When I got home the other night with my four species in hand for Succot, I found our sons Yadid , 5 years old, and Yishama, 3 years old, dressed in their newly purchased Power Rangers costumes (blue and red respectively). They were hard at play, but were all too happy to take a break to look at the “cool plants” that Abba brought home. It is clear that I will have to spend a lot of time trying to explain the extraordinary rituals of Succot to them. They both have rich imaginations, so in many ways it will be easier giving an explanation that works for them than coming up with something that works for me. What is the inner meaning of the ritual of shaking four species in celebration of Succot?
Thinking of this question made me thing of something I read by Rene Descartes. He wrote:
… whether awake or asleep, we ought never to allow ourselves to be persuaded of the truth of anything unless on the evidence of our reason. And it must be noted that I say of our reason, and not of our imagination or of our senses: thus, for example, although we very clearly see the sun, we ought not therefore to determine that it is only of the size which our sense of sight presents; and we may very distinctly imagine the head of a lion joined to the body of a goat, without being therefore shut up to the conclusion that a chimera exists; for it is not a dictate of reason that what we thus see or imagine is in reality existent; but it plainly tells us that all our ideas or notions contain in them some truth; for otherwise it could not be that God, who is wholly perfect and veracious, should have placed them in us.” (Descartes’ Reason Discourse Part IV)
We are all asked to question our lived experience and only trust reason. In many ways, Yadid and Yishama ,in their ability to play make-believe, are more advanced in this religious experience than I am. Descartes asks us to take everything and nothing at face value, because despite its actuality the perception might have divine origin. But once I put shaking the four species into that context, what do the palm frond, two branches of willow, three branches of myrtle, and one citron coming together represent?
Simply put, the shaking of the four species together is an attempt to reattach that first fruit on the chimerical tree of knowledge in the Garden of Eden. While it took a moment to pluck that fruit, like Sisyphuswe have to try for the rest of time to put the fruit back on my imaginary tree. Today the knowledge itself of Good and Bad is a fabrication. My inability to connect fully to this ritual of shaking the four species speaks to my inability to shake cynicism from my life.
As we read in Lamentations, ” Restore us to You, O Lord, that we may be restored! Renew our days as of old” (Eichah 5:21) May we all be blessed with an open heart to experience our rituals anew. Have you ever seen a Power Ranger wield a Lulav with such fervor and save the world?