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Renew Our Days
The rapid developments in science and technology are having an impact on Jewish practice and tradition. Take, for example, the holiday of Sukkot. Each year new products are trotted out to the market to enhance the Sukkot experience: folding sukkahs, decorative schach, an ergonomic lulav holder and other innovative ideas.

In the final view, though, none of these innovations have anything to do with the halachic parameters of mitzvah observance. If a structure is to be considered a sukkah, it must have at least three sturdy walls, covered by plant matter. The four species are also defined halachically; no technological innovation can replace the natural etrog, lulav, hadassim (myrtle branches) or aravot (willows). When it comes to mitzvot, technology can assist, but cannot change. The halachic definitions are what prevail and are consistent over time.

The sense of continuity is especially emphasized in the mitzvah of the blessing over the four species. A kosher sukkah can be built out of a range of innovative materials--steel, fabric, fiberglass or plastic--which perhaps were not available in antiquity. The four species, though, are the same types that were used by our ancestors in Israel. The appearance, fragrance and taste oof the four species have not changed. For this mitzvah, we use only plants as nature produced them--no grafted or genetically engineered species allowed.

* * *

The inner meaning of the mitzvah of the Four Species is likewise an unbroken chain of tradition, for which the winds of change have done nothing to dampen its significance. Our sages teach us that the four species are symbols of four types of Jews: the etrog, both fragrant and tasty, represents those who study Torah and perform good deeds. The lulav, date palm, which has taste but no fragrance, signifies those without Torah knowledge who perform good deeds. The hadassim, with fragrance but no flavor, represent those who study Torah alone, while the aravot, lacking either feature, are a symbol for those who neither study nor perform good deeds. All of them, though, are joined together as one, as symbolized by the mitzvah of the four species..

The concept of unity is also expressed in another mitzvah traditionally performed on Sukkot--the mitzvah of Hakhel. Once every seven years, in the year following Shemittah, the Jewish people gathered in Jerusalem: "Assemble the people: the men, the women, and the children, and your stranger in your cities, in order that they hear, and in order that they learn and fear the Lord, your God, and they will observe to do all the words of this Torah" (Devarim 31:12). All the Jews, young and old, from the "heads of tribes, elders and policemen" to the "water carrier to the wood chopper" (Nitzavim 29:9-10) were included in the commandment. Each individual Jew is an integral part of the whole, without whom the mitzvah would be incomplete.

* * *

A similar type of unity will prevail in the days of Moshiach. Our ancestors, including the three Patriarchs and four Matriarchs, Moses, and all the prophets, will return, and Moshiach will teach Torah to all of them. Not to all on the same level, obviously, but we will nevertheless all be unified under the leadership and tutelage of one man, King Moshiach.
It is not easy to attain this level of unity; it is something that we strive to attain from year to year. Our fulfillment of the mitzvot of Hakhel and the Four Species are symbolic of our efforts to internalize their message: the power of unity and the beauty of gathering together as one. Through unifying this year, the year of Hakhel, may we merit the immediate revelation of Moshiach, who will redeem us all together.

 

 


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