Rabbi Milevsky's Thought of the Week: Succot - 5772
The Torah states that one of the four species we take on the holiday of Sukkot is the "Pri Etz Hadar". Literally, " a fruit of a beautiful tree," known to us as the Etrog. The Talmud- seeking to identify the fruit that the Torah has in mind- comments that by switching the vowels, "Hadar" (beautiful) can be read "Hador" (that dwells). Therefore, the verse can be translated: "fruit of a tree that dwells". This refers to the fact that the Etrog, unlike other fruits, does not just grow, blossom, and fall off the tree within a short period of time, rather the Etrog lives on its tree from year to year, and when the new crop grows, the one from the previous year still exists on the tree. Commentators explain that there is an important message we can learn from this.
We will now examine another aspect of the Etrog. The halacha mentions many problems that will invalidate the Etrog. For example, it cannot be shriveled, or have certain types of spots on it. This is because Halacha requires the Etrog to be "Hadar-beautiful," and these flaws invalidate its status of "Hadar." Interestingly enough, this is the only mitzva that we find in the Torah where beauty is an essential condition for the performance of the mitzvah, and not just an enhancement. Hence, the Etrog is the symbol of beauty in Jewish tradition.
Concerning the commandments and practices of our heritage, the oft-repeated question is heard: "Why is this done in such an old-fashioned manner, it would be so much nicer if we could upgrade and practice in a more contemporary fashion ?" .This brand of thinking leads many to reform our tradition, envisioning that this will cause Judaism to become more attractive and appealing. For example, there was a time that some people maintained that the Rosh Hashana shofar's appeal and inspiration would be largely enhanced were it to be covered in gold (according to Halacha this is prohibited ). At a different time of Jewish history there was a movement to make some changes to the appearance of the synagogue, with the same goal. The Bimah -from where the Torah is read- was removed from the center of the synagogue, to the front, facing the congregation.
On the surface these changes are beautiful, the Shofar is nicer and more respectable for the holiday, the synagogue is structured in a manner that all can hear the reading of the Torah with ease. The message of the Etrog, is a message of the Jewish approach to beauty. The Esrog symbolizes beauty, a very important attribute to take in to consideration when relating to the almighty. However its development took place when on the same tree there remained a representative from the earlier generation. Torah beauty observes the past, and is inspired by it to keep the practice alive for perpetuity.