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Choosing an Etrog, Sukkot 5784

Written by Rabbi Shulamait Ambalu

I love the experience of choosing an etrog, the p’ri eitz hadar, fruit of the beautiful tree. There is so much to think about when choosing; if one is selecting for beauty, then which is the most beautiful? Yellow or green, smooth or bumpy, symmetrical or gracefully inclined? Looking at so many, each in its own box, I’m conscious of looking at fruit that someone else has rejected!

Then there is the problem of their journey to this place, the massive carbon footprint of Sukkot. Palm, myrtle and willow leaves all gently drying in their plastic packets. This year, I even allow myself a long plastic bag to take home the lulav in its long plastic carrying case! What has it come to, when a festival celebrating fragile natural beauty brings so much needless waste?

We may well notice in synagogue on Sukkot this Shabbat, that the mitzvah involving these four species follows the verse that specifies the time. “Only on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the harvest of your land…” Let’s consider a literal reading. We should only allow farmers to take up the lulav, to hold these handsome branches, this gorgeous fruit, for the rest of us. Only those who live close to the earth, who are stewards of land and water, who see its health and its destruction. That, after all, is a close reading of what the Torah says.

These are dangerous times. We should all be thinking about what will give up. The family car? Flying? A full set of four species could be an aspiration for the messianic future, once our climate is safe. Until then, at this time, we can still build sukkot, dwelling in peace and fragility under the stars.

Shabbat shalom and chag sameach

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