Monday, October 5, 2009

Stories for Sukkos--Your Arba Minim

During the time of Rav Moshe of Rozvadov, zt”l, arba minim were scarce and so many bochurim and children did not have the privilege of having their own for the mitzvah. While the Rebbe would do the na’anuim, adults who had already finished that round of using their arba minim would pass them around to those children who did not have.
Once, one of the children pushed forward to receive an esrog from an adult and disturbed the Rebbe. He paused during the na’anuim and looked at the child for a moment, after which he finished up the remaining motions perfunctorily, not in the deliberate way that was his wont.
Afterward the Rebbe wondered aloud, “Why don’t the parents make sure their children do not disturb the adults? The na’anuim are very powerful and should be said with the utmost intention. The children who can shake the lulav are obligated—but not at the expense of someone else’s kavanah!”
When Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zt”l, was a child he spent a Sukkos with Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev, zt”l. As an impressionable young boy he saw how the Rav did the na’anuim with boundless love and joy. In his fervor, Rav Levi Yitzchak was all too liable to break his lulav unintentionally, and so he always had someone at the ready with another lulav to replace the one that had been shaken a little too enthusiastically.
After watching the proceedings, the young Yisroel held his arba minim close as he stood below the amud and remarked, “There is a person so full of love of Hashem that he breaks his lulav. Yet there is also a different type of person on whom you see nothing at all. Such a person is so full of awe in Hashem’s power that he hardly moves a muscle!”
The Mekor Chaim, zt”l, writes that lulav is a conjunction of two Hebrew words: לו לב, “he has a heart.” Who is like the lulav? The person who takes another Jew’s troubles to heart, who devotes his entire self to showing consideration for the other’s needs with the same sensitivity that he would appreciate if their roles were reversed.
Rav Meir Raful, zt”l, lived in the apartment right above the famous Rav Avraham Ades, zt”l, the great scholar of Aram Tzova-Haleb who later became the Rosh Yeshiva of the famous Rechovot HaNahar of the kabbalists in the Bucharim quarter of Jerusalem. Rav Raful once related the story of his aliyah to Jerusalem in the very difficult year of 1923:
“Work was scarce, money was hard to come by, and the barest necessities were difficult to secure. On many occasions, Rav Avraham would hire me to do a chore and pay me more than double the regular cost of the job. When I would protest such a lavish display of generosity, Rav Avraham would say, ‘The Torah teaches that we must love the convert. Those who have moved up to Jerusalem with such self-sacrifice are certainly included in this mitzvah.’
“This happened a number of times. One erev Sukkos, I was penniless and could not even afford vegetables for the holiday. I wandered through the streets seeing people buying various foods in honor of the coming yom tov and all I could do was cry. I felt invisible; no one even noticed my pain.
“Suddenly, the Rav passed by and called, ‘Meir, Meir! Come here!’
“I went over to him, and he said, ‘Come to my house. I want to work out how much I owe you.’
“I don’t understand,’ I said. ‘Not only do you not owe me a penny, but every time you’ve paid me, it was at least double the going rate!’
“The Rav nevertheless insisted that I come with him, saying that he must owe me something. When we got there, he handed me money over my loud objections. He then ushered me out of the house, instructing me to go and buy what I needed for yom tov. It was only twenty-five grush, but he lightened my heart so much that it felt like twenty-five coins of gold!”
The esrog represents a person’s heart. Our sages teach that the loss of the flesh of the esrog is only irredeemable when the hole pierces the fruit all the way through. As long as a person knows that his failings, his “holes,” do not penetrate to his essence, he will still be motivated to change his ways.
Once, just before Sukkos, Rav Yisroel of Ruzhin, zt”l, arrived at a certain town and all of the Jewish residents turned out to greet him. Among them was a certain “free-thinker” who was careless about mitzvah observance and liked to ridicule gedolim whenever he could.
Thinking that the arrival of the renowned Rebbe of Ruzhin would provide ideal material for leitzanus, he had decided to join the others. Just as he joined the crowd surrounding the Rebbe, Rav Yisroel began to tell a story:
“Once there was a great king who owned a very precious watch set with priceless gems. It kept perfect time, and it was always with him. One day, the king decided to travel and so he entrusted this prized possession to a favored nobleman. Before leaving, he warned the man: ‘Make sure to guard it with your life!’
“After the king set out, the nobleman just couldn’t resist. He took the watch out of its case and began to play around with it. Suddenly, it slipped from his hands, fell, and broke.”
The Rebbe then cried out, “Oy! The king’s watch! How can I return it to him this way?! What will the King say! How will I stand before Him!”
At this, the “free-thinker” fainted dead away!
Over his inert form, the Rebbe pronounced: “This man has fainted because he believes that his life, like the watch, cannot be repaired. But the truth is that this is what the straight-spined lulav comes to teach us: even though we’ve just passed through Yom Kippur and admitted our guilt for our many sins, we can still straighten ourselves out. We are not like the nobleman in the story! We can still repair all that we have destroyed!”
Rav Yissachar Dov of Belz, zt”l, was always careful to infuse all his interactions with other Jews with genuine love. He felt that the only effective way to reach out to estranged Jews and draw them back to Torah observance is through gentle and pleasant re-direction and education. However, one of the Belzer Rebbe’s most prominent chassidim was known to be a terrible kapdan, a harshly judgmental person.
One day, the Rebbe approached this chassid and tried to explain the error of his ways. “Abaye’s proof that the arba minim cannot include the lulav in its prickly kufra state is based on the verse, ‘The Torah’s ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace.’ (Mishlei 3:17)”
The Rebbe explained, “This means that even the most beautiful lulav is disqualified if it pricks! Kal v’chomer that we should avoid jabbing at others in righteous indignation with painfully sharp words. Quite the contrary; the only way to achieve Hashem’s purpose is through gentle and loving persuasion.”
Sometimes, however, even gentle methods fail to bring positive results. Rav Naftali Amsterdam, zt”l, once asked his mentor, Rav Yisroel Salanter, zt”l, how to overcome the natural tendency to become frustrated when a wayward Jew refuses to accept moral correction.
Rav Yisroel answered, “Chazal said that the words of a person with fear of heaven are heard. This means that if the person offering gentle rebuke is being ignored, the one doing the talking must lack yiras shomayim. Why, then, should he be frustrated with his friend? Let the speaker instead direct his anger toward himself for lacking the requisite fear of heaven!”
Our sages teach that the willow of the arba minim must be of the arvei nachal with leaves that are elongated like a river, and not rounded like those of the tzaftz’fa that grows in the hills. The Kedushas Tzion of Bobov, zt”l quotes the medrash that the willow represents a Jew who lacks Torah and mitzvos who achieves atonement by binding himself together with others more worthy than himself. But, he says, this can only be effective if the less worthy Jew is not a tzaftz’fa, a grandiose person who places himself “in the hills” above others and “shoots his mouth off” (m’tzaftzef b’peh). The only way to deal with such a willow is by separating it from the other species and “putting it in its place,” lest it have a negative influence on the other three.
Once, a certain maskil from Minsk came to visit with the Beis HaLevi, zt”l, together with a large group of prominent Jews. During the course of a conversation about new Torah works, the man very self-assuredly turned to the renowned gadol and said, “One would think that a gaon of your stature would publish innovative leniencies, since you certainly have the knowledge and authority that demands.”
In a booming voice, the Beis HaLevi declared, “Absolutely right. And I’ve even published quite a few heteirim.”
Fairly bursting with pride from having secured the Beis HaLevi’s regard, and hoping to hear a few piskei halachah that would suit his ideology, the visitor urged his host to name a few.
Much to the delight of his listeners, the Beis HaLevi intoned in a voice laced with irony, “Some are machmir that only great scholars should wear tefillin d’Rabbeinu Tam, but I am lenient and permit them universally…While some are machmir and forbid Torah study when erev Tisha B’Av falls out on Shabbos, I permit it. Although some are machmir and prohibit fasting on Rosh Hashanah, I am lenient and allow that too.” By this point, the other people in the room could barely restrain their laughter.
The Beis HaLevi then delivered his makeh b’patish: “And even though some are machmir and forbid observing two days of Yom Kippur because of sfeika d’yuma, I am lenient and permit it!”
When our sages list the features which distinguish the kosher arava from the invalid tzaftz’fa, we find that one of these traits is color. While the true arava has a red stem, the tzaftz’fa has a stem that is white. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, explains that since the willow represents a person devoid of Torah and mitzvos, the redness of its stem symbolizes one of his main redeeming qualities: an honest awareness of the impropriety of his ways. In that sense, the “redness” of sin is actually a positive sign, since it proves that at least the person knows the difference between right and wrong. The tzaftz’fa, on the other hand, represents a person who lives in denial. All the bad he does, and all the good that he fails to do, is all “white” as far as he is concerned. Such a person is very far from repentance and repair.
Once, one of the followers of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, zt”l, asked whether trying to cover up one’s sins isn’t really a kind of hypocrisy. He received an interesting response:
“There is a common saying, ‘If a person is going to eat a davar acher, he should at least let the grease run freely down his beard.’ They mean, why should he add hypocrisy to his sins? But I say, ‘If a person is going to do such a thing, he should at the very least wipe the grease off of his beard! Let him show a little shame!”
An Israeli baal teshuvah was once asked what had inspired him to turn away from the lifestyle of the Shomer HaTzair kibbutz on which he was raised. He said, “I heard Rebbe Nachman’s saying about ‘wiping the grease off of one’s beard’ and took it to heart. I didn’t stop sinning right away, but I did stop flaunting my sins. And it ultimately changed my life completely!”

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