Every year around this time, the lulav and etrog arrive, just in time for Sukkot, which begins this Sunday evening. Opening the boxes is like taking a trip in time. Look at them! A palm frond stuck into a woven straw holder and two plastic bags, one containing two sprigs from a willow tree and the other, three sprigs from a myrtle. And then, the piece de resistance, the etrog, which appears to be a big lemon, but is not. On Sukkot, we will hold them all together in a prescribed fashion, and shake them as a means of saying thank you to God: for long life, for sustenance, and for the harvest which feeds us all.
As you shake the lulav, perhaps you can imagine how our ancestors held on tight, praying that the capricious ways of Nature would be mild in this new year. This year, as I shake the lulav, I will be channeling those who came before me, who shook their lulav for dear life. I will think about where this tradition began, before even our earliest Jewish past.
I am convinced that this practice of lulav shaking begins in our earliest prehistoric past. I imagine men and women preparing for a harvest 23,000 years ago on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Israel. They have so much fear and hope. Will these seeds grow? Will the godssmile on them? The lulav and etrog were shamanic tools to conjure the benevolence of the gods. Because if the harvest failed, it would not mean higher prices at a store. Rather, it meant the difference between life and death, full bellies or starvation.
I guess that even the most observant farmers of todaywhen they shake their lulav, will be thanking God. But they will know about the acidity of the soil, the meteorological trends on their land, the proper use of irrigation and fertilizer and so forth. They will know that, while God’s blessing for a good harvest is always welcome, and yes, the capriciousness of Nature can still be devastating, that it is not a matter of life and death.
Given that we have so much more science behind us as we plant and harvest, it is mystifying how people can ignore the reality of climate change. I would be willing to bet that most farmers believe in climate change, are seeing it in their crop yields and water use.
Our children’s children will face a world of rising seas and rising temperatures. They will experience bigger storms that are more devastating and fires that are more destructive. A hundred years from now there will be water wars in Africa and the Middle East. There will be unprecedented destruction unless and until we begin to act with urgency.
So when I shake the lulav this year, I will be thinking not just about the earliest humans who realized that they could plant seeds and harvest the results. I will be asking for God’s blessing on the generations to come. I will be praying that they will live in an enlightened world that comes to grips with the folly of past generations who used the earth’s resources as if they were inextinguishable.
I pray for God’s blessing. I pray for our leaders to finally unite to save the world. I pray that we become wiser with how we all use our limited resources. That’s my Sukkot prayer.