As we enjoy Sukkos, the festival of booths, this year, we read Parshas HaBrocha. Both the festival and the Parsha carry an important message, central to Jewish life; the message of unity. At first, the comparisons may seem ahrd to find. What can a festival of outdoor huts, and a Parsha about Moshe Rabbenu’s blessings, have in common? A lot, it turns out. As Moshe Rabbenu once again proves himself to be an empowering, worthy leader of the Jewish people as he nears his death, he transfers a message that each of us should remember as we celebrate and observe Sukkos.
There are two very important aspects of Sukkos. The first is the sukkah. The sukkah is an outdoor hut or booth, which one must dwell in (for most, that means eating, living and sleeping in, although the Chabad-Lubavitch custom is to not sleep in the sukkah) for the duration of the holiday. It must meet various halachic requirements. The most simple of these are that it must be built outside; it cannot be under a roof or canopy; it should ideally have four walls; and that the s’chach on top of the sukkah must be organic material. Other guidelines govern dimensions and design of the sukkah. The other, equally important aspect, is that of the four species. The mitzvah of waving the four species- which usually takes place in the sukkah- is rich with symbolism. Each of the species represents two different things, and when they are held together, in unity, this symbolism becomes especially important as the four parts form a whole.
The Talmud tells us what these four species are. The first is the lulav; a frond from a date palm tree. It symbolises the spine, and we also find in the Midrash, that due to it’s nature of having a taste but no scent, it represents those who study Torah but do not perform mitzvot. Then, there is the hadass. This is a bough from the myrtle tree, representing the eye. Unlike the lulav, it has a smell, but is tasteless; it represents those who do not partake in the study of Torah, but who do perform mitzvot. The aravah, the third of the four species, is a branch from the willow tree, which has neither taste, nor smell, and unfortunately, it symbolises one lacking in both Torah study and mitzvot. It also represents the mouth, perhaps as a warning to us against loshon hora. Finally, there is the esrog. The esrog is a beautiful citron, which has both a good taste, and a rich scent. The esrog is symbolic of one’s heart, which must be dedicated to G-d in service, and it is connected to one who both studies Torah and does good deeds.
How is any of this linked to Parshas Vezot HaBrocha? When one waves the four species, he is making a gesture of unity. Two different kinds of unity, in fact. The unity of one’s body, in that all of it’s parts and potential must be united together as the four species are in prayer, to serve Hashem. And also the unity of different people. Different kinds of Jews. Righteous people, not so righteous people, those who are somewhere in between. We all have something to learn, something we could be better at, and yet we are all intrinsically worthy. We are one nation; one people; one family, even, and we cannot be strong until we stand united. This wish for unity is realised when a Jew waves the four species, and it is also realised in this week’s Parsha, when Moshe Rabbenu- echoing Ya’akov’s blessings to his twelve sons- assigns a unique, special purpose to each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Each one is unique- just like the four species- but once again, they must work together and in unity to achieve their full potential.
The Torah manages to wax lyrical about each of the twelve tribes. Moshe Rabbenu, in blessing and empowering them, also reminds them of their different and unique destinies and powers. The words used to describe them are beautiful; electrifying, even; but alone, each tribe is like a part of the body. It is like a lulav without an etrog, or an aravah without a hadass. Co-operation and unity go hand-in-hand with realising one’s unique strengths and weaknesses, and these weaknesses can be accounted for by other’s strong points. This message applies to us, today, this Sukkos, as much as it did in Moshe Rabbenu’s time. Some of us may be different from others; some of us may have different customs and traditions; but that is no reason to sacrifice our power as a nation. Am Yisrael Chai.