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Happiness Is Not a Destination

When the Earth Rebelled Against G-d

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • October 14, 2016
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  • 12 Tishrei 5777
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Class Summary:

Comes Sukkos, and Jews the world over become expert botanists, suddenly gaining impeccable tastes in the growth, health, and beauty of a citron fruit, a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow. These are the four species which Jews around the world have spent exorbitant amounts of money to buy what they perceived to be the best and most perfect of these four species.

What is fascinating is that the Torah did not explicitly name the Esrog. It just tells us to take “the splendid fruit of a tree.”

But maybe that is a papaya, a passion fruit or a rambutan? A cute little grape or cherry? These are all beautiful, stunning fruits! How do we know it is an esrog, a citron? The Talmud tells us that it is the only fruit that tastes like the bark of its tree.

In Bereishit, the sages derive from the verses that G-d’s intention was that the tress would be just like the fruits they produce. Were one to lick the bark of an apple tree, for example, it would taste like apple. But the earth rebelled. The earth produces trees that grow fruit, but the tree itself is a tree, not a fruit. That is, all trees rebelled, beside one! The esrog tree. In the case of the esrog, as we explained, the taste of the bark is like the taste of the fruit.

Yet all of this seems senseless. First of all, how can tress sin? How can the earth rebel? Since when does earth have free choice? Second, what’s the point of this whole drama? There is a profound message here—and a vital lesson in life. It is also the secret of joy.

“Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” the saying goes. How can we discover the power to live while we are busy with our plans? That is the secret of the argument between G-d and the earth on the third day of creation. That is also the secret of the Esrog.

The Worrier

Yankel always worried about everything all his life. But one day his coworkers noticed Yankel seemed like a changed man.

They remarked that he didn’t seem to be the least bit worried about anything. Yankel said he’d hired a professional worrier and no longer had any problems.

“A professional worrier?" they said. "What does that cost?”

“150 grand a year.”

"150,000 a year?! How on earth are you going to pay him? You are about to declare bankruptcy!"

"Well that’s why I hired him—let HIM worry about it."

The Debate

An architect, a surgeon, and a politician are arguing who of them holds the most prominent position.

The surgeon said, 'Look, we're the most important. The very first thing G-d did was surgery: to extract Eve from Adam's rib.'

The architect said, 'No, wait a minute, G-d is an architect first and foremost. G-d made the world in six days out of chaos.'

The politician smiled, 'And who made the chaos?’

The Jewish Botanists

Comes Sukkos, and Jews the world over become expert botanists, suddenly gaining impeccable tastes in the growth, health, and beauty of a citron fruit, a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow. These are the four species which Jews around the world have spent exorbitant amounts of money to buy what they perceived to be the best and most perfect of these four species.

What is fascinating is that the Torah did not explicitly name two of these four species. Rather it described certain criteria and characteristics, and then left it up to the Sages to deduce which type of plant or fruit best met this description. What the Torah does say is as follows:

ויקרא כג, מ: וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים וַעֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת וְעַרְבֵי נָחַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי ה' אֱלֹקיכֶם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.

"And you shall take for yourselves . . . the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the plaited tree and willows of the river..."[1]

Two of the four are clearly delineated: The lulav, the palm branch; and the aravos—the willows. The other two—the citron and the myrtle branch—are not explicit, only intimated. But how do we know the “splendid fruit of a tree” is an esrog? Maybe it is another splendid fruit? Did you ever see a Jew come to shul on Sukkos with a nice orange, plum, or papaya? How about passion fruit or a rambutan? And what’s wrong with a cute grape or cherry? These are all beautiful, stunning fruits! How do we know it is an esrog, a citron?

[True, when Moses gave the Torah he presented also an oral explanation of the cryptic text.[2] So Jews always knew to take an Esros on Sukkos. Nonetheless,  as with all the oral explanations, it can be found in the text. Where can we see in the wording here that the text is referring to an esrog?]

So the Talmud says this:

סוכה לה, א: ת"ר (ויקרא כג, מ) פרי עץ הדר עץ שטעם עצו ופריו שוה הוי אומר זה אתרוג.

The term used to describe the fruit is “pri eitz hadar,” a splendid fruit of a tree. Now, the word “eitz,” a tree, is superfluous. We all know that fruits grow on trees. The Torah could have written: “You shall take a splendid fruit.” Why does it have to say, “a splendid fruit of a tree”? Obviously a fruit comes from a tree! Where should it come from? A chicken?

So the Talmud suggests, the Torah is intimating that this is a unique type of fruit, one that possesses a unique relationship with its tree. The tree reflects the tree, and the tree reflects the fruit. And this points to the esrog. For the esrog stands out in that the fruit and the tree share a similar taste.

You see,[3] in most fruits we eat the pulp of the fruit. But in an esrog, the pulp is a very tine part of it. The majority of the fruit is the rind of the esrog (the white thick layer that surrounds the tiny pulp.) Now, the rind has a similar taste to the bark of the esrog tree! [4]

Optional section

But, wait. Maybe you can say that the reason the Torah says “eitz” is to teach you that it is not a vegetable but a fruit. Since we call vegetables also “pri” (as in “pri hadamah”), the Torah needs to add the word “eitz” to teach us it is a fruit from a tree, not a vegetable, or legume or grain. How can we be sure that “pri eitz” is coming to teach us that the fruit and the tree share the same taste?

The Sefas Emes[5] suggests that the lesson is actually derived from what we call a ”gezeira shava.” One of the formulas Moses gave us how to interpret text of Torah, is known as “Gezeira shava.” This means that if identical words are found in two different verses, and they are unnecessary, we can derive one from the other.

Now these very two words “pri aitz” are found in Berieshis, in the Genesis of creation. When we examine the meaning of the words there, it teaches us that we are dealing here with the esrog.

End of optional section

(Note: If you are using the sermon for Bereishis, you can begin here.)

The Bark and the Fruit

In Bereishit we go back to the beginning of everything, when the very maps of reality were drawn; when the very fabric of our universe was formed.

On the third day of creation, all produce emerges—every type of tree and plant, containing the seeds allowing for reproduction.

Here is how the Torah describes the event:

בראשית א, יא: וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים תַּדְשֵׁא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע עֵץ פְּרִי עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי לְמִינוֹ אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ עַל הָאָרֶץ וַיְהִי כֵן:

And G-d said, "Let the earth sprout vegetation, seed yielding herbs, and fruit trees producing fruit according to its kind in which its seed is found, on the earth," and it was so.

וַתּוֹצֵא הָאָרֶץ דֶּשֶׁא עֵשֶׂב מַזְרִיעַ זֶרַע לְמִינֵהוּ וְעֵץ עֹשֶׂה פְּרִי אֲשֶׁר זַרְעוֹ בוֹ לְמִינֵהוּ וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים כִּי טוֹב:

And the earth gave forth vegetation, seed yielding herbs according to its kind, and trees producing fruit, in which its seed is found, according to its kind, and God saw that it was good.

The Rabbis in the Midrash were perturbed by the words of the first verse. The Torah says, that G-d said, let the earth sprout forth fruit trees, which produce fruit. The words “which produce fruit” seem superfluous. A fruit tree obviously is a tree which produces fruit.

What is more, in the second verse, the original words “a fruit tree” are deleted. It says that the earth sprouted forth trees that produce fruit! It deletes the words “fruit trees!

From this the Rabbis derive a fascinating teaching. The earth rebelled against G-d, as it were.

מדרש רבה: תני בשם ר' נתן ג' נכנסו לדין וד' יצאו מחוייבין, ואלו הן אדם וחוה ונחש נכנסו לדין, ונתקללה הארץ עמהן, שנאמר (בראשית ג') ארורה האדמה בעבורך. ולמה נתקללה... ר"י בר' שלום אמר שעברה על הצווי שכך אמר לה הקב"ה: תדשא הארץ דשא וגו', מה הפרי נאכל אף העץ נאכל, והיא לא עשתה כן, אלא ותוצא הארץ דשא וגו', הפרי נאכל והעץ אינו נאכל.

רש"י: עץ פרי - שיהא טעם העץ כטעם הפרי, והיא לא עשתה כן, אלא 'ותוצא הארץ עץ עושה פרי', ולא העץ פרי, לפיכך כשנתקלל אדם על עונו נפקדה גם היא על עונה ונתקללה.

G-d commanded the earth to give forth "fruit trees,” in addition to having trees that would produce fruits. This means that G-d’s intention was that the tress would be literally fruit trees; the taste of the fruit would be in the tree itself. Were one to lick the bark of an apple tree, for example, it would taste like apple. But the earth rebelled. The earth produces trees that grow fruit, but the tree itself is a tree, not a fruit.

That is, all trees rebelled, beside one! The esrog tree. In the case of the esrog, as we explained, the taste of the bark is like the taste of the fruit.

That is how we know that “pri eitz hadar” is an esrog. The only other time the Torah uses these words “eitz pri” is in Bereishis. And what does it mean there? That the bark will share the taste of the fruit. The tree itself will be a fruit. So when the Torah says to take on Sukkos a “pri eitz” it means a fruit that tastes like the tree. Which fruit is that? Only the esrog!

And that, says the Sefas Emes, is why the Esrog is called “hadar,” beautiful, splendid. What makes it so beautiful? Because it was the only tree and fruit that did not “sin.” It was the only tree that obeyed the will of G-d.

A Tree’s Free Choice

Yet all of this seems senseless. First of all, how can tress sin? How can the earth rebel? Since when does earth have free choice?

Second, what’s the point of this whole drama? Why did G-d wants the bark to carry the taste of the fruit? Who cares? And why did the earth decide to do it differently?

There is a profound message here—and a vital lesson in life. It is also the secret of joy.

The Means vs. the Goal

The tree is an extraordinary creation. We pay little heed to the brilliance, beauty, wisdom, and miracle of a tree. How the tree develops, how the roots form, how the trunk grows, how the branches and leaves come forth, all contributing their unique properties to the existence and life of the tree. It is incredible how much work the tree performs to ensure its endurance and vitality. I remember when I first learnt how the leaves of the tree absorb sunlight and convert the light energy into sugar (in a process known as photosynthesis), allowing it to grow, I marveled on the dazzling brilliance of a tree!

And then, at last, the final goal will be reached: the fruits will grow. But that takes years. Most new trees produce fruits only after 3-4 years. With some tress you need to wait seven to ten years. Some trees, like the palm lulav tree, mature only after 20 or 30 years.

So the roots, the trunk, the branches and the leaves—all represent the “means,” to get to the “fruit” which is the end.

And all of life works that way. You don’t graduate medical school and become a doctor in a day, nor was “Rome built in one day.” You study and work hard for years till you finally see the  fruits of your labor. You need to plant your tree, nurture it, protect it, and wait patiently till the fruits can be harvested.

Your baby is not born suddenly one day (some men may think so…). It takes nine months of hard hard work, filled with devotion and sacrifice of a dedicated mom, to bring that miracle to the world.

And you don’t raise these babies in a day. It takes years and years and years of sweat, blood, tears, and endless devotion to produce the “fruit.”

All of life works this way. Much of our life is a journey toward a destination. To get to the business meeting in Miami, I need to go to book a ticket, go to the airport, wait on line, sit on an airplane, wait on the runway till the gate is ready, wait on line for a taxi, till I finally get to my hotel room, and then wait till the next day for the meeting.

Waiting for the Goal

And yet, it is so challenging for many of us to enjoy the work on the tree, even before it has produced the fruits. “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” John Lennon said. When we are teen-agers in high school, we tell ourselves that when we'll graduate High School—that’s when life begins. Then we realize that, no, first we have to get our degree. After the degree, out of college, ah then is when we will finally settle down and be content. But then, hey, we find some crumby job, and we tell ourselves, that when we cultivate the right connections, put away enough cash to begin a start-up, ah, that’s when life will begin…

But wait, we tell ourselves, life did not begin yet… first we need to get married, purchase our own home, and then we can really begin to settle down and start living…

But then our married friends smile and say, "This is nothing, this is just playing house, wait till your first child is born, then you'll understand what life is about." But even after the first child, we're still working to get our company or career off the ground, and when that's achieved we realize that the really serious plans will have to wait until the kids are grown up and on their own, and then it’s just a matter of getting through those years left till retirement so that we can get down to business.

At every stage of life, we are preparing for the next stage. If at every stage there is something minus to deal with and get over with, when is the right time to start living? When is the right time to be content? To be fully focused, happy, and feel that I have reached my destination? If all time is nothing more than in-between time, preparing for the next phase, when do we stop, sit down, and inhale the roses? When do we stop allowing every single text message to distract us in the hope that this message will finally get us where we want to get in life—and we say, finally, now I am busy living, I can’t be distracted by another text or email?

When do you stop say: This is no more a preparation for living; this is life itself?

Two Perspectives

Ah, here we discover the argument between G-d and the earth. G-d’s intention was that the tree should taste as delicious as the fruit! The tree, the stem, trunk, bark, branches and leaves are the means to ultimately produce the fruit, the ultimate goal. G-d wanted that the soul would be able to feel the inspiration experienced when contemplating a sublime goal also during the process of achieving that end. This is the inner meaning of the above Midrash: The Creator wanted that the means (the fruit tree) should also contain the taste, some of the sense of satisfaction and accomplishment that we feel in the final goal (the fruit). The bark should taste as delicious as the fruit.

But the earth “rebelled.” This was not a conscious mutiny against G-d. it just represents the fact from our limited perception we are unable to appreciate the means — the path we take towards a particular goal — as much as we value the goal itself. We set for ourselves many goals, both short-term and long-term; and we are usually excited, even inspired, by the vision of accomplishing our final objectives. But we do not experience exhilaration in day-to-day efforts to attain these goals.

G-d wanted us to know His intention—because that reflects the Divine truth. From G-d’s perspective, life is always happening right now! this is it. The journey IS the destination. The process is an essential part of the objective. The tree is as special, as beautiful, as delicious, as exciting as the fruits. Don’t wait for your kids to grow up. Cherish every moment when they are small and needy. Don’t be miserable to you find your new job, till you find your right home, till you graduate, till you find your soulmate. Sure, work toward your goal, but invest your entire soul into every moment, stage, experience and encounter in life. give it all you got now—and smell the Esrog today!

And yet, from our vantage point, the two are so different. Our brains create a dramatic distinction between the means and the ends, between the process and the goals, between the journey and the destination.

The Tree that Got It

There was one tree that “got it”—the esrog. The esrog tree produces the fruit that shares the taste like its bark!

And that is why we were told to take the Esrog to celebrate the “time of our joy.” For one of the greatest secrets to joy is when you can learn to appreciate every leg of life’s journey as the destination itself.

Of course, we need to make goals and achieve them. And there is a special happiness when I work hard toward something and I get it done. Our grandmothers were not completely wrong when they said, “hard work makes happy people.” But we can’t wait for the end goal to be happy. Nor is there ever an end goal. Each goal achieves brings more ambition and yearning. The Esrog teaches us that in every step and moment of life, in the “bark” of life, there is a special opportunity and flavor.

Happiness is not a destination; it is a direction. It is the knowledge that G-d is in the bark of life as much as He is in the fruit of life.[6]

 


[1] Leviticus 23:40

[2] See Rambam’s introduction to Mishnah and his introduction to his Mishnah Torah.

[3] Kapos Temarim to Sukkah 35a

[4] The Talmid there brings other proofs. One of them is this. The Talmud reads the phrase pri etz hadar (“the splendid fruit of a tree”) as a reference to the esrog, since the Hebrew word hadar (“splendid”) can also be read ha-dar, “that which dwells,” so that the phrase also translates as “the fruit that dwells on its tree from year to year.” Unlike other fruits, which wither and fall off after a single season, the esrog continues to grow on its tree throughout the year, seemingly unaffected by the annual cycle. Of all fruits, the esrog has the unique distinction of remaining on the tree through all four seasons.

[5] In his commentary to Sukkah ibid.

[6] Based on Sefas Emes Sukkah 35a. Or HaTorah Bereishis pp. 34-35. Oros Hateshuvah by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak Kook.

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    Sukkos 5777

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • October 14, 2016
    • |
    • 12 Tishrei 5777
    • |
    • 0 views
    • Comment

    Class Summary:

    Comes Sukkos, and Jews the world over become expert botanists, suddenly gaining impeccable tastes in the growth, health, and beauty of a citron fruit, a palm branch, a myrtle and a willow. These are the four species which Jews around the world have spent exorbitant amounts of money to buy what they perceived to be the best and most perfect of these four species.

    What is fascinating is that the Torah did not explicitly name the Esrog. It just tells us to take “the splendid fruit of a tree.”

    But maybe that is a papaya, a passion fruit or a rambutan? A cute little grape or cherry? These are all beautiful, stunning fruits! How do we know it is an esrog, a citron? The Talmud tells us that it is the only fruit that tastes like the bark of its tree.

    In Bereishit, the sages derive from the verses that G-d’s intention was that the tress would be just like the fruits they produce. Were one to lick the bark of an apple tree, for example, it would taste like apple. But the earth rebelled. The earth produces trees that grow fruit, but the tree itself is a tree, not a fruit. That is, all trees rebelled, beside one! The esrog tree. In the case of the esrog, as we explained, the taste of the bark is like the taste of the fruit.

    Yet all of this seems senseless. First of all, how can tress sin? How can the earth rebel? Since when does earth have free choice? Second, what’s the point of this whole drama? There is a profound message here—and a vital lesson in life. It is also the secret of joy.

    “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” the saying goes. How can we discover the power to live while we are busy with our plans? That is the secret of the argument between G-d and the earth on the third day of creation. That is also the secret of the Esrog.

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