Sukkot: Am Yisrael Needs Unity, Not Uniformity

Arba Minim (Wannapik.com)

With the many sects and label of Judaism — Modern Orthodox, Reformed, Conservative, or Reconstructionist, to name a few — we can become hyper-focused on what divides us. Whether it’s the variation in religious observance or beliefs about Judaism, our differences can sometimes be our defining characteristics, isolating us to our own communities and bubbles. On Sukkot, however, we’re reminded of what brings us together: our collective identity as Am Yisrael.

Over the seven days of Sukkot, we collect, bind together, and wave the arba minim (four species) — the esrog, hadassim, aravot, and lulav. As it says in Sefer Vaykirah, “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days” (23:40). Among the many commentaries on this mitzvah, Vaykirah Rabbah attributes a deeply-important message to this central mitvah of Sukkot.

The midrash explains that each of the arba minim represents a different “type” of Jew in Am Yisrael (30:12). The etrog signifies a Jew who has Torah and performs good deeds, the lulav is a Jew who has Torah without good deeds, the hadassim are a Jew who performs good deeds without Torah, and the aravot are a Jew without Torah or the performance of good deeds.

After explaining the representational nature of each part of the arba minim, the midrash shares something radical and beautiful: “And what does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? To destroy them is impossible, but rather the Holy One, blessed be He, said “bind them all together [into] one grouping and these will atone for those.” And if you will have done that, I will be elevated at that time.”

Hashem does not devalue the worth of any Jew, simply dismissing them aside or reshaping them to fit a certain mold. Of course, there’s a set of values and mitzvot the Torah guides us to live, but just because a Jew is lacking the ideal lifestyle does not mean their inherent worth is compromised. Moreover, it’s only through the collective acceptance of one another, our ability to look beyond where we lack and see where we intersect, that we “elevate” Hashem. We don’t need uniformity, but we do need unity.

In Masechet Shevuot, the gemarah famously says, “All of the Jewish People are guarantors for one another,” meaning that we are all responsible for our fellow Jews (39a). This clearly embodies the message of the arba minim: Regardless of labels, identity, observance, or anything of the like, all Jews are Jews, and we are always better united than divided.

Rav Kook wrote extensively on the love Jews must have for one another, and one piece of advice is particularly applicable to beginning these crucial connections. “One can only explicitly express love to a person who exposes a small spark of goodness,” he writes. “If one attaches one’s love to that spark, one can love the good side of another without being damaged by the negative and darker side of that person” (Orot HaKodesh 3, p. 317).[1]

Sukkot is the perfect time to think about how we can bring about greater love and unity between ourselves and other Jews. When we shake the arba minim, we must remember that we are all connected to Hashem, no matter what labels we brand ourselves with.

[1] As translated by Rabbi Ari Ze’ev Schwartz in “The Spiritual Revolution of Rav Kook,” p. 124

About the Author
Sruli Fruchter studied for one year at Yeshivat Orayta and is now studying International and Global Affairs at Yeshiva University. He enjoys writing on a spectrum of topics, specifically on the weekly parsha.
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