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Are You Afraid to Change? Emulating the Citron

THE BLIND GOLFER

Charlie Boswell was a great athlete who became blind during World War II while rescuing his friend from a tank that was under fire. When he returned to this country after the War, he decided to take up a sport that he had never tried as yet—golf. Years of Practice and determination led him to win the honor of National Blind Golf Champion no less than 13 times. One of his heroes was the great golfer Ben Hogan, so it truly was an honor for Charlie to win the Ben Hogan Award in 1958.

Upon meeting Hogan, Charlie was awestruck and told the legendary golfer that his greatest wish was to have one round of golf with the great Ben Hogan.

Hogan was duly honored, after all, he knew Charlie as the great blind player that he was, and truly admired his skills.

But suddenly Boswell blurted out an unexpected challenge. “Would you like to play for money, Mr. Hogan?”

“Charlie, you know I can’t play you for money, it wouldn’t be fair!”

said Mr. Hogan.

Boswell did not flinch. Instead he upped the ante. “Aw, come on, $1,000 per hole!”

“I can’t. What would people think of me, taking advantage of you and your circumstance,” replied the golfer who indeed was able to see.

“Chicken, Mr. Hogan?”

“Okay,” blurted a frustrated Hogan, “I’ll play. But I warn you, I am going to play my best!”

“I wouldn’t expect anything else,” said the confident Boswell.

“You’re on Charlie. I’ll tell you what. You name the time and the place!”

A very self-assured Boswell responded: “Fine. 10 o’clock…tonight!”

THE CITRON

“You shall take for yourselves, on the first day [of Sukkot],” instructs the Torah in the 23rd chapter of Leviticus, “the magnificent fruit of a tree, the frond of a date-palm, branches from the thick-leaved tree, and willows of the brook.” These are the familiar “four kinds”—the esrog (citron), lulav (palm frond), hadassim (myrtle twigs) and aravos (willow twigs), which we celebrate and shake during the Sukkos festival.

The Torah, however, does not explicitly name the four kinds, identifying them instead through allusions and double-entendres[1].

Take the citron for example: The Torah states, “you shall take for yourselves the magnificent fruit of a tree,” or in the original Hebrew: “pri eitz Hadar.” There are many beautiful fruits. Why was the citron chosen? In a brilliant interpretation, the Talmud reads the phrase “pri eitz Hadar” (“the magnificent fruit of a tree”) as a reference to the esrog (citron) since the Hebrew word hadar (“magnificent”) can also be read ha-dar, “that which dwells,” so that the phrase also translates as “the fruit that dwells on its tree from year to year.” Unlike other fruits, which wither and fall off after a single season, the esrog continues to grow on its tree throughout the entire year, enduring and growing with each season change. The citron is the only fruit on our planet “that dwells on its tree from year to year.”

It is a fascinating fact: The esrog can remain fresh and alive on a tree for five years, and just continue to grow with each season and each year, becoming bigger and bigger. This sets the esrog apart from all other fruits, which rots or falls off the tree after its particular season has passed.

WEATHERING CHANGE

Yet here is an important question. Why does the Torah refer to the citron in this round-about way, as “the fruit that dwells,” rather than stating its name directly?

The answer is it is this quality of the citron—its ability to weather change and grow from it—which the Torah is attempting to teach us concerning our own lives.

The year is a microcosm of human life. The bud and bloom of youth, the fruitfulness of maturity, the autumn of one’s later years, and the wither of winter—all find expression in the seasons of a year. A year includes mundane days and exciting days; success and failure, blessings and challenges, straight balls and curve balls; warm and passionate experiences, as well as cold and frozen encounters. In short, the year incorporates the full spectrum of human experience and emotion.

This is the deeper significance of the Torah’s description of the esrog, teaching us about the how the human ought to mirror the esrog.

The esrog is one who “dwells in his tree from year to year:” one who weathers all changes and fluctuations, whose integrity, growth and connection with his or her source and nucleus are not compromised by any of life’s vacillations.

Many people do well in particular “seasons.” For some, when life is sunny and warm, they thrive; for others, when life is cloudy and cold, they function well. Dark days bring out the best in them. Regardless, they are fully alive only in one season; when you take them out of their “comfort zone,” when you remove them from their “natural habitat,” they often wither away or become detached from the tree, from their source of life. When life’s waterfalls transport them to new and unexpected situations—they often lose their core, their vitality, their truthfulness, their steadfastness and courage.

The Torah teaches us to become like an esrog: to learn how to endure the diverse seasons of life. And even more, just like the esrog, to learn how to grow and develop from each season and change in our life.

For in truth, every new experience in life, affords us the opportunity to discover new horizons.

This year, when you shake the esrog, try to emulate it.