Burying the Etrog

October 16, 2015

Every week, Jody Hirsh, the JCC's Judaic Education Director, provides a Judaic message that is featured at the top of the JCC's weekly email newsletter. Below is the Shabbat message for Friday, October 16, 2015.

Burying the Etrog

On October 14th, we buried the Etrog. What??? You might ask. You buried the Etrog? What? How? Why? Of course we would never bury an Etrog on Shabbat – there are no Jewish burials on Shabbat for anything. Not even for an Etrog.  We did it on Wednesday. So what is an Etrog? An Etrog is a citron – a lemonlike fruit that is one of the central ritual objects for the holiday of Sukkot, which we just had. The Torah tells us that “On the first day you shall take the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days.” The palm branches, the leafy trees (myrtle), and the willows form the “lulav” which is a combination of all three of those plants bound together. (Actually, the word lulav means “palm frond.”) These are waved in particular ways on the holiday along with the Etrog (the fruit of beautiful trees). It is connected with rejoicing – which is required on the holiday. Imagine... joy is REQUIRED. The Etrog is a very distinctive fruit. It has a unique sweet smell. The skin is sweet and edible. It never rots – it only dries up. The most prized etrogim are from Israel. Even a couple of hundred years ago when transporting an Etrog from the Holy Land was almost impossible, poor families would save their pennies in order to purchase one. People often keep them, using them as the spice for the end-of-Shabbat spices. But many people cook with them, making Etrog schnapps, or Etrog cookies, or Etrog cakes. Our own Rabbi Shari Shamah collects Etrogs at the end of Sukkot. And with those Etrogs, she makes the most exotic Etrog cake. Here at the JCC, we wait for her post Sukkot Etrog cake. But… this year there’s trouble in Paradise. Last year was a Sabbatical Year! What does that mean? Every seven years, according to the Torah, is a year to take off, to refrain from planting, to renew the earth. In the land of Israel, in any case, it’s forbidden to actually cultivate fields.

So – that brings us back to the Etrog. This new year that started at Rosh HaShanah is 5776 (2015/16). Last year, 5775, was a Sabbatical year. That means that the Etrog we used on Sukkot was the product of Israel during the Sabbatical year! And here’s the complication. Technically it shouldn’t be used. But, then again, it’s a holy object according to tradition; therefore it should be used for the Sukkot ritual. But, on the other hand, we shouldn’t use it for any non-ritual, like baking it or infusing vodka with it. But then… what do you do with it? Yep. We need to bury it. This is exactly what we did on October 14.

Shabbat Shalom