Judaism: Sukkot: When All Jews are United
“You will take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot] the fruit of a citron tree, date-palm branches, twigs of a plaited tree, and willows of the stream; and you will rejoice before HaShem for seven days. And you shall celebrate it as a Festival for HaShem seven days in the year, an eternal decree for all your generations, which you will celebrate in the seventh month. You shall dwell in sukkot [tabernacles] for seven days, every native in Israel shall dwell in sukkot; so that your generations will know that I housed the Children of Israel in sukkot upon taking them out of the land of Egypt; I am HaShem your G-d” (Leviticus 23:40-43).
The two mitzvot which are unique to Sukkot are dwelling in the Sukkah and shaking the Four Species. (The other mitzvot – Kiddush, Mussaf, rejoicing, the Festival Sacrifice, and so forth are generic Festival mitzvot, not unique to Sukkot.)
As the Midrash explains, the Four Species represent four different kinds of Jews: “Just as the etrog has both pleasant taste and pleasant fragrance, so there are Jews who have both Torah-learning and good deeds… The date-palm has a pleasant taste but no fragrance, representing Jews who have Torah-learning but have no good deeds… The myrtle has a pleasant fragrance but no taste, representing Jews who have good deeds but no Torah-learning… And the willow which has neither fragrance nor taste represents Jews who have neither Torah-learning nor good deeds” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12).
All four species have to be present in order to fulfil the mitzvah; if any one of them is missing, then the Jew has not carried out the mitzvah at all (Rambam, Laws of Shofar, Sukkah and Lulav 7:5; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:12); if, for whatever reason, one or more of the species is unavailable, then one shakes the others without saying the Brachah, in memory of the mitzvah which should have been (Shulchan Aruch ibid.).
Before taking the Four Species, and before reciting the Brachah, many have the custom to recite a Kabbalistic declaration of intent, which appears in most Siddurim and Machzorim: “Yehi ratzon mil’fanecha – May it be Your will, HaShem my G-d and G-d of my fathers, that through the etrog, the date-palm branches, the twigs of a plaited tree, and the willows of the stream, that the letters of Your unique Name draw each of them closer to the other, and become unified in my hand…”.
The phrases “tekarev echad el echad” (“draw closer to each other”) and “ve-hayu la-achadim be-yadi” (“and become unified in my hand”) are a paraphrase of G-d’s words to the prophet Ezekiel in his famous vision of the valley of dry bones. The prophet saw these dry bones come to life and become fleshed out, symbolising the eventual Resurrection of the Dead. G-d then intertwined the Resurrection of the Dead with the return of the exiles to the Land of Israel:
“The Word of HaShem came to me [Ezekiel] saying: Now you, O son of man – take for yourself one wooden stick, and write on it ‘For Judah and for the Children of Israel his comrades’; and take one wooden stick, and write on it ‘For Joseph, the wooden stick for Ephraim and for all the House of Israel his comrades’. Then draw each of them closer to the other to yourself, as a single wooden stick, and they will become unified in your hand” (Ezekiel 37:15-17).
This drawing together and becoming one symbolised the reunification of Judah and Israel – the two kingdoms which split as soon as King Solomon died (1 Kings 11:11- 12:24). Though the Kingdom of Israel lapsed into idolatry, and though the ten tribes there were exiled, scattered, and lost, nevertheless the redemption can only be complete when all Jews – Judah and Israel – draw together and become unified.
The bundle of the Four Species teaches us the same moral. In order to fulfil the mitzvah, every Jew must be present and united – the Jew who has both Torah-learning and good deeds, the Jew who has Torah-learning but no good deeds, the Jew who has good deeds but no Torah-learning, and the Jew who has neither Torah-learning nor good deeds.
The etrog-Jew – the Jew who has both Torah-learning and good deeds – might well feel himself to be superior to the lulav-Jew, to the myrtle-Jew, and especially to the willow-Jew. Indeed, those last three are bound together in a single bundle held in the right hand, while the etrog remains apart from them in the left hand. Nevertheless, in order to perform the mitzvah, the beautiful, tasty, and fragrant etrog has to come together and become unified with the other three in order to perform the mitzvah.
The Midrash cited above continues: “What, then, does G-d do with all these [different categories of Jews]? –To destroy them is impossible. Rather, G-d says: Let them all be bound up into a unified group, and then they can all atone, one for another. And as soon as you do this I become elevated. This is alluded to in the Tanach when the prophet said that G-d ‘has built His elevated chambers in the Heavens…’ (Amos 9:6); and when is He elevated? – When they become a single unified group, as the prophet continues ‘…and He founded His unified group on the earth’ (ibid.)” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12).
This is a truly awesome and inspiring concept: when we Jews, down here on earth, become unified, then G-d Himself becomes elevated! We symbolise this by unifying the etrog, the date-palm, the myrtle, and the willow on Sukkot.
And the Kabbalistic declaration of intent, “…that through the etrog, the date-palm branches, the twigs of a plaited tree, and the willows of the stream, that the letters of Your unique Name draw each of them closer to the other, and become unified in my hand…”, links the unification of the Four Species with the unification of the Jewish nation to hasten the final Redemption, and to usher in the era of Mashiach..
"And even though he tarries, I will wait for his arrival each day..."