Monday, October 20, 2008


Today was the final day of Succot-after today, no more Succah, no more lulav and etrog, no more special festival praise and prayer.Today we added the leaves of the willow to the existing bundle of leaves and plants, the "aravot." At the completion of the seven circuits of Hoshanah Rabah, the great or extended pronouncements of "save us,"we take the bundle of the willow leaves and proceed to whack them against the seat or bench in front of us until all willow branches are stripped bare of their leaves. This beating of the willows represents another tangible effort to extricate ourselves from bad spiritual habits and behavior.
I confess that not only children but adults too have difficulty taking this custom seriously and invariably a mood of mischievous silliness overcomes most audiences at this time. Needless to say, when the service is over the work load on the synagogue custodian has increased exponentially.
I demonstrated the custom to my students who rushed to retrieve some fallen leaves from the floor and immediately smell them ,commenting on how fragrant these wasted willows were. I was struck for a moment by the unfair disregard we exhibited to plant life, and with an awareness of dying leaves drifting in the autumn air down to their final resting place on the earth below, felt a melancholy pang of sadness.
The day before, the silent sun drenched air of a cool October afternoon was pierced by the blasting buzz of a machine that blows away fallen leaves. As I pointed the nozzle in the direction of these layers of brown and yellow leaves, the air was filled with the pungent aroma of dying leaves that seemed to invigorate the lives around us. My nostrils quivered with the sweet tang of autumn leaves. The brown, burnished by the sun's rays ,reflected a golden shimmer, delaying the dryness of inevitable death. Each leaf, alone and abandoned, no longer attached to branch and root, no longer recipient of earth's loving nurturance. I blow these once colorful collections of hallowed hues into piles alongside paths where human feet will tread. They return to replenish the reservoirs of life deep within the earth, touched only by the fleeting hoofs of frightened deer, a gentle trespass of wood's denizen.
As the bursting air sweeps the leaves away, I recite a silent Kaddish , a praise of God,hallowing His Name for the gift of leaves, now put to rest after blessing our lives with the fresh green colors of spring and summer and the lush earth colors in the twilight of their 'lives.' They are now rewoven into the fabric of the earth, soon to decompose and re-energize the earth with their life giving ingredients.

As they sleep under drifts of snow yet to fall, they will disappear from the sight of man but remembered by the Source of All things.

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