The time-honored tradition of acquiring a beautiful and spotless esrog expresses more than the general rule of “Zeh Keli v’anveihu – This is my G-d and I will beautify Him.” With regard to the four minim, we have a biblical requirement of “pri eitz hadar – the fruit of a citron tree.” People will spend hundreds of dollars on the purchase of a beautiful esrog, for just as a dry lulav is unacceptable because it lacks in the fulfillment of beautifying a mitzvah, the requirement of purchasing an esrog of beauty is an absolute requirement, halachically indispensable.
Rabbi Yisroel Horowitz served as the rav of Cong. Mishkan Israel in Astoria, Queens, for over 20 years. As a talmid of R.J.J. on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was well-trained for the rabbanus and still is a proficient talmid chacham. Thus, it was no wonder that when Sukkos came along, Rabbi Horowitz sought to fulfill the requirement of purchasing a beautiful esrog of the highest quality, and when he would eventually find just the right one, he would take every precaution to safeguard his prized esrog.
His young son, Sholem Dovid, however, was curious, as many young children are, and one year, when he heard his father talking about the “perfect” esrog he had found, he felt that he needed to get a look for himself. When his father wasn’t around, he climbed up on a table and took down the box containing the esrog. He opened the box, and in that split second disaster struck! He lost his balance and the box containing the esrog went tumbling to the ground. Terrified, little Sholem Dovid hastily scooped up the esrog and put it back into the box before anyone could see what he had done.
It was only when his father took the box down on Erev Sukkos to prepare his arbah minim that he noticed the box had been tampered with. When he opened it up and saw the esrog, now damaged, with its pitum only semi-attached, literally “hanging on” for dear life, he was appalled. A little investigation uncovered the truth about his son’s exploits, but now, what was he to do? Yom Tov was to begin in a few short hours and he needed an esrog!
R’ Moshe stood in the entranceway of his apartment – literally standing in a puddle of dripping water – as he checked the esrog that Rabbi Horowitz handed him
Rabbi Horowitz was a man of action and did not allow despondency to sink in. Immediately, he grabbed the box with the esrog and, with his contrite son accompanying him, he hopped into his car and sped toward the Lower East Side, to the home of his rebbi, the gaon R’ Moshe Feinstein, zt”l.
It was getting late in the day and most people were making their final last-minute preparations before the chag when Rabbi Horowitz’s beat-up station wagon screeched to a halt in front of R’ Moshe’s apartment building.
The rav and his son ran up the few flights of stairs and stood before the door to the Feinstein residence. Rabbi Horowitz rang the bell and the two waited. The door wasn’t answered right away, and Rabbi Horowitz thought that perhaps he had made a mistake by coming and disturbing his rebbi so close to Yom Tov. But then, the door swung open and the Rebbetzin stood there in her Yom Tov finery.
Rabbi Horowitz nervously asked if R’ Moshe was available, as he had a shailah pertaining to Yom Tov to ask. The Rebbetzin paused for a moment before shaking her head. “I’m truly sorry, but the Rav is not available right now. Perhaps you’d like to wait?” Yom Tov was fast approaching and waiting around did not seem like such a great option. Father and son stood at the door for what seemed like an eternity, trying to decide what to do.
But in truth, it wasn’t an eternity. It was just a few short seconds and suddenly, their decision was made for them. “Please, please come in,” a soft voice from the back of the apartment called out. And then, R’ Moshe himself walked into the room and approached the door. He was wearing a robe and yarmulke, and his hair was soaking wet. Obviously, he had just been in the shower! In fact, he had just stepped into the shower moments before, but when he heard the bell ring, he quickly emerged, wet and dripping, and hastily put on a robe. When his rebbetzin shot him an inquiring glance, he said, “I heard the bell ring and I assumed that a Yid had a problem that was urgent. How could I not go to him and help him out?”
R’ Moshe stood in the entranceway of his apartment – literally standing in a puddle of dripping water – as he checked the esrog that Rabbi Horowitz handed him. With a smile, he nodded his head and ruled that the esrog was still kosher, as a piece of “eitz” was still attached. Then, he bade them a good Yom Tov and walked back into his apartment – presumably to finish bathing and complete his preparations for Yom Tov. Father and son walked down the steps and out to the car in wordless awe. Many years later, they still recount this most amazing encounter with a gadol hador – who understood that the priorities of the public always came before his own personal needs.
Rabbi Dovid Hoffman is the author of the popular “Torah Tavlin” book series, filled with stories, wit and hundreds of divrei Torah, including the brand new “Torah Tavlin Yamim Noraim” in stores everywhere. You’ll love this popular series. Also look for his book, “Heroes of Spirit,” containing one hundred fascinating stories on the Holocaust. They are fantastic gifts, available in all Judaica bookstores and online at http://israelbookshoppublications.com. To receive Rabbi Hoffman’s weekly “Torah Tavlin” sheet on the parsha, e-mail Torahtavlin@yahoo.com