As I made Havdalah at the conclusion of a most inspiring Yom Kippur, and we all sang the lively holiday song vesamachta as the candle was extinguished into the wine, we could feel the Days of Joy were now upon us.
Sukkot begins on Sunday evening, and one of the very special mitzvahs of this joyful holiday season is the Lulav and Etrog, also known as "the four kinds." The Torah says "you shall take for yourselves the fruit of a beautiful tree, a bound branch of a palm tree, boughs of thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the L‑rd your G‑d for seven days.”
The midrash describes these four kinds as being symbolic of four types of Jews: an etrog, which possesses both a good taste as well as a fragrant odor, is symbolic of the Jew who possesses both Torah learning and mitzvahs, good deeds. The palm branch has a good taste but no fragrant odor, signifying those who have obtained Torah education but lack in mitzvah observance. Those individuals who perform mitzvahs but are lacking in Torah knowledge are likened to the myrtle, which has a fragrant odor but lacks taste. The willow, which is inedible and lacks aroma as well, represents those people lacking both in Torah and good deeds.
When teaching this midrash, the Rebbe shared a beautiful lesson. Just as all four kinds together are necessary for the performance of the mitzvah, and only then can the blessing be made, so, too, must all Jews be united; even if just the “willow” is missing, then Jewry as a whole is lacking an essential component. Similarly, just as the willow need not have its qualities revealed for it to be utilized, so must our approach to the “willow Jew” be without pre-conditions. It wholly suffices that she or he is a Jew.
It is only when all four types of Jews are brought together and held together, that we can have a real community. That is why every Jew, no matter background, level of knowledge, commitment, or social status, is valued, welcomed, and very much a treasured part of our community.
This message is especially important this year, being that it is a Hakhel year, a "Year of Gathering," when we try to gather as much as possible, to increase and strengthen our Jewish unity and observance.
We look forward to welcoming you at the Sukkot Hakhel celebrations!
Rabbi Mendel Alperowitz Blog
Serving the spiritual needs of the South Dakota Jewish community. Based in Sioux Falls and travels the state.