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Aspaqlaria: Succos 5759

We sometimes find that the Torah, instead of spelling the halachah out, uses a more poetic -- if less direct -- phrasing. One example is in the mitzvah to take an esrog. Instead of just calling it an "esrog", we are told to take a "p'ri eitz hadar", a fruit of a tree that is superior.

From a legal perspective, something is lost in this wording. We need to rely on Torah sheBa'al Peh to know that the pasuk refers to the breed we call an esrog in particular. The description, though, can tell us something of the why. More is conveyed on the level of aggadah.

The gemara (Succah 35a) explains, "'P'ri eitz hadar' -- that its fruit tastes like the tree." Aggadah makes a distinction between an "eitz oseh p'ri", a tree that makes fruit, and when the two words are juxtaposed to make "eitz p'ri" or "p'ri eitz". In the latter case, it refers to either a tree or a fruit, respectively, where the fruit and the tree share the same taste.

A famous medrash (B'reishis Rabba 5:9) comments on the language of the creation of trees. Hashem orders the earth on the third day to produce "eitz p'ri oseh p'ri", fruit trees that bring forth fruit, yet the land actually produces only "eitz oseh p'ri". Between the commandment and the fulfillment, something is lost. Instead of the norm being that the wood of the tree would taste like the fruit, this is now the exception. Somehow, the earth "disobeyed".

What does this medrash mean? Does the earth have free will, that it can choose to disobey G-d? Rav A.Y. Kook explains:

At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit. All the supportive actions that sustain any general worthwhile spiritual goal should by right be experienced in the soul with the same feeling of elation and delight as the goal itself is experienced when we envision it. But earthly existence, the instability of life, the weariness of the spirit when confined in a corporate frame brought it about that only the fruition of the final step, which embodies the primary ideal, is experienced in its pleasure and splendor. The trees that bear the fruit, with all their necessity for the growth of the fruit have, however, become coarse matter and have lost their taste. This is the failing of the "earth" because of which it was cursed when Adam was also cursed for his sin.

But every defect is destined to be mended. Thus we are assured that the day will come when creation will return to its original state, when the taste of the tree will be the same as the taste of the fruit. The "earth" will repent of its sin, and the way of the practical life will no longer obstruct the delight of the ideal, which is sustained by appropriate intermediate steps on its way toward realization, and will stimulate its emergence from potentiality to actuality.
-- Orot HaTeshuva 6:7

To R. Kook, this enigmatic medrash says something fundamental about the nature of kidushah. In the metaphor of this medrash, "fruit" refers to the goal, and the "tree" is the means. In the ideal world, the tree would share the taste of the fruit, that is to say, the means for achieving a spiritual goal would generate the same excitement as the goal does. The soul doesn't feel the same spiritual high because the earth, the physical world, separated itself from the soul. Because it doesn't, we perceive the physical as "chol", secular. The "new earth and new heavens" (Yeshaiah 65:17) of the messianic age will come when this rift is healed.

So, by saying "p'ri eitz", the Torah is telling us that the esrog is chosen in part because it exemplifies this ideal. It represents the underlying unity of secular and sacred.

However, the gemara continues, this does not uniquely identify the esrog! Don't pepper plants also taste like peppers? Interestingly, the gemara elsewhere (Succah 32b) ascribes the same property to hadasim. After proving this point, the gemara looks to the next word, hadar, to provide more stringent criteria.

Rav, after some clarification, indicates that the word should be read as though it were "hadir", the stable. Just as a stable has large livestock and small, so to an esrog tree bears both large fruit and small. This describes the esrog, which continues growing on the tree from one season to the next. At any time, there are young fruit as well as larger ones that have been growing from previous seasons. Rav Avohu presents the same idea slightly differently. He reads the word as "ha-dar", that which lives, a fruit that lives on the tree from one year to the next.

"R. Yochanan haSandlar says: Any congregation which is for the sake of heaven will end up being permanent." (Avos 4:14). "Any debate which is for the sake of heaven will end up being permanent." (Avos 5:16) The key to permanence is in using the day-to-day in service of the sacred. By using means toward their intended ends.

The last opinion offered is Ben Azai's. He finds in "hadar" a reference to the Greek "hadur", water. The esrog requires far more water than other trees. "Water is never anything but Torah". The way in which one learns how to properly unify the secular and the sacred is the Torah. The entire concept of a halachic lifestyle is to bring sanctity to our daily activities.

This provides two approaches to the concept of hadar. To Rav and Rav Avohu, the esrog is more of a p'ri eitz than most because it shares more properties with the thing a p'ri eitz represents. As a metaphor, esrog is a superior metaphor. To Ben Azai, what is important is not merely the concept, but the implied imperative -- that one should act to heal this flaw.

By internalizing the concept of p'ri eitz hadar, we can aspire to the words of David haMelech: "He shall be like a tree, planted upon the brooks of water, whose fruit are given in season, whose leaf does not whither, and whatever he does, he carries through successfully." (Tehillim 1:3)

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