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The Path to Joy: The Esrog and the Hadas

1) Grow From All Circumstances; 2) Happiness Is Not a Destination; 3) Look Out Your Friend’s Window; 4) Don’t Think Much About Yourself

    Rabbi YY Jacobson

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  • September 21, 2018
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  • 12 Tishrei 5779
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Class Summary:

 

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? 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 Esrog and the Hadas.

A happy life is one that emulates an esrog; it is when you learn endure in the diverse seasons of life. And even more, just like the esrog, you discover how to grow bigger and better from each season and change in your life. Every new experience in life, as challenging as it may seem, is an opportunity to discover new horizons, to discover deeper resources, to learn who you really are, to unlock repressed trauma, to cultivate your truest values, and to discover your ultimate destiny.

A happy life is also when you learn the secret of the esrog, how the rind and the fruit share the same flavor. Celebrate the journey, not only the destination.

Happiness is also archived when you learn the two secrets of the hadas: Diversity can come from oneness, and the self is happiest when it forgets about itself.

The story of the Talmudic sage who danced at weddings with a hadas; the story of a honeymoon which ended in disaster, yet became one of the great success stories of America; the story of a young girl and her father looking out two distinct windows; the story of the highway traveler who managed to find the gold.

 

The Blind Golfer

Charlie Boswell was a great athlete who became blind during World War II while rescuing his friend from a tank that was under fire. When he returned to this country after the War, he decided to take up a sport that he had never tried as yet—golf. Years of Practice and determination led him to win the honor of National Blind Golf Champion no less than 13 times. One of his heroes was the great golfer Ben Hogan, so it truly was an honor for Charlie to win the Ben Hogan Award in 1958.

Upon meeting Hogan, Charlie was awestruck and told the legendary golfer that his greatest wish was to have one round of golf with the great Ben Hogan.

Hogan was duly honored, after all, he knew Charlie as the great blind player that he was, and truly admired his skills. 

But suddenly Boswell blurted out an unexpected challenge. "Would you like to play for money, Mr. Hogan?"

"Charlie, you know I can't play you for money, it wouldn't be fair!" said Mr. Hogan.

Boswell did not flinch.  Instead he upped the ante. "Aw, come on, $1,000 per hole!"

"I can't.  What would people think of me, taking advantage of you and your circumstance," replied the golfer who indeed was able to see.

"Chicken, Mr. Hogan?"

"Okay," blurted a frustrated Hogan, "I'll play.  But I warn you, I am going to play my best!"

"I wouldn't expect anything else," said the confident Boswell.

"You're on Charlie.  I'll tell you what. You name the time and the place!"

A very self-assured Boswell responded: “Fine. 10 o'clock… tonight!"

The Four Species

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]

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 to rejoice?  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.

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 those two which the Torah actually does not mention explicitly: the Esrog and Hadas.

1. The Esrog

The Torah does not explicitly name the Esrog (the citron). The Torah states, “you shall take for yourselves the splendorous fruit of a tree,” or in the original Hebrew: “pri eitz Hadar.” 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?[3]

So the Talmud says this:

סוכה לה, א: ת"ר (ויקרא כג, מ) פרי עץ הדר... ר' אבהו אמר אל תקרי הדר אלא הדר, דבר שדר באילנו משנה לשנה.

In a brilliant interpretation, the Talmud[4] reads the phrase “pri eitz Hadar” (“the magnificent fruit of a tree”) as a reference to the esrog (citron) since the Hebrew word hadar (“magnificent”) 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 entire year, enduring and growing with each season change. The citron is the only fruit “that dwells on its tree from year to year.”

It is a fascinating fact: The esrog can remain fresh and alive on a tree sometimes up to three, or even four or five, years, and just continue to grow with each season and each year, becoming larger and larger. This sets the esrog apart from all other fruits, which rot or fall off the tree after their particular season of ripeness has arrived. They can live on the tree and grow only in particular seasons, each fruit according to its DNA instructions.

(If you have a large and small esrog, lift them both up to illustrate the difference).

Weathering Change

But why does the Torah refer to the citron in this round-about way, as “the fruit that dwells,” rather than stating its name directly: “take the esrog,” just as it does with the palm branch and the willow?

Here we discover, once again, the incredible precision and nuanced depth of Torah. The Torah wants to convey to us why the esrog was chosen over all other fruits. It is this quality of the citron—its ability to weather change and grow from change—which makes it into a fruit helping us achieve more happiness.

The year is a microcosm of human life. The bud and bloom of youth, the fruitfulness of maturity, the autumn of one's later years, and the wither of the winter of life—all find expression in the seasons of a year. A year includes sunny days, but also rainy days; exciting days but also monotonous days; success and failure, blessings and challenges, straight balls and curve balls; warm and passionate experiences, as well as cold and frozen moments. In short, the year incorporates the full spectrum of human experiences and emotions.

The esrog, the only fruit which dwells on the tree throughout all the years’ seasons (and even for a few years), teaches us the first step toward happiness. I have to learn the art of “weathering” and growing from all seasons, appreciating the truth that every single experience in life is here to ultimately being out the best in me.

Some people can only do well in one particular “season.” For some, when life is sunny and warm, they thrive; for others, when life is cloudy and cold, they function well: Dark days bring out the best in them. (Yes, not all of us run to Miami for the winter; we love New York!). Either way, they are fully alive only in one season; when you take them out of their “comfort zone,” when you remove them from their “natural habitat,” they often wither away or become detached from their tree and roots, from their source of life. When life’s vicissitudes transport them to new and unexpected situations—they often lose their core, vitality, sap, organic connection with the cosmos, with themselves, with G-d.

A happy life is one that emulates an esrog; it is when you learn endure in the diverse seasons of life. And even more, just like the esrog, you discover how to grow bigger and better from each season and change in your life. Every new experience in life, as challenging as it may seem, is an opportunity to discover new horizons, to discover deeper resources, to learn who you really are, to unlock repressed trauma, to cultivate your truest values, and to discover your ultimate destiny.

This year, when you shake the esrog, try to emulate it.[5]

The Woodpecker

Let me share with you a story.[6]

It was 1940. A young couple embarked on their honey moon. They decided to be adventurous and youthful. They rented a wooden cabin at Sherwood Lake for three nights, hoping to kindle their romance and affection.

They did not realize they would be privy to a special visitor who wished to join their honey moon. A noisy pileated woodpecker outside their cabin kept the couple awake through the night, and when a heavy rain started, they learned from the numerous leaks, and their soaking blankets and pillows, that the pesky bird had bored holes in the cabin’s roof. The husband wanted to shoot the varmint, but his wife would not allow him to do so.

The next night, their woodpecker returned and kept them awake again. And then again, the third night he would not persist.

For all practical purposes, and from all practical perspectives, this has been a grand failure, a miserable honeymoon, an absolute disaster. What was supposed to be the fun of their life, turned out to be a dismal experience. It could not get much worse.

Yet on the way back home the couple decided to think otherwise. “We have had an awesomely successful honeymoon. Now we just got to figure out how…”

And then the wife suggested that her husband, an animator, make a cartoon about the bird. Indeed, that day Woody Woodpecker was born. The famous cartoon by Walter and Gracie Lantz was created in 1940 during their honey moon, as a result of the woodpecker who almost destroyed their honeymoon.

50 years later, when the couple was asked what the best night of their life was? They responded: It was the night in the cabin when the woodpecker bored a hole in our roof! That night made us rich, famous, successful and blissful.

What was the objective truth? Was it a positive honey moon or a negative one? Was it a good experience or a horrific one? The answer is: Depends how you think about it. They could have decided it was a miserable honey moon and so it would have been; they decided otherwise—they decided it was the best thing in their life. And so it was!

They emulated the esrog, learning how to grow from every experience, how to allow each encounter with reality enhance your life.

The Bark and the Rind

The Talmud presents another proof from the text that the “fruit of a splendid tree” refers to the esrog. This insight provides us with yet another step in our path toward a life of happiness.

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

As we recall, 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”?

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 fruit 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,[7] in most fruits we eat the pulp of the fruit. But in an esrog, the pulp is a very tiny part of the fruit; much 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!

(If you can get a non-kosher esrog, dice it and illustrate to the audience.)

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[8] brilliantly 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 superfluous, we can derive one from the other.

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

End of optional section

The Bark and the Fruit

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

On the third day of creation, says the Torah, all produce emergee—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.

יב: 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 wording 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 that produces fruit. What should it produce chickens?

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 themselves 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, he or she would taste an apple. But the earth rebelled. The earth produced trees that grew 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 shares the taste of the fruit. The tree itself is like the 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, where the fruit and the bark share similar taste.

And that, says the Sefas Emes, is why the Esrog is called “hadar,” beautiful, magnificent, 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, how can tress sin? How can the earth rebel? Since when do trees and earth possess free choice?

Second, what’s the point of this whole drama? Why did G-d want 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 next step in achieving a life 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 each 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 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), or when I learnt how the roots will spread out as far as they need to in order find enough water in the earth to sustain itself, and 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, even decades, till you finally see and consume 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. It takes nine months of hard work, filled with devotion and sacrifice of a dedicated mother, to bring that miracle to the world.

And you don’t raise these babies in a day. It takes 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 for my uber, till I finally get to my hotel room, and then wait till the next day for the meeting.

You are in therapy because of some deep challenge. But it is a process. You go back again each week, and it may take months or years for the healing you are yearning for. The same, of course, with building your business, your home, and your website.

You need to lose 60 pounds. But despite all of the wonder diets, it does not happen in six weeks. It is a long process. It’s a change of life style, eating patterns, exercising, etc.

Waiting for the Goal

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 must 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

Here we discover the deeper meaning of the “argument” between G-d and 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. The Creator wanted that the means (the fruit tree) should also contain the taste, the sense of delight, sweetness, 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 that 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 about that which is happening right now! This is it. Reality is always experienced in the now. 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. Embrace every moment your home is sounds like a train station or an amusement park. Those times don’t last forever, you will miss them one day. Don’t let them slip through your fingers. Be fully present!

Don’t be miserable till 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!

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.

But G-d has a completely different perspective. For G-d, all is essential to your purpose. The tree and the fruit all share the same “taste” and “flavor;” both are equally delicious.

The Tree that Got It

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

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 achieved 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.[9]

The Hadas (Myrtle Twig)

Here, too, the Torah does not specify explicitly the myrtle branch. The Torah uses the term “anaf eitz avos,” a think-leafed tree. In the case of the myrtle, the leaves completely cover the stem; you do not see the twig.

In addition, the Hebrew word avos (“thick”) also means “plaited” and “rope-like.” Hence the “branch of the thick-leafed plaited tree” (anaf eitz avos) is identified as the myrtle twig, whose overlapping leaves grow in knots of three, giving it the appearance of a plaited rope. The leaves of the myrtle appear interlocked and interwoven.[10] This is because, as the Talmud puts it, the three leaves on every level of the myrtle sprout from the same spot on the stalk[11] (or at least sprout forth right near each other on the twig, on the same level, without one leaf lower than the other two.[12]) This is unique to the myrtle, that three leaves grow from origin in the stalk (or at least, right near each other, covering each other, and appearing to be plaited and interlaced.) (Pick up as hadas and illustrate).

סוכה לב, ב: תנו רבנן (ויקרא כג, מ) ענף עץ עבות שענפיו חופין את עצו, ואי זה הוא? הוי אומר זה הדס!... תנא עץ עבות כשר ושאינו עבות פסול היכי דמי עבות אמר רב יהודה והוא דקיימי תלתא תלתא טרפי בקינא. רש"י: תלתא תלתא בחד קינא - שלשה עלין בקן אחד יוצאין מתוך עוקץ אחד. תוספות: שלשה עלין בקן אחד ויוצאין מתוך עוקץ אחד כדפירש בקונטרס וכן פירש תרי וחד שני עלין בעוקץ אחד ועלה אחד מלמטה ועולה ורוכב על השנים וחומרא גדולה הוא דאינו מצוי ושמא בחד קינא מיקרי כשהם סמוכים ודבוקים זה בזה אע"פ שכל אחד בעוקצו...

שו"ע הרב אורח חיים סימן תרמו: ואינו נקרא עבות אלא א"כ יוצאין ממנו לפחות שלשה עלין מקן אחד, כלומר שיוצאין שלשה עלין או יותר סמוכין זה לזה בעיגול אחד שאין אחד מהם נמוך מחבירו, אע"פ שאין כל השלשה עלין יוצאין מעוקץ אחד כיון שהן דבוקין זה בזה ועומדין בשוה בעיגול אחד הרי זה עבות. אבל אם שני עלין הן עומדין בשוה דבוקים זה בזה ועלה השלישי הוא למעלה מהם, או שהשלישי יוצא למטה מהשנים ועולה ורוכב על גבי השנים, אין זה עבות אלא נקרא הדס שוטה ופסול כל שבעה אפילו בשעת הדחק שאי אפשר למצוא הדס אחר ואין ליטול אותו אפילו בלא ברכה כיון שאינו מין הדס הכשר כלל.

What is more, the Talmud relates:

כתובות יז, א: אמרו עליו על רבי יהודה בר אילעאי שהיה נוטל בד של הדס ומרקד לפני הכלה ואומר כלה נאה וחסודה רב שמואל בר רב יצחק מרקד אתלת.

One of the greatest Talmudic Sages, Rabbi Yehuda the son of Eilaei, would take a myrtle twig and dance with it in front of the bride, saying: The bride is beautiful and gracious. Rabbi Shmuel the son of Rabbi Yitzchak would dance and judge three myrtle branches.

Why the myrtle branch at a wedding? Why didn’t he take a rose, a lily or nay other plant?[13]

Because he was trying to teach the groom and bride a deep lesson for their future life together, one that could them—and us—a deeper sense of happiness, love and trust.

Looking Out the Other Window

Irving David Yalom is an 87-tear-old Jewish American existential psychiatrist who is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Stanford University, as well as author of many books on psychology, including When Nietzsche Wept. In his book The Gift of Therapy (chapter 6) he shares this story.

Decades ago I saw a patient with breast cancer, who had, throughout adolescence, been locked in a long, bitter struggle with her naysaying father. Yearning for some form of reconciliation, for a new, fresh beginning to their relationship, she looked forward to her father’s driving her to college—a time when she would be alone with him for several hours. But the long-anticipated trip proved a disaster: her father behaved true to form by grousing at length about the ugly, garbage-littered creek by the side of the road. She, on the other hand, saw no litter whatsoever in the beautiful, rustic, unspoiled stream. She could find no way to respond and eventually, lapsing into silence, they spent the remainder of the trip looking away from each other.

Many years later, she made the same trip alone and was astounded to note that there were two streams—one on each side of the road. “This time I was the driver,” she said sadly, “and the stream I saw through my window on the driver’s side was just as ugly and polluted as my father had described it.” But by the time she had learned to look out her father’s window, it was too late—her father was dead and buried.

“Look out the other’s window. Try to see the world as your patient sees it.” The woman who told me this story died a short time later of breast cancer, and I regret that I cannot tell her how useful her story has been over the years, to me, my students, and many patients.

A happy life is one in which I can accept that my spouse and I often see reality from two distinct windows, and thus see two different things. I cannot hope or expect that my spouse will start seeing the world through my window; that may not be possible, for she, or he, have their own window through which they observe the world. Rather, what we must strive for is to respect the fact that other people see the world through other windows, and try to listen, and empathize with what they are seeing and experiencing, even if it is not what you are seeing and experiencing.

This is not always easy. Your wife complains; your husband gets into a bad mood. You get into an argument, and you see this as a divide in the relationship. We allow disagreements to become conflicts, building mistrust. But it needs not be that way.

And here is where we must emulate the myrtle, by developing the awareness that diverse leaves, facing in different and even opposite directions, can be intertwined and interlocked with each other, covering for each other, protecting each other, and even originating from the same spot, even though they grow in different directions, one leaf to the right, the other one to the left, the third straight in the middle facing upward.

 

The three leaves can look out into different or opposite directions, but they are still on the same page; they remain connected, united, interlaced, protecting each other, covering for each other, and united completely in their source.

In your marriage, or in any other relationship you enjoy with siblings, parents, children, friends, co-workers, etc., always cultivate the feeling that you guys can lean on each other, protect each other, and be here for each other, in a very real and deep way. But that does not mean you see the world the same way; you probably do not!

And when you discover these different vantage points, do not get angry, and do not doubt your harmony and oneness.[14] Even if you feel anger, do not let that cloud your true awareness and value: Just because you see the world through a different window, as a result of which you see different things, it does not mean that “she hates me,” or “he hates me,” or that “she/he is just impossible.” No. You, like the leaves of the hadas, remain bound together, integrated, interlaced. You can enjoy an awesome life together, even while you are looking out two windows.

Don’t Wallow in the Self

The hadas has one more quality: Its leaves (and berries which often grow on it) almost completely eclipse the twig producing them.

The twig is the symbol for the person, and the leaves are what we produce with and through our life. Just as the branch produces leaves and berries, so does the human “tree” produce leaves and fruits, representing all of the actions we do which benefit others and the world.

The secret to happiness is when we stop focusing so much on how happy we are, and instead utilize our life to produce leaves and fruits to benefit the world. If I wallow all day in myself, trying to figure out why I feel this way or that way, I often remain stuck in an elusive search for happiness.

But it is the very pursuit of happiness that thwarts happiness. Happiness is an automatic product of a life well lived, when I am doing what I am supposed to do, when I am true to my mission in this world.

The Highway

Once upon a time, a king had a great highway built for the people who lived in his kingdom. After it was completed, but before it was opened to the public, the king decided to have a contest. He invited as many of his subjects as desired to participate. The challenge was to see who could travel the highway the best, and the winner was to receive a box of gold.

On the day of the contest, all the people came. Some of them had fine chariots, some had fine clothing and fancy food to make the trip a luxurious journey. Some wore their sturdiest shoes and ran along the highway on their feet to show their skill. All day they traveled the highway, and each one, when he arrived at the end, complained to the king about a large pile of rocks and debris that had been left almost blocking the road at one point, and that got in their way and hindered their travel.

At the end of the day, a lone traveler crossed the finish line warily and walked over to the king. He was tired and dirty, but he addressed the king with great respect and handed him a small chest of gold. He said, "I stopped along the way to clear a pile of rocks and debris that was blocking the road. This chest of gold was under it all. Please have it returned to its rightful owner."

The king replied, "You are the rightful owner."

"Oh no," said the traveler, "This is not mine. I've never known such money."

"Oh yes," said the king, "you've earned this gold, for you won my contest... He who travels the road best is he who makes the road better for those who will follow."

This is true of the voyage of life. The deepest happiness emerges from when I stop focusing on me and my emotions, and I bring light to the world around me. Instead of searching your whole life for what you need, search for what you are needed for. Find a mission and a purpose which transcends you and devote yourself to it.

Ask yourself this question: Do I have real purpose in my life, purpose created by something which transcends me and my ego? Am I dedicated to a meaningful cause beyond my own self-gratification and comfort?

This is the key to happiness.


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

[3] According to the Ramban, the phrase “fruit of hadar trees” is actually the Hebrew name for the fruit to be taken, the word esrog being the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew word hadar.

[4] Sukah 35a

[5] This ideas is based on Reshimos vol. 62. Cf. Sidur Shaar Chag Hassukos. Hemshech V’Kacha 5637 by the Rebbe Maharash, from ch. 87, and all references noted there. Rehimas Chanukah 5695 (1935), published in Reshimot #3, p. 17.

[6] I heard the following story and its lesson from Rabbi Dov Greenberg: http://www.torahcafe.com/rabbi-dov-greenberg/five-words-leading-to-happiness-video_dd83a5ce6.html

[7] Kapos Temarim to Sukkah 35a

[8] In his commentary to Sukkah ibid.

[9] This insight is based on Sichas Shabbos Pinchas 5751; Sefas Emes Sukkah 35a; Or HaTorah Bereishis pp. 34-35; Oros Hateshuvah by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook.

[10] There is another plant that meets this description—the hirduf (oleander)—but the Talmud rejects that possibility as inconsistent with the rule the “[the Torah’s] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its pathways are peace” (since the hirduf has thorn-like leaves and is a poisonous plant)

[11] Rashi’s view Sukkah ibid.

[12] The view of Tosefos and the Rosh Sukkah ibid. This is the verdict.

[13] See another brilliant interpretation in Kisvei Reb Isaac, to Kesuvos ibid.

[14] Connection—according to Tosefos; oneness—according to Rashi.

 

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    Sukkos 5779

    Rabbi YY Jacobson
    • September 21, 2018
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    • 12 Tishrei 5779
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    Class Summary:

     

    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? 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 Esrog and the Hadas.

    A happy life is one that emulates an esrog; it is when you learn endure in the diverse seasons of life. And even more, just like the esrog, you discover how to grow bigger and better from each season and change in your life. Every new experience in life, as challenging as it may seem, is an opportunity to discover new horizons, to discover deeper resources, to learn who you really are, to unlock repressed trauma, to cultivate your truest values, and to discover your ultimate destiny.

    A happy life is also when you learn the secret of the esrog, how the rind and the fruit share the same flavor. Celebrate the journey, not only the destination.

    Happiness is also archived when you learn the two secrets of the hadas: Diversity can come from oneness, and the self is happiest when it forgets about itself.

    The story of the Talmudic sage who danced at weddings with a hadas; the story of a honeymoon which ended in disaster, yet became one of the great success stories of America; the story of a young girl and her father looking out two distinct windows; the story of the highway traveler who managed to find the gold.

     

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