I wish to share with you a beautiful short story about the wonderful festival of Sukkot. The story was authored by S.Y. Agnon, the Israeli Nobel laureate who won the prize for literature a number of years ago, and whose likeness adorns the 50-shekel note in Israeli currency.
It seems that Agnon, who was born in Poland, was a neighbor of a famous old rabbi from Russia. Both of them are now living in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Talpiot. One year before Sukkot, Agnon met his rabbinic neighbor at the neighborhood store selling etrogim — the yellow citron fruit which is symbolic of the Sukkot holiday. There Agnon noticed how meticulous his neighbor was in choosing an etrog. Even though he was a person of limited means, the rabbi insisted on purchasing the finest, and hence most expensive, etrog available. After examining many specimens, the rabbi finally chose the one he wished and paid for it.
Walking home with Agnon, the rabbi emphasized to him how important it was to have a beautiful, flawless etrog on Sukkot, and how the beauty of the etrog was part of the fulfillment of the Divine commandment for the holiday.
On Sukkot morning Agnon noticed that the rabbi was without an etrog at the synagogue services. Perplexed, Agnon asked the rabbi where his beautiful etrog was. The rabbi answered by relating the following incident:
“I awoke early, as is my wont, and prepared to recite the blessing over the etrog in my sukkah located on my balcony. As you know, we have a neighbor with a large family, and our balconies adjoin. As you also know, our neighbor, the father of all these children next door, is a man of short temper. Many times he shouts at them or even hits them for violating his rules and wishes. I have spoken to him many times about his harshness, but to little avail.
“As I stood in the sukkah on my balcony, about to recite the blessing for the etrog, I heard a child’s weeping coming from the next balcony. It was a little girl crying, one of the children of our neighbor. I walked over to find out what was wrong. She told me that she too had awakened early and had gone out on her balcony to examine her father’s etrog, whose delightful appearance and fragrance fascinated her. Against her father’s instructions, she removed the etrog from its protective box to examine it. She unfortunately dropped the etrog on the stone floor, irreparably damaging it and rendering it unacceptable for ritual use. She knew that her father would be enraged and would punish her severely, perhaps even violently. Hence the frightened tears and wails of apprehension.
“I comforted her, and I then took my etrog and placed it in her father’s box, taking the damaged etrog to my premises. I told her to tell her father that his neighbor insisted that he accept the gift of the beautiful etrog, and that he would be honoring me and the holiday by so doing.”
Agnon concludes the story by saying: “My rabbinic neighbor’s damaged, bruised, ritually unusable etrog was the most beautiful etrog I have ever seen in my lifetime.”
From “SECOND THOUGHTS – a collection of musings and observations”, Published by Shaar Press / Mesorah Publications Ltd.