WARNING: BUMPS AHEAD
During the two weeks between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, Jews all over the world are involved in selecting the four species (the etrog, lulav, hadassim, and aravot) for the festival of Sukkot.
During the two weeks between Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, Jews all over the world are involved in selecting the four species (the etrog, lulav, hadassim, and aravot) for the festival of Sukkot. Hours can be spent to find the most beautiful species in order to fulfill the mitzvah in its nicest fashion. Amidst the rush to acquire these species, one may wonder why we specifically use them, as well as what their significance is.
Rabbi Matis Blum, in his compendium of commentaries on the weekly portion known as the Torah L'daas, relates the Midrash's explanation of the reason behind these species. Each of the four species is symbolic of a different type of Jew. The etrog, which has both a pleasant taste and smell represents the righteous Jew, who possesses Torah knowledge and performs good deeds. The lulav, which has a pleasant taste but no smell symbolizes a Jew who learns Torah but does not perform any good deeds. The hadassim's pleasant smell represents a Jew with good deeds, but no Torah knowledge. And, finally, the aravot which have neither a smell nor taste represents a Jew without Torah knowledge and without good deeds. The Midrash tells us that binding these species together demonstrates the unity which all Jews must have, regardless of their different backgrounds.
Furthermore, our sages taught that the etrog in particular should have many beautiful qualities. The Talmud (Tractate Sukkah 35a) states that an etrog is specifically used because the tree it grows on and the fruit itself have the exact same taste. Moreover, the etrog should be oval (not round), clear of any blemishes, and very bumpy. It seems strange that with all of the desirable qualities for an etrog, our sages required it to be bumpy. Wouldn't a smooth etrog be more attractive?
To answer this, we must refer back to the Midrash's explanation of the four species. The etrog's good taste and smell are symbolic to the Torah and kind deeds that a righteous Jew performs. Therefore, the sages explain that the bumps on the etrog represent all of the battles which the righteous Jew has with his yetzer hara (evil inclination), and the difficult times he undergoes to achieve such a level of sanctity. When one sees a righteous Jew, one can easily be led to believe that his holiness comes naturally and with much ease. We are therefore commanded that our etrog should have many bumps to constantly remind us that in order to achieve a spiritual goal, we must be able to overcome any obstacle in the way.
Nevertheless, there are many other fruits in the world that smell and taste good. What makes the quality that the tree and fruit taste the same so important that we use the etrog? The Torah L'daas refers us to the origin of the commandment to take an etrog. When G-d created the world, He intended that both the trees and their fruit should have identical taste. However, the land did not "cooperate" with G-d and the only tree that had the same taste as its fruit was the etrog. It is now obvious why G-d specifically chose the etrog because of the similarity in taste between the fruit and the tree. We learn the tremendous lesson that just as the etrog tree did as G-d commanded, even though no other tree did, so too we should fulfill G-d's will even if the people around us are not.
This Sukkot, as we shake the lulav and etrog, let us remember the reason the Midrash gave for binding the four species - to show that there is unity among the Jewish nation. In addition, let us glean the lesson from the bumpy etrog, that in order to achieve greatness we must overcome our evil inclination. Lastly, just as the etrog tree listened to G-d, we must work to perfect our observance of G-d's Torah and mitzvot.
Moshe Freundlich, who hails from Atlanta, is studying at the Yeshiva Beis Moshe in Scranton, Pennsylvania.
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