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Are You a Hammer or a Nail?

Are You a Hammer or a Nail?

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What is the value of another Jew?

Sukkot is a time of unity, comradery and brotherly love. We sit together in the sukkah; we dance together every night at simchat beit hashoeva, and with the Torah on Simchat Torah. We eat delicious food and sing songs. Of course, we pray together and bring together the Four Kinds: the lulav, etrog, hadasim and aravot.

The taking together of the Four Kinds is a biblical commandment: “And you should take for yourselves a beautiful fruit of the tree (etrog), a date palm frond (lulav), a sprig from a bush [that looks] braided (hadasim) and willows of the brook (aravot).”

Our sages have attributed symbolism to this mitzvah, specifically with regards to unity of the Jewish people.

Torah knowledge is the flavor of Judaism, and doing mitzvahs is the fragrance. As far as fragrance and flavor are concerned, there are four kinds of Jews.

First, there is the lulav, an unopen date palm frond, leaves united together, straight and tall. The dates that grow on the date palm are flavorful, but do not have a distinct smell. This is the one on whom we say the blessing before taking the Four Kinds. It symbolizes our Torah scholars, whose main occupation is studying Torah, the flavor of Judaism. They, too, do many mitzvahs, but their main involvement is in Torah study, and they are recognized for that. They are tall beacons of light we look to for guidance and leadership.

The etrog is a citron—pretty, fragrant and flavorful. The etrog stays on the tree year-round, uniting the seasons. This symbolizes the very well-rounded Jew who studies Torah regularly and fulfills mitzvahs with joy and love.

Hadasim are myrtles, whose stem is woody and thick, and whose leaves smell so good. Its leaves are clustered in united groups of three, with the points of the leaves of the bottom cluster covering the bottom of the leaves of the higher cluster. They are symbolic of those of us who love doing mitzvahs, and strengthen all the Jews around them with their mitzvahs and kindness. They learn Torah as well, but much less; they are busy “doing.”

Aravot, willows of the brook, commonly have reddish stems. They grow bunched together, and united and in abundance. They have neither taste nor distinct smell. Aravot are symbolic of those of us whose involvement in Torah and mitzvahs are minimal.

Which of these Four Kinds is most important? Seems to be the lulav, symbolic of Torah scholars. If the lulav is the top tier, why does the verse mention it second, after the etrog?

Would you rather be a hammer or a nail?

On one hand, a nail is useless without a hammer. However, together they build something sturdy. With the hammer’s influence, the nail is guided into its rightful place and will continue to serve its purpose, long after the hammer is gone, holding the piece together.

Without the nail, the hammer would be miserably locked up in its tool box, accomplishing nothing. With nails, it can build many wonderful things.

In the end, a hammer is useless without a nail and vice versa.

This is true for the Four Kinds. Remove any one of the four and you have only three, and they are useless—no mitzvah can be done with three.

(Interesting note: Only aravot, with neither taste nor smell, have any Jewish religious use on their own. On our third most holy day, Hoshana Rabbah, we use five aravot at the culmination of the service. During the Sukkot holiday, the altar in the Temple was surrounded with long aravot.)

When the Torah speaks of the daughters of Tzelafchad, it mentions them out of order to symbolize that they were equally great.

Same goes for the Four Kinds. The Torah changes the order to teach us that they are equal in value.

Same is for every Jew. Every one of us is necessary. We each have a unique part in the Jewish mission. The mission is incomplete without every Jews contribution. So the Torah scholar needs the well-rounded Jew and the lay person, and they all need the less observant Jew.

The value of every Jew is infinite. It is time to embrace every one. The lulav, etrog, hadasim, and especially, the aravot. When we are united, we complete each other. When we are united in brotherly love, G‑d is overjoyed. Our unity, to Him, is irresistible. Therefore, our unity is what will bring Moshiach.

Rabbi Yitzi Hurwitz—father of seven, husband of Dina, and spiritual leader at Chabad Jewish Center in Temecula, Calif.—has been rendered immobile by ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease). Unable to speak or type, he uses his eyes to write heartfelt thoughts on the weekly Torah portion.

Please support the Hurwitz Family Fund.
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