A Beautiful Fruit!

The Holiday of Succos, almost immediately following the days of awe, is a joyous time. We feel a sense of confidence and relief now that we have been cleansed and forgiven for our sins. To express this feeling of joy, the Torah commands us to take the four species, an Esrog (citron), Lulav (palm branch), Hadassim (Myrtle) and Aravos (branches from a willow bush).

Our sages explain that the Lulav, similar to a spear, is a tangible item that portrays our confidence that our verdict in the heavenly judgement was for a good life. This is analogous to one who has been vindicated in court, and emerges with a triumphant gesture.

Our sages further explain that each of the species represents a vital part of a person’s body. The Lulav is similar to the spine, the Esrog to the heart, Hadassim to the eyes and the Aravos to the mouth. When we gather the four species together, recite a blessing over them and wave them, we are in essence conveying the idea that our whole body is dedicated to G-d. We wave them in the six directions, north, south, east, west, up and down, to represent the idea that G-d is in control over all.

Our sages further explain that each of the species represents a different type of person. The Esrog that has flavor and fragrance represents those that study Torah and are meticulous about their Mitzvah observance. The Lulav that has only flavor, represents a Jew who has Mitzvos but lacks Torah knowledge. Hadassim which have only fragrance, represent a Jew who has Torah knowledge but lacks in his performance of Mitzvos. Arovos, which have neither taste nor fragrance, represents a Jew who lacks Mitzvos and Torah Knowledge. When we hold the four species together we are in effect unifying all types of Jews. This means, we deeply feel that no matter how distant a Jew may be from Torah and observance, he/she has a place in Klal Yisroel – the Jewish people, and is encouraged and welcome to reconnect with Torah and Mitzvos and explore and experience the great life that Torah has to offer.

Interestingly, the Torah does not explicitly say what type of fruit the Esrog is. The Torah calls the fruit a Pri Eitz Hadar – a beautiful fruit. How do we know which beautiful fruit the Torah is referring to? Looking at the beautiful display of fruits in the fruit section of a supermarket you will see so many fruits that are absolutely beautiful. Yet, for some reason, everyone uses an Esrog for this beautiful fruit on Succos. Why? The answer is, G-d, through our oral tradition, told us that the Torah is referring to the Esrog.

Our sages derive this from the word Hadar. Hadar means beautiful, yet the letters which form the word Hadar can be read to mean dwell or remain. An Esrog is the only fruit which can remain on the tree for an entire year.

For an Esrog to be Kosher it has to fulfill the requirement to be beautiful in its shape, appearance and color according to the Halacha – Jewish law. There is an opinion in the Talmud that the Aitz Hadas – tree of knowledge that Adam and Chavah ate from its fruit – was an Esrog tree. Since it was the vehicle through which sin and death became reality, we elevate it by using it for a Mitzvah observance.

The Torah tells us that a Succa reminds us of the Succa that the Jews lived in throughout their 40-year journey in the desert. There is a dispute recorded in the Talmud as to what this is referring to. One opinion is that it is a remembrance of the simple huts they lived in, and the other opinion is that it is a remembrance of the spiritual Clouds of Glory which G-d provided that protected them from all sorts of danger. There is no definitive answer as to which opinion is correct, although solid proofs are offered for each opinion.

A question is asked; if indeed Succos reflects the Clouds of Glory, why is it that the Torah instructs us to celebrate the holiday at this time of the year? We should really celebrate Succos in the spring when the Jews originally received the Clouds, in the month of Nisan, Passover time.

The following is a brilliant explanation offered by the Vilna Goan (1700’s):

When the Jews sinned and worshiped the Golden Calf, they were unworthy of having the Clouds of Glory in their midst and they disappeared. Moshe (Moses) pleaded with G-d for many days to forgive the nation for their sin, and the nation also repented during this time. Eventually, G-d forgave the nation which was manifest through Moshe descending Mount Sinai with the second set of Ten Commandments, on the Tenth day of Tishrei, a day synonymous with atonement -Yom Kippur.

The day after Yom Kippur, Moshe instructed the Jews to bring materials for the construction of the Tabernacle. (That was the 11th day of Tishrei) For the next two days, the Torah tells us that people brought their materials. (That was the12th and13th of Tishrei) The following day, the14th of Tishrei, the work was given out to the artisans. On the 15th of Tishrei, they actually started building the Tabernacle. As soon as they began working, the Clouds of Glory returned.

This, claims the Vilna Goan, is the reason why we celebrate Succos on the 15th day of Tishrei, since it is the day the Clouds of Glory returned to the Jews and remained with them throughout their journey in the desert.

Thus we are instructed to commemorate the protection that G-d provided for our ancestors and relive it each year at the same time that the Clouds of Glory returned to them. By us dwelling in a Succah, which has the simplest protection, we display our belief and trust that G-d protects us at all times.