The laws regarding the kashrus (ritual validity) of an esrog for use on Succos are detailed and complicated. Sometimes a barely noticeable blemish is serious enough to invalidate an esrog, which is why many people will not purchase an esrog unless they show it to a recognized expert in these laws. One of ]erusalem's most respected experts in this field was the renowned R' Sholom Eisen (1917-1988). Young and old would come by the hundreds to have him examine their esrogim and lulavim. Rabbi Eisen was known not only for his halachic expertise but also for his remarkable insights. The following story involves two of the laws of Succos. The first law is that only in the Beis Halviikdash was it Biblically ordained to take the Four Species every day of Succos. Nowadays, the Biblical requirement to take the Four Species applies only on the first day; on other days, their use is a Rabbinic law.There is only one teeny problem with this "inspiring" story: Rabbi Eisen seems to have invented a completely new category of heresy! Rambam's 12th principle, the belief in the coming of the messiah, quite specifically states that "no time for his coming may be set, nor may the verses of Scripture be interpreted to reveal the time of his coming, as our Sages have said, 'May the wits of those who calculate the date of the end be addled'". That is, while there is an obligation to believe in the coming of moshiach according to Rambam, there is certainly no obligation to believe that he is coming tomorrow, or next week, or next year, or even within one's lifetime!
The second law is that the Rabbis ordained that the Four Species may not be used on the Sabbath, lest one inadvertently carry them [to a teacher to learn how to use them] in a public domain, which would be a desecration of the Sabbath. ln our times, therefore, if Succos begins on the Sabbath, the Four Species would not be taken until Sunday, and their use that year would be required only by Rabbinic law.
The following story was witnessed by R' Menachem Glick of Jerusalem.
A few weeks before Succos in 1982, when the first day of Succos was on the Sabbath, a young man was showing Rabbi Eisen an esrog he was considering. R' Eisen turned the esrog slowly and carefully. "It is not spotted or blistered in any way," said R' Eisen, “and the pitom (top bulblike growth) and ukatz (bottom stem) are beautiful. However," he continued as he looked at the esrog through a magnifying glass, "it seems that at this particular place on the esrog, it is chaseir (a part is missing)."
The questionable area was very tiny. Knowing the basic laws of the Four Species, the young man protested, "But even so, an esrog that is chaseir would be kosher this year, because the whole mitzvah of taking the Four Species is only Rabbinic."
"If you were to purchase this esrog now," said R' Eisen firmly, "it would be a she'eilah of apikorses (a question of heresy)."
The young man was startled at R' Eisen's strong admonition. Heads turned throughout the room as everyone suddenly became quiet to hear the reason for the Rabbi's comment. "We have a few weeks until Yom Tov", R' Eisen exclaimed. "Within this time, it is certainly possible that Mashiach may come. If indeed he does and we have a Beis HaMikdash, you would surely want to use your esrog in the Beis HaMikdash, wouldn't you? But this deficient esrog would be invalid in the Beis HaMikdash. Yet you are still willing to purchase it — which displays your conviction that Mashiach will not come. Such an attitude has the scent of apikorses!"
We all claim to believe in Mashiach. But do we?
Now it wouldn't bother me that much if a well-known rav accused me of apikorsus (although I would implore him to read a little Marc Shapiro or Menachem Kellner), but can you image how this young man must have felt as "heads turned throughout the room" to hear R. Eisen claim that his attitude had the scent of heresy?
Lest I be accused of casting aspersions on Gedolei Hador (although some truly deserve it), I will conclude with a truly inspirational story by R. Eisen, plagiarized from the Cleveland Jewish Learning Connection website:
A young married student had searched for several hours to find a beautiful esrog to fulfill the mitzvah. He brought it to Rav Sholom Eisen, a renowned expert in Jerusalem, for his approval. After several minutes, Rav Eisen informed the young man it was not for him.
The young man was crestfallen, as it seemed to be a flawless esrog. He asked what the problem was.
Rav Eisen answered, "This esrog is so beautiful it must cost a fortune. I know you don’t earn much money. It is more important that you buy your wife something nice for Yom Tov, which is a Torah obligation, than it is to buy such a beautiful esrog, which is only to beautify the mitzvah."