Three times of year Am Yisrael was commanded to go up to the Beis Hamikdash, to be seen and to bring a sacrifice – Sukkos, Pesach and Shavuos. Can you imagine all the different types of Jews coming together? Long payos, short payos, no payos, black, blue and purple kippas. Even Jews with no kippah! All of them meeting along the way on their pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. I often wonder what it looked like. Did they feel uncomfortable meeting fellow travelers? Were they inhibited around each other? Did they wonder what the other person was thinking about them?
The message of Sukkos is that there is a place for every one in Am Yisrael. You belong with us. Many feel that they are not in the mainstream. They feel that if their rebbes, teachers, parents and spouses would know what they were up to, they wouldn’t be accepted. They feel guilty and ashamed of some of their behaviors and feelings, as if they don’t belong. On the other hand, there are those who feel alienated from their Jewish religion and have either left the fold or never really practiced Judaism to begin with.
The Medrash explains that the lulav, esrog, hadasim and aravos represent four types of Jews:
The esrog – Just like an esrog, which has both a taste and a smell, so too, Yisrael has some people who have both Torah and good deeds. The lulav- Just like a lulav, which has a taste but has no smell, so too, Yisrael has some people who have Torah but do not have good deeds. The hadasim – Just like the myrtle, which has a smell but has no taste, so too, Yisrael has some people who have good deeds but do not have Torah. The aravos – Just like a willow, which has no smell and has no taste, so too, Yisrael has some people who have neither Torah nor good deeds.
And what does the Holy One, blessed be He, do with them? Destroying them is not an option. Instead, The Holy One, Blessed Be He, says “Bind them together into a single group and these will atone for those.” (Medrash Vayikra Rabba 30:12)
There are so many different types of Jews – tzadikim, reshaim, and everything in between! It’s on Sukkos that they all come together, not only on the trip to Yerushalayim, but also when we unite them, when we shake the arba minim.
If you are a Jew you are part of Am Yisrael! You have a place there no matter what you have done in your life and no matter how much you may have messed up. You are still a member of the tribe. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov would say “God is Big!” You are not despicable in God’s eyes, and therefore you are more than just tolerated in His nation. You actually make up part of the nation.
The Talmud in Krisus 6B learns that any fast day that doesn’t include in it the sinners of Yisrael is not considered a valid fast day. The Talmud goes on to explain that the prayers of Yom Kippur need to have mixed into them the prayers of the sinners of Yisrael, too, in order for the prayers to be accepted. The Talmud learns this from the chelbanah, which was a bad smelling spice that was lit as part of the daily incense in the Beis Hamikdash. It was precisely the bad-smelling spice that allowed the sweet-smelling spices to be accentuated.
So too, it is precisely because of all the different types of Jews, from all different walks of life, coming together, that we have the complete Am Yisrael. This is what we learn from the above Medrash. What does God do with all the different types of Jews? He binds them together so that they complement and atone for one another!
I’d like to end on a personal note. I had the merit of spending the last several years in Uman for Rosh Hashanah, by the grave site of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. This past year approximately 60,000 people came to Uman for Rosh Hashanah. It was truly an amazing sight! I was deeply touched and moved to be a part of the full spectrum of Jews, coming together for a common goal, to connect with God and with their brothers in Am Yisrael. You could literally see all of the arba minim of Jews uniting. It was an experience that was extremely powerful and deeply moving. Perhaps that’s what it felt like to make the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim for Sukkos.
This is the message of Sukkos and the arba minim. A friend of mine told me, “You are not the exception; you are the rule!” As we join together with Am Yisrael on Sukkos and we take our lulavs and esrogs, let us keep in mind that there is a place for everyone in Klal Yisrael. You belong with us.