Friday, September 28, 2018

Sukkot: Process

Thoughts on Sukkot 2018
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The Torah bares no explicit mention of an etrog on Sukkot. Instead, it merely hints to it with the command to take a “peri ess hadar” – “fruit of a beautiful tree.” The Hakhamim suggested that the “beauty” of the etrog tree is its unique quality that “the taste of its trunk and fruit are alike.”[1] By focusing on this particular attribute of the etrog I believe that the rabbis were teaching a lesson that extends beyond the trunk of a tree or its fruit.

In his commentary to Parashat Bereshit, Rashi recorded a well-known Midrash regarding the creation of the first fruit trees. He wrote that although God wanted the taste of all tree trunks to match that of their fruit, the ground rebelled by yielding inedible trunks.[2] Rav Kook z”l explained that whereas the fruits of the trees in this story represent a goal, the trunks represent the necessary process.[3] While we are easily drawn toward the sweet endpoints in life – building families, amassing wealth, growing proficient in Torah, or spiritually connecting to God, the bland path toward their achievement is often discouraging. God’s command to the ground, as it were, was that the means be as enjoyable as the ends.

How often do we live up to that ideal? The answer, of course, is unfortunately not too often. We stumble through our day to day activities, become overwhelmed by their unappealing nature and ultimately lose sight of our true ambitions.

Returning to the Hakhamim’s emphasis of the etrog’s same taste of trunk and fruit within this context, we may now appreciate their lesson. The unusually sweet trunk of the etrog represents a process imbued with the same richness and sweetness as its outcome.

Panning out to the broader context of the etrog, the foundational message of Sukkot reflects this very lesson. The Torah teaches that we sit in sukkot on this holiday to recall the sukkot which we dwelled in after leaving Egypt.[4] Our journey in the wilderness represented the necessary process toward the goal of inhabiting the Land of Israel. On Sukkot, then, we celebrate that process – rejoicing in our commemoration of the means which led to the end.

The Hakhamim captured the spirit of these days best in their understanding that we “reside in the sukkah as we dwell in home.”[5] They taught that we may yet discover a sweetness in the means by mirroring them to the ends.

[1] Sukkah 35a.
[2] Commentary of Rashi to Bereshit 1:11 (s.v. ess peri).
[3] Orot HaTeshuvah 6:7. Translated by Ben Zion Bokser in Abraham Isaac Kook (Mahwah, NJ, 1978), pg. 59-60.
[4] Vayikra 35:43.
[5] Sukkah 27a.