Friday, October 17, 2008

The Etrog of My Heart

Today, I did something I have never done before. I took some steps, into a structure, and did something that I have wanted to do for so long, yet, haven't had the chance to go through with.

I was on my way to the cafeteria for some lunch before my 12:30, and it was about 11:45. On my way I passed through the graduate quad and saw a table set up outside the pop-up sukkah, so I decided to pop by and see if I could get my lulav shaking on. Lo and behold, there was the fellow who got the sukkah put up doing some prayers. I stood off to the side, not wanting to intrude, and he came out of the sukkah, gestured for me to go in. He handed me the lulav, and delicately opened the little white box to reveal the etrog cradled gently in foam. He took it out and handed it to me, directing me on how to hold the two objects in my hands, but silently.

He opened his siddur, which, might I add, was all in Hebrew/English and lacking transliterations, and pointed to the prayers as I read them aloud -- in Hebrew -- while holding the objects. He then directed me in the movements of the objects: forward, to the heart, forward, to the heart ... and so on. The rustling of the lulav was accomplished with the most subtle of movements, and as I pulled the lulav and etrog toward me, it was as if the etrog were thrusting itself through to my heart, placing itself in my chest chambers, and moving back out with each movement.

And when I was done, the kindly fellow asked me if I'd said the Shema yet, and I hadn't, so he pointed me in the siddur where to go, and I read the Shema and some other things and then we talked about why I haven't been by the rabbi's for Shabbat, how women aren't bound to the Sukkot requirements, etc. And then? I plodded off, listening to the band Beirut, and got some lunch while reading some documents he'd given me about Sukkot, Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah (adorned with the rebbe's likeness and what have you).

When we were talking, and when the ritual was being performed, I couldn't smell or think of anything but the potency of the etrog. Because of it's shape, the etrog (a citron, sorta like a lemon), is said to resemble the heart. It is meant to represent the ideal Jew -- one who has both knowledge of Torah and good deeds, as the etrog is both pleasant in taste and in smell.

And, perhaps, when I felt that thump in my heart as I brought the etrog and lulav toward me, I was longing to be that ideal Jew, the one with a balance of Torah and deeds. The Jew I am in my dreams of Hasidic teachings and the Jew who will daven.

Forward I go, and with that -- Chag Sameach!