You can have the most wonderful etrog in the world, but if it arrives after the festival there is no way it can be used for the mitzvah.
How about an etrog which you acquired in good time, used on yom-tov and now wonder if it has lost its purpose?
Customs vary. Some people boil up the etrogim with sugar or sweetener to make jam. Others put cloves into the skin of the fruit and use it as b’samim for Havdalah on Saturday night.
It was thought in some places that a pregnant woman who bit into the pitom of an etrog was sure to have an easy birth.
Some communities used to cut up the synagogal etrog and give out the pieces to the members of the congregation. This indicated that all were partners in owning the etrog, which in those days was so difficult and expensive to acquire that the whole town might have had only one etrog between them.
There is also a custom of eating the etrog on Simchat Torah, the final day of the festive cycle, but this idea may be based on a misunderstanding of a passage in Rabbi Elazar of Worms’ “Rok’each”.
The author was making the point that the etrog was not to be eaten until Simchat Torah – not because there was a requirement to eat it then or at all, but because of the time factor. For so long as Sukkot had not concluded, the etrog could only be used for the fulfilment of the festival mitzvah.
In the same way one should not use for any outside purpose an object which is needed for a mitzvah whilst the mitzvah was still applicable. The arrival of Simchat Torah meant that the festival of Sukkot had ended, and so if one wanted to eat the etrog it could be done then, though not before.
Jewish nationalism made a great deal of the symbolism of the etrog. Where the modern age tends to use the Magen David as the Jewish symbol, in ancient days it was the menorah or the etrog that was found on coins, burial places and synagogues.
Called in the Torah “the fruit of a goodly tree”, the etrog reminded our people of their ethnic tradition and of the unique religious observances that brought beauty, splendour and dignity into Jewish life.