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A MAN FOR ALL SEASONS

by Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich    
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer    

The Torah commands us to present ourselves before G-d on the festival of Sukkot with four particular species of vegetation. The Talmud concludes that this Biblical directive refers to the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadassim (myrtle), and aravot (willow).

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The Torah commands us to present ourselves before G-d on the festival of Sukkot with four particular species of vegetation. The Talmud concludes that this Biblical directive refers to the etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadassim (myrtle), and aravot (willow).

All the mitzvot in the Torah are products of the unfathomable Divine intelligence, and the mitzvah of the four species is no exception. Nonetheless, great Torah luminaries throughout the generations have endeavored to give us a glimpse into the meaning of Hashem's commandments.

The great medieval scholar Rabbeinu Bachya presents a Midrash that suggests that the four species are an expression of the four letters comprising the name of G-d. Another fascinating idea is recorded in the Seder Hayom, a classic halachic work by Rabbi Moshe Ibn Makir. The author reports a tradition that all forms of vegetation are dependent on the influences of heavenly agents for their growth and development. The four species, however, gain their nourishment directly from G-d. The taking of these species on Sukkot suggests that the Jewish people, likewise, enjoy a unique and direct relationship with G-d. Another Midrash suggests that the four species represent the diverse personalities within the Jewish community, from the great scholar to the unlettered Jew.

The Midrash compares the etrog to the Torah scholar. Interestingly, the etrog has no particular growing season. A beautiful etrog can be gleaned any time during the year. It is truly a fruit for all seasons. A genuine Torah scholar must also be a man for all seasons. He must exemplify Torah values in every situation that life deals him. No personal stress or crisis may compromise his responsibility to treat everyone with the respect and dignity that one created in the image of G-d deserves. Whether he sheds tears of joy or pain, he is keenly aware that everything is part of G-d's master plan. Furthermore, an etrog must be oval; a round etrog is disqualified. While a scholar must be accessible and open to all, he simply cannot go with the flow and be everything to everyone. Like an oval etrog that does not roll freely, the Torah scholar must also have a fixed posture anchored in mitzvot.

Similarly, a lulav is waved in each direction to suggest our responsibility to spread Torah to Jews wherever they may be. But when we pronounce the name of G-d during the na'anuim (shaking of the lulav), the lulav is held in a firm upright position to indicate our steadfast commitment to the principles of Torah. Even a noble enterprise like spreading Torah must be carefully monitored to ensure that the methods used to make Torah available to others conform with Torah standards.

The hadassim must be covered with leaves in clusters of three. This represents the underpinnings of authentic Jewish life: Torah, Avodah (prayer), and Gemillut Chassadim (kind deeds). But each cluster must share a common point on the stem from which all its leaves extend. If one leaf has its starting point higher than the other two, the branch is invalid. This teaches us that we must strive to excel equally in all these areas. To be a Jew who excels in synagogue attendance, but fails to perform acts of kindness (or vice versa) is simply not what Torah living demands of us.

Lastly, the aravot, shaped like the human lips, is characterized by its red stem and smooth-edged leaves. Its message is that a Jew must be shamefaced and aware of his great debt to Hashem for all the good he enjoys in life. Jagged-edged leaves represent a mouth that utters biting and hurtful words. Our speech should be soft and delicate as indicated by the smooth-edged leaves. May we merit to observe Hashem's mitzvot with much enthusiasm and gain an ever-increasing appreciation for His wisdom.

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Rabbi Shlomo Freundlich has been an educator at the Yeshiva High School of Atlanta for over a decade.

You are invited to read more Sukkot articles.

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