All of them

There are books that can make a great impact on people. I read one such book some years ago –Like Dreamers by Yossi Klein Halevi.

In the book, the author describes the lives of several paratroopers who liberated Jerusalem in the Six Day War. The book focuses on their lives after that milestone event in Israel’s history. According to the author, they reunited Jerusalem and divided a nation.

I want to share with you a short story the author highlights in the book that I believe is a beautiful message, especially at this time of year.

“Rabbi Zvi Yehudah (Kook), delighted to see Yoel. He took him by the arm and walked the streets of his ultra-Orthodox neighborhood, appropriately named Geulah, “Redemption.” Yoel walked slowly, in time with Rabbi Zvi Yehudah’s heavy steps.

They came across a campaign rally for an ultra-Orthodox party. An activist was addressing a crowd of black-hatted men, whom he referred to as “the community of holy citrons.” By comparing the ultra-Orthodox to the citron among the “four species” the speaker was in effect calling them the saints of the Jewish people. Rabbi Zvi Yehuda tightened his grip on Yoel’s arm. “The altar is not wrapped in citrons!” he said vehemently.

“What?” said Yoel, uncomprehending. He bent closer to hear the rabbi’s words. Yoel had difficulty understanding Rabbi Zvi Yehudah, who often spoke in a hurried mumble as though to himself, and whose Yiddish accented Hebrew was filled with fragments of biblical and rabbinic phrases that formed a private theological language.

The rabbi’s pace quickened, energized by anger. He pulled at Yoel, as if to remove him from a place of sin. Yoel was surprised by the strength of the old man’s grip. “The altar is not wrapped in citrons,” he repeated, outraged. “Only the holy community of Israel!”

Yoel understood: there is no holiness for Israel without its flawed souls, the willows. Jewish unity wasn’t merely a political but a spiritual imperative: a holy people bringing the message of God’s oneness to the world must be in harmony with itself, must be whole.”


Sukkot is the time to think of our vulnerability and the fragility of our lives.

As we gather all four spices representing the unity of the Jewish people, let’s think how we can bring people close to each other. Let’s create that “agudah achat” unity, by recognizing we are not equal but we still need each other.


Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin

1 comment

Four species.

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