Trees Clap their Hands
by Moshe Morrison, Teaching Elder, Tents of Mercy
God instructs Israel to rejoice before Him at the Festival of Tabernacles (Sukkot), celebrated this year from October 9th-16th. Why does this include four kinds of trees (Leviticus 23:33-43)?
For starters Isaiah 55:12 says the Creation itself will worship - sing and rejoice before God. "... the trees of the field will clap their hands."
Secondly, these four trees have been compared to the organs of the human body:
Each is capable of being used to do wrong or right, but combined to serve and honor God, they have great redemptive power.
As Rav Shaul (Paul) tells us in Romans 6:12-13. "Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteous to God."
The branches and leaves are traditionally bound together as the "lulav" and waved before the Lord as an offering throughout the festival. These elements appear on ancient Israelite coins and decoration along with other well-known symbols like the menorah, the shofar and the Ark of the Covenant. According to Rabbi Maimonides, God chose these "four species", as they are known, to symbolize Israel's emergence from the wilderness into the land of plenty. They were easy to obtain in ancient Israel. Two of them have a pleasant smell, and they retain their freshness over the week more than most other plants.
Weighty Matters - the Etrog and the Horse
The etrog, especially, has been the focus of much attention and care. It was difficult to obtain in European Jewish communities from the Middle Ages almost up to modern times. Therefore, it was considered very precious. Sometimes entire communities had to share one etrog. Incredible care is taken in procuring an etrog and lulav without flaws. Here in Israel, prior to Sukkot, men with magnifying glasses can be seen examining the tips of the lulav for any defect or damage. The very scrupulous spend large sums of money to buy only the most perfect. With the tremendous emphasis placed on meticulous observance of the smallest detail, it is easy to lose sight of weightier matters of the Torah such as justice and the love of God (Luke 11:42). This was certainly not lost on the Rabbis as the following story relates:
In the latter years of the eighteenth century, Rabbi Mordechai of Neschiz was the leader of the Zlotzover Chassidim. It had been his custom to save money throughout the year, so that just prior to Sukkot he could purchase a magnificent etrog. Once during the ten "Days of Awe" between rosh HaShana and Yom Kippur he traveled to another city in order to buy an etrog. Upon entering the town he came across a coachman, who stood weeping over the body of his fallen horse. Mordechai didn't waste any time deliberating on the matter. He gave the coachman the money which he had saved for buying the etrog, in order that he might buy another horse. (This gives some idea of how expensive an etrog was.) Cheerfully he returned home where he was asked about the etrog. His response was amazing:
"In all the world our fellow Jews may recite the blessing over the etrog, but to me only has the privilege been granted to recite it over a horse."
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