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    The Ga’on’s etrog

    Lulav etrogThe Vilna Ga’on said that he would forego his place in the World to Come for an etrog.

    Other historical figures have made sweeping statements. Recall, for example, the ruler who said, “My kingdom for a horse!” But giving away the afterlife for a citron? The Ga’on must have loved the mitzvah of etrog with consuming love.

    It was not an easy mitzvah to fulfil, especially in Diaspora conditions. The difficulties that stood in the way of obtaining an etrog, any etrog, were immense. Obtaining a beautiful etrog, as commanded by the Torah itself (Lev. 23:40), was even harder.

    Some communities marked Tu BiSh’vat – the New Year for Trees – by prayers that God should think of His people’s need for beautiful etrogim when He organised the program of nature’s development that year.

    In some congregations they had a special society for the acquisition of etrogim and sometimes were unable to do more than acquire one etrog for the whole community.

    There was even halachic debate about the question, “If one has a choice between visiting a town with a sukkah and one with an etrog, which should we choose?” The answer was, choose the town with the etrog!

    All of this indicates how precious the mitzvah was. But in addition, the ethical and spiritual symbolism of the etrog made it especially important.

    The etrog meant beauty and symbolised the rabbinic interpretation of the verse, “This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Ex. 15:2); say the rabbis, “Glorify Him by beautifying His commandments” (Shabbat 133b).

    It meant ethical achievement: as the etrog had to be as perfect as possible, so can a human being strive towards personal perfection.

    As the etrog has taste and aroma, so must a human being be an example for others and spread an aura of spirituality throughout the world.

    And as the aim of every Jew was to have an etrog from the Holy Land, so does the etrog represent the eternal link between the land and people of Israel.

    In 1847 Benjamin Disraeli wrote, “The vineyards of Israel have ceased to exist, but the Eternal Law enjoins the Children of Israel still to celebrate the vintage. A race that persists in celebrating the vintage although they have no fruits to gather, will regain their vineyards”.

    It is a century and a half later and we have every reason to bless God for the privilege of seeing these words come true. The etrog is part of the pattern that kept the dream alive; it is part of the pattern that celebrates the fulfilment.

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