The Lulav and Anti-Semitism

A photo showing a Jewish boy allegedly being forced to kiss a classmate's feet is causing outrage in Australia. (Twitter via JTA)

It is eerily fitting that this week as the Australian Jewish Community is still reeling from the revelations of Anti-Semitic incidents in our public school system that we approach the festival of Sukkot which so strongly emphasises the necessity and vitality of education.

There is a famous Midrash which enlightens the internal spiritual meanings of the four specimens which we bind together on the Festival of Sukkot:

The Etrog (citron) which has both a pleasant fragrance and taste symbolises those who both perform mitzvot and engage in the study of Torah.

The Lulav (date palm) which doesn’t not have any aroma but only a taste represents those that engage only in the study of Torah and not actively in good deeds.

The Haddasim (myrtles) which have only a pleasant smell but no taste represents those that perform mitzvot but do not study Torah.

The Aravot (willows) which have neither taste nor smell represents those that perform neither mitzvot nor study Torah.

The Midrash concludes that on Sukkot we bind together these four separate species in order to signify the unity between all forms of Jews, despite any differences in background or observance.

Why then is the Bracha on the four species – Blessed are You, L‑rd our G‑d…who has sanctified us and commanded us in taking of the Lulav?

Seemingly the blessing should be on the Etrog as it has both taste and smell. Why the Lulav?

I believe this explains Judaism’s perspective on education.

Despite there being myriads of Jewish community and traditions- each having their own nuances and differences in performing of mitzvot, pronunciations and rituals- there is only one Torah which is identical by all.

The world Torah in Hebrew comes from the same root as “Horaah” which means “lesson”. There are countless schools of thought and ways in which we educate children. Immeasurable books and lectures have been given on the topic of educating kids.

There is no such thing as “one size fit all” when it comes to education.  As the famous Jewish saying:  “educate a child according to HIS or HER way, Chanoch Lannar Al Pi Darko” No child is the same as the other, find a way that works for your individual child to bring out the best in them.

The Lulav signifies the learning of Torah and places our focus on the importance of education and the lessons we teach the next generation. All this hopefully leading them in doing good deeds, sticking up for what is right and a deeper sensitivity to the world around us.

In 1991 at a gala dinner honouring the achievements of former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth Lord Immanuel Jakobovits, former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher noted:

“Lord Jakobovits and I first met when I was Secretary of State for Education… He impressed me with a remark which I shall long remember. ‘You are really the Minister of Defence’ he told me.”

Racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism all stem from a lack of education and warped indoctrination. In these recent shocking cases the best response and ‘defence’ is through education; teaching and spreading the true light, joy of tolerance, acceptance and respect which is applicable to all people.

Sadly as I turned on my phone last night I was notified of the shooting at a synagogue in Halle, Germany. A Shule was targeted on Yom Kippur! As much as these types of incidents rock us we are sadly becoming numb to these increased Anti-Semitic incidences both in Australia and around the world.

To quote Nelson Mandela: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

About the Author
Rabbi Gabi is Australia's youngest community rabbi. He leads the Ark Centre a Orthodox Community Centre with a Shule in the middle. Through his openness and inclusive approach to Judaism, Rabbi Gabi has redefined the 21st Century synagogue within the context of Modern Orthodoxy with a greater focus on song and spirituality. Rabbi Gabi holds a Masters of Social Work and is Chairman of Melbourne Fight Back Against Parkinson's Inc, a not for profit charity that assists people with Parkinson's disease.
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