by Rabbi Heshy Grossman
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"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, fruit of the esrog
tree, date-palm branches, twigs of the myrtle tree, and brook willows, and
you shall rejoice before Hashem, your Lord, for seven days." (VaYikra 23, 40)
The holiday of Sukkos is referred to as 'Zman Simchaseinu' - 'the period of our rejoicing'. Though the Mitzva of ''v'Samachta B'Chagecha' applies to each of the Shalosh Regalim, this particular Yom Tov contains an innate element of rejoicing which is the basis of the holiday, not merely an added requirement.
This verse seems to indicate that the taking of the four species is an innate expression of joy, more so than Mitzvos associated with other Chagim, which are not defined in terms of Simcha.
In our shiur this week, we will explain the basis of this happiness, describing the special effects of the Arba Minim.
"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day..." - "Is it the first [day]? Actually, it is the fifteenth, yet you say 'on the first day'? Rather, it is first in the accounting of one's sins." (Midrash Tanchuma, Emor, 22)
The taking of the four species, along with the Sukkos preparations, follow the Yomim Noraim, when Klal Yisrael's sins are forgiven. In a sense, this Chag marks the start of a new account, a fresh start for man.
On a deeper level then, this Midrash alludes to the cleansing of all sin. More than individual Tshuva, this day celebrates the repair of mankind's original fault, the sin of the Eitz HaDa'as. With Esrog in hand, a renewed man stands before G-d, ready for a new beginning.
Let us explain.
Man was not the first to sin.
On the third day of creation, G-d commanded the earth to bring forth trees with a taste similar to its own fruit. Yet, the earth did not comply, producing sweet-tasting fruit, but a tree with a taste of its own.
The earth was not immediately penalized for this misdeed, yet, when man subsequently sinned, castigation of the earth was part of his punishment. Apparently, these two sins are related, both based on a similar mistake in judgment.
It follows that the rectification of both offenses is also accomplished simultaneously.
"What type of tree did Adam and Chava eat from?....Rebbi Abba of Akko said: an Esrog, as it is written: 'and the woman saw that the tree was good to eat' - Go out and see, which is the tree whose taste is as its fruit? You will find only the Esrog." (Breishis Rabbah 15, 7)
The Esrog tree is unique, a pure echo of a time beyond creation, when the will of G-d was automatically heeded. Hence, its fruit is a harbinger of the world to come, and with this Mitzva, we stand before G-d in our temporary dwelling.
This is quite puzzling.
If the Esrog tree is a symbol of a world without sin, how can the very same Esrog also be the Eitz HaDa'as, essence of all wrongdoing?
Let us first understand how earth can sin.
In a perfect world, the will of G-d would be self-evident and undeniable.
Unlike the present situation, where existence itself conceals G-d's word, life without earth was a solid unity, with nothing to distinguish the past from the future. Source and destination, cause and effect, means and ends, are all synonymous terms in a world whose goals are everpresent.
Olam HaZeh is a bit different. Though man often means well, the process of achievement often strays far from the intended goal. At times, one loses sight of the forest among the maze of trees, forgetting that his physical self is only a vehicle to be utilized, not an end unto itself.
The earth doesn't sin because it is evil, nor is it rebellious. Its failure is the nature of this world, an incomplete expression of Divinity. This world is definitively limited, one step leading only to another, unable to grasp the vastness of eternity.
Adam and Chava yearn for something more, a world whose trees taste as sweet as its fruit.
Good intentions notwithstanding, this is man's original sin.
He wants permanent bliss in the Garden of Eden, unaware that he first must travel a road of trial and tribulation.
It takes a long time for one to grow a kosher Esrog.
Avraham Avinu faithfully endures ten difficult tests, his loyalty highlighted by the fulfillment of every command.
After the tenth and most difficult request, the order to sacrifice his beloved son, G-d commends Avraham for his commitment: ".....now I know that you are one who fears G-d."
Is this an act of fear? Doesn't the willingness to give his all reflect love for G-d, more so than fear?
Let us explain the different functions of Ahavah and Yir'ah in the service of G-d.
One who loves G-d observes His law with enthusiasm and excitement, happy for the opportunity to find favor in His eyes. He merges his own personal will with that of his Creator, voiding the usual conflict, the struggle of man's soul with his selfish desires.
In contrast, fear of G-d forces man into submission, acquiescing to something he doesn't enjoy. He may negate his will before a Higher authority, but he harbors hidden resentment, unhappy with his sacrifice of comfort and pleasure.
The ideal servant of G-d learns that both of these traits are necessary for Avodas Hashem.
While love of G-d is an ideal that one may strive for, man must first subdue the egocentric wishes of a self he dare not ignore.
While fear alone leads to bitterness, Ahava alllows him to experience the joy of a spiritual moment.
Avraham Avinu arrives at true love, but Hashem reveals that this love incorporates the best elements of fear. Avraham recognizes that man cannot love G-d without conquering one's self, and he demonstratively parts with his dearest possession. He loves life, seeing it as a means towards a higher goal, but its value is measured only when harnessed to G-d's will.
Adam and Chava sorely want to eat from the Esrog tree. Not because it's sweet-tasting, nor because it's pretty, but because the Esrog carries the fragrance of eternity, a world where every item submerges its individual identity into an element of the Divine.
They forget one important point.
This world is a lemon.
Man longs to be close to his Creator, pledging to dedicate his life for the sake of His glory. But he dare not ignore the physical presence that cries out in protest, for this world can never reflect His unique perfection.
This is the error of all those who claim to serve G-d with love, disdaining the disciplined severity and strictness of His law. They fail to see that the study of His Torah is the ultimate expression of Ahava, teaching the appropriate role of every item in creation, its role in the grand design.
The four species each reflect a different aspect of man's physical self, elevating his body in a service of love. This is true joy, the happiness that comes with fulfilling one's purpose in creation, finding his own place in G-d's world. It is achieved only after a month of repentance, days of fasting and prayer, a willingness to sacrifice one's life at the altar of His command.
Now, man is finally ready to enter the Sukkah, a world apart, protected by the shadow of G-d's eternal presence. Clutching his Esrog, and waving his Lulav, with the eyes of Hadasim, and the lips of a willow, he leaves behind the world of the nations, a life of suffering and dissension, praising for eternity his Lord, the King.
"Kol Atzmosai Tomarnah, Hashem, Mi Chamocha" - "All my bones shall say, Hashem, who is like you?"
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