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On Shriveled Aravot (Willow Branches)

As I beat the willows this morning, I was reminded of a lovely thought that I heard from DDK recently. (I would like to quote him by name, but I think I'll just use his initials, to preserve my tiny bit of anonymity here.) We were sitting around, talking about aravot and how they get dried up and shriveled, and all the various methods for keeping them fresh and green throughout the seven days of Sukkot. One person said that someone had gone and purchased a new set for him, mid-Sukkot, and how nice it was to do hidur mitzvah (beautifying the mitzvah) with nice-looking aravot.

Then DDK said that he thought that was all wrong--that the aravot are supposed to be shriveled by the end of Sukkot, to reflect the state of the fields, which are barren now that the harvest has been gathered. This is the time of year when we've reaped one crop and are waiting to find out if it will rain enough over the winter to grow another crop. We are judged at this time of year because this is the time of agricultural trepidation. By the end of Sukkot, we don't have fresh, beautiful aravot anymore. We have nothing. The reason that we finish the annual cycle of Torah readings at this time of year (instead of, say, at Shavuot) is because now is the time that we turn to God and the Torah with the hope that they will provide sustenance over the coming year. They are literally all we've got.

It was very moving. It reminded me that I would probably appreciate certain aspects of Judaism a lot more if I lived in an agricultural society, the way agricultural societies were before long-distance shipping and greenhouses.

Chag sameach!

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You wrote "Then DDK said that he thought that was all wrong--that the aravot are supposed to be shriveled by the end of Sukkot..." If this concept ever catches on in Israel, a lot of boys, aged about 7 to 10, are going to be very disappointed. These boys hang out in front of every shul, every morning of Chol Hamoed Sukkot, offering fresh aravot for sale (and even fresh hadasim, though they don't sell too many of those, and were unsuccessfully trying to give those away for free on Hoshana Raba). It is a lot easier to buy fresh aravot every day, than to resist the sales pitch and keep the same ones all week.
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