A Castle Built on Ships: Jewish Unity and the Stability of God’s Throne

Our Sages said: Although it has been said that a person cannot fulfill his obligation [of the Four Species) on the first day of Succot using someone else’s lulav, he can fulfill his obligation [to sit in a succa] using someone else’s succa, since it is written: ‘Every citizen in Israel shall dwell in succot’… this teaches us that it is appropriate that all of Israel should sit in one succa. (Tractate Succa 27b)

The motif of unity pervades the festival of Succot. According to the view of our Sages, which was adopted as halacha, someone’s private succa is defined as public property that belongs to Jews anywhere in the world. A person must leave his permanent home, which sets him apart from the rest of society, and enter a succa, which connects him to “all citizens of Israel.”

Like the sukkah the Four Species represent unity and mutual responsibility, as expressed in the well known midrash (Vayikrah Rabba, 30:12):

The Etrog is Israel- what is an Etrog? It has both taste and smell – just as in Israel, there are those who study Torah and do good deeds. The Lulav’s branches are Israel – they have taste but no smell, just like Israel, there are those who study Torah but do not do good deeds. The Hadas branch is Israel – it has smell but no taste, just like Israel: there are those who do good deeds but do not study Torah. Aravot branches are Israel – they have neither smell nor taste, just like Israel, there are those who neither do good deeds nor study Torah. What shall the Holy One Blessed Be He do with them – obliterate them? No, said the Holy One Blessed Be He, they will join together as one, and in this way, will atone for each other.

Do We Also Wave the Etrog?

Saying that unity is important sounds trite. But I believe the concept of unity contains something profound that underpins the spiritual processes underway during the High Holy Days. Rabbi Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, relates a moving story about how the Four Species are waved (Orach Chaim 651) –

Should one join the etrog and the lulav together when waving the two together, or should one wave only the lulav and its bundle in one hand, while the left hand – the one holding the etrog – stays still? This question has not been explained in the Gemara nor has it been settled by the poskim, but Rabbi Menachem Recanati wrote, in his commentary to the Torah portion of Emor… ‘this secret was revealed to me in a dream, on the evening of the first day of the festival of Succot, when an Ashkenazic Hassid, Rabbi Yitzhak, spent the night with me as my guest. In this dream, I saw him write the four letters of the name of God, but as he did so, he separated the last letter, the Heh, from the other three letters. “What did you do?!” I asked him. He responded, “This our custom, where I live.” I rebuked him and wrote God’s name as a complete word. I grappled with what I had seen, failing to understand. The next morning, when my guest took his lulav, I noticed that he would only wave the lulav and the two species bundled with it, without the etrog. It was then that I understood the meaning of my dream, and our sages, of blessed memory, hinted to this secret in Vayikrah Rabbah…”

Hand holding EtrogOur great teacher, the Beit Yosef, wondered if we should hold the etrog together with the other three species when waving them, or hold the etrog in the left hand, on its own, and wave the lulav in the right hand. The solution to the dilemma can be found in a fantastic dream dreamed by Rabbi Recanati (a great 13th Century Kabbalist who lived in Italy). He dreamed that separating the etrog from the other species is akin to effacing the four-letter Name of God. The Beit Yosef’s remarks conclude with a comparison between the four species and the four letters of the Name of G-d, as related in Midrash Vayikrah Rabbah, 30:9:

The etrog is the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written: ‘Honor and Majesty are before Him’. The lulav branches are the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written: ‘the righteous man shall blossom like the palm branch’. The Hadas branch is the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written: ‘he was standing among the myrtle branches’. The aravot branches are the Holy One Blessed be He, as it is written: ‘praise Him who rides in Aravot [palm branches]…’

Is It Better to Be Alone and Safe?

I think that these words have a profound meaning. Sometimes, an etrog prefers to be alone, to be with itself and those like itself, and under no circumstances mingle with other species that could tarnish it, pollute it or scratch it. It is only doing this for the sake of Heaven. It wants to remain a tzaddik, so it prefers to build itself towns for those who are like-minded, schools meant only for etrogim like itself, and communities which would never admit a lulav or a hadas, let alone a lowly arava. All of this is done purely for the sake of Heaven, but by isolating itself, the etrog has unintentionally effaced the ineffable name of God.

The true and complete tzaddik is a person who can connect to the entire nation of Israel and understand that not only does this not detract from his lofty state; it does the opposite, allowing the tzaddik to reach much higher levels of holiness. Rabbi Zvi Yehudah Kook, z”l, made a wonderful comment in the Olat Ra’aya siddur, chapter 2, page 428, on the prayer said on Shabbat and Chagim:

“You shall be praised by the mouths of the upright, and You shall be blessed by the words of the righteous, and You shall be extolled by the tongues of the devout, and You shall be praised in the midst of the holy. And in the assemblies of tens of thousands of Your people, the house of Israel, whose joyous song shall Your name, our King, be glorified in every generation.”

There are those who are upright, there are those who are righteous, and there are also those who are holy and devout, however, following the upright, the righteous, the devout and the holy ones, we find the tens of thousands of Your people, the house of Israel – the holiness of all of Israel – which, since it includes all of the generations according to their value, is superior to all of them, and on their backs…” Ultimate holiness only occurs when all of Israel is united.

Yom Kippur is a day on which every human being undergoes a process of personal sanctification. Although we began Yom Kippur with an appeal to every Jew and by accepting to even include criminals amongst ourselves, and although we prayed in a minyan, with a multitude of people around us glorifying our King, each individual was wrapped inside his own tallit, accounting for his own private soul. Consequently, immediately after Yom Kippur, we enter the festival of Sukkot – the epitome of teshuvah, repentance. We transition from the state of the upright, the righteous and the holy, to the higher state of being “in the assemblies of tens of thousands of Your people, the house of Israel.”

As the “S’fat Emet” writes: “After they were purified (on Yom Kippur), there is the festival of Sukkot, when all of Israel gathers together. As stated in the Gemara, all of Israel are deserving of sitting in one sukkah. And it was called the “festival of gathering”. The etrog must connect to the lulav, the hadas, and even the arava. My succa essentially belongs to everyone, and any Jew can fulfill his obligation through it.

The deeper message of this holiday is that the unity of Israel isn’t just another cliché. The unity of Israel is the key to divine revelation in the world, and anyone who isolates himself from society because of his “etrogness” detracts from the name of the Holy One Blessed be He. The bundled four species express the climax of the festivals of the month of Tishrei, all of which deal with divine revelation in the world. As our sages taught us (Bamidbar Rabba, 15):

“… ‘who sets His foundation on the earth’. What is this similar to? A castle built on ships. As long as the ships were connected to each other, the castle remained intact. In the same way, the Almighty’s throne is stable only when Israel is united.”

Rav Ronen Neuwirth #1
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.

You Might Also Like:

Did you enjoy this post? Please click on the buttons below to share with your friends!

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply