What a beautiful Yom Tov season. I can’t believe how much I’ve grown in these last few weeks. Now I have the whole winter to try to undo all that growth. Well, at least until the latkes and donuts in a few weeks. I’m jealous of little kids whose parents get so excited and make a grand announcement: “Look how beautifully he/she is eating!” I eat better than all those kids combined, and no one ever compliments me on my eating.
On a separate note, Arnold Fine a”h is renowned for his running column in The Jewish Press, entitled “I Remember When.” It is composed of his memories, many nostalgic and humorous, of yesteryear and his life growing up. Since his passing a few years ago, The Jewish Press has been printing archives of columns he wrote decades ago.
I was thinking about the column recently because I was thinking about my own experiences of “I remember when.”
As a child, I remember when Game Boy first hit the scene. Until then, my peers and I played individual hand-held games likes Donkey Kong and Zelda. But when the Game Boy came out, it was all the rage. It came with Tetris, but you could buy many other games and insert them in the back of the Game Boy. The most popular game was undoubtedly Super Mario.
I also remember that, throughout my youth, esrogim were wrapped in brown sandpaper-like hair. Removing your esrog each day of Sukkos was an experience. You had to take it slow, so that when you finally unwrapped it enough, it didn’t fall out and drop onto the floor. Then afterwards, you had to wrap the esrog until it was sufficiently covered, and then quickly put it back in the box before the whole thing unraveled and you had to start all over. Even worse were the strands of esrog hair that got all over the place, especially all over your suit. But today that’s all changed. I haven’t seen esrog hair in years. Now esrogim come wrapped in their own private tempur-pedic foam casing that conforms to the contours of each esrog.
The one thing that has not changed is how careful we are and need to be when handling an esrog. The midrash relates that the esrog symbolizes the heart, which reflects our emotions. We always have to be vigilant and mindful of the feelings of others, and we also need to be cognizant of, and honest about, our own emotions.
Rabbi Elimelech Biderman relates that there was a Gerrer chasid who was a rebbe in the Gerrer yeshivah who sold esrogim before Sukkos. In order to do so, he would take off the month before Sukkos from teaching so he could dedicate that time to selling esrogim.
One year, he came to the Gerrer Rebbe, the P’nei Menachem, to receive a brachah that his esrog business be successful. The P’nei Menachem replied that the Rebbe was actually an esrog dealer all year long. He explained that the students he taught throughout the year required the same tenderness and attention that he devoted to each esrog. Just as he was so careful when handling an esrog to ensure that he didn’t scratch it or leave any marks, so must he be careful not to leave any negative marks or impressions upon the hearts of his students. If there is a blemish on an esrog, he would be extremely cautious, to ensure that he doesn’t make it worse. That is the way he must relate to the shortcomings and “blemishes” of his students, as well.
The things that excite us and cause the blood in our hearts to pump faster, are constantly changing. The Game Boy that excited my generation would hardly generate a yawn from my children. Conversely, I couldn’t imagine the graphics in today’s PS4 games that my children enjoy.
Human emotions however, never change, and never cease to require tender loving care. Perhaps the casing for the esrog has changed, but the idea that an esrog – symbolizing the human heart – needs protection, has not and will never change.
Learning how to be sensitive to the feelings of others is something that constantly needs chizuk, especially with those we love most. That’s one area in which I truly would like to grow!