Baruch GordonThe writer is founder and former manager/news director of the Arutz Sheva website. An IDF veteran who made aliya from Memphis, Tenn, he serves as Director of Development for the IDF Preparatory Academy in Bet El and Bet El Institutions,founded the internet outreach movement Israel Empowered. He also directs BetElTours.com which offers countrywide tours of Israel He was elected International President of United Synagogue Youth while in high school and became religious while studying at Tufts University. Married to Anat, he and his family live in Beit El.
The following story is told by Rabbi Yosef Elnekaveh, former Rabbi of Neve Dekalim in Gush Katif, Gaza.
The Kabbalist sage, the late Sephardic Chief Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, of blessed memory, was known for his ability to check the validity of an etrog in seconds and precisely state its halakhic [Jewish legal] strengths and weaknesses.
Every year before the holiday of Sukkot, he would examine hundreds of etrogs and classify each as plain kosher or “mehudar” (great) or not worthwhile. He would rarely say the word “pasul” (disqualified) regarding an etrog, but would rather say, “take something else.”
If Rabbi Eliyahu examined an etrog after he had already checked it once, even if a few days had passed, he would say that he already checked it and said it was such and such. There are scores of such testimonies.
Only once I heard him say regarding an etrog that it was “pasul.” It happened when a man brought him an etrog of the highest quality to examine, and the buyer proudly stated that he had paid $1000 for the etrog!
Rabbi Eliyahu looked for a split second at the etrog which appeared to be in perfect form and asked, “If this etrog is pasul, will you get your money back?” The man replied that yes, he had made the sale conditional on Rabbi Eliyahu’s examining the etrog and declaring it halachically fit for use.
Rabbi Eliyahu looked the man in the eye and asked, “Tell me, did you purchase for your wife a piece of jewelry for the holiday? That’s also a mitzvah [commandment] from the Torah. It’s the mitzvah of v’semachta bchagecha [thou shalt rejoice on the holiday]!”
The man mumbled something unclear.