Rabbi Avraham, the brother of the Vilna Gaon, lived with his wife and ten children in Keidan, a small town near Vilna. When the children grew up, they moved to Vilna, while their parents remained in the small town.
As Rabbi Avraham and his wife got older, their children would come from Vilna to visit and take care of them. It was a great bother for them, but they did it happily and lovingly, knowing that caring for and respecting your parents is a great commandment. The children repeatedly asked their parents to come live near them in Vilna. “You have a lot of family in Vilna, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. What do you have in Keidan? Come live near us and enjoy your family,” their children would urge them. Though their children begged them, Rabbi Avraham and especially his wife insisted on remaining in Keidan.
One Shabbat, when Rabbi Avraham and his wife were visiting their children in Vilna, the children asked the rabbi of Vilna to try and convince their mother to move to Vilna, which would make life easier for them and their children. The Vilna rabbi called the mother and tried to convince her to listen to her children. She told him, “I will not move to Vilna, but out of respect to you, I will tell you why I want to remain in Keidan.”
This is the story she told: “Many years ago, Sukkot was imminent and my husband returned from the synagogue with a sad look on his face. I asked him why he was upset and he told me that the etrog merchant had come to the synagogue and had a beautiful etrog for sale, but the price he was asking was so high that all the Jews in the kehilla couldn’t afford it even if they chipped in together. It looked like he would have to sell that beautiful etrog to another community. ‘This is why I am sad,’ my husband said. ‘This coming Sukkot we won’t have an etrog and won’t be able to fulfill the commandment.’
“When I saw my husband’s grief,” the mother continued her story, “I suggested that since we are getting older and our children are no longer living at home, we don’t need such a big house. ‘Let’s sell our house and buy a smaller one, and with the money that remains, we’ll buy the etrog for you and the entire community. My husband agreed to my suggestion but because he wanted to be sure that I really meant it and wasn’t just saying it, he asked me to arrange the sale of our home and the purchase of a new home.”
The mother continued, “I sent a message immediately to the etrog merchant not to sell the etrog to another community, and tomorrow I would bring him the fee for the etrog. A real estate broker found us a new house close to our old house, and in that way our community merited to have a beautiful etrog that year. My husband’s joy knew no bounds when he merited fulfilling the commandment of lulav and etrog in such a beautiful way.
“I am old and weak and my life is not easy,” she concluded her amazing story. “I am not healthy and things are hard for me. But what keeps me going is the fact that every morning when I get up, I see the house that we sold to keep a commandment. I can’t imagine how my day would look if I couldn’t see the house that we sold for the etrog. It’s true that in Vilna we would be able to enjoy all our family, and it’s a bother for my children to come to Keidan to help us. But I cannot give up the thrill of seeing the house that we sold for the etrog. Without this, I don’t think I would even survive,” the elderly mother ended her story of sacrifice to keep the commandment of the Four Species.