After two days of Rosh Ha-Shanah and a day of fasting on Yom Kippur, you would think that Jews would be exhausted. Enough Judaism, already!
Yet at precisely that time, the calendar of Judaism presents a dazzling array of festivals ~ Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Sh'mini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah. For more than a week, we continue to celebrate one holiday after another, each with its own set of rituals, songs, and customs.
Of all the festivals, none has as many mitzvot (commandments) and customs associated with it than does Sukkot, the Festival of Booths. We build special sukkah, carry the four types of plants (the lulav ~ palm frond, etrog ~ citron or lemon, aravah ~ willow, and hadas ~ myrtle) and eat festive meals in our Sukkot. Some Jews even sleep in their Sukkot & peruse the Stars.
Exhausted by the holy days already behind us, and living in a culture that distrusts ritual in the first place, what can this frenetic activity mean to us?
Traditional commentators have explained the lulav and etrog in several ways ....
According to the Midrash Va-Yikra Rabbah, the etrog, hadas, and aravah symbolize the three Patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The single Lulav symbolizes Ha'Shem. By holding the three against the Lulav, we act out our hope that the sacred deeds of our ancestors, the lessons learned throughout our lengthy history, will serve us well before Ha'Shem . Thus, lulav and etrog demonstrate our link to Jewish history throughout time.
According to Pesikta De-Rav Kahana, each of the plants symbolizes a different type of Jew .... one who is learned in Torah and rich in good deeds, one who is learned but has performed no good deeds, one who is uneducated but active in demonstrating Chesed, and one who is uneducated and has not performed loving deeds. By binding all four plants together, we pray that Ha'Shem will also consider the entire Jewish people as a single unit, each responsible for the other, each Jew compensating for the shortcomings of the others. Thus, lulav and etrog demonstrate our unity as a people and celebrate our diversity as individuals and as various strands within the umbrella of Judaism.
Finally, the medieval compilation Kad ha-Kemah asserts that each of the four species corresponds to a different human organ .... the heart, the spine, the eyes, and the lips. Just as all these organs can lead a person to error and to pain, so too they can become the means for self improvement and for elevating others. Thus, lulav and etrog demonstrate our determination to use our bodies to help other people and ourselves, to serve Ha'Shem, thus making the world more holy.
In Midrash Va-Yikra Rabbah, Rabbi Avin compares the lulav and the etrog to a sceptre awarded to a victorious combatant. After returning to our synagogues in massive numbers on Rosh HaShanah, after spending Ten Days of Awe considering who we are and who we want to be, after fasting and praying on Yom Kippur, the entire Jewish people emerge energized, enriched, and motivated.
Sukkot is a Joyous Festival filled with Simcha. Carry your lulav and etrog with joy!
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach as Shabbat Sukkot approaches!!!!!