Food For the Soul
The Four Kinds
The seven days of Sukkot are celebrated this year from the evening of September 20 to the evening of September 27. Sukkot is the holiday when we expose ourselves to the elements in covered huts, commemorating G-d’s sheltering our ancestors as they traveled from Egypt to the Promised Land. Every day of Sukkot (except Shabbat) we take the arba minim, a.k.a. “Four Kinds.” These are a palm branch (lulav), two willows (aravot), at least three myrtles (hadassim) and one citron (etrog). Visit Chabad.org for information about buying and celebrating with the Four Kinds.
“It takes all kinds,” writes Rabbi Yanki Tauber. “That, essentially is the message of the mitzvah of the Four Kinds. In the words of the Midrash: The etrog has both a taste and an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have both Torah learning and good deeds…. The date (the fruit of the lulav has a taste but does not have an aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have Torah but do not have good deeds…. The hadas has an aroma but not a taste; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who have good deeds but do not have Torah…. The aravah has no taste and no aroma; so, too, do the people of Israel include individuals who do not have Torah and do not have good deeds…. Says G-d: Let them all bond together in one bundle and atone for each other.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that the Midrash is not just saying that all are part of the Jewish people or all are precious in the eyes of G-d or even that all are necessary. It says that they all atone for each other. This implies that each of the Four Kinds possesses something that the other three do not, and thus atones and compensates for that quality’s absence in the other three. In other words, it’s not just that it takes all kinds to make a people — it also takes all kinds to make a person. And Sukkot is the time when we bond with each other so that the other’s qualities should rub off on ourselves.”
On the Shabbat before Sukkot we read from Ha’azinu: Deuteronomy 32:1-2 and Samuel II 22:1-51. It is also suggested that our daily thought be about Teshuvah (Return). Focus on reclaiming your personal connection with the Maker of heaven and earth, regretting wasting life in the past and resolving to take on the divine mission for which you came from now on. Be the neshama (soul) you really are, every day.
Mind Over Matter
Progress from the Sukkah
The Sukkah compels us to move on, to get off the hammock and onto the journey of making this world a more G_dly place. Bereft of the security of our homes we are faced with our responsibility to accomplish more. The temporal sukkah reminds us of the temporal nature of material things. The comfort our homes provide should never be confused with invincibility – and that is a good thing. For invincibility has a cousin named laziness, which spends his whole day thinking about what he won’t be doing. The sukkah reminds us of our obligation to move on, to get out there and enrich the world around us.
Sitting in the vulnerability of the sukkah, we have the opportunity to experience the security only G_d can offer, something that brick and mortar can’t provide. This is progress, a leap we would never embark upon without compulsion –and could never attain without the message of the sukkah.
From an article by Rabbi Baruch Epstein
Elevating physical reality
The world as a whole displays multiplicity and divisiveness, the very opposite of the Divine unity. The four species, on the other hand, signify unity, transcending worldliness and displaying submission to the Divine unity. They are themselves physical, growing in-and thus part of-the world, but they are used as a mitzvah for the Divine service. Thus they elevate physical reality and render it into an instrument for the Divine unity, revealing the concealed principle of unity inherent in G-d’s creation. The four species thus effect the fulfillment of the prophecies that “all shall call upon the Name of G-d to serve Him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9), and “G-d shall be King over the entire earth: in that day G-d shall be One and His Name One” (Zechariah 14:9), which shall come about with the speedy redemption by Moshiach.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
A New Beginning
I’ve just stepped off the bus with my one-year-old baby and nine-year-old son on a sunny fall afternoon. We’re on our way to a holiday celebration at our local Chabad center. It’s Sukkot, a biblical Jewish holiday that celebrates the festival of the harvest. Few people in this sukkah, a dwelling made of wooden walls and poles and roofed with bamboo and green leaves, know I’m one of the non-observant ones. After years of trying to feel Jewish on a kibbutz in Israel, I’m hoping for another stab at religion and G-d, in an attempt to find a deeper spiritual connection.
It’s not that I haven’t had the chance to find a connection. I attended a very posh Hebrew day school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan until fifth grade, and knew the prayers by heart, but that was it. On almost every Jewish holiday we’d take the 60-minute journey on the Long Island Railroad to my aunt and uncle’s house in Far Rockaway, Queens—away from our Greenwich Village artists’ building.
I looked forward to these trips out of the city, to where the skyscrapers would shrink to one or two stories; but confining walls would come down on us the minute we’d enter the front door: “Don’t make noise,” and “Don’t jump on the beds,” were my aunt’s first statements.
At synagogue, time stood still, especially during the mourner’s prayer and Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, as I counted down the minutes. I was expected to fast without an explanation as to why. There was no TV or talking on the phone. I was swallowed in prayer and quiet. What was the use in obeying so many rituals and rules without “tuning into” G-d? Was G-d hanging up on me? Did I not pray fervently enough?
During my 18 years of living on a kibbutz in Israel, seeing clashes between various Jewish groups caused my connection to G-d to move even further to the opposite side of the spiritual pendulum.
I grab one of the few empty places in the sukkah, and immediately the same old ashamed internal voices descend on me again. At one point in his talk, this young fervent rabbi looks directly at me, and I’m wondering if he knows about my background and how I was brought up.
All my life, I was made to feel different, and if I didn’t play by the rules then I wasn’t a “good,” serious Jew. Is that how I want my son and daughter to feel? Do I have what it takes to connect?
Million dollar words then pour out of this fervent rabbi’s mouth. “Praying to G-d is not something we have to do. We pray to G-d as a way to tune in to G-d.” Tune in to G-d. I like that. Like a radio signal or wave. My heart opens. I allow myself to trust again.
I had never heard a rabbi speak with this much compassion, faith and understanding, and in a way that connects me to the human experience of “why?” “Why is a connection to G-d important? What’s in it for me?”
The young rabbi speaks again, this time about what it was like to attend services in the presence of the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, and how he had encountered G-dliness by performing good deeds, or mitzvahs. The young man’s father was the secretary of the Rebbe for many years.
The impromptu talk has just ended, and with that, the rabbi makes a l’chaim: “May we always have the faith and trust to find the good path in life so we can be seen by G-d.” In unison we say “Amen,” and my Amen rings out with conviction. As I lift my one-year-old in her long sweater dress, I come face to face with yet another rabbi. “Good Shabbos,” he says with a smile. “Shabbat shalom,” I say smiling back. I may have filled my belly, but something tells me I’ve initiated a spiritual journey of compassion. And this time it won’t be just for the food.