Published first for Succos 5754 (1993)
Introduction: Ever since I was a little girl I used to look forward to hearing the "Succos Story." My father, shlita, told this story only once a year and even though we already knew the ending and all the nuances and lines almost by heart, we children never let a Succos go by without hearing it again. When I grew up and had children of my own, I waited eagerly for the day that they would be big enough to understand the "Succos Story." And when I saw how much they loved the story, I decided to share it with a wider audience of children of all ages.
Although, the "Succos Story" is a true story that happened over a hundred years ago in Switzerland, the real names of the characters have not been used so as not to perhaps misrepresent the family that the story is about.
Josef sat all the way at the end of the long, long table in Grosspapa's Succa. He was bored. He had already sat through what seemed like endless divrei Torah and had sung what seemed like hundreds of zemiros. He had listened to the grownups talking and had admired the beautiful brocade wall hangings and the glistening crystal and china table settings. When was Grosspapa going to remember his promise and answer the question that Josef had asked him that day? Josef wriggled and squirmed in his chair. "Come, Yossele," Grosspapa said suddenly, as if reading Josef's thoughts. "You've waited very patiently to hear the answer to your question." There was a twinkle in Grosspapa's eye as if he realized that it hadn't been easy to wait for so long. "Yossele asked me a question today," Grosspapa said as Josef snuggled comfortably on to his grandfather's lap. "He wanted to know why I buy so many esrogim for Succos. He wanted to know why our sideboard is covered with different types of esrogim. Yellow ones and green ones. Thin ones and fat ones. Long esrogim and short ones. I promised him an answer tonight at the Yom Tov meal. And so, Yossele, are you ready for a story?" Josef nodded happily. Finally. This was the part of the Yom Tov seuda that he had been waiting for. He leaned back against Grosspapa's silky smooth Yom Tov frock, hearing Grosspapa's golden pocket watch's muffled ticking in his ear, and prepared to listen.
Not such a long time ago, there lived a very poor man named Samuel. He had a wife called Hanna and lots of children and although Samuel worked very hard they never had quite enough money for all the things they needed.
Now, Samuel and his family were not interested in having a fancy house and beautiful clothes. As long as they had enough food so that nobody was too hungry and enough clothes so that no one was cold, they were happy.
They were happy that is, until Succos came around. You see, every year on Succos, Samuel would have to go to the rav's house together with all the other poor people and ask the Rav if he could make a bracha on his esrog. Of course, the rav graciously welcomed all the people who needed to use his esrog to make a bracha. But every year, Samuel, would come home to his wife Hanna and say to her, "Oh, how I wish that just once I would be able to buy my own esrog. How I wish that I would be able to make a bracha on my very own arba minim."
But of course, that was impossible. A man as poor as Samuel could never hope to come up with the amount of money one needed to buy an esrog. A man as poor as Samuel was lucky if he was able to buy a tiny chicken so that his children would be able to have a little meat lekovod Yom Tov. No, anesrog of his own for Samuel was just impossible .... or so it seemed.
Hanna wasn't used to seeing her usually cheerful husband looking so downcast and sad. And on Yom Tov yet! Hanna didn't like this one bit. She had to find a way to bring that Yom Tov smile back to her Samuel's face. Hanna began to think.
She thought as she plucked the skinny little Yom Tov chicken. She thought as she combed out little Bella's braids. And as she whisked the straw broom over the floor, she thought some more. All day long, Hanna racked her brains for a way to help her Samuel. How could they possibly afford to buy an esrog?
And then as she sat down, finally, with her worn Tehillim Hanna had her idea.
"Samuel," she said to her husband who was sitting out in the rickety Succa swaying over his gemora. "It's true that we can't come up with so many francs right before Succos, but surely we can spare one or two rappel every week of the year. Why don't you go and talk to Herr Heinrich the esrog dealer and ask him if you can purchase an esrog for next year in installments. Every week you will bring him a rappel or two and G-d willing by the end of the year we will have paid for the esrog.
As Hanna explained her idea, Samuel sat up a little straighter in his chair. His eyes got brighter, his smile grew wider and suddenly he looked again like the old Yom Tov Samuel. "Hanna, that is a wonderful idea. No wonder Shlomo Hamelech said, 'Chachmas noshim bansa beisa!' I'm going to go talk to Herr Heinrich the esrog dealer right now."
Now it was Hanna's turn to smile to herself as she turned back to the Tehillim. Yom Tov Samuel was back!
And that is what they did. Herr Heinrich the esrog dealer agreed to the plan and right after Succos, Samuel proudly brought Heinrich the first two rappel. Throughout the long winter which followed, Samuel and Hanna never missed a week.
Sometimes it was Hanna who went without the little herring for her bread in the evening and sometimes it was Samuel who went without his morning coffee. Sometimes, even the children would help. They would tell their mother not to bother lighting the coal stove in the evening. "We'll just snuggle up under the blankets to get warm," little Bella would say.
Some weeks they were only able to give Heinrich one rappel and other weeks Hanna would take in some neighbor's washing and they would be able to give Heinrich three rappel.
And so it went all through the long, cold winter and the bright cheery spring. When Chanukah came and Samuel had to make do with some cutout potatoes for a menora, the thought of his esrog warmed his heart. On Purim, when Hanna could only send shalach manos to one person, she thought of their esrog. On Pesach when matzos appeared only at the Seder table, Samuel reminded the children that on Succos the family would have their very own esrog.
About a month before Succos, when Samuel came to bring his money to the esrog dealer, Herr Heinrich greeted him with a big smile and invited him to come in and sit down. He took a little white box off the shelf and opened it up. Very carefully, Heinrich lifted out the most beautiful esrog Samuel had ever seen. Wide at the bottom, it tapered off at the top and had clear, yellow, bumpy skin. The pitum was perfectly straight and exactly opposite the stem at the bottom. Samuel drew in his breath. "That is a beautiful esrog, Heinrich," he said.
Heinrich nodded. "And it's all yours, Samuel!"
"Mine?" Samuel gasped. "But I haven't even finished paying and this esrog is so beautiful it will probably cost much more than I have saved up with you."
Heinrich shook his head. "Listen Samuel, I'll explain. Every year, the esrog growers, in Eretz Yisroel send a few sample esrogim to show me the type of produce they have for this year. Of course, the sample esrogim are always beautiful and I always give one to the Rabbiner, keep one for myself and sell one. This year, I have decided that this most beautiful esrog should go to you, Samuel. I have seen with what mesiras nefesh you have paid for an esrog and I want you to have this special one."
Effusively thanking Heinrich, Samuel got up to go, clasping the precious esrog tightly in its box. When he got home he carefully unwrapped the esrog and showed it to a beaming Hanna and his ecstatic children. When everyone had looked their fill, Samuel re-wrapped the esrog and placed it up on a high shelf.
The next few days, Samuel went to work each day with a smile on his lips and Hanna wielded her broom and dustpan with a song in her heart. And then came the news.
The ship that was carrying the rest of the cargo of esrogim to Switzerland had sunk! There would be no other esrogim in that area for Succos. And the only one besides the Rabbiner and Heinrich who had an esrog was ... not the rich man, not the president of the shul, not the stockbroker nor diamond dealer. The only other person who had his own esrog was simple little Samuel the peddler.
Of course everyone in the town knew that they would still be able to make a bracha on the arba minim. But what would the surrounding villages do? Knots of people gathered around to discuss the problem.
Two days later, when Samuel was out on his peddler route and Hanna was wielding her ever-present broom there was a knock at the door.
Little Bella ran to open the door her braids flying behind her "Mama," she called "there are some men here who want to talk to Papa." Hanna adjusted her kerchief, tucked her broom behind the closet and went to see who was there.
On her doorstep stood three important-looking men. "We would like to talk to R' Samuel," they said courteously.
"I'm sorry," Hanna said, "My husband won't be home until this evening. Maybe you can come back then?"
The three men exchanged glances. "No," the tall one with the short trim beard said. "It will be impossible for us to return tonight. We will discuss our business with you."
Hanna invited them in and tried not to feel embarrassed as the short, round one almost fell off the rickety chair she had offered them. What could these men want from her?
They didn't keep her waiting for long. "Frau N., we have just taken a five-hour journey, for the express purpose of speaking to your husband. Our return train leaves in an hour so we really can't tarry."
"Frau N., we have come to buy R' Samuel's esrog." A chill ran up Hanna's spine. Samuel's esrog! They wanted to buy Samuel's esrog! How could they? She opened her mouth to reply but the tall man spoke again.
"As you have heard, your husband is one of the only men around these parts who will have an esrog this Succos. It is unthinkable that the Rabbiner of our town should not have an esrog. You realize of course that our Rabbiner deserves to have this esrog..." The man didn't finish his sentence but Hanna was sure he was thinking, 'more than your little Samuel!'
The second man opened his pocketbook. "We are prepared to pay," he said. "Handsomely."
The third man began counting out the coins on to the table. One hundred coins, two hundred coins, three hundred. The men looked at her expectantly.
Hanna clutched the edge of the table. She felt like fainting. Never in all her life had she ever seen so much money together at one time. More than three times what they had paid for their esrog!
Why, with that much money they could all get new Yom Tov clothes. She would be able to buy new shoes for Artur who had returned from cheder every day with wet feet this winter. They could stock up on coal for the whole winter. They couldåÌ Hanna stopped and reined in her imagination. Samuel's esrog! How could they sell Samuel's esrog? Images of Samuel's bright face last Succos when she had told him her idea and the way they had all danced and sang when he had brought home the esrog flitted before her eyes. No, she couldn't sell the esrog.
I'm sorry," she said, her voice trembling a little. "I am afraid my husband won't want to sell the esrog."
Without another word, the second man opened his purse again and the third one began counting out more coins. Four hundred coins lay on the table.
Hanna saw stars. How could she make this decision herself? This wasn't for her to decide. Where was Samuel? "I...I... don't know what to say. M...maybe you can stay until this evening and talk to my husband?"
"Impossible," the tall man said, and the third one slowly counted out one hundred more coins. Five hundred coins lay on the table.
Hanna swayed on her feet. In her head a voice kept up a monotonous drone. "You'll be able to fix the roof so the rain won't drip in over Bella's bed and maybe you can buy another bed for the children. You can even buy a cow so that the children will have milk every day." In the background she heard the baby calling, vaguely, as through a fog. What should she do?
"You are being very foolish," the tall man said, in his deep voice. "Any husband would be annoyed at his wife for giving up such an opportunity. Your Samuel will be able to bench lulav and esrog at his Rabbiner just like everyone else. This is a chance of a life time. Don't be stubborn." And suddenly Hanna remembered. She remembered Samuel's glum face on Succos last year as he trudged back from the Rabbiner's house. She remembered how the thought of the esrog had warmed them through the long cold winter and how they had danced and sang when Samuel had finally brought the esrog home. No, Samuel would not want her to sell the esrog. She was sure of it. This esrog was too precious.
"I..I'm sorry." She kept her voice low and steady. "I am sure that my husband would not want to sell his esrog."
The tall man's face grew red and the second man opened his pocket book while the third one swept the money back inside. They pulled themselves to their feet and swept towards the door. At the door the tall man turned again and looked at Hanna still leaning against the table for support. "You are a foolish woman," he said. "A very foolish woman. This is your last chance.
Do you want to change your mind?"
Hanna shook her head. The minute the door closed, Hanna fell into the nearest chair and burst into tears. What had she done? How could she have given up five hundred coins for an esrog? Samuel would be furious with her. What could she have been thinking of! Of course he would have preferred the five hundred coins. Five hundred coins! Five hundred! That man had been right. She was a foolish, foolish woman.
The children gathered around her, clutching at her skirt and patting her cheek. "Don't cry, Mamalein," Bella said, using the same words her mother had used to comfort her for all her aches and pains that year. "Don't cry. Remember, this Succos we are going to have our own esrog!" Poor Bella didn't understand why what had consoled everyone all year long only caused her mother to cry even harder.
When Samuel came home that night, with an erev Yom Tov lilt in his step and a whistle on his lips, he found Hanna red eyed and wan sitting on a chair clutching her Tehillim.
"Whatever is wrong, Hanna?" he asked his whistle dying on his lips. "Did something happen?" And then quickly he added, "whatever it is, don't forget, this Succos we will still have an esrog, thanks to you!"
This, of course brought on a fresh bout of tears and it was awhile before Hanna was able to tell her husband that a delegation of men from had come to buy his esrog and had offered to pay f... five .. five hundred coins. Here Hanna thought she could never get the words past her lips.
Samuel's face grew white. He clutched the back of the chair in front of him and looked at his wife across the table. His voice shook. "Did...did... you sell it?"
Hanna bit her lip and looked straight at her husband. She shook her head and braced herself for what was to come. "No, I didn't sell it."
With a great shout, Samuel leaped into the air. "Bella, Rosa, Artur, Moses, come let us dance. " Samuel grabbed his children's hands and began a wild dance around the rickety table, tears streaming down his face.
"Why, Papa?" Bella asked, looking from her father's tear stained face to her mother's red eyed one. "We already danced about the esrog. Why are we dancing this time?"
And Samuel, his feet kicking up the dust around the table that even Hanna's incessant sweeping hadn't removed, lifted up his voice in song. "I'm dancing, Bella," he said as he paused for breath, "because I want to thank Hashem for giving me a wife who understands what is important to me and who doesn't care about money. I'm dancing, Bella, because I want to thank Hashem for giving me the chance to acquire an esrog with such mesiras nefesh. Never, in all my life, have I owned five hundred coins, and now that I had the opportunity, Boruch Hashem, we have given it all back to Hashem. I, and your mother, and you children have been able to give HaKadosh Boruch Hu, five hundred coins for the simcha shel mitzva of arba minim."
And Samuel and the children danced around the table singing, while Hanna sat and smiled and smiled through her tears.
Grosspapa looked down at Josef and smiled. "Nu, Yossele, you liked that story?" Josef shook himself to remove the spell the story had spun a around him. "That was a beautiful story, Grosspapa, but it still doesn't answer my question. Why do you have so many esrogim? And also," Josef squirmed on Grosspapa's lap to look at his Grossmama who was dabbing at her eyes with her white lace handkerchief, "why is Grossmama crying?
Grosspapa smiled down at Josef and said, "The answer to both those questions, Yossele, is that the wonderful lady in the story is your Grossmama, Hanna, and I am Samuel. Your Grossmama is crying because she remembers the joy we felt over that long-ago esrog."
Josef stared wide eyed, "But...but you and Grossmama aren't poor like poor Hanna and Samuel... and you live in a big, big house without any holes in the ceiling... and..."
"Yes," said Grosspapa, "after that beautiful Succos, Hashem in his great kindness sent me hatzlocho and mazal with my business and, boruch Hashem, today things are different. But still, every Succos, your Grossmama and I like to remember that special esrog. Now that it isn't so hard for us to buy an esrog, we still like to buy many different types of esrogim in order to show our great love for the mitzva."
That night when Josef's Mama who used to be 'little Bella' tucked him into his bed, Josef said "Mamalein, That was such a beautiful Succos story that Grosspapa told us tonight."
And Josef's mother, who had once danced around a rickety old table with joy at having given Hashem five hundred coins, bent to kiss her son good night. "Yes, Josef, it is a beautiful story and may your grandfather's love of mitzvos be passed down through you to many other generations of Jewish children."