Friday, October 2, 2009
The lulav might get all the action (we "wave the lulav") on Sukkot, but the etrog is undeniably the star of the show. There are very strict standards for evaluating an etrog, and often you'll see buyers inspecting these citrons with magnifying glasses.
But the reason the etrog captures the attention is that it fits in so nicely with the festival, with its sweet, citrony smell, its irresistibly bumpy surface and its round shape.
We Jews are big on round things. Round foods, like the holiday challah, are omnipresent at this time of year. And on Sukkot, we circle the sanctuary daily (except for Shabbat), recalling the grand processions of ancient temple days. We wave the lulav-etrog combo in all directions as well, a circle extending from east to south to west to north and back again, with up and down thrown in for good measure. On Simhat Torah next week, we'll join in huge Hora circles dancing around the sacred scrolls.
At this time of year, we are constantly attuned to the circles of life, the cycles of the ever-changing seasons. This weekend, we'll be going from heat to AC to heat and back again. The baseball season ends and the trees change colors dramatically. The wild weather shifts bring us from the summer muggies to cold fall deluges in no time.
One of the legendary figures of the Talmud was Honi the Circle Drawer. As Micha Oppenheimer describes, "Honi’s relationship with God is so direct and encompassing it is as if nothing else matters: when he draws a circle around himself, it is as if he had captured God in that circle, grasped by His heartstrings."
As we huddle together in our sukkahs this week, those circles will warm us. An embrace is a circle made by our arms. And as we rejoice in fall's dynamism and beauty, we realize that life is like the surface of the etrog, alternately bumpy and smooth, but invariably leading us back to where we began.