Yom Kippur / Sukkos
Wake Up and Smell the Esrog
by Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky
Volume 2 Issue 50
There is something definitely very different about Yom Kippur. Even before the revered Kol Nidrei is chanted, a special supplication is recited. The community stands before the Almighty and asks permission to be allowed to pray together with the sinners. It may be quite difficult for those who come to synagogue day after day, week after week, month after month, to be deluged with an onslaught of those who seek a temporary asylum for three short days. Our sages knew the feeling. The first words of the Kol Nidrei entreat the righteous to stand together with the not-so-righteous and begin their prayers as one.
Yom Kippur is not the only holiday that invokes a societal acceptance of wrongdoers. All Jews are symbolically accepted if not heralded during the holiday of Sukkos. On Sukkos, there is a mitzvah to shake four distinct species. The four species must be taken together as one, or the mitzvah is invalid. The four species have unique attributes. The lulav (palm) has taste but no smell, the hadas (myrtle) has smell but no taste. The esrog (citron) has both taste and smell, yet the arava (willow) has neither taste nor smell.
As a child we were taught that taste represents Torah knowledge and a good smell represents good deeds. There are Jews, explains the Midrash that have both Torah knowledge and good deeds. There are those who are charitable and righteous but have no Torah. Then there are those who have Torah but unfortunately have no good deeds. And finally there are those who have neither Torah nor good deeds. They are all bound together as one. In this manner they all can support each other. But, why do the holidays of Yom Kippur and Sukkos herald unity and outreach more than any other Yom Tov?
My parents moved to the Five Towns of Long Island before the first sputnik was launched and before I was born. At that time, the Five Towns, a current haven of kosher eateries, amenities and synagogues was a spiritual wasteland. My three sisters had a difficult time adjusting to the move from their small apartment in East New York to the vast open fields of suburbia. They had to cope with the spiritual aspects, too. My youngest sister, Shoshana, became best friends with Beth, a child who hardly knew what being Jewish meant. On her third Shabbos in Woodmere, my sister was out early on her way to the synagogue that my father had just established a few blocks away.
Beth stared at her friend who was dressed up for no apparent reason. "Where ya going, Shawnee?" she asked.
"To shul." My sister looked down at her frilly pink Shabbos dress and repeated, "I'm going to shul."
"Shul?" Beth repeated incredulously. "What's shul?"
"Shul?" asked Shoshana "What do you mean, 'what's shul?' Shul is shul!"
The conversation bounced back and forth for a minute, until Beth's father came out of the house dressed in overalls and carrying gardening tools. "Dad?" asked Beth. "What's shul?"
"Oh, Beth!" he exclaimed. "Shul is temple!"
My sister's eyes widened in uneasiness. "Temple?" she repeated incredulously, "what's temple?"
As we begin a new year, a strong message of brotherly love reaches out to us both in the liturgy of the synagogue and the liturgy of the harvest -- the four species. Jews must realize that whether it is the reflectious times of Yom Kippur or the rejoicing of Sukkos, we are one people. There are saints and sinners among us. There are those who are filled with the delicious taste of Torah and the sweet fragrance of good deeds. And there are those of us who are as prosaic as a willow. Yet, both in trepidation and in jubilation we must join together as Jews. We must find each other. If we do not include the bland and tasteless willow, our observance is unacceptable. On both Yom Kippur and Sukkos the esrog must look for the arava. It is a wonderful time to find someone missing either the smell, taste, or both and have him wake up and smell the sweet scent of the esrog.
Best wishes for a G'mar Chasima Tova & A Chag Sameach.
Dedicated by Mr. & Mrs. Jopsh Kalter in memory of Helen Wincelberg
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Associate Dean of .Mesivta Ateres Yaakov the high school division of Yeshiva of South Shore.