Rav Kook Torah

Succoth and the Land of Israel


In 1907, Rav Kook wrote a Halachic treatise entitled Eitz Hadar, discussing the etrogim grown in Eretz Yisrael and the importance of avoiding grafted etrogim. He advocated the use of etrogim in Eretz Yisrael as a way for world Jewry to strengthen its connection to the land of Israel and support its fledgling communities.

Underlying Connections

Our world is an alma d'peruda, a reality split into conflicting realms: physical and spiritual, secular and holy, that of compassion and that of strict justice. Yet there always exists a hidden connection that unites these divisions, some intermediary stage or shared level that combines both aspects. This principle is set down by the Torah’s esoteric teachings and is confirmed by our own examination of the world around us.

This fundamental truth provides a comprehensive view of the world and gives us insight into the universe’s underlying unity.

Two Categories of Mitzvot

For example, the Sages noted in Kiddushin 36b that all mitzvot fall into two categories. The first category consists of mitzvot hatluyot ba’aretz, mitzvot that can only be fulfilled in the land of Israel, such as Shemitah (the Sabbatical year) and ma’aserot (tithing of fruits and vegetables). The second category consists of those mitzvot that are incumbent even outside of Israel, such as prayer and Torah study. What binds and unites these two types of mitzvot?

We may discern the inner connection between them from the words of the Ramban in his commentary to Gen. 26:5 and Deut. 11:18. The Ramban explained that the root of all mitzvot — even those that are incumbent outside of Israel — is in the land of Israel. Performance of mitzvot outside the Land does not fulfill their inner purpose, but rather is a means to enable the Jewish people to return to their land. These mitzvot guard over the holiness of the Jewish people, so that when they return to Eretz Yisrael they will not need to re-invent their culture and spiritual path. They will not return to the land of Israel as a young nation, newly arrived on the stage of history, but will continue their ancient traditions. This bold idea is already found in the Sifre on Deut. 11:18:

“Even though I exile you from the Land, distinguish yourself with mitzvot. Then they will not be new to you when you return [to the land of Israel].”

From here we see that both categories of mitzvot share a common dimension, one that is connected to the land of Israel.

In the material world, the most basic form of wealth is real estate. “One who does not possess land is not a person” (Yevamot 63a). This is even more evident with regard to nations. Even if a nation expresses itself in higher realms — culture, arts and sciences, and so on — it still requires a fundamental basis in land and agriculture. Land may be compared to the roots of a great tree. Without the beauty of its branches and fruit, the tree is just an ugly stump. “Agriculture,” the Sages noted, “is the lowliest form of work” (ibid.). Nonetheless, these roots give life to the entire tree; they are the foundation for all of its produce and beauty.

This idea also holds true in the spiritual realm. All mitzvot share a common denominator — mitzvah-performance in the land of Israel. Thus even our spiritual riches are rooted in the dimension of land.

The Four Species

But is there a specific mitzvah that combines and unites aspects of both categories of mitzvot? To find a mitzvah that bridges these two categories, we will need a mitzvah that, on one hand, is a personal obligation, incumbent also on those not living in Israel; on the other hand, it should be clearly connected to the land of Israel, so that the special qualities of Eretz Yisrael are recognizable in it.

The mitzvah of the Four Species — arba’ah minim — is a perfect match for these criteria. It is obligatory on every individual, even outside of Israel. At the same time, the Four Species remind us of Eretz Yisrael and the harvest, its foliage and beautiful fruit. “Take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, a palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows of the brook” (Lev. 23:40).

Succoth and the Land of Israel

In fact, the holiday of Succoth as a whole is integrally connected to the sanctity of the land of Israel and our joy in its fruit. The Sages ruled that an extra month may be added to the year to ensure that Succoth will fall out during the harvest season (Sifre 192).

The connection of the Succoth holiday to Eretz Yisrael is especially strong in the etrog fruit. In the land of Israel it is easy to fulfill this holy mitzvah with joy and beauty. Maimonides suggested that one reason that the Torah chose this particular fruit was its wide availability in Eretz Yisrael (Guide to the Perplexed 3:43).

In the Diaspora, however, this mitzvah can be difficult and costly. The great effort and expense to attain etrogim in the cold and distant lands of our exile reminds us of the desirability of our beloved homeland, a land that suits the special qualities of our soul. When Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai instituted special decrees to commemorate the Temple after its destruction, he specifically chose the mitzvah of the Four Species, extending its performance from one day to seven to emulate the way it was performed in the Temple (Rosh Hashanah 30a). It is due to this special connection to Eretz Yisrael that great scholars throughout the generations went to great lengths to acquire an etrog grown in the land of Israel.

Etrogim and Settling the Land

In recent years it has been exposed that the vast majority of etrogim grown outside of Israel come from lemon trees grafted with etrog branches. These grafted etrogim, despite their superficial beauty, are not fit for fulfilling the mitzvah of arba’ah minim.

In our days, the kosher etrog has become another way for us to express our love for the land of Israel. The agricultural settlements in Israel now provide etrogim that are supervised to ensure they do not come from grafted trees. It is providential that we should be best able to fulfill this precious mitzvah, connected to the holiday closely bound to the land of Israel, by favoring the produce of the Holy Land. Additionally, as more etrogim of Eretz Yisrael are purchased, our fellow Jews working the land will be able to plant new orchards. Thus, by buying etrogim from Israel, we can all share in the mitzvah of building and settling the land of Israel — a mitzvah on par with the entire Torah (Sifre Re'eih, Tosefta Avodah Zarah 5:2).

(Silver from the Land of Israel. Adapted from the introduction to Eitz Hadar.)