Commentary for Emor

23 May

This week’s parshah contains many of the laws for the holidays. Among these is the mitzvah of waving the lulav and etrog bundle, which also includes the willow and the myrtle. Interestingly, despite being called by its Hebrew name “hadas” elsewhere in the Bible, the Torah here describes it as “anaf etz avot”– “the branch of a braided tree.” The Talmud in Sukkah 32b identifies this as the myrtle and explains that using three words to describe the branch in question when just one would have been sufficient teaches us that we need three myrtle branches in the bundle, but the use of the term “branch of a braided tree” has deeper implications as well.

 

The only other items in the entire Torah described as being “braided” are the golden chains used to attach the breastplate to the ephod- the special outer tunic- worn by the High Priest. In its commentary, Etz Chayim notes that the purpose of braiding the golden chains was to make them stronger so that they could hold up the breastplate, which was set with twelve precious stones to represent the twelve tribes.

 

There is a famous midrash that teaches that each of the four species waved on Sukkot represents a different kind of Jew. The myrtle, which has a smell but does not bear fruit, represents those who do mitzvot but do not study Torah, and is juxtaposed to the lulav, which bears fruit but has no taste, representing those who study Torah but do not perform mitzvot. After Sukkot is over, we tend to remove the lulav from our houses rather quickly, as all it will do is sit around and get moldy. The myrtle, on the other hand, we tend to keep around due to its pleasant fragrance.   Knowledge is important, but when not put to use it becomes fleeting and is eventually lost. Actions, on the other hand, stick with us, forming and strengthening connections in our minds. It’s easy to forget a fact but hard to break a habit. Just as the braided golden chains strengthened the physical connection between the High Priest and the breastplate with the stones that represented the people he served, so to does the lesson of the “branch of a braided tree” help us to strengthen our connection, both with Judaism and with others.

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