Sukkot – The Arba Minim are Us
I was standing in my local Judaica shop this past Sunday, hunting through boxes of etrogim, trying to find just the perfect one, when I realized something. I’m spending all this time considering which etrog to get, but that’s only one piece of the mitzvah.
Aside from building the sukkah, the mitzvah unique to Sukkot is the arba minim, gathering together of four species — the etrog, lulav (palm frond), hadasim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches). The midrash explains that this mitzvah is a sign for how all Jewish people should unite together — that each one represents a different type of Jewish person’s approach to Torah and mitzvot. The etrog smells good and also tastes good, representing the Jewish person who learns Torah and observes the mitzvot. The lulav is a date palm, and dates have a good taste but no smell. This represents the Jew who learns Torah but does not focus as much on observing the mitzvot. Hadasim, myrtle branches have a good smell but no taste. This represents the Jew who observes mitzvot but does not focus so much on learning Torah. Aravot, willow branches, have neither taste nor smell, representing the Jewish person who does not focus on mitzvot or on learning Torah in expressing their Judaism.
The mitzvah of the arba minim (and of Sukkot in general) requires that we tie all four types together. This illustrates two important points: that all types of Jewish people should unite as one, and that each way of expressing one’s Jewish identity is equally necessary to be part of the whole. Even if we are different from each other, even if we don’t act or think the same as our friends do, we learn from the mitzvah of the arba minim that we can come together as one people.
This is Yavneh in a nutshell. Everyone is equally necessary in building our community each summer. It doesn’t matter how beautiful my etrog is, how perfect my lulav is, how exquisite my hadasim are – if I lack the aravot, I haven’t performed the mitzvah. Each piece is equally and uniquely important. If any one of them is missing, the entire mitzvah is nullified. Just like the mitzvah of arba minim is not complete without each species, Yavneh is not complete without each of us bringing our full selves, our Jewish selves, to the table.
We should all have a chag sameach, and a meaningful Sukkot bringing together all of the voices in our community.
Questions for the Sukkot table:
- Which of the arba minim do you identify with, in your expression of Judaism?
- Why do you think you identify that specific way, or ways?
- What is your favorite way to show that expression of Judaism (for example: if you relate to the hadasim, what is your favorite mitzvah to do?)?