Part of the chol hamoed experience includes ‘back of hand stamps.’ At many parks and recreational facilities, the policy is that if you need to leave temporarily after entering the park, before doing so you need to get your hand stamped. Just before the exit, there is a highly trained attendant who knows how to delicately and precisely apply the stamp to the back of your hand. Then when you are ready to re-enter, the employee at the entrance gate looks for the stamp. If it’s there you are permitted to re-enter without repaying the entrance fee again.
If you go on different trips during the days of chol hamoed, by the time chol hamoed is over the back of your hand can look like a coloring book with different stamps from various locations.
Some of the stamps fade away immediately while others linger for a few more days before they too disappear completely.
During the winter a few decades ago, a friend and I were staying at the home of a classmate in order to attend the bar mitzvah of another classmate. Before Shabbos, as my friend’s father showed us to our room, he also showed us something else which was stored nearby – his fully intact esrog from Succos a few months earlier. He revealed to us the secret – he placed his esrog in a sealed glass jar along with a wax candle and stored it in his garage. The result was that the esrog looked as fresh as it did when Succos ended.
A few years ago, I related the secret of successful esrog preservation to my children. Our older children were very excited and wanted to see if it worked. So now in our garage we have several jars of preserved esrogim, each labeled with the year and whose esrog it was. They look like specimens from a laboratory. The oldest esrog is from three years ago and is indeed fully intact.
Parshas Noach relates the tragic story of the flood. The Torah states that “it erased all that existed.” The week of Parshas Noach is the first full week after the holiday season has drawn to a close. As we recount that catastrophic deluge which eradicated all that existed prior, we hope it is not also when all that we have accomplished these last few weeks becomes erased as well.
Part of the post-yom tov challenge is to maintain the inspiration we gained from the yom tov (even as we try to shed the calories that we gained at the same time). Our goal is that the inspiration shouldn’t fade like the nebulous stamp on the back of our hands. In order to do so we need to seal it within our hearts and focus on all we have attained and achieved.
Noach saved the world by bringing everything worthy of salvation into the teivah (ark). The Ba’al Shem Tov related that the word teivah also means ‘word.’ A Jew is able to maintain inspiration by holding on to ‘words’: Words of Torah and prayer, and words of encouragement that we share with each other. All of such words help maintain a connection with our personal growth throughout the months of Elul and Tishrei.
If we are able to retain the joy and connection of Elul and Tishrei, then when we prepare to light the Chanukah candles in a few weeks, we will find that the inspiration of Succos is vibrant within us. This despite the fact that the succah has long before been dismantled and our lulav and esrog have dried out, unless you try my method to save your esrog.