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Friday, 21 September, 2018 - 10:10 pm

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?’

Comes Sukkot, 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:

Two of the four are clearly delineated: The palm branch; and 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 etrog? Maybe it is another splendid fruit? Did you ever see a Jew come to shul on Sukkot with a nice orange, plum, or papaya? How about passion fruit or a rambutan? These are all beautiful, stunning fruits! How do we know it is a citron?

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 fruit. And this points to the citron. For the etrog stands out in that the fruit and the tree share a similar taste.

You see in most fruits we eat the pulp of the fruit. But in an etrog, the pulp is a very tiny part of it. The majority of the fruit is the rind of the etrog. Now, the rind has a similar taste to the bark of the citron tree!

In the creation of the universe, 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 citron tree, the taste of the bark is like the taste of the fruit.

That is how we know that we need to use the citron fruit. And that, says the Sefas Emes, is why the Etrog 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.

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 want the bark to carry the taste of the fruit? 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 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 learned 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 trees, 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 goal.

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 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 of sweat, blood, tears, and endless devotion to producing 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.

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.

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

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. 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.

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

And that is why we were told to take the Etrog 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 Etrog 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.

Shabbat Shalom and a Happy Sukkot,
Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky

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