"'On the first day you are to take branches from luxuriant trees from palms, willows and other leafy trees and rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days.'" Leviticus 23:40
A note to our readers: This week marks the celebration of Sukkot, one of the most joyous celebrations on the Jewish calendar. Throughout this week, our reflections will be tied to this biblically mandated holiday.
Many years ago, I attended a funeral that took place during the holiday of Sukkot. The rabbi giving the eulogy delved right into one of the most popular teachings regarding the four species that we are commanded to bring together on the holiday: The citron, which both smells and tastes good, represents a person who has attained wisdom from the Bible and also performs good deeds. The myrtle, which has a good fragrance but is inedible, symbolizes a person who does good deeds but hasn't learned from the Bible. The date palm is edible but has no smell and thus represents a person who has wisdom but doesn't engage in good deeds. Finally, the willow, which doesn't have taste or aroma, represents a person with neither wisdom nor good deeds.
I expected the rabbi to continue with the typical message that on Sukkot we take all four species together to show that all types of people are important and equal before God. It's a holiday of unity and appreciating each other. However, the rabbi didn't continue his message that way. Instead, he noted that there is a fifth element in the four species. There are the ties that bind them all together. The rabbi explained that this represents a fifth type of person - one who brings all the other types of people together. The deceased had been such a person, and this teaching was a beautiful tribute to his memory.
That lesson has always stayed with me, and it has become a driving force in my own life. There are many types of people in this world, and together we can accomplish amazing things; however, someone needs to be the person who brings different people together. It has been my life's mission to be a bridge builder between Christians and Jews so that we can benefit from one another and join forces to work for the sake of our shared values. The results have been incredible blessings for us all, and together, we have contributed more to God's purposes than I could have ever imagined.
We all can and should assume the role of the "fifth part of the four species." No matter what type of person you are, everyone needs to assume the role of bringing people together. It doesn't matter who you are, what you do, or what you know; everyone has the ability to love all people, respect all people, and teach others to do the same. We can all be bridge builders. May the words of Psalm 133:1 be fulfilled through our lives in the upcoming year "How good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity!"
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President