These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Arba Minim

Posted on September 18, 2013 by Deborah Renert

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During the formative period of Rabbinic Judaism during the 2nd Temple period, Judaism was anything but homogeneous. The reality was that here were various groups of minim or sects–including the Pharisees, Sadducees, Zealots, Essenes, etc. Their beliefs and religious behavior was often radically different from each one’s fellow sects.
Classically, they differed with respect to their attitude and consequential behavior with respect to the Jewish concept of an “oral law” as well as with respect to ideas such as the belief in an afterlife and the role of each individual Jew.
As we know, with the destruction of the 2nd Temple, the Sadducees who were least prepared for Jewish life without the Temple and were now jobless seemed to have disappeared into oblivion. The Zealots do not seem to survive the siege of Masada. The Essenes and/or Dead Sea sects, being monastic were inherently doomed with respect to propagation of the sect. The early Jewish Christians evolve into their own religion, Christianity, and only the Pharasees, in a Darwinian manner seem to have what it takes to recreate Judaism into a democratized Rabbinic movement which can evolve and flourish in a world without Temple or Priests.
Now, we will jump 2000 years.
Today, we are preparing to enter into our sukkot with our arba minim: the etrog, lulav, hadass, and the arava.
Interestingly enough, the bracha we recite over our arba minim specifies the “taking of the lulav” as opposed to mentioning the etrog, hadass, or arava. Why is this so I wonder? This question requires some thought or inquiry into our sources.
However, one immediate thought which occurs is this: Midrashically speaking, the lulav symbolizes the Jew who has taste but no smell and this traditionally alludes to the Jew who has Torah study but no good deeds.
Ironically perhaps, it is precisely Torah study which becomes one of the particularly defining elements of Rabbinic Judaism.
So, I wonder: Could this specification regarding the lulav during our arba minim bracha point to an aspect of a Rabbinic self critic?
After all, what would our Judaism be if it consisted only of learned intellectual Jews without moral behavior that emerges in consonance of our ethical monotheistic studies?
Certainly, such thoughts arose to the rabbis–whose version of a scholar was not a disembodied intellectual or a “menuval birshus ha Torah”. One of the best known reflections of the seriousness of this issue is the daily reading in our siddor of the Mishna in Peah “Elu devarim….Talmud Torah kineged kulam”.
My final thought on this manner before returning to cooking, cleaning, and my sukkah design plan is this: When we recite the blessing on the arba minim we take our lulav-etrog ensemble and hold them together and shake them basically in all directions of G-d’s universe. At this time it behooves us to remember that we are blessed especially when we stand as a unified Jewish people and furthermore, however we see ourselves, it behooves us to view ourselves from an outside perspective at least periodically and to shake up our consciousness periodically in order to engage in “cheshbon nefesh”. Surely this will help us become better and perhaps more profound Jews.
Finally, it is up to us to define, as Daniel Roth suggests, who are the “arba minim” we will allow into our sukkot–that is, which of our fellow groups of Jews are ‘in” and which groups of our fellow Jews we do not welcome as guests into our sukkot. This is a question that requires time and thought and wisdom……….Chag Sameach!