Dear Readers,

And you shall take for yourselves . . . the splendid fruit of a tree, fronds of dates, the branch of the thick-leafed tree and aravot of the river . . .

On Sukkot, we make a blessing on the Four Kinds. Each one is so noticeably different; the tall, thin lulav, surrounded by leafy branches, opposite the round, robust etrog.

The midrash explains that the etrog, with its pleasant taste and fragrance, represents the perfected person who studies Torah and fulfills mitzvot. The lulav represents the scholar who studies but does not act. The fragrant but tasteless myrtle (hadas) represents the activist whose day is full of good deeds but doesn’t study, and the scentless and tasteless willow (aravah) represents one who neither studies nor observes.

By commanding us to hold them all together, the Torah teaches us that just as we need all Four Kinds for the fulfillment of the mitzvah, we must join with others to reach our greatest selves. Even the etrog, which symbolizes such virtue, must be held with the humble willow. We can and must learn from everyone.

But perhaps the Four Kinds also teach us about how to approach these various parts of ourselves.

One of the greatest hindrances to positive change is our own negative self-talk. We berate ourselves for lacking certain qualities. We shame ourselves for not being consistent, and we predict that we’ll never be “good enough.” We criticize our weaknesses and allow them to define who we become. To forge forward, we need to find growth in all parts of ourselves.

We may have wonderful moments when we feel like the etrog, aligned with our goals. But we may have far more moments when we feel like the willow, unable to connect to our soul powers, feeling bland and insipid. We may be reclusive and fail to act, or impetuous, acting without forethought.

As we shake the Four Kinds towards the different directions and then bring them to our heart, perhaps the subtle message is to realize that we will have these different moments but we can grow from each of them.

This does not mean that we should not strive to be like the etrog. But it does mean that we recognize that our battles and our struggles are also precious to G‑d. We can learn from our failures in perhaps an even deeper way than what we achieve with our etrog perfection, because growth does not happen as a straight line.

As the seasons begin to change outside, let’s remember that the earth needs winter’s hibernation to produce the beautiful foliage of the spring. Our withdrawals and setbacks, our humble willow moments, too, are all parts of what can make our lives beautiful.

Take all these aspects of yourself, hold them close to your heart, and accept that each of your inborn characteristics, your successes as well as failures, can all be sanctified and directed higher.

Wishing you a joyous Sukkot!

Chana Weisberg,

Editor, TJW