Shaken By The Lulav
There are many aspects of Judaism which make people feel uncomfortable. The mitzvah of arba minim sometimes falls into that category. Shaking a bunch of branches ritualistically feels not just mystical, but even pagan. Yet from a rationalist perspective, it's not about influencing metaphysical forces, but rather summoning certain ideas in one's own mind. Still, in today's urbanized society which is very far removed from the plant kingdom and the agricultural cycle, even that may feel somewhat "alien" to some people.
But I'd like to suggest an entirely different way of framing things. There is a tendency to miss the forest for the palm trees. Why not focus on the bigger picture?
A recent article in the New York Times stated that "Many Palestinians consider the Aqsa compound the embodiment of Palestinian identity, the animating force behind the aspiration for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.” Indeed, that is true. However, the Aqsa compound has been the embodiment of Palestinian identity for a couple of decades. What the New York Times failed to mention is that the Temple and Jerusalem has been the embodiment of Jewish identity for two orders of magnitude greater than that.
Of course, there is am abundance of archeological evidence for the ancient Jewish presence in the Land of Israel. But sometimes, there are finds which provide particularly striking reminders.
A few years ago, the bronze coins in this photo were found in a cave in Jerusalem, near Temple Mount. As you can see, a number of them bear images of the arba minim!
These coins have been very precisely dated. They are one thousand, nine hundred and fifty years old, give or take a few years. The cave in which they were found was used by Jews who were hiding from the Roman siege, up until the destruction of the Second Temple and the city of Jerusalem. The coins bear an inscription, “For the Redemption of Zion.”
I don't know about you, but personally I was shaken to see a visual record of how our ancestors, two thousand years ago, were waving the lulav and esrog, just as we do today. And they were doing so at a time when Jerusalem was being destroyed by the might of the Roman Empire, while having faith in the eventual redemption of Zion. And here are we, two thousand years later, when Rome is a nothing and Israel is a thriving country with extraordinary achievements.
Jewish identity is incredibly ancient and precious. It has survived against numerous attempts to destroy it - attempts which from a "rational" perspective would have seemed overwhelmingly likely to succeed. There are still attempts to obliterate the Jewish People, nowadays via erasing our ancient connection to our homeland. This Sukkos, while we are shaking the lulav and esrog, let us fell ourselves shaken to contemplate how we are participating in something that our ancestors have done for millennia (and for many of us, in the very same country). How many people in the world can claim such a thing?
Wishing you all a chag kosher v'sameach - and if you are fortunate enough to be spending it in the Holy Land, come take a tour of the new Biblical Museum of Natural History!