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Through The Eyes of a Woman

Sukkos: The Fruits of Togetherness

The month of Tishrei is called Chodesh Hashvi'i -- literally "the seventh month." However, our Sages tell us that the word shvi'i also has the connotation of sova -- satiation. (In the Holy Tongue, these two words share the same three root-letters.) This month is filled to satiation with all the important ingredients in a Jew's life. Every Yom-Tov that we experience in Tishrei gives us an injection of some major concept in Judaism. On Rosh HaShanah -- taking upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven; on Yom Kippur -- teshuvah; on Simchas Torah -- to serve HaShem with simchah, etc. What is the major concept of Sukkos?

All Types Together

The Rebbe explains that the idea of unity and togetherness -- the unity of the Jewish people -- is one of the major aspects of Sukkos. He explains it in several sichos from different points of view. Firstly, in terms of the Sukkah itself: Our Sages state that all of the Jewish people are worthy of sitting in one Sukkah. This is in fact the way it will be in the future -- all of the Jewish people will sit together with Mashiach in one Sukkah.

In other sichos the Rebbe explains this in connection with each of the arbaah minim -- the four species of plants used in the mitzvah of lulav and esrog during Sukkos. However, before we explain the concept of unity at length in connection with each of the four species, I would like to point out that the fact that this concept is explained in all types of different contexts teaches us how vital it is, because otherwise you wouldn't spend so much effort saying it repeatedly in different words and from different points of view. This is comparable to a good teacher. When a good teacher wants to give an important lesson that her students will remember, she won't just mention the main point once, and then go on to something else. That way, her students wouldn't know that it is such an important lesson. Therefore, to really get her point across, she will explain the point with a mashal (parable): she'll tell a story about it, then repeat it again a different way (so it won't get boring). After a while, the message gets through. The students realize that since the teacher said it in so many different ways, it must be really important. So we see that as HaShem is telling us this message (about unity and togetherness) in so many different ways, it must be an important message to get.

Once again, the idea of Sukkos indicates the idea of unity and completeness. Each of the four minim has a unique feature -- either taste, or fragrance, or both, or neither -- which relates to four different categories of people. The esrog (citron) has both taste and fragrance; the lulav, only taste (being the branch of a date-palm); the hadassim (myrtle twigs), only fragrance; and the aravos (willow branches) -- neither.

Taste, in our context, alludes to Torah learning. The word for taste in Hebrew, taam, also means "reason." In addition, the Torah is called "food for the soul." In addition, it should be noted that the date, referred to here, is not just any type of food, but a fruit. Fruit is a metaphor for that which gives pleasure and delight. Similarly, not only does Torah learning sustain the soul, it also gives a person great pleasure. Intellectual pleasure (taam) is one of the highest types of pleasure a person can experience.

Very often, when a person does a mitzvah, he doesn't understand the rationale behind it. (Of course, some mitzvos -- those in the category of chukkim -- cannot be understood rationally.) He does not do the mitzvah because he has an urge to do this act at this time; rather, he does it because he has what we call kabbalas ol -- accepting the yoke of Heaven. In other words, he does it because HaShem said to do it. But a person can enjoy Torah learning even if he is not observant, as intellectual stimulation; people who are intellectual or intelligent enjoy it, more than they would enjoy doing a mitzvah. There are people who do not like to do mitzvos, but they still like to learn. In this context, therefore, the lulav refers to somebody who learns.

Fragrance in this context refers to the mitzvos. The Midrash states that the mitzvos of the Patriarchs were "fragrant." The hadas, which has fragrance, but no taste, refers to somebody who does mitzvos, but is lacking in his learning. Of course, since learning Torah is one of the mitzvos, this cannot be talking about a person who does not learn Torah at all. Rather, it alludes to a person who is outstanding specifically in his fulfillment of the mitzvos -- to the extent that his mitzvos are called "fragrant."

The esrog alludes to somebody who is balanced -- he has both Torah learning and is outstanding in the performance of mitzvos.

The aravos represent those Jews who may be Jewish at heart, but they don't really do mitzvos as yet, and they don't learn Torah.

However, the Torah says that to perform the mitzvah of arbaah minim, you must take all four types together. If this is not done, even if you have three of the four types, you did not do the mitzvah. You have to have all four together. What does this teach us? Although not all the Jewish People are whole, complete, and perfect -- some have only mitzvos to their credit; some have only Torah to their credit, and some have neither -- nevertheless, the nation is not complete if any one of these types is missing.

Sukkos therefore represents the togetherness and unity of all strata of the Jewish world. When you have the togetherness of all four groups, this is called observing the mitzvah.

Internal Unity

We also see the unity of the four species emphasized in another way. Not only is their harmony and togetherness expressed at the collective level, i.e., when all four different types are taken together in performing the mitzvah, but, in addition, each one of these four types displays an internal unity as well.

The Esrog : The esrog is the only fruit that remains on the tree for an entire year. Every other fruit has a season when the tree on which it grows blossoms. After the flower falls off, there is a little fruit that stays on the tree until it ripens. But the fruit is only on the tree for a few weeks, or for a maximum of a few months. However, although the esrog starts out in the same way as other fruits, it remains green and unripe -- unfit for pronouncing the blessing over it until it has been through a process of growth which spans all four seasons of the year. In this regard it is unique -- there is no other fruit like it.

Each season of the year has a different feature or quality: some have more sun, some have more rain, aspects of the atmosphere that we cannot sense. Correspondingly, each fruit in its season prefers more or less rain, more or less sun, more or less wind. A drastic change in the weather usually means the destruction of the esrog. If it is to become mature and perfect, it must utilize aspects from each of the seasons. To become complete, it needs to go through the entire cycle of seasons. Thus, the esrog expresses its unity by encompassing all aspects of time and change within itself (thus indicating that unity transcends time and change).

The Lulav: If you examine a lulav closely after Sukkos, you will probably see that its leaves have begun to spread apart. In order for a palm branch to be kosher for the mitzvah, its leaves must not be spread apart like a fan. Rather, they must be closely pressed together. This is an expression of unity. Although each leaf is really a separate entity, attached to the spine of the lulav, it can only be used when all the leaves are packed so closely together that they appear to be a single unit. Furthermore, each of the leaves of the lulav is really made up of two leaves which are attached along their backs from top to bottom. According to halachah (Jewish law), if the majority of the leaves are split apart the lulav is pasul -- it cannot be used for the mitzvah. The lulav therefore also represents an aspect of unity -- that each entity must be attached to, and combined with, all others.

Hadassim: Where do we see the idea of unity expressed in the myrtle branches? The leaves of hadassim grow in groups of three. To be kosher, each of the three leaves of each group must emanate from the same nodule on the branch. If one of the leaves emanates from a point higher or lower than the other two in the group, the hadas is invalid if a majority of leaves grow like that. At any rate, even if only a minority of the groups of three leaves do not emanate from the same nodule, the branch is not regarded as mehudar -- perfect. This again emphasizes the idea of unity, all individual entities having a common source.

Aravos: The aspect of unity expressed by willow branches comes from the fact that many trees do not need "friends;" a single tree could be growing with no other similar tree nearby. Aravos, however, typically grow in clusters. In fact aravos are called achvana in Aramaic, related to the Hebrew word achavah, meaning "brotherhood" or "friendship," as our Sages say: "Why is the willow tree called achvana? Because it grows b'achava -- in friendship!" This is yet another expression of unity.

HaShem therefore tells the Jewish People: "You may be separate and individual entities, but, in order to fulfill My will, you must come together. You must form a single bunch, and one will atone for the other, and each one will complement the other." Thus, when we have a group of Jews, although one might be an esrog, possessing both taste and fragrance, whereas another might be a mere aravah, nevertheless, all of them are necessary, for one complements the other, and each one reflects HaShem's unity in a different way. You cannot know whose merit is atoning for whom. But we do know that when you have everybody together, all the merits are there. This, incidentally, is one of the explanations of why one needs a minyan (a quorum of ten men) in order to repeat certain prayers. No one is complete and perfect in himself, but when people come together, each one complements the other, and when you have ten men this forms a complete entity.

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