We are all familiar with the famous midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30, 12) that compares the four species we take on the holiday of Sukkos to the four different types of Jews: the esrog, which has both smell and taste, corresponds to those who learn Torah and perform good deeds; the lulav, which has taste but no smell, corresponds to those who learn Torah but do not perform good deeds; the hadasim, which have a pleasant smell but no taste, correspond to those who perform good deeds but do not learn Torah; and finally, the aravos, which have neither smell nor taste, correspond to those who have neither Torah nor good deeds.
The midrash notes that Hashem declared that all the species should be tied together into one bundle (“agudah achas”) so that each should effect atonement for the other (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:1). The message is clear: in order for our prayers to be fully accepted, we must unite with all Jews, and not exclude anyone, even those lacking in Torah and mitzvos.
The same message resonates with the Yom Kippur service. We cannot even begin the service until such time as we have been granted permission – in the convocation of the beis din above and the beis din below – to pray together with the “avaryanim” – with those who are clearly labeled as transgressors. Only when the entirety of the people is included in our service, can be we confident that our prayers will yield a favorable response from Above. It is for this reason we pray on Yom Kippur, “ve’yausu khulam agudah achas” – that we be combined into one “eged” (bunch) like the four minim of the lulav, “la’asos retzoncha be’levav shalem” – to do your will with a “complete heart.” The reference to a “complete heart” can be understood as a hearkening to when we all stood as one united people at Har Sinai “keish echad be’lev echad” – “as one organic being, with a united heart” (Rashi, Shmos 19:2).
In this vein, Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian (Lev Eliyahu 4:339) provides a similar perspective to explain an apparent paradox. On the one hand, the month of Elul is a time of supreme trepidation, as indicated by the verse in Amos (3:6) – “if a shofar is blown in the city, how can the inhabitants not tremble?” And yet, the Tur points out (Orach Chaim, 581) that unlike most prisoners who are brought into court for their day of judgment in a state of disheveled despair, we are to wash, adorn and regally dress ourselves in preparation for Rosh Hashanah because we are so cheerfully confident of a positive verdict. Rabbi Lopian explains that both perspectives are indeed correct. From the standpoint of the individual, Rosh Hashanah is a terrifying day of judgment, as indicated in the words recited in the tear-inducing prayer “Unesaneh Tokef” – “a trembling and fright will seize them [the angels].” However, our confidence in approaching Rosh Hashanah is premised upon our knowledge that in our capacity as members of the entirety of the Jewish people, we will not be turned away.
But how do we truly internalize this powerful message? Outside of mouthing the words on Yom Kippur and combining the four minim of the lulav together on Sukkos, are we in fact uniting with all Jews, including them in our thoughts, prayers and deeds? Do we view ourselves as part of a larger Klal Yisroel that transcends our immediate communities, schools and synagogues?
In recent decades, we have witnessed a resurgence of the Orthodox Jewish community. The growth of families and communities is a wonderful sign of communal success. We should all express our tremendous gratitude for the gifts that have been bestowed upon us, rebuilding from the ashes of the Holocaust, and creating new life for the multitudes of Jewish families that suffered devastation and destruction. I remember feeling the powerful sensation at the recent Siyum HaShas of capturing just a small glimpse – an “echad b’shishim” (one-sixtieth measure), as one of the speakers essentially put it – of the grandeur and splendor of what we lost. The presence of Rav Yisroel Meir Lau, a Holocaust survivor, as a keynote speaker at the event, only underscored this overwhelming emotion.Rabbi Yona Reiss
About the Author: Rabbi Yona Reiss, is the Max and Marion Grill Dean of Yeshiva University-affiliated Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. Learn more at www.yu.edu/riets.
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