It’s that time of year again. It’s time to get the palm frond, the myrtle, the willow branch and the citron. We take them out, we wave them around, up, down and in the four world directions. Usually this is accompanied by us looking around wondering… what in the world am I doing?
It’s true that the Gemara in tractate Sukkah 37b it tells us that there is a purpose behind the waving of the 4 species, to negate the bad (=”evil”) winds and the bad dew. But the truth of the matter is that even the Gemara itself calls this shayarei mitzvah, meaning “the peripherals of a commandment”. In truth you don’t even have to wave the 4 species at all! You can just pick them up with the intention of fulfilling the mitzvah and you’ve done it! Mitzvah accomplished! No waving involved at all!
So really: what is this mitzvah all about?
The answer is pretty straightforward. The mitzvah of the four species is one that falls under the category of chukos, those things we do not because we actually have a reason to do them but because we were commanded by He Who spoke and made the world. We do them despite our lack of understanding, because “a person is motivated according to his actions” (Sefer haChinuch mitzvah 324). It is precisely our performance of the commandments which makes us into better people because we are not only what we eat, but what we do.
It is a well-known fact that a person’s activities have a profound effect on how he or she behaves. If you act angry – you tend to actually get angry. If you act happy – you tend to feel happy as well. If you act with spirituality – you will become more spiritual as well. This is what our sages, ob”m, meant when they said “that the mitzvos were given to purify mankind”. The more we do – the better we are!
However, in addition to the actual mitzvah there are also all of the little details involved as well. Which brings us back to the issue of “the wave”. With our fulfilling the mitzvah we build our spirituality, but at the same time we need to realize that HKB”H is always letting us know where we stand spiritually. Our barometer, especially in Eretz Yisrael, is measured in rain, and it’s measured in crops. By waving the species we do our bit to block those things which are detrimental to the crops growth. By doing the mitzvah called Nissuch hamayim (libation of water on the altar) we do what we can to bring water.
While crops have been OK here in Israel for a while, the state of our water has been abysmal for years. So much so that Israeli innovation has been tasked with dealing with the problem by mass producing desalinization. How proud the Israeli government is in telling everyone that our water problems have been solved by Israeli innovation! But the problem is that our water problems aren’t because of nature. They are because of our human nature.
This is where our Emunah comes to the fore. The Torah tells us clearly (Deuteronomy 11:13) that rain comes in accordance with our observance of the mitzvos. The more we keep – the more we get. The less we keep… In last week’s parsha (ha’azinu) Moshe, our teacher, called upon the skies and the earth to testify on our behalf (ha’azinu hashomayim ve adaberah) for if we keep the covenant they are to be the one who either deliver or deny their bounty, (see Rashi ad loc.). In addition during chag (=sukkot) we are judged concerning the water (Tractate Rosh Hashanna 2a). As in all cases of explicit promises in the words of our Holy Torah and those of our holy Sages, ob”m, we have to realize that this is the reality of life: if we want an awesomely good life – do the mitzvos keep the Torah. If we think we know better – then we should get our heads examined! As a wise man once said: There are two rules in life. Rule #1 – I’m always right. Rule #2 if you think I’m wrong please refer to rule #1.
Let’s not assume that we have a better idea how to get the good out of life, to really suck out the marrow from life’s bones. The living G-d has already told us clearly how to do it right. So, I don’t always understand everything He asks of me. So what? That shouldn’t stop me from doing as commanded or from searching for understanding and meaning in what I do!
On this upcoming sukkos – let’s understand that the seemingly strange mitzvah of the 4 species has power and meaning beyond my understanding, but in picking them up and waving them around I get to be a part in bringing goodness and spirituality not only to myself but to the whole world as well.
So… Shake, shake, shake your lulav and have a great and happy chag sukkot.
 בראשית רבה פרשה מ”ד