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The Path to Joy: The Aravah & the Lulav

1) The Power of Community; 2) Aligned with Your Core

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • September 21, 2018
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  • 12 Tishrei 5779
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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.

But how can these four types of plants generate joy? The Torah states: And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the holiday of Sukkos, on the 15th of Tishrei], the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the plaited tree, and willows of the river; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for a seven day period. How can fetching these four plants cause you to rejoice?

This is surely one of the enigmatic mitzvos in the Torah. Is this some form of magic? You shake a citron, a palm branch, a myrtle and willow and you suddenly become happy?!

So today, we will go on a journey into these species, and discover, how 3300 years ago, the Torah provided us with a unique and profound blueprint toward a happier and more inspired life. Here we will explore the secret of the Aravah and the Lulav, which can help us live a more inspired and a happier life.

The Harvard study about happiness, and the island in Italy where people often live over 100, are captured by the message of the Aravah. The story of the porcupines, the bird on the tree, the Rabbi and the coal, the Rebbe’s letter to Menachem Begin and the astounding thing he did on the first Shabbos after he became Prime Minister—all embody the message of joy communicated via the willow.

The story of a Jew in the Gulag, and the light house in the ocean, convey the receipt for inner serenity, when all of the leaves of your life are aligned with your core.

 

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 Four Species

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.

It originates in this verse in Leviticus:  

אמור כג, מ: וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים וַעֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת וְעַרְבֵי נָחַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּם לִפְנֵי יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם שִׁבְעַת יָמִים.

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the holiday of Sukkos, on the 15th of Tishrei], the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the plaited tree, and willows of the river; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for a seven day period.

This is the biblical origin for the mitzvah to take and shake each day of Sukkos the “four species,” the Esrog (citron), the Lulav (a branch of the palm tree), the Hadas (myrtle twig), and the Aravah (willow twig).[1] 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.

But how can these generate joy? The Torah states: And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the beautiful fruit of a tree,” and the other three types of plants, so thatyou shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for a seven-day period.” How can fetching these four plants cause you joy?

This is surely one of the enigmatic mitzvos in the Torah. Is this some form of magic? You shake a citron, a palm branch, a myrtle and willow and you suddenly become happy?!

We must assume that there is something about these four species which can help reorient the human consciousness toward a life of joy.

[This would, fascinatingly, explain why the Torah does not specify explicitly the name of each species. To understand what they are we need the oral commentary that was transmitted with the text of the Torah (and in the Talmud the Rabbis toil hard to show how the words of the text allude to these species.) Because the Torah is not only a book of facts and laws, but also contains the meaning behind each law. The titles the Torah employs capture also the underlying purpose behind choosing these four plants, as we shall explain.]

In Pursuit of Happiness

Which brings us, of course, to one of the great questions of life: What is the path to a life well lived? Wat is the key to happiness and fulfillment?

In a New York Times article entitled The Futile Pursuit of Happiness[2] Harvard professor Daniel Gilbert claims that most people don’t even know what will make them happy in the present, and definitely are unable to forecast what will make them happy in the future.

People are looking for the magic formula. Marketers bombard us daily with promises for a better life. It is too easy to point to a million things that we are missing that are the cause of our unhappiness. People think that all they need is the more and the right. If only I had more hair, more muscle, more cars, more shape, more money, more, more, more. If only I had the right person in my life, the right job, the right apartment, the right, the right, the right. They want to pop their problems into a microwave and happiness is ready in just seconds. “If only I had that job, that car, that house, that parking spot, then I would be happy.” And yet those products never live up to the hype.

So today, we will go on a journey into two of these four species, and discover, how 3300 years ago, the Torah provided us with a unique and profound blueprint toward a happier and more inspired life.

We will explore here two of the plants—the willow and the palm frond. (The next sermon/class will explore the citron and myrtle.)

The Aravah (willow):

As the Midrash point out,[3] the willow is a plant with neither fragrance nor taste, unlike the citron (smell and taste), the date (taste), and the myrtle (smell). The willow has no appeal, or special attraction. It is one of those simple and unexciting plants. Yet it has one interesting feature: In the Tanach and the Talmud, the name for the willow is the “brotherly plant.”[4]

שבת כ, א: (ירמיהו לו, כב) והאח לפניו מבערת, מאי אח? אמר רב אחוונא. ושמואל אמר עצים שנדלקו באחוונא (רש"י: ערבה). ההוא דאמר להו מאן בעי אחוונא אשתכח ערבתא.

If you ever observed an orchard of willows, you saw that the willow bushes grow in unison, like one large “happy family,” or “community.” Ordinarily, plants and distinct bushes of the same plant keep to themselves, retaining their boundaries, even if they grow in close proximity to other bushes.  Not so willows. Dozens of them, or even hundreds or thousands, mingle with each other, in a “brotherly” fashion. As the sages put it: Willow “grow in brotherhood."[5]

Here, we discover one major factor in living a happier life.

The Secret of Sardinia

Psychologist Susan Pinker, in a famous TED talk, shared the following research she conducted:

There is one place in the world, where super longevity is common to both genders. This is Sardinia, an Italian island in the Mediterranean, between Corsica and Tunisia, where there are six times as many centenarians (people who live over 100) as on the Italian mainland, less than 200 miles away. There are 10 times as many centenarians as there are in North America.

Why? My curiosity—said Pinker—was piqued. I decided to research the science and the habits of the place, and I started with the genetic profile. I discovered soon enough that genes account for just 25 percent of their longevity. The other 75 percent is lifestyle.

So what does it take to live to 100 or beyond? What are they doing right? I visited the place. Wherever I went to interview these centenarians, I found a kitchen party. Across their lifespans, they're always surrounded by extended family, by friends, by neighbors, the priest, the barkeeper, the grocer. People are always there or dropping by. They sit, eat, drink, complain, joke, argue, poke fun, sing, party, and spend time together. All of these people are constantly connecting emotionally with many others in their family and community. They are never left to live solitary lives. This is unlike the rest of the developed world, where as George Burns quipped, "Happiness is having a large, loving, caring family—in another city."[6]

Fresh evidence shows that these in-person friendships create a biological force field against disease and decline. And it's not just true of humans. Anthropologist Joan Silk's work shows that female baboons who have a core of female friends show lower levels of stress via their cortisol levels, they live longer, and they have more surviving offspring.

The Harvard Study

Psychologist Robert Waldinger is the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. His findings are fascinating.

What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?

As Waldinger puts it, The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that's ever been done. For 75 years, we've tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I'm the fourth director of the study.

Since 1938, we've tracked the lives of two groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They all finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war. And the second group that we've followed was a group of boys from Boston's poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we've generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. The experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they're lonely.

And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health.

When we gathered together everything we knew about the guys in our study m at age 50, it wasn't their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.

It is not easy. Relationships are messy and they're complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it's not glamorous. It's also lifelong. It never ends.

Mark Twain wrote: "There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that."

The Wisdom of the Willow

The Torah shared this with us 3,300 years ago when it instructed us to focus on the willow for even days as a path to happiness. Our happiness is seriously increased when we emulate the willow, “the brotherly plant,” when we, like the willow, grow in close families and communities, when our lives are mixed and integrated with others; when we spend time with people, and when we have people we can lean on, trust and rely on.

Much of Jewish life can only be lived in community—going to shul, learning Torah together, praying together, Shabbos and Holiday meals, ongoing classes, simchos, and all types of events; all of the mitzvos involving community caring and building, from visiting the sick, paying shivah calls, charity giving, to celebrating every milestone with friends and family. The entire institution of Shabbat was created to foster social cohesion and human camaraderie. Not going to work, family and community would meet in the shuls and mainly in the homes, eating, drinking, arguing, schmoozing, and just being present with each other and for each other.[7]

In a marvelous letter, from August 1961, the Lubavitcher Rebbe shares this idea with the then-opposition leader, Meanchem Begin.

אגרות קודש כרך כ י"ב מנ"א תשכ"א: כידוע עד כמה הפליגו חז"ל ענין שמירת השבת, ועד שאמרו, שאלמלי שמרו ישראל שבת אחת כהלכתה, מיד הם נגאלים. ומדגיש הנני בהאמור, חכמנו, ולא כלשון הרגיל רבותינו, כי המתבונן בשכל הבריא בדברי ימי ישראל במשך גלותו הכי מגוון והכי רב, נוכח לדעת גודל שמירת השבת, כוונתי איך ששמירתו שמרה על קיום בני ישראל במובן הרוחני, ומקום לומר גם במובן הגשמי.

ויש להוסיף עוד נקודה בהאמור, ובזה גם מענין ימים אלה, שמנוחת יום השבת הסירה כמה מחיצות וקירבה ואיחדה יהודים מחוגים הכי רחוקים, הן מצד עסק פרנסתם והן מצד רמתם ברוחניות, בהפגשם יחד בעת התפלה, שדוקא בשבת היתה ברוב עם, וכן בשעות המנוחה במשך המעל"ע וכו'.

The serenity and rest of Shabbos removed many barriers, and brought together, and unified Jews from diverse and the most remote spectrums of life, both in terms of profession and in their spiritual status; because they would meet during davening, which on Shabbos brought together the whole community, and they would also meet during the hours of rest in the 24-hour period of Shabbos.

Begin’s Weekly Open Home

Begin internalized the message well.

For years, when Menachem Begin lived in Tel Aviv, he hosted a Shabbos Open house. Begin was not a particular religious Jew, but he was infused with Jewish leaning and values and perhaps this letter impacted him deeply. So each Shabbos afternoon his home was open to all, and Jews of all colors, stripes and flavors dropped in, for a bite of food, pastries, a drink, and a nice word with the leader of the opposition party in the Israeli parliament (Begin served for decades as the head of the opposition).

It was a magnificent tradition. Aliza and Menachem Begin would sit and greet everyone. All were welcome. People just popped in to say Shabbat Shalom and have a chat with the legendary leader of the Irgun, long time fighter for Israel and Jewish dignity.

When Begin shockingly became Prime Minister in 1977, he was intent on continuing this tradition in his new prime minister’s home in Jerusalem. So, before his first Shabbat in office, word went out, that there will be an open house at the Begins. Much to the great chagrin of his security team, word got out fast.

Shabbat afternoon arrived and before long, the house was completely full. From local artists to Yemenite grocers with their white beanies, complaining about the economy, all types of Jews popped in to the Prime Minister’s residence. Begin was thrilled! He easily moved within the crowd, hearing people plights, compliments and complaints. He lent an ear, promised to help out where he could, and just greeted all with Shabbat Shalom greetings.

Can you imagine a US President inviting random folks to his private residence, every single Saturday or Sunday, to just spend the Shabbat and the day with them? To hear what makes them happy or sad? To joke around, and explore some idea from the weekly Torah portion, or from the the Talmud, or Jewish folklore? Well, that is what the scene looked like at the Prime Minister’s home Shabbos afternoon!

(The security personal went crazy from this; they felt it was too dangerous, it was a security nightmare. And, to the dismay of Begin, they put an end to it.)

Solitariness is nice at times, but after a while it is a recipe for misery. Willows don’t have much going for them; they got no taste, and no smell. They do not adorn banquets and wedding halls; they do not make their way into gourmet delicacies, or perfumes. But the Torah tells us to hold them dear for seven days a year, because learning from their nature, can bring us joy.

Just as the willow, the above research shows that the power of community, friendship and loyal relationships, work magic for everybody, even for people who may not be so appealing or charismatic, lacking “smell” or “taste.”

The Porcupine

It was the coldest winter ever...

Many animals died because of the cold.  The poor little porcupines, realizing the dire situation they were in, decided to group together; this way, they can enjoy each other’s heat. Yet the quills of each one wounded their closest companions.

After a while, they decided to distance themselves one from another, so they would never feel the prick of the other; soon they began to die, alone, and frozen.

Even though they were little animals, the survivors had to make a life or death choice: either accept the quills of their companions, or perish.

Wisely, they decided to go back to being together; this way they learned to live with the little wounds that were caused by the close relationship with their companions, but the most important part of it was that the heat that came from the others allowed all to survive.

The best relationships are not the ones that brings together perfect people; it is when each individual learns to live with imperfections of others and can admire the other person's good qualities. It is in the coming together that we receive a powerful amount of heat, warmth, vitality and love that keeps us so much more alive and vibrant.   

The Bird atop the Tree

The great Chassidic master Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov would pray for many hours every day. His disciples, who had long concluded their own prayers, would form a circle around him to listen to the melody of his prayers and feast their eyes on the spectacle of a soul soaring in meditative attachment to its Maker. It was an unspoken rule amongst them that no one abandoned his post until their master had concluded his prayers.

One day, a great fatigue and hunger befell them. One by one, they slipped home for a bite and a few moments rest, certain that their master's prayers would continue for several hours more. But when they returned, they found that he had finished praying while they were gone.

"Tell us, Rebbe," they asked him, "why did you conclude your prayers so early today?"

The Baal Shem Tov answered them with a parable: Once, a group of people were journeying through a forest. Their leader, who was blessed with a keen eyesight, spotted a beautiful bird trapped atop a tall tree.

"Come," he said to his companions, "I wish to liberate this beautiful bird, so that it can continue to fly freely, and delight the world with her song and her wondrous hues."

"But how can you reach this bird you see," asked they, "the tree being so high and ourselves held captive by the ground?"

"If you each climb up onto the shoulders of your fellow," their leader explained, "I will climb on to the shoulders of the topmost man and reach for the treasure that beckons to us from the heights."

And so they did. Together, they formed a chain reaching from the earth toward the heavens, to raise their leader to his aspired goal. But they soon wearied of the exercise and went off to eat and rest; the man who had sighted the bird tumbled to the ground.

The Coal

They tell a story about a man who was part of a vibrant community, he would attend the weekly Shabbat services for many years. But then he just stopped coming. It was winter time. The Rabbi inquired as to the reason for this, but all he heard was that Moshe was doing fine, he was feeling fine, yet he just stopped coming.

The rabbi went to pay Moshe a visit. He came to the man’s house. He sees the guy sitting comfortably next to the fireplace, reading a book. The rabbi sits down next to him and doesn’t say a word; they’re both sitting there in the glow of the warm fire. The rabbi then took the fire tongs and removed a live, glowing coal from the flames and set it down gently in an isolated corner of the fireplace. While the rest of the fire blazed and crackled on, the isolated piece of coal grew paler and paler by the minute, until it extinguished itself. It became cold and fireless. Still not saying a word, the rabbi stood up, nodded good night to his congregant and went home.

The next Shabbos, Moshe returned to shul.

He understood: A coal that’s isolated from the collective fire easily dies out.

***

The Lulav (palm frond):

The way in which palm fronds grows is that each branch has a single central stem, and from it protrude leaves on both side (illustrate to your audience with a lulav), similar to the human spine and its vertebrates. In the first stages of growth, all the leaves remain bound to the central stem; later on, the leaves begin spreading out, scattered in all directions, some faxing downward, becoming almost completely separated from the stem. 

As the Talmud explains,[8] when it comes to the lulav the Torah writes that we should take “fronds of dates,” or “kapot (“fronds of”) temarim.” The word kapot also means “bound,” implying that we are to take a closed frond (“the heart of the palm”), when the leaves are linked to the spine and fce the same direction.[9]

שולחן ערוך הרב אורח חיים סימן תרמה, ג: כפות תמרים זה לולב שהוא גדל על אילן של תמרים ומתוך שכתבה התורה לשון כפות ולא כתבה עלי תמרים מכאן אתה למד שצריך שיהיה אותן עלים הראויין לאגדן ולכפותן עם השדרה, מחמת שהן עדיין רכים שהרי לא נכתבו נקודות בתורה ופירושו הוא כָּפוּת. אבל אם שהה הלולב על הדקל עד שנתקשו עליו כעץ ונתרחקו ונתפרדו מהשדרה שכן הוא דרכן שכל מה שהן מוסיפים להתקשות הן מתרחקים מהשדרה, ואם נתקשו כל כך עד שאי אפשר לכפותן ולאגדן עם השדרהי הרי זה פסול:

ד. אבל אם לא נתקשו כל כך אף על פי שכל זמן שאינן כפותין הן עומדין מפורדין ומרוחקין זה מזה אף על פי כן הוא כשר, אפילו אם לא כפתו כלל, שלא הקפידה תורה אלא שיהא ראוי לכפותה אבל לא שיהא כָּפוּת ממש, שהרי אין אנו קורין כָּפוּת אלא כַּפּוֺת: ה ומכל מקום מצוה מן המובחר שלא ליטול לולב שעליו פרודות זה מזה, ואפילו אם לא נתקשו כלל אלא שמחמת שנעקרו מעט במקום חיבורם בשדרה נתפרדו זה מזה מעט, אע"פ שאין תלוין למטה כלל אלא הן עולין למעלה עם השדרה:

This, too, is a major key in the path toward happiness: All the details of your life, your “leaves,” should be visibly connected to your central stem, to your singular heart.

Life can frazzle you. And each day and year brings on more duties, responsibilities, and duties pulling us in all directions.

A friend who works as a business lawyer describes his stress: Once, a contract, a letter, a proposal, would come in the mail. You thought about it, drafted your response, and sent it off. Total turn-around: about a week. Then came express mail. The proposal comes by FedEx by 10:30 AM, and the response is expected the next day. Then came fax: The response is expected by day's end. Then came E-mail. And the response is expected instantaneously.

Then came texting. And now the response is expected even before the other guy finished sending the entire text! If not you are considered anti-social and irresponsible.

In some cities, like NY and LA, people are now getting tickets for “double PARKING” when they are driving only 50 miles per hour. It’s a fast world out there.

We live in what some call "the age of interruption" when "inner time," our personal sense of the rhythms of time, and the regimented time society imposes upon us don't jibe. My time schedule is being defined by you, not by my inner self. I sit down to have a cup of coffee and think, but then a text comes in and I am COMPELLED to respond. I get into the bath, for G-d’s sake, and I want to dream, but suddenly I need to respond to 15 emails which just arrived, of course as “high priority.” There goes my inner time.

What is the serenity prayer in NY? “G-d give me patience, and give it to me… NOW!”

But if you have a core goal, a central stem, a singular heart, and all the “leaves” in your life remain visibly connected to your spine, you can remain full of serenity, focus, and peace of mind.

In the Gulag

I want to share with you story I heard from Reb Mendel Futerfas, a Chabad Chassid, who spent 14 years in Soviet prisons and labor camps, due to his involvement in spreading Judaism in Stalin’s Soviet Union.

One night, in a barrack in ice-cold Siberia, the prisoners began talking about their life BCE, Before the Communist Era, before Stalin turned daily life into a hellish nightmare in his newly constructed hell on earth. Before he was arrested and exiled, one of the inmates was an actor, the other one - a writer, the third—a government official, the fourth—a doctor, a clergy man, a novelist, a journalist, a successful business man, etc. Stalin sent to the Gulag the finest of Russian intelligentsia and Kultur. If you thought for yourself, you were a threat to the Communist Party and could be either shot or exiled. At least 30 million people perished during Stalin’s 30 years of reign (from 1924 till 1953).

As the men were sitting in the barrack, recalling their wonderful, even glorious past, they broke down in sobs. “Once upon a time, we had everything; today we have nothing. Once upon a time, we had a sense of self, identity, worth; today everything has been taken from us.”

Only one man in the barrack was not crying. This was the Chabad Chassid, Reb Mendel. He was listening intently to the tales of woe delivered by the inmates, but was not weeping with them.

“I guess you were a loser then, so you lost nothing now!” exclaimed one inmate. “If you got nothing, you got nothing to lose…”

“Actually,” Reb Mendel said, “I had a very successful business, which I lost.”

“So why don’t you feel sadness and pain? Don’t you feel that your very sense of self-worth has been snatched from you be these animals?”

“I do feel tremendous sadness and pain,” responded the Chassid. “I miss my wife, I miss my children, I miss my freedom. I am concerned for my future. But I must tell you that my primary occupation I did not lose, not even here in Siberia.

“You see, before I was arrested and exiled, I ran a large business, I earned lots of money, but that did not constitute the essence of my identity, it did not define the mission of my life not did it capture the ultimate meaning of my existence. My primary occupation was that I was a servant of G-d. I awoke each morning remembering that my life was given to me as a gift in order to serve G-d one more day.

And this primary occupation of mine they could not take away from me in Siberia. Here too I serve G-d each and every day. The only difference is in the software, not in the hardware. Previously I served G-d as a successful business man; today I serve G-d here as a prisoner in the Gulag.

Reb Mendel articulated the secret of the Jew and the secret of the lulav, as a path to inner dignity and serenity. He defined himself not by what he had, but by what he was. He was a Jew. He was a servant of G-d; he was an agent of the Divine on earth.

In life, you need to have an epicenter, a “Lulav,” an inner unshakable core that cannot go down with the fluctuations and ups and downs of the market and of life in general. That core is made up not of possessions or money, but of our moral integrity, our connectedness to G-d; it is comprised of our love, our loyalty, our faith, and the intimacy we share with our soul and our Creator.

The name Lulav points to this. It is a combination of two words: Lo Lev. To Him (I direct) my heart. I have one focus, one goal, one direction in life.

The Luggage

My friend came to the airport to check in for his flight. “How many pieces of luggage would you like to check in,”? The woman behind the counter asked.

 “Three,” he said. “One should be sent to Tel Aviv. The other one -- to Chicago; and the third one -- to London.”

 “I am sorry,” she said. “We cannot do that.”

 “That’s surprising,” the man said. “Last time I flew, you did exactly that, without even asking me!”

Often, we are scattered in life. Part of us is in Chicago, part of us in Tel Aviv and another part in London. It depends on where we have placed our investments. When the market goes up, we go up with it; when it goes down, we often down with it. The Hebrew word for the opposite of holiness is “chol,” which means sand. Sands shifts and moves; it is swept by the sea and blown by the passing wind. It does not have roots. It is here today, and then tomorrow it is “gone with the wind.”

Kodesh -- holiness -- means to be rooted. Kodesh is our connectedness to the past and our face turned to what is above. When I have roots in something that is beyond my ego, when I recall that I am a servant of G-d at every moment of my life, that I am part of a larger story, then even when strong winds are blowing, my epicenter remains intact. My life is defined by emotional and mental cohesion. I know who I am, and why I am here. I am always on one flight—the sam flight—and always flying to the same destination.

In the words of the Talmud:[10]

סוכה מה, ב: מה תמר זה אין לו אלא לב אחד אף ישראל אין להם אלא לב אחד לאביהם שבשמים.

The palm tree has one heart (one central stem),[11] so does Israel have one singular heart toward its Father in Heaven.

The Light House

They tell the story of the US naval ship confronting a Canadian one.

Americans: Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a Collision.

Canadians: Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision.

Americans: This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course.

Canadians: No. I say again, you divert YOUR course.

Americans: This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States' Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that YOU change your course 15 degrees north, that's one five degrees north, or countermeasures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.

Canadians: This is a lighthouse. Your call.[12]


[1] Specifically, biblically the mitzvah is to shake them on the first day of Sukkos, as it says “you shall take for yourself on the first day.” Only in the Holy Temple, did they perform this mitzvah for seven days, as thr verse concludes, that before your G-d, meaning in the Temple, you shall do it for seven days. But after the destruction of the Second Temple, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai and the Supreme court instituted that Jews in all communities shake the species for all the seven days of Sukkos (except Shabbos.) Thus, beginning from the second it is a rabbinic commandment.

[2] NYT Magazine September 7, 2003.

[3] Midrash Rabah Vayikra 30:

[4] Shabbos 20b

[5] Likkutei Sichos vol. 29 Hoshanah Rabah – and all the references noted there.

[6] Susan Pinker continues: “Now, these centenarians' stories along with the science that underpins them prompted me to ask myself some questions too, such as, when am I going to die and how can I put that day off? And as you will see, the answer is not what we expect. Julianne Holt-Lunstad is a researcher at Brigham Young University and she addressed this very question in a series of studies of tens of thousands of middle aged people much like this audience here. And she looked at every aspect of their lifestyle: their diet, their exercise, their marital status, how often they went to the doctor, whether they smoked or drank, etc. She recorded all of this and then she and her colleagues sat tight and waited for seven years to see who would still be breathing. And of the people left standing, what reduced their chances of dying the most? That was her question. So let's now look at her data in summary, going from the least powerful predictor to the strongest. OK? So clean air, which is great, it doesn't predict how long you will live. Whether you have your hypertension treated is good. Still not a strong predictor. Whether you're lean or overweight, you can stop feeling guilty about this, because it's only in third place. How much exercise you get is next, still only a moderate predictor. Whether you've had a cardiac event and you're in rehab and exercising, getting higher now. Whether you've had a flu vaccine. Did anybody here know that having a flu vaccine protects you more than doing exercise? Whether you were drinking and quit, or whether you're a moderate drinker, whether you don't smoke, or if you did, whether you quit, and getting towards the top predictors are two features of your social life. First, your close relationships. These are the people that you can call on for a loan if you need money suddenly, who will call the doctor if you're not feeling well or who will take you to the hospital, or who will sit with you if you're having an existential crisis, if you're in despair. Those people, that little clutch of people are a strong predictor, if you have them, of how long you'll live. And then something that surprised me, something that's called social integration. This means how much you interact with people as you move through your day. How many people do you talk to? And these mean both your weak and your strong bonds, so not just the people you're really close to, who mean a lot to you, but, like, do you talk to the guy who every day makes you your coffee? Do you talk to the postman? Do you talk to the woman who walks by your house every day with her dog? Do you play bridge or poker, have a book club? Those interactions are one of the strongest predictors of how long you'll live.

[7] This point was conveyed in a letter from the Rebbe to Menachem Begin, which may have inspired the story that follows.

[8] Sukkah 32a. Shlchan Aruch Orach Chaim 646

[9] Also, the word kapot (“fronds of”) is spelled without the letter vav, meaning that it can also be read kapat, “the frond of,” in the singular. This means we do not just take one large leaf of the lulav.

[10] Sukkah 45b

[11] As Rashi explains, the palm tree is unique from most trees that it is a “monocots” plant, whose seeds contain only one embryonic leaf, or cotyledon. The Ritva explains it means that dates do not have a husk, their insides and outsides are one. They have “one heart.”

[12] This sermon is based on Hemshech V’kacha 5637 by the Rebbe Maharash, from chapter 87 and on, and references noted there. Cf. Likkutei Sichos vol. 29 Hoshanah Rabah and references noted there.

 

 

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    Sukkos 5779

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • September 21, 2018
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    • 12 Tishrei 5779
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    • 1 views
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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.

    But how can these four types of plants generate joy? The Torah states: And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of the holiday of Sukkos, on the 15th of Tishrei], the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the plaited tree, and willows of the river; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for a seven day period. How can fetching these four plants cause you to rejoice?

    This is surely one of the enigmatic mitzvos in the Torah. Is this some form of magic? You shake a citron, a palm branch, a myrtle and willow and you suddenly become happy?!

    So today, we will go on a journey into these species, and discover, how 3300 years ago, the Torah provided us with a unique and profound blueprint toward a happier and more inspired life. Here we will explore the secret of the Aravah and the Lulav, which can help us live a more inspired and a happier life.

    The Harvard study about happiness, and the island in Italy where people often live over 100, are captured by the message of the Aravah. The story of the porcupines, the bird on the tree, the Rabbi and the coal, the Rebbe’s letter to Menachem Begin and the astounding thing he did on the first Shabbos after he became Prime Minister—all embody the message of joy communicated via the willow.

    The story of a Jew in the Gulag, and the light house in the ocean, convey the receipt for inner serenity, when all of the leaves of your life are aligned with your core.

     

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