don't know true joy!

Behrman House; used by permission.

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