Rabbi Baruch Mordechai of Babruisk, an exceptional genius and Torah scholar who was known for his sharpness and wit, had a problem: His doorstep was graced by a perpetual pool of mud. It was always there, never quite drying up, regardless of the season or weather. One day he offered his own explanation: “Our Sages tell us that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, showed Adam Harishon the Jewish leaders of all the future generations. When Adam saw that Baruch Mordechai would one day be the rav of a Jewish community, he spat on the ground and said, ‘Feh! You call that a rav?’ A puddle was formed from Adam’s spittle, and it hasn’t dried up since!” *** Despite Rabbi Baruch Mordechai’s brilliance and erudition, serving as rav of Babruisk was not a job that paid well. (In fact, it was a position he would hold for 50 years.) His salary was so meager and inadequate that at one point he owed his landlord a full year’s rent. A few days before Sukkos, he asked his landlord to build him a sukkah, for which he would pay him. The landlord agreed, and it was done. When the time came to ask for his payment the landlord was firm but polite. “Rabbi,” he said. “I know that you are poor, but if you don’t pay me, your sukkah will be considered stolen, and you won’t be able to observe the mitzvah properly.
After all, a stolen sukkah is unfit for use.” (According to halachah, the materials used to make a sukkah may be borrowed but not stolen.) “No, you’ve got it backwards,” Rabbi Baruch Mordechai said in jest. “If I do pay you, then I won’t be able to observe the mitzvah properly. Doesn’t it say that a person should live in his sukkah in the same way he lives in his own home year-round? It follows then that if I don’t pay rent to live in your house, I shouldn’t have to pay you to live in your sukkah either!” *** Two women once came to Rabbi Baruch Mordechai to settle a business dispute, and after listening to each of their arguments he decided in favor of one of the women.
Upon hearing his verdict, the other woman, who was unsatisfied with the ruling, began heaping vile curses on the rav’s head, causing the rebbetzin to come running over to see what the commotion was all about. “Why don’t you just ask her to leave?” the rebbetzin whispered to her husband. “Oh, pay no attention to her words,” Rabbi Baruch Mordechai assured her, smiling. “It’s really nothing. That’s only her exterior. On the inside she doesn’t mean it at all.” The woman only cursed him louder and more enthusiastically. Wishing to prove his point, the rav called the woman over. “Tell me,” he asked her softly, “would you like your children to grow up to be like me?” “Halevai!” the woman answered with a sigh. “Would that it were so!” “You see?” Rabbi Baruch Mordechai turned back to his wife in vindication. “I told you she doesn’t mean it!”