The Tale of the Etrog and the Horse

Many horses died here this past year, yet in the new year, they are continuing to gallop along the trail of etrog rinds.

The etrog (citron) is the most prestigious of the four species used in the Sukkot rituals. It is with good reason that people are particular about its perfection, swaddle it and keep it safe in a silver box. Former prime minister Ariel Sharon was an etrog at the time of the disengagement, although his etrog was faulty at both the stem end and the stamen. And the body of the entire etrog was covered with blots that could not be ignored.

There is no politician who would not lust to be an etrog - to suddenly become an etrog. Which of them would not want to step into Sharon's shoes as he traipsed delicately to the four species market?

There are obvious reasons for the lust for etrog status. First of all, the etrog bears fruit, unlike the myrtle or the willow, which mourns its barrenness. Secondly, the etrog has flavor and fragrance - both learning and wisdom - as well as good deeds, whereas the palm has flavor but no fragrance, the myrtle has fragrance but no flavor and the willow has neither flavor nor fragrance.

Thirdly, it is customary to hold the palm frond together with the branches of myrtle and willow in the right hand, while the etrog is carried alone, an only child, in the left hand. Is only the left able to legitimize the illegitimate? There are theories like that. And they are being developed nowadays, too.

The book of commentaries Yalkut Shimoni holds that "those who bear fruit will have need of those who do not bear fruit, and those who do not bear fruit will have need of those who bear fruit. And none of them performs his obligation until they are all aggregated into one." There is more than a hint here about the commandment of national consensus and even the necessity of a unity government before disaster strikes - and it is always possible to make disasters happen sooner if one only tries. And anyone who is left by himself on the outside will hasten to be gathered in, lest his separatism cause him to sin via a slip of the tongue.

Can everyone who wants to be an etrog also be one? Is everyone capable of successfully undergoing the transformations of absolution and forgiveness? The task is possible, but not at all simple. Although most of the candidates do keep a splendid silver box somewhere at home, if not a golden box, nevertheless their future is not safe in the box. Improvements in the public opinion polls are liable to turn out to have been mere passing shadows, and soothsayers have already forecast how their glory faded away in five weeks of war. Public opinion is a sea of shifting sands on which one dare not build; at most, one can build a sukkah (temporary dwelling) there. And that is indeed how they are erecting the new tabernacle of peace - so that it will last for a short while, until the first rain.

Experts on citrus fruit are familiar with various methods of growing them, and the citrus experts recommend a method of their own that transforms even rotten apples into splendid citrons: When the rot comes, you rise up from the place of ashes and turn to the work of grafting. The experts say that nothing is easier than grafting a citron onto a lemon or a quince or a bitter orange. Most rabbinical authorities rule that it is prohibited to recite the blessing on a grafted etrog, but a politician, even if he has been declared nonkosher, is still an etrog: It suffices for him to bomb unknown sites far away and wrap himself in seven transparent veils of silence.

There is a tale of a certain Hasid who, as the holiday of Sukkot approached, traveled to the big city in order to buy a fine etrog with money that he had been saving for a whole year. On his way to the city, he saw a Jew weeping because his horse had died and he had lost his way of earning a living. The Hasid did not hesitate; he gave the man all of his savings to buy another horse. When he returned home, he said: "Every Jew will recite the blessing over an etrog this year, but I will recite the blessing on a horse."

Many horses died here this past year, yet in the new year, they are continuing to gallop along the trail of etrog rinds. And we are continuing to bet on them with what is left of our savings.