Jewish Calendar - Etrog story
in Galicia in 1888 and from 1924 on resident of Jerusalem, where he
died in 1970, Agnon was the master of an original style and a prolific
pen. He authored several novels, hundreds of short stories and anthologies
of Jewish folklore. Agnon was recognized as the foremost modern Hebrew
writer; he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, the first author
in the holy tongue to be so honored.
The following story looks squarely at human weakness, and the gap between
pious conventions and wayward outcomes. The quest of the tzaddik
(righteous man) for a beautiful etrog (citron) is revealed as
simply a higher form of spiritual selfishness.
One year it was already hours before Sukkot and the rabbi's wife did not
have a morsel in the house for celebrating the holiday. She thought, I
will go tell my husband; he will hear and know my distress. She went to
his solitude room, stood in the doorway, and said, "Sukkot eve is
upon us and I still have no festival provisions."
righteous man lifted himself from his chair, poked his head out from under
his tallit, put his hand on his tefillin, and said to her, "You
are worried about meat and fish, and I am worried about not yet having
my etrog (special Sukkot citron)." She kissed the mezuzah
on the doorpost of his room and left dejectedly.
righteous man stood up and went all over the house looking for something
to sell and use the money to buy an etrog, He looked and looked
but did not find a single thing worth an etrog.
fondled his tefillin and mused:, The nine festival days are approaching,
and during the festival tefillin aren't worn, and my tefiIlin
were written by a holy man of God, who writes each and every letter in holiness
and purity, investing the most sublime and most awesome intents and purposes
in the writing of each and every character. Tefillin of his make are much sought
after and command a high price. I will sell them, and with the proceeds I will
get an etrog.
removed his tefillin and took them and went to his Beit Midrash and asked,
"Who would like to buy my tefillin?" A certain man stood up and said,
"I will buy them," He took out a gold dinar and gave it to the righteous
man, and the righteous man handed him his tefillin.
man took the dinar and ran to the etrog seller to get an
etrog. He saw a beautiful etrog and judged it to be kosher
and perfectly formed. Now a truly righteous man, when he buys an object
in order to perform a divine precept, doesn't bargain. All the more so
when it comes to an etrog, about which it is written, " And
on the first day [of Sukkot] you shall take a fruit of the beautiful tree,
and rejoice before the Lord your God" (Leviticus 23:40).
returned home happy that he had come by a beautiful etrog possessing all
the qualities that are lauded in an etrog. He went into his sukkah
to fix something and returned to his solitude room.
down in his chair and placed the etrog before him and ruminated
on this precept that God had given the Jewish people to observe during
these holy days of Sukkot, a holiday adorned with a multitude of precepts
wife the rebbetzin heard that her husband had been to market. She went
into his room. She saw the glow in his face and the ecstasy emanating from his
entire being. The rebbetzin thought he had brought home all the festival
victuals. She said to him, "I see that you are happy. You must have brought
us the festival provisions. Give them to me and I will prepare them, for it
is nearly time."
man rose from his chair and put his hand on his eyes and said, "Praised be the
blessed and sublime Name for bestowing His grace on me and fulfilling my every
need." The rebbetzin stood there waiting for her husband to deliver. He sat
back down in his chair and told her that he had been privileged to acquire a
She asked him,
"How did you have money to get an etrog?" He said to her, "I
sold my tefillin for a gold dinar and bought an etrog." She
said to him, "In that case, give me the change." He said to her, "They
didn't give me any change. All the money they gave me for my tefillin,
I gave for my etrog." He started to enumerate with steadily mounting
enthusiasm all the virtues of the etrog.
swallowed her tears and said, "I want to see this great find of yours."
The righteous man took out the etrog and unwrapped it. It radiated
its beauty and emitted its fragrance, a feast for the eyes and truly fit
for the benediction.
said, "Give it to me so I can have a good look at it." She reached
out and picked up the etrog. She thought of the pitiful state of
her house and the distress of her children who had nothing to eat, and
how the festival of Sukkot was nearly here and she had nothing with which
to make it festive.
drove the strength from her hands, and the etrog slipped and fell.
And having fallen, its stem broke. And the stem having broken, the etrog
was no longer fit for ritual use.
man saw that his etrog was no longer fit for the benediction. He
stretched out his two holy hands in despair and said,"Tefillin
I have not and etrog I have not; all I have left is anger. But
I will not be angry, but I will not be angry."
Now that Hasid who told me this story said to me: I asked my rebbe,
"Is that really how it happened?" And my rebbe said to
me, "That is how it happened, exactly as I have told it to you."
And my rebbe also said to me, "This story the daughter-in-law
of the Holy Preacher, wife of Rabbi Yosef of Yampol, told it to the father
of her son-in-Law, Rabbi Baruch of Mezbizh. On the very day that this
incident occurred she had been in the Holy Preacher's home and had seen
it with her own eyes. And when she told it to Rabbi Baruch the Tzaddik
of Mezbizh, Rabbi Baruch, father of her son-in-Law, said to her, 'Mother
of my daughter-in-law, tell me the story again from beginning to end.
This is a story worth hearing twice.' "
A Book That Was Lost and Other Stories, by S.Y. Agnon. Introduction
by Alan Mintz and Anne Golomb Hoffman; translated by Shira Leibowitz and
Moshe Kohn. New York: Schocken, 1995.
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