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The Broken Etrog

The Broken Etrog

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It had been a difficult year. Poor weather, dangerous travel conditions and high tariffs had made it almost impossible for the Jews of Ukraine to import etrogim (citrons) for the holiday of Sukkot. The etrogim—waved together with the lulav bundle every Sukkot after the recitation of special blessings—were normally brought from faraway Italy or even the Holy Land, but that year there were almost none to be found.

In the city of Berditchev, home to tens of thousands of Jews, there was but one etrog. Of course, it was given to the town’s rabbi, the famed Rabbi Levi Yitzchak, for safekeeping.

Everyone knew the plan. Everyone knew the planOn the first day of the holiday the rabbi would rise early in the morning, immerse himself in the purifying waters of the mikvah, and then make the blessing while holding the etrog and lulav. Then the etrog would be passed from hand to hand, allowing every Jewish person to fulfill the biblical obligation to take the “Four Kinds.”

Now, the rabbi had an assistant, a simple fellow who was tasked with overseeing the proceedings. “I know what will happen,” said the assistant to himself. “First, the rabbi will make the blessing and wave the lulav and the etrog. Then the learned men will come for their turn to do the mitzvah. They will be followed by the respectable householders. Next will be the simple folk, who will all get their glorious moment. Then, when the sun is about to set and the day is about to fade away, I’ll be the very last one to finally say the blessing over the lulav and etrog. Why must I always be the very last?

“I know what I’ll do,” he thought. “Early in the morning, on the first day of Sukkot, when the rabbi is out immersing in the mikvah, I’ll take the lulav and etrog and recite the blessing over them. No one will know but me.”

And so, just after the sun rose, he sneaked into the rabbi’s study, took the lulav and etrog in his trembling hands, and was about to chant the required blessings. But then—disaster struck.

Maybe it was because his palms were sweaty. Maybe it was because he was shaking nervously. But for whatever reason, the etrog slipped from his grasp onto the hard wooden floor below. To the attendant’s horror, the etrog’s pitom (wood-like protrusion) cracked right off its crown, rendering the fruit invalid.

Oh, he would have given all he had to be swallowed up by the earth. How would he face the crestfallen rabbi? How would he face the disappointed city? How would he face himself?

Every minute seemed like eternity as the attendant waited for his master to return. How would he face the crestfallen rabbi?When Rabbi Levi Yitzchak entered his home, ready to do the mitzvah, the attendant had no choice. Gazing downward, in a trembling whisper, he told the rabbi what he had done.

“Master of the World,” cried the rabbi in a booming voice filled with love and wonder, “look how precious Your children are! Even this simple, unlearned son of yours is so eager to fulfill Your commandment that he risked his job to fulfill Your will at the earliest opportunity!”

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Anonymous October 1, 2017

Yeah but what did the community do? Reply

Anonymous Montreal October 16, 2016

Thank you! Was just thinking that I needed something to say at our yom tov table :) Reply

Casper Netherlands September 25, 2015

Point of view Lessons to be learned. Reply

Yitzchak Chaim September 25, 2015

"Every minute seemed like eternity as the attendant waited for his master to return."

This story moved my eager heart. Like all of the Jewish community (Baruch Hashem), I expect and yearn for our redemption. Small moments can seem like years when I am deep in prayer. It feels like we are so close, yet we feel so far.
As a nation, we stand outside the Rabbi's study at dawn like this eager assistant. We must summon the courage to enter the Rabbi's study. Since we are so eager and have shame looming over us, our hands will shake. We will watch the Etrog fall from our hands and we will feel locked in our shock and guilt. That is when our Rabbi returns with open arms, forgiveness, and pure, loving praise.

Yearn for our King as one nation and we shall look back at our fear and sin with laughter. We will never again contemplate regret, reward, or mortal fear. Hashem will make our greatest tragedies glorious sacrifices to the Most High.
Ani Maamin Reply

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