Succot-The Season of Rejoicing:
How do we experience joy?
One of the popular rabbinic interpretations of the lulav and etrog is the imaginative understanding that compares each of the four species-palm branch, myrtle branch, willow and citron to essential parts of the human anatomy. “.......the spine of the palm branch can be compared to the spine of one’s back; the myrtle leaf is analogous to the human eye; the willow brings to mind the shape of the human mouth and the etrog reminds us of the human heart........”(Leviticus Rabbah 30;14)
Clearly the Rabbis sought ways by which to infuse the ritual with homiletic significance and thus the above interpretation was taught as an explanation of the verse in Psalms-”All my limbs will declare who is like You, O Lord” (Psalms 35;10)
Perhaps too what lingered beneath the Midrashic ‘humanization’ of elements in nature was the mystical awareness of the unity that underlies all things rendering the human and the ostensibly inert dimensions of nature integral parts of the Unity and Wholeness of all of God’s creation.
Whatever the understanding, I would like to extend the way of seeing the lulav and etrog as it pertains to the human heart. The Etrog is viewed by the tradition as symbolizing the heart. By exercising a semantic split between the two syllables of the word LULAV : LU-LAV, לו-לב, we can define these syllables as two separate words-לו, meaning “if only,” and לב-”lev,” which is translated as heart. Thus, the taking of the lulav carries with it the hope that the heart is that part of the human anatomy and psychology that can be recruited on Succot to experience the essential sentiment of the season, namely joy, or better yet, grateful joy.
Returning to the etrog, traditionally compared to the human heart, if we rearrange the final two letters of the Hebrew word -אתרג -we construct a new word with a powerful new possibility for the experience of Succot. The word is אתגר, challenge.
One can then argue that indeed the spiritual challenge of Succot is to marshall the heart in the service of the divine. In fact, the opening or softening of the heart is regarding by Hassidim, meditators and mystics alike, as the spiritual means by which to gain access to the dimension of the divine. The Bible itself perceives the heart as the seat of human consciousness and awareness by which we experience the full richness and illumination of the presence of the holy in life.
The heart is the locus of human joy and the space from which we experience the joy and simcha of gratitude and thanksgiving on Succot and any other day of the year.