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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.
Shema Yisrael Torah Network