Beit Midrash

  • Shabbat and Holidays
  • Arba'at Haminim
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

House Call


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Tishrei 13 5781
"It is not arbitrary that the Jewish people spend more money to buy an Etrog than on all other mitzvot. It is because this mitzva is very precious, and it is impossible to measure its greatness."
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, Sichot Haran 125

The rabbinical court of the Brisker Rav (Rabbi Yitzchak Ze’ev Soloveitchik) had seen many challenging and unusual situations, but this particular case was the first of its kind. The young man standing before the judges had a complaint against none other than his mother, but that wasn’t even the strange part. It was the nature of his grievance that was so remarkable.
"There’s something my mother has been denying me for a long time!" the man began. "I wish I could do the mitzva of honoring my mother, but I live in Israel, and she insists on staying in a far flung city in Europe, which barely has any Jewish life. She really needs assistance, and I would be so happy to give it to her, but if she stays where she is, it’s impossible for me to help her!"
"Why is it so important to you to continue to live in that city?" inquired the judges.
"It’s not the city that is so important to me. It’s being near the house where I grew up." The elderly woman brushed away tears as she began to tell her story.
"Papa was a proud Jew. Not overly knowledgeable, but very dedicated to keeping whatever he knew about. It was a busy September for us, that year. One thing after another came up, and then suddenly it was a few days before Sukkot. I can still remember the look of pain on Papa’s face when he realized that he wouldn’t have time to make the trip into one of the big cities to buy an etrog. Papa asked around if anyone knew of where to buy an etrog in the area, but it seemed hopeless.
"One day, a man showed up at our door. He was Jewish, but, like most Jews in the town, he was pretty assimilated. He told Papa that he had some merchandise that Papa might be interested in. To Papa’s shock, the man took out – an etrog! The man explained that he had an etrog tree which had produced this lone fruit, and he would be happy to sell it to Papa for only 15 thousand lira! I have no idea where this man came up with that number, or how he had the nerve to suggest such a price, but that didn’t seem to bother Papa.
"After a conference with Mama, the matter was decided. They would sell the house that we lived in, and use the money to buy the etrog! Somehow, we did it. Papa took whatever was left of the money and bought a little shack, and that’s where I lived, until I got married, and moved down the block from my parents. Every time I pass by my parent’s old house, that little shack that they chose to live in, so that they would be able to buy that etrog, it fills me with Jewish pride, and a new commitment to put as much as I can into doing the mitzvot that were so precious to my parents. How could I ever leave that?"

Answer of the Brisker Rav, zt"l:
Self-sacrifice for the sake of a mitzva is considered exceedingly precious in Heaven. Therefore, the woman is correct in her decision to stay near her old house.

When we asked Rabbi Avidgor Nebenzahl, shlita for his opinion on the story, he said:
The woman’s goal was to strengthen herself in beautifying her mitzvot. However, it would have been a much greater "beautification" for her to live in Israel. On the other hand, if the son had been living outside of Israel, it would have been proper for him to move to be near his mother, and not request of her that she move close to him.
(The story and answer of the Brisker Rav come from Rabbi Grossman’s book Ohr Hashabbat, page 486. The author relates that his father, Rabbi Yisrael Grossman, was present when the story took place.)

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