With Sukkos well behind us, we are back to our normal workday mode, our post- holiday routine. The sukkah, our temporary dwelling for eight days, has been dismantled and we have returned to our comfortable, permanent homes. Likewise, our Daled Minim have been discarded, having served their purpose. We’re done with those mitzvos (at least for this season).
Among the many Torah lectures I had the privilege of hearing during the holiday, one stood out. The subject matter was how we are meant to look upon the mitzvos that Hashem gives us to perform. Sounds like a run-of-the-mill topic, except for the incident that the speaker described that illustrated his point. It left an indelible impression on me.
The incident he described occurred during the 1973 Yom Kippur War and took place somewhere in the Sinai during a lull in the fighting. It was Sukkos time and the chaplain was making the rounds of various military installations with a lulav and esrog for the purpose of enabling the soldiers to perform the mitzvah of the Daled Minim. Naturally long lines would be assembled, as the men would wait patiently for their turns.
As the line formed in one installation a vehicle appeared, carrying a huge supply of ammunition. A soldier, who happened to be chiloni, was behind the wheel. Upon spotting the long line of men, he wondered why they were waiting. His curiosity getting the better of him, he emerged from his vehicle to investigate.
When he approached the line, he was told that the men were waiting to “bentsch esrog.” Being irreligious, he had no interest in this activity since it had no meaning to him. He was about to return to his vehicle but somehow he was persuaded to join them. Inasmuch as it was the last day of Sukkos, what can be the harm? So he got on line.
While standing there, waiting his turn, a tremendous explosion took place at the exact spot where his vehicle was standing. A bomb directly hit the vehicle, setting off all the ammunition inside. Everything blew up, and all that remained were a few shards of metal and deep crater. The driver had escaped with his life, all because of his decision to join his buddies in performing a mitzvah.
Three months later, his wife gave birth to their first child. By choosing to do a mitzvah that he did not believe in, this young father was able to return to his wife and welcome his newborn child into the world. Needless to say, that chiloni became a changed man as a result.
The point the lecturer was making by telling the story was that the performance of a mitzvah literally saved the life of someone who scoffed at the mitzvah. Had he chosen to return to his vehicle, his wife would have become a widow and his unborn child would be fatherless. The mitzvah he chose to perform turned out to be a life-saving one.
We, too, should look upon every mitzvah we do as if it were truly life saving, for it helps us sustain our spiritual existence. That is why we are told time and again: “vechai bahem” – You shall live by them (mitzvos).