An inspiring parable for Sukkot
The following moving and inspiring story, which took place at the beginning of World War II, appears in the wonderful book, Operation: Torah Rescue written by Yecheskel Leitner and published by Feldheim Publishers. It is Chapter Two, which is called, "The Mitzva of the Esrog." Perhaps it will instill within us a greater appreciation of the mitzvah we so easily perform, thank G-d.
The rear of the house that the Rabbi of Brisk shared with another Jewish survivor had been destroyed in the bombardment. The Rabbi's roommate sat on the ground in stunned silence. In those fateful days, who was not despondent over the losses in his life? Who was not heartbroken when everything one had lived for had vanished in a matter of a few weeks? The Rabbi of Brisk attempted to comfort him.
"Reb Yid," he said, "don't give in to mournful thoughts. Remember it is yom tov now. Our holiday of Sukkos has begun within a tzoras rabbim, when a Jewish community is in dire distress with the losses we all have suffered. But if we share our common grief perhaps we will find the strength to rise above our personal losses."
"Rebbe," the man replied with some agitation, "that is not what upsets me. What is worrying me is how I will be able to fulfill the mitzvah of reciting a blessing over an esrog this year - tomorrow morning!"
"If that's what depresses you, my dear friend," the rabbi comforted him, "I have help for you! I have an esrog right here with me."
"Really, Rebbe? Can it be true?" A complete change came over this man. He leaped to his feet with new life. The cloud that had darkened the face of this survivor of Warsaw's bombardment disappeared in a matter of seconds.
At last, he succumbed to his exhaustion, and the blessing of sleep fell upon him. Before long, Reb Velvele too fell asleep.
It was still dark when the Rabbi of Brisk was awakened by the noise of a crowd. He cautiously stepped to the door of his gutted chamber. To his amazement, he faced the front of a long line of Jews stretching for several blocks. Turning to his roommate for an explanation, he heard the story of the Warsaw Jews' religious faith and devotion.
"This year," explained his roommate, "there are only four sets of lulavim and esrogim in all of Warsaw, because the Germans bombed all of the trains and moving stock before Rosh Hashanah, and no esrogim could reach the capital. The other three esrogim were secured, like yours, far in advance through the special effort of alert observers of the mitzvah. These other three were the only esrogim available to the large community of Jews, swelled to many times its original size by the endless influx of refugees. When you comforted me by revealing your valuable possession of an esrog, I passed the word along and soon the news spread all over Warsaw of another esrog in town. These people have been waiting in line since last evening. They have stood all night long in this endless column for the mitzvah of holding your esrog, braving the German curfew and overcoming their own despair.
"I know one cannot give preferential treatment to anyone. Everyone must wait his turn to perform the mitzvah. But there is one older man I know who came here from the suburb of Praga. His turn won't come until the late afternoon. Could preference perhaps be given to him as an exceptional case? He has to be home in time for yom tov sheini, the second day of Sukkos, in order for him to bury a close member of his family."
The Rabbi concurred and added, "These Jews, displaying so much self-denial for a mitzvah, should be allowed to perform it before me. How can I compare myself to these wonderful Jews in their quest for mitzvahs?"
As dawn approached, the sound of sirens was suddenly heard. Truckloads of German troopers drove up. The soldiers jumped off the trucks and attacked the line of Jews with their wooden rifle butts, clubbing mercilessly left and right and shouting with murderous anger, "Don't you Jews know that we proclaimed a curfew! We smashed your Polish armies; how dare you defy us!" The screams of the many beaten civilians and the moans of the injured, who lay on the ground, filled the air. Having dispersed the long line, the Germans hurried on to other places.
Five minutes later, the same line had formed again, waiting in anxious yearning for daybreak, the time to begin performing the precious mitzvah of esrog and lulov.
Four different types of Jews
There are many elucidations regarding the lulav and esrog. The Midrash (Yalkut Shimoni, Vayikra 247) says that the four species of the Lulav represent four different types of Jews:
- The Esrog has a good taste and a good fragrance. It represents a person with both wisdom (Torah learning) and good deeds.
- The Hadas (myrtle) has a good fragrance, but is inedible. It represents a person who has good deeds, but lacks wisdom.
- The Lulav (date palm) is edible, but has no smell. This represents the person with wisdom, but without good deeds.
- The Aravah (willow) has neither taste nor smell. It represents a person with neither good deeds nor Torah learning. This last category disturbs us. The aravah represents the lowly simple Jew who doesn't seem to have any virtue. Why is "he" put together with the other three categories of Yidden in the Arba Minim? He doesn't seem to be worth very much. However, we have to understand that every Jew is very precious. The gemara (Berachos 57a) states that Klal Yisroel are compared to a Rimon (pomegranate). Even the emptiest one is full of mitzvos like a rimon.
Adapted from the Yalkut Yitzchak
'Sukkah' is from the loshon 'socheh' - to look with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh - a level, it seems that one can attain through the mitzvah of Sukah. In addition, the very word 'sukah' (spelled 'samech', 'kaf' 'hey') hints at the three possible ways of building a Sukkah: with four walls like a 'samech', with three walls like 'kaf', or with two and a bit 'like a 'hey' (Chido).
That's Golus For You
The reason that we make Sukkos immediately after Yom Kipur, says the P'sikta, is because on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, G-d judged and sealed everyone for the forthcoming year. Perhaps we have been sentenced to go into golus (exile). By going willingly from our house into the Sukkah, we will have carried out our sentence and fulfilled our obligation, thus exempting ourselves from the need to suffer a far more bitter golus than would otherwise have been our lot.
And it's good to know that this idea cuts across the board. Any sentence that we take upon ourselves, exonerates us from a far heavier punishment that we would otherwise have received at the Hand of G-d.
Another reason that Sukkos follows Yom Kippur is to show that, having done teshuvah on Yom Kipur, we are not afraid of any prosecuting angels. We leave the safety of our homes and go out into the open Sukah, to demonstrate our belief that Hashem has accepted it and will protect us from all evil.
This is hinted in the Torah, when Ya'akov, after Eisov had accepted his bribes (like the goat of Az'ozel on Yom Kippur) travelled to Sukkos. (Shach)
Of Clouds of Glory and Huts
The B'nei Yisoschor explains why it is that the Torah commands us to sit in Sukos to commemorate the miracle of living in huts whilst traveling through the desert, but leaves us with nothing to commemorate the miracle of the mon or that of the well.
It is because, having taken us out into the desert, Hashem became obligated to feed us (indeed, every traveler has to eat and drink). Not so the huts in which we stayed. This was a luxury that no regular traveler enjoys. For that, we specifically need to thank Hashem.
Certainly, according to those who maintain that the Sukkos commemorate the Clouds of Glory (and according to whom the original problem is easily answered), the unique aspect of the miracle is even more pronounced, because which traveler has such protection on his travels?
In addition, says the B'nei Yisoschor, whereas the mon and the well were shared by the Eirev Rav, the Clouds of Glory were not, since the Clouds precluded the Eirev Rav from its protection.
The Four Species
The analogy of the four species to the four major limbs (the lulav to the spine, the esrog to the heart, the hadassim to the eyes, and the arovos to the lips) is well-known. But, one may well ask, so what? What is this coming to teach us?
The Seifer ha'Chinuch explains that we shake these four in the service of Hashem, to remind us to devote our bodies to the service of Hashem, not to go after our eyes, to control our mouths and guard what we say, and to dedicate our thoughts (whose roots lie in the heart) to Hashem with our minds (an apt resolution, one may add, for the new year which has barely begun).
Whereas the Medrash Tanchuma connects these four limbs with the posuk 'All my bones praise Hashem, who is like You?' We learn from the four species that it is with these four (the most prominent of all our) limbs that we should praise Him.
Pearls of Life
The Pearls of Life bring the profound thoughts of Rabbi Moshe Eisemann telling us that after the Torah tells us how exalted the Ribono shel Olam [the Master of the World] is, the Torah then teaches us in what sense the Ribono shel Olam glorified the Jewish nation, by saying that they are “An object of praise.” This is meant in the sense that all the nations of the world will admire the Jewish Nations closeness to the Master of the Universe. This is testified by the fact that whenever this Jewish Nations call out to Him in prayer, He answers them. This means that the now Jewish People shall be placed above all the other nations in order that they should be an object of praise.
As heard from my Torah Masters
With Torah Blessings
Rabbi Nissim Makor.