Sukkot: When Every Jew Counts

This post is dedicated in merit that Hershel ben Etya Sarah have a yeshuah.

By: Samantha Hulkower

If you live in a Jewish area, you'll have noticed Sukkas going up as soon as Yom Kippur ended (around Jerusalem I noticed some being built before Rosh Hashanah!). You could get whiplash moving from a time of such deep introspection as Yom Kippur, to Sukkot, which is known in Hebrew as 'the time of our joy'.

Nothing in the Hebrew calendar is a coincidence, so if Sukkot comes less than a week after the period where we spend so much time working on our selves and mending our relationships with others, there has to be a connection.

We need look no further than the 4 species that are so symbolic of the holiday: the lulav, etrog, hadas, and aravah. When I first started learning about Sukkot I found it a little odd to put such emphasis on something that looks like it should go in a vase on the table in your sukkah, and I was even more confused once I saw people shaking it around! As I learned more, it all started to make sense. 

There is a concept brought down in the midrash (the oral portion of the Torah) that the four species correspond to the four types of Jews in the world:
  • Etrog: It is in the citrus family and looks sort of like a lemon. It has both taste and a pleasant scent. This corresponds to Jews who have both wisdom, which is defined as Torah learning (taste) and do good deeds (scent).
  • Lulav: This is a branch from a date palm, which are very tasty but have no scent. These are Jews who have wisdom, but don't use it to do good deeds.
  • Hadas: This is from a myrtle tree, which has no taste but a nice scent, and represents Jews who do good deeds, but for whatever reason, don't learn Torah.
  • Aravah: Comes from a willow tree and has no scent or taste. This is the category of Jews who are lacking in both wisdom and good deeds.
You cannot fulfill the mitzvah of shaking the four species if any one of the types of trees is missing. In addition, they all must be in pristine shape, if anything is bent or broken or has blemishes they also can't be used. This is supposed to represent the fact that all Jews are necessary for us to function as a whole. Even if you think that a particular group of Jews is deficient and lacking in something (which I'm sure you don't), G-d still says that everyone has a role to play and one group is as necessary as the other - you can't have two etrogs and no aravot if you want to do the mitzvah. It is a good reminder that we all have something of value to offer those around us, even if it isn't so evident at first.
Chag sameach!

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