By Guy Tsadik
I am writing in response to a piece titled “An Insight into Motzaei Yom Kippur” by Rabbi Yair Hoffman. Rabbi Hoffman writes that the story is told in Abir HaRoyim #365 (Vol. II p.77) by Rabbi Moshe Yehudah Leib Yaakov about the Sochochover, the author of the Aglei Tal and the Avnei Naizer, and a student of the Kotzker Rebbe and states the story is about the Rogachover’s father. (I believe it’s about the Sochochover’s father and not the Rogachover.)
It reads as follows: “…He had the custom for many years to purchase an esrog on motzaei Yom Kippur, when he would return from shul—even before he recited Havdallah. He never glanced at all at the esrog. Rather, he purchased one from the esrogim that were still covered by the Bandral (the equivalent of our sealed box). He would leave it in the box—entirely sealed and would only open it on the day of Sukkos—in the morning. Time after time, and consistently, his esrog was beautiful and perfect—more so than any other esrog in town. There was one wealthy individual in town that would pay 50 rubles for a choice esrog each year. Even still, my grandfather’s sealed esrog was more beautiful than his. Afterward, however, a few years before he passed away, he changed from his practice. He began to select an esrog in the same manner that everyone else does.
When I was a young child, I requested of him to tell me his reason and his intent. Originally, what did he think? And now, afterward, what was his rationale? Also, was not the mitzvah in a state of danger? Perhaps it would not turn out to be a kosher esrog! Perhaps he would be unable to recite a berachah on it! He did not wish to respond to my questions at all. However, after many requests and demands, he responded that it was obvious. Hashem created man honest and straight. If so, if there is something good and something bad, how could it be that a person would end up taking something bad? However, sins ruin the limbs of man. Therefore, the hand begins to touch that which is bad. However, on motzaei Yom Kippur, where our sins have already been forgiven, it is a certainty that man will reach and achieve the good once again and not touch the bad. But toward the end of his life, he was afraid to do this. For in one’s later years, it is impossible that the forgiveness of sins be entirely complete. For if this is not the case, how would it be possible for anyone to pass on and leave this world? Since the forgiveness is not entirely complete, it is possible for a person to touch an esrog that is not kosher or beautiful. There is a concern that the mitzvah be endangered. Furthermore, until one’s very last days, a person must serve Hashem with Torah and avodah. If he would then find out through his not having selected a nice esrog that he would pass away that year, his service of Hashem will not be ideal and proper. Therefore he stopped this practice. When I told over these things once to my uncle, the Rogachover, he responded, “This cheshbon hanefesh is past for the Baal Shem Tov!”
As an introduction, it is not my intent to make a machloket. Especially in this zman, we need to maintain our unity and love for every Jew. But that does not prevent us from presenting a different point of view. Achdut and ahavah does not mean that we accept something simply because we were told it by another Jew, even a great one. On the contrary, we must respect each other’s derech halimud and mesorah even when it differs from our own. I am not laying claim to the absolute truth here but I think it is important for people to realize that there are different approaches in yahadut to some of the most profound questions, and we must each rely on our mesorah of rebbeim and our minds in searching for the truth in Torah.
When I read this story, I couldn’t help but think of various ma’amrei Chazal and actual stories detailed within Torah itself that relate to it in a direct way. There are many that come to mind, though one we are all familiar with and specifically stands out to me is in Parashat Vayishlach. After realizing his brother is pursuing him militarily with an army of men, Yaakov Avinu pursues every possible solution as Rashi states; diplomacy, prayer, and preparations. We can all agree that Yaakov Avinu achieved a very high level of perfection and can safely also concur his closeness to Hashem was qualitatively superior to all that followed him. Also, keep in mind he knew through prophecy that our great nation was destined to go through him, yet, nonetheless, he didn’t rely on a miracle or just proceed without a logical plan thinking, well, things will somehow just work out for him.
Absorbing this lesson that Hashem laid out for us in great detail within the Torah itself (of course by design) makes me wonder whether it’s appropriate to think and even more so say and write the following: “…it is a certainty that man will reach and achieve the good once again and not touch the bad,” or for a person to feel he or she is untouchable in regards to any activity after Yom Kippur. The message and lesson from the pasuk in Bereishit 32:11 states, קָטֹנְתִּי מִכֹּל הַחֲסָדִים, וּמִכָּל-הָאֱמֶת, אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתָ, אֶת-עַבְדֶּךָ which translates to “I am not worthy of all the lovingkindness, and all the steadfastness, that you have done for me, your servant” is profound and shocking. We shouldn’t employ false realities and place reliance on our own righteousness assuming that things will work out and actually must work out for us because of our level of perfection. If our great forefather Yaakov felt he couldn’t rely on things working out for him, all the more so for us.
Now, to be clear, I agree if you had a meaningful Aseret Yimei Teshuvah, you should feel positive after Yom Kippur as brought down by many and detailed in sifrei halachah like Aruch Hashulchan; though at the same we shouldn’t employ false realities, especially right after Yom Kippur. We can’t ever assume Hashem will magically just poof things into existence for us!
Finally, from a halachic standpoint, the question asked in the story is completely legitimate “…was not the mitzvah in a state of danger? Perhaps it would not turn out to be a kosher esrog! Perhaps he would be unable to recite a berachah on it!.” One should never place himself in a situation where you possibly can’t fulfill a mitzvah d’oraita or any level mitzvah like in the story above, which deals with a Torah level mitzvah of lulav/etrog. The halachah on this is clear and there is no need to quote sources. Too often we are being subjected to ideas that are dangerous and we must question them in our minds against our fundamental beliefs. We need to be on guard when it comes to introducing foreign concepts in respect to objects which are endowed with the halachic status of mitzvah. In regards to etrog, we now are being exposed to two extremes; those who unnecessarily take a magnifying glass to an etrog to check for blemishes not recognized by halachah, and then this story which would have us believe not to even check if you have the correct fruit in your possession!
The story ends with the individual then changing his mind in his later years based on his assessment of the mishpat Hashem leading him to the conclusion that Yom Kippur becomes less effective the older we get. To this I reply with the pasuk, “Lo machshevotai machshevotaichem!” We humans cannot be in the business of predicting Hashem’s method of justice and, furthermore, it’s not our place to contemplate how Hashem metes out our final judgment. I understand man naturally wants to feel as if he can control things that are out of his control or domain; as uncomfortable as that is, we must abandon the temptation. The Torah demands that from each and every one of us. In this important time we should follow the system of chochmah and halachah consistently in all stages of our life as we grow and fulfill what the pasuk states in Parashat Shoftim (Chapter 18, pasuk 13), “Tamim Tihyeh Im Hashem Elokecha.”