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.
This sense of gratitude, however, must translate into a sense of mission. This mission, I would like to suggest, is denoted in the act of confession, the vidui associated with vidui ma’aser described in Parshas Ki Savo. The Jew who declares to Hashem “assisi k’chol asher tzivisani” – “I have done everything as prescribed by You” is affirming (Mishna, Ma’aser Sheni 5:12), “samachti v’simachti bo – I have rejoiced, and I have caused others to rejoice as well.” As we say vidui during the High Holiday season, we need to make sure we are including the larger Jewish community in our gratitude, in our success, in our consciousness.
“Vegam nesativ la’levi ve’lager l’yasom v’lalmanah” (Devarim 26:13) – each Jew declares that he has given the prescribed tithes to the Levi, those charged with ministering in the Holy Temple, to the ger, the convert, and to the orphans and widows. There is an aspect to this verse, I believe, that could be understood homiletically as pertaining to our roles as proud bearers of our heritage in today’s world.
There is, I fear, a dangerous smugness to the homogeneous communities we have recently created in the Diaspora. Communities that formerly consisted of different types of Jews with different observance levels have now turned into insulated ghettos of like-minded Orthodox Jews. If a key part of our mission in exile is to identify the “Ger,” those who are interested in becoming righteous converts to Judaism (see Pesachim 87b), how much more so is it to uplift and inspire those within the existing Jewish community. We need to reach out to the orphan and the widow: to those who have been “orphaned” from their Judaism – who have not had the opportunity to grow up in homes infused with Torah living, who are our effectively Tinokos Shenishbu (infants taken captive), as well as those who have become “widows” – who began their lives in the Torah community but have been unmoored from the education and influences of their youth, and now wander alone in the world without spiritual reinforcement. Can we properly say vidui when we have constructed so many bulwarks that prevent contact with other Jews?
Even with respect to the “Levi” – to our religious compatriots, how much are we fostering greater unity and mutual respect? Our Orthodox world is broad – consisting of chassidish, yeshivish, and modern Orthodox elements, and many permutations within each camp. It is easy to find pockets of people who are exactly the same in terms of their particular strand or orientation. However, the luxury of being able to live amongst those of the same strand should not preclude us from respecting and accepting into our midst those who follow the same Torah but may have slightly different approaches, whether with respect to interactions with the outside world, the study of secular subjects, earning a livelihood, use of technology, appreciation for Medinat Yisrael, or a host of other areas, both practical and philosophical, but within the framework of legitimate Torah tradition.
Along these lines, perhaps we can explain that the admonition of “ve’lo sakim lecha matzevah – do not build a monolithic stone in the service of Hashem” (Devarim 16:22) – despite the fact that such altars were beloved in the days of the Patriarchs (Rashi ad loc.), is an indication of the recognition of the many different ways in which Torah observant Jews, like the twelve different sons of Yaakov Avinu, can legitimately approach the service of Hashem. Similarly, the chassidish, yeshivish, and modern Orthodox must be prepared to respect and love each other and view each other as full-fledged equal members of a common tradition, who have much to gain from interacting with and learning from one another.
There is another halacha relating to the four minim – that of doing na’anuim (waiving the four species). We not only hold the four species together, but we move them together (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 651:11). As we look to make more progress, to build upon the tremendous growth that we have been privileged to witness as a community, we must remember to cling to our connections with all members of that community, and to include all members of the Jewish community as much as feasible in all of our future movements. Let’s make sure to say “Good Shabbos” to all Jews, whether wearing shtreimels, black hats, knitted yarmulkes, or nothing at all on their heads. Let’s share divrei Torah in the workplace, in professional and graduate schools, in the doctor’s office and the shopping centers, with all Jews, even if they dress or comport themselves differently. And let’s invite all of our brethren into our homes, communities, shuls and schools and engage them with “cords of love” towards lives infused with the beauty of Torah as the Chazon Ish strongly encouraged (Yoreh Deah 2:16), so that we will all be able to march forward together and be inscribed with the entirety of the Jewish nation, l’chaim tovim u’leshalom – for good life and peace.
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.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.
If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.
Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.
If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.