A well-known midrash compares the Four Species to four types of Jews. The etrog
has both taste and fragrance, representing those Jews who possess both Torah and
mitzvot; the lulav has taste but no fragrance, representing Jews who have Torah
but are lacking in good deeds; hadassim are fragrant but lack taste,
representing those Jews who are rich in good deeds but lack Torah; and aravot
lack both taste and fragrance, representing Jews who lack both Torah and
Some spend hundreds of dollars to purchase the most beautiful
etrog, lulav and hadassim, yet if the lowly (and relatively cheap) aravot are
halachically deficient, they have still failed to fulfill the mitzva of the Four
Species. The message: Jews lacking Torah and mitzvot are still part of Klal
Yisrael, and we cannot do without them.
The same theme runs throughout
the month of teshuva in Tishrei. The Yom Kippur service begins with a formal
proclamation by three elders of the congregation granting permission to include
in the prayers even those whose sins were so serious that they were banished
from the congregation. The presence of such serious transgressors is not just
permissible but desirable. The furthest removed Jew is an essential part of the
prayers of the day, as our sages teach, “Any public fast in which Jewish sinners
do not take part is no fast.”
The Alter of Kelm used to emphasize the
importance of identifying with the People of Israel to the judgment of Rosh
Hashana. Every year in Elul, a yellowing poster hung in the Talmud Torah of
Kelm, on which was inscribed the main message that the Alter wanted to imprint
upon his talmidim as Rosh Hashana approached: “All the Rosh Hashana prayers are
designed to glorify the Kingdom of Heaven, and we, for our part, are called upon
to crown Hashem [God] as King of Kings. With what shall we crown Him? With love
for others and charitable acts, as Moses said in his parting blessing: “There
will be a King in Yeshurun when the leaders of the people gather together, with
the Tribes of Israel as one” (Deuteronomy 33:5).
Harmony between Jews is
both a precondition for recognizing God’s sovereignty, as in the above-quoted
verse from the Malchiot section of Musaf, and an outgrowth of true love of God.
If the servants of the King fully devote themselves to His service and His
purposes, the Alter taught, there would be no room for conflict among
FOR MOST of the two millennia of exile, Jews needed no reminders
that they share a common fate. Their Christian and Muslim neighbors were only
too happy to remind them if they ever forgot. And to some extent, constant wars,
terrorism and the threat of a nuclear Iran help preserve recognition of that
common fate, at least among the Jews of Israel.
But the fundamental
interrelationship of all Jews, hinted at by the Four Species, goes much deeper
than a common fate or shared victimhood. The basis of the connection between
Jews lies in a common mission assigned to us at Mount Sinai – to bring knowledge
of God to the entire world. The prayers of the High Holy Days bid us to
contemplate a world permeated with knowledge of God, in which each created being
acknowledges that God is its Creator.
Because the Torah offers the
deepest perspective on the interconnection of all Jews – a shared mission in
which each Jew has a role to play – ultimate responsibility for preserving
awareness of the interdependence of all Jews falls upon Torah
Unfortunately, the Klal Yisrael perspective has become attenuated
among Torah Jews as well. That is most evident among groups who have been
fighting a pitched battle against Zionism in the Land of Israel for well over a
century. In war, it is easy to forget that those on the other side are also
Jews, or at least that they are Jews who count. How else to explain tactics that
often seem tailored to make the Torah and those who uphold it as alien as
possible to the vast majority of world Jewry?
But the phenomenon is not limited
to the precincts of Mea She’arim. In the more than two centuries since the
ghetto walls began to fall, Torah communities often had to fight to preserve
Those that followed the Austritt principle of separation from
larger communal frameworks were usually the most successful in preserving their
But that success also came with a cost, in terms of a
diminished Klal Yisrael consciousness. To some extent, Jewish statehood, which
inevitably pits groups of Jews against one another, has exacerbated the problem
of exclusive identification with one’s own small subgroup.
have different rules of engagement: They are literally wars between
So too with conflicts between Jews.
cannot forget that those whom we perceive to be on the other side are also our
brothers, and that what they think of Torah and its adherents is critical to our
most cherished goal – a world filled with knowledge of Hashem.
Shlomo Pappenheim once quoted to me his teacher Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, the
late chief rabbi of the Eda Haredit, to the effect that the ultimate redemption
requires some spiritual awakening (though not necessarily full mitzva
observance) on the part of all Jews. When Torah Jews act in such a way as to
make that awakening less likely – Pappenheim was referring specifically to
violent demonstrations – we therefore push away the redemption.
classic Torah sources speak only of the entire Jewish people being
Either we will all be redeemed or none of us will be. For a
Torah believing Jew to act oblivious to the impact of his actions on the
perceptions of Torah of his fellow Jews does not just make it harder, as it
were, for God to bring the redemption. It is tantamount to giving up hope for
the coming of the Messiah, belief in which is one of Maimonides’s Thirteen
Principles of Faith.
BUT IF Torah Jews dare not forget that without the
aravot there can be no fulfillment of the mitzva of the Four Species, the
metaphor of the midrash is no less relevant for non-observant
Without Torah and mitzvot, the Jewish people cannot sustain itself.
Jewish history is replete with communities that were once great centers of Torah
learning that subsequently withered and died, after the Torah learning
The rapid demographic decline and weakening identification with
Jews under threat in Israel of non-Orthodox communities worldwide is just the
most recent chapter of a long saga.
Of all the Four Species, the aravot
are by far the most fragile. They dry up quickly, and most people have to
replace their aravot at least once during the week of Succot.
religious Jew has an obligation to ensure that the aravot among us receive all
the moisture they need and do not dry out completely. But the aravot also need
to sprinkle water on themselves. ■ The writer is director of Jewish Media
Resources, has written a regular column in
The Jerusalem Post Magazine since
1997, and is the author of eight biographies of modern Jewish leaders.