Wednesday, September 18, 2013

NFTY, I'm shaking what?

Sukkot is a holiday that is really about joy. We are commanded to be happy. We build a booth outside in the elements of the weather to show God that we trust and depend on him. We are told to dwell in the booth/sukkah that we made. The rabbis interpreted this to mean that we eat and sleep in it.

So, great, I will build a booth, eat and sleep in it, and be happy. But we all know there is something else that has to do with Sukkah...the four species, or better known at the lulav and etrog. And we're suppose to shake it...

In Leviticus 23:40 the Torah names them these four plants:
  • ets hadar (פרי עֵץ הָדָר ) magnificent trees
  • tamar (כפות תמרים) palm trees
  • ets avoth (עֵץ־עָבֹת) boughs of thick trees
  • aravah (ערבי נחל) willows of the brook

The terms we are more familiar with now come from the Talmud:
  • etrog (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron tree
  • lulav (לולב) – a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree
  • hadass (הדס) – boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree
  • aravah (ערבה) – branches with leaves from the willow tree*

Why these specific four species of plants and why did God command us to gather them? One thing that is very cool, is that all the plants grow in the land of Israel. By gathering these plants God is taking us through our Jewish history. It's almost the same route that we took this summer on our NFTY in Israel trip. 

We were wandering in the desert, lost and following Moshe. I'm sure you can remember seeing from your bus window all the oases with palm trees in the middle of the desert. Those are the same date palms (lulav) that we use on sukkot. 

When Bnei-Israel (the Jewish people) entered the land of Israel that God gave them, they had to cross the Jordan River.  Not only did we cross the Jordan, we rafted down it. If you would have stopped paddling (or splashing your friends) and looked around, you were have seen willows lining the banks. The same willows (aravah) that we collect and use. 

In Jerusalem we talked about the first and second temples (the first built by Solomon and the second built by Herod.) All of Jewish life was centered around the Temple, and Jews would make pilgrimages to Jerusalem...I'm sure you're catching on by now. On the hilly country sides that surround Jerusalem, it's the perfect place for myrtle (Hadas) to grow.  

After the destruction of the Temple, Jews started to settle in other places. One of those places was the coastal plain region, all the way up and down the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Can remember sitting at the Port of Yafo talking about the geography of the land? I'm sure your guide told you about the delicious oranges that are grown still to this day. But another famous citrus that is grown there is the etrog from the citron tree. 

I'm sure you're amazed! It's really awesome if you think about it. God is reminding us of how He brought us into the land of Israel and how we settled . Another interesting thing, is that all of these plants need a lot of water to grow. And as I'm sure you all remember from your rainless trip, Israel doesn't have a lot of water. So once again we are reminded about how we need God to provide rain for us. 

One last cool thing to think about when you're shaking away. All the four species come from different parts of Israel.
  • etrog (אתרוג) – the west - along the Mediterranean Sea 
  • lulav (לולב) – the south - in the Arava Desert
  • hadass (הדס) – the east - in the Judean Hills 
  • aravah (ערבה) – the north - along the Jordan River
Just like you did, in order to collect these plants, you have to go ALL over Israel. I hope you think a little more about Israel this year when you're holding your four species! HAPPY SHAKING!! 

Group 9 (Summer 2013) in Yafo - I'm sure there were etrogs near by! 



Becca said...

Hi Andrea!

This is a great post about Sukkot and a NFTY Israel experience! My name is Rebecca Bigman and I am the new Israel programs coordinator at URJ. I will be doing a lot of work with NFTY and I was wondering if it would be possible to cross post your piece on the NFTY in Israel blog. (

Thanks! Chag Sameach!

Andrea said...

of course. =)