“‘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. As this is a non-working holiday for observant Jews, these devotions were prepared for you in advance.
One of the central elements of Sukkot is known as the four species. The Jewish sages explain that the four species referred to in Scripture are the citron, a closed palm frond, myrtle leaves, and willow leaves. We take these four items together and shake them in all directions.
What is the meaning behind this rich and deeply symbolic act?
The sages explain that each of the four species represents a part of the body. The palm represents our spine; the myrtle leaves are shaped like eyes; the willow like a mouth; and the citron like a heart. When we take the four elements together and wave them around, we are proclaiming our commitment to worshiping God with our entire being. As King David wrote in Psalm 35: “With every bone in my body I will praise him” (Psalm 35:10 NLT).
Gathering the four species is such an important ritual among the Jews that people go to great lengths to buy only the best. Some people take it to such extremes as examining citrons with a magnifying glass and paying enormous sums of money — just so that they can worship God in the greatest way possible. As I watch this ritual every year, I am reminded of an old tale that teaches the true goal of this tradition.
The story goes that a Hasidic Jew had saved 50 rubles so that he could buy the best citron possible for the holiday. With joy in his heart, he went to buy the citron; however, on his way he met a friend who looked miserable. It became clear that his friend’s horse had died and now the poor man could not make a living. “How much would a new horse cost?” the man asked his friend. “45 rubles,” he replied. The Hasid gave the man 45 rubles, and with the five remaining rubles, he bought himself a cheap, shriveled-up citron.
That night in the synagogue the rabbi announced, “I smell the scent of the Garden of Eden. Everyone take out your citrons!” The rabbi inspected every citron until he came to the Hasid who was too embarrassed to even take his citron out. “Let’s see it,” demanded the rabbi. The Hasid sheepishly revealed his citron. “That’s it!” declared the rabbi. “The scent of Eden!” The rabbi asked what led the man to buy such a citron, and the Hasid told the rabbi all about the money he had saved and then given away.
Friends, the greatest way that we can serve God is by showing kindness to each other. This holiday season, we can all try to give a little more and be a bit more kind. Together we can turn this world into a real paradise!