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Why Celebrate Sukkot with the Etrog, a Bumpy Fruit?

Why do we celebrate Sukkot with the Etrog, such a bumpy tart fruit?  Why not a beautiful smooth fruit, like a tomato or shiny red apple?

The Festival of Sukkot is Here
I know this because the final arbiter of reality – Facebook – is filled with a plethora of pictures of sukkah booths. We built ours this year with Papa and Lala, who are in from back east. Each year we build it quickly and decorate it differently. It seems that the act of decorating the sukkah with family is much of the joy. (Someone once called sukkah building the Jewish answer to Christmas tree decorating. Of course, the sukkah came first…)

Gathering with family and friends, we also gathered together the Four Species for the Jewish festival of Sukkot: The lulav (palm fronds), hadas (myrtle), aravah (willow), and etrog (citron) are bound together and waved. I wondered, what would these symbols teach me this year?

Bumpy Etrogs: The Bumpier the Better
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi (Director of the Pritzker Center for Jewish Education at the JCC in Chicago) provided a hiddush, a beautiful new message, on the bumpiness of the etrog:

You begin searching for the perfect etrog, the fruit identified in the Torah as “pri eitz hadar” – “fruit of a beautiful tree.” Beauty in Jewish sources is connected to the unwavering power of life and a profound desire to live on despite difficulties. Such beauty is sustained by its drive for eternity through the immortality of the soul.

So, what makes the etrog tree a “beautiful” tree? It grows, blossoms, and produces fruit through all seasons. It can tolerate the heat, cold, wind and storm. This quality of perseverance is what makes it beautiful! Hadar literally means “that which dwells” – from dar. Dar implies permanence, a continuous process of enduring over time.

The word hidur appears in Torah only twice: “Pri eitz hadar” (Lev. 23:40) and “Before the grey haired you should rise and honor the face of the elder, (v’hadarta p’nei zakein), and fear your God; I am Adonai” (Lev 19:32). Hadar ascribes beauty to the aged face. This beauty comes from the “s-aging” (saging) face reflecting an on-going triumph of a life which endures and persists throughout the passage of years.

The mark of a beautiful etrog is its bumps; the more bumps, the more “beautiful” the etrog is considered. A person’s strength comes from overcoming the “bumps” s/he receives in life. With the challenge presented by each bump, s/he gains more experience, becoming wiser in dealing with life and overcoming these bumps.

Rabbi Mizrachi concludes:

During the coming year may you be like the etrog tree – growing, blossoming, and producing fruit through all seasons. Looking upon theetrog as it begins to dry and shrivel (they usually do not rot!), remember that you, too, can endure the “heat, cold, wind and storm” of your life.” Let this bumpy fruit remind you that your earthly life has meaning and the beauty of who you and the life you choose to lead will endure for eternity through the gift of memory.

May the bumpiness of the etrog remind us to embrace the bumpiness of life, as we grow in wisdom from our trek along life’s paths.

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