I heard this story from Rav Sholom Brodt, and have been telling it over Sukkot, and really connecting to it. A couple people asked that I write it up, so here it is. I just have a hint of the depth of it. If anyone can comment with any insight, it would be appreciated. Hag Sameach!
There was a Karliner chassid. He lived in a small town, in a small, broken down house. He didn't have much of anything, but he was joyous.
Every year, when Sukkot came, he would wait until everyone else had built their sukkot, and he would go around and ask for whatever they had left over - a rotted board, a rusted nail. From these leftovers he would build his sukkah, and all seven days he would sit in his sukkah and sing with great joy.
Across the field from the chassid lived a rich man. He owned the local factory and employed most of the town. His house was large, and he didn't lack for any material thing. The rich man had everything he could imagine, but he wasn't happy. He was more than just not happy, he was really sad - downright miserable.
The sukkah that the rich man had built every year was a wonder - the size of a football field, with an oak table, candelabras, running water - everything he could imagine. But every year he sat in his sukkah, and he heard the Karliner chassid singing from across the field, and it drove him crazy - absolutely crazy.
There's nothing that makes a sad person sadder than to meet a happy person, and there's nothing that makes a sad person happier then to meet another sad person.
As Sukkos approached one year, the rich man had an idea. He went around to everyone in the town and told them, "When the Karliner chassid comes around asking for a rotted board, a rusted nail - don't give it to him." What could anyone do? The rich man owned the town. When the chassid came around to each person, he shrugged his shoulders, turned his palms up, and shook his head. Sorry, not even a rusty nail.
The day before Sukkot arrived, the rich man looked across the field and smiled - there was no sukkah outside the house of the Karliner chassid.
Sukkot came and the rich man sat in his sukkah, at his oak table, with his candelabras and everything he could imagine. He made kiddush in peace and blissful quiet. He began to eat his fish, in peace and blissful quiet. Then, from across the field, singing! He jumped up! How can it be? He looked outside and saw, across the field, a shabby sukkah propped against the Karliner chassid's house.
He ran across the field and burst in on the chassid, "Where did you get the wood for this Sukkah!"
The Karliner chassid received him with a glowing face, "Shalom Alechem! Come in! Sit down!"
Standing, the rich man repeated, "Where did you get this wood?"
"I'll be glad to tell you, just come in and sit down," the chassid told him.
The rich man's eyes darted to the chassid, the sukkah, the door, and back to the chassid. Frowning, he sat in the half broken chair across from the chassid.
The Karliner chassid said, "Let me tell you a story."
"Yesterday, I was looking around town for some way to build a Sukkah, asking for a spare board here, a spare nail there. Strangest thing, I couldn't find anything. Everyone used up just what they had, there was nothing left over.
It got pretty late, maybe 3 am, and I was still walking around town. Now, who do I run into...but the Angel of Death!
I said, 'Angel of Death! Shalom Alechem!'
and he said, 'Alechem Shalom.'
I said, 'So what brings you to town?'
and he said, 'I just have one more pick up before the holiday comes in.'
I said, 'One more pickup, huh? Mind if I ask who it is?'"
"Now you wouldn't believe," the Karliner Chassid continued, leaning forward, staring right at the rich man, "but he said your name!"
"I said, 'That guy? You came to get that guy? You don't have to bother.'
The Angel of Death said, 'Don't have to bother, huh? Why's that?'
I said, 'You don't have to bother, because that guy is so sad, it's like he's already dead.'
'He's that sad huh?'
'Yup, he's that sad.'
'Well, if he's that sad, I guess I don't have to bother. Thanks for saving me the work!'"
"Now as the Angel of Death was about to leave, I asked him for a little favor.
I said, 'Listen, I helped you out, maybe you can help me out?'
And he said, 'Sure, what can I do for you?'
I said, 'I really need a Sukkah for the holiday.'
He paused, and than said, 'You know, I'm not scheduled to be back here until after the festival. In the burial society, they have the wooden stakes they put in a new grave before they put up the headstone, the wooden stakes that say 'Here Lies' at the top. I'm not planning to be back here, so you can use those to build your Sukkah.'"
"And that's exactly what I did," the chassid said. "In fact, if you look up there, you can see that on each board, it says 'Here Lies.'"
And with that, the Karliner chassid burst into a joyous song.