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Sunday, October 9

The Weekly Shtikle - Sukkos

This coming Thursday is the17th yahrtzeit of HaRav Naftali Neuberger, zt"l, of Ner Yisroel.

This shtikle is dedicated le'iluy nishmaso, Naftali ben Meir Halevi.


"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of the hadar tree, branches of palm trees and the boughs of thick-leaved trees and willows of the brook" (Vayikra 23:40) The Midrash Rabba in Vayikra Rabba 30 delves into the symbolism behind the esroglulavhadasim and aravos that we take every year on Sukkos. In 30:12, the Midrash speaks of the arba minim symbolizing different traits among B'nei Yisrael. The esrog, which has smell and taste, is likened to those who have smell and taste, i.e., those who have Torah and ma'asim tovim, good deeds. The lulav comes from a date tree. The date tree has taste but no smell. This is like the man who has Torah but no ma'asim tovim. The hadas has a smell but no taste, corresponding to the man who has ma'asim tovim but not Torah. The aravos, which have neither taste nor smell, represent the empty man of neither Torah nor ma'asim tovim.


The Midrash's choice to refer to Torah with taste and to good deeds with smell is surely not coincidental. There must be a significant meaning behind it. I heard a wonderful explanation from R' Ariel Shoshan, an alumnus of Ner Yisroel and currently a rav in Scottsdale, AZ. Taste is surely a more fulfilling sense than smell. It satiates and satisfies whereas smell often leads only to the desire to taste. Likewise, Torah is a more fulfilling trait. It is demanded of us to show proper respect for the man of Torah for his stature is paramount. But like taste, it is a trait that must be experienced at close range, with direct contact, just as taste requires you to actually have the food and place it in your mouth.


Good deeds are different. Just as an object with a pungent smell may be sensed from across the room, a good deed may be sensed from a far distance. If someone, for example, holds the door open for someone, everyone around sees it. Good deeds are sensed by all in the vicinity, just as smell has this power to affect a great many at one time. In a nutshell, Torah must be "tasted" up close, but good deeds can be "smelled" from afar. (In the age of the Internet, I suppose this analogy doesn't hold quite as true as it once did. After all, you are likely nowhere near me as you read this.)


I would like to add two more points, other possible meanings behind this symbolism. First, it is known that the sense of taste requires the sense of smell to aid it. I'm sure we've all experienced the tastelessness of food when suffering from a cold. But you don't need a tongue to smell. Likewise, if a person has ma'asim tovim but no Torah, at least his ma'asim tovim can exist as a virtue unto themselves. But one who has Torah but not ma'asim tovimm, even his Torah is affected and surely hindered by his lack of midos. This is the exact message of the mishna in Pirkei Avos (3:9) "One whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure. One whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure."


Second, it is interesting to note that the object of good smell is the hadas itself. It is the very object we include in the arba minim that provides the pleasant aroma. The object referred to as having good taste is the lulav. But please, do not try to take a bite of your lulav, even after Sukkos. It is not the lulav itself which tastes good but rather the fruit from the tree from which it came. Perhaps this symbolizes that the one who has good deeds, even if he lacks Torah knowledge, his deeds endure and are sensed directly. His lack of Torah does not prevent his good deeds from having a positive impact on others. But one who has Torah but not good deeds, his Torah becomes hidden and not sensed due to his lack of midos.


May we all merit to be like the esrog!

Have a Chag Samei'ach!

Eliezer Bulka

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