Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Humble Willow


Today is the Jewish Holiday of Hoshana Rabba. Customerlily, we beat five willow branches on the ground. Afterwards, we recite a prayer beseeching the Creator to sweeten all harsh judgements. This seems like a bizzare mystical ritual that begs for deeper explanation.

During the past seven days, we took a date palm frond, a citron, three myrtle branches and two willow branches and united them together. Then we waved them in all six primary spatial directions. Each of these four kinds of plant growth represent a different kind of Jew: The Torah scholar, the one who thrives on doing good deeds, those who are a balanced combination of both Torah and good deeds, and those whose deeds and learning are poor.

The Torah scholar is represented by the date palm frond because dates taste yummy like Torah knowledge. The one who thrives on good deeds is represented by the myrtle because it's leave exude a fragrant aroma - like good deeds. Those who combine both focuses, Torah and good deeds, are represented by the citron because the citron exudes fragrance and also, offers taste. Those whose deeds and learning are poor are represented by the willow which has neither fragrance nor taste. 

However, it's these four plant growths are not only four kinds of Jews, they are four states within every single Jew. Every Jew has an inner aspect which is learned, an inner aspect that's focused on good deeds and an inner aspect which wishes to combine both learning and good deeds. Then we also all have an inner unreached potential - our "inner willow".

Since this "inner willow" is unreached and unformed, it's wild and often manifests as our harsher more judgmental side. On Hoshana Rabba, as the judgment period which began on Rosh Hashana draws to close, we beseech the Creator not to view our "inner willow" as a liability worthy of His disappointment, but, rather as an asset, as untapped potential, which can be grown, molded, shaped and sweetened into something beautiful ~ perhaps, a future "inner myrtle", maybe even an "inner date palm frond" or an "inner citron".

Happy Holiday !

An Afterthought:

I wrote the following in an e-mail to a friend concerning the above teaching:
Basically, the article deals with what the willow symbol means to us on the personal human level. It's derived from the backdrop of what it means cosmically in Kabbalistic terms. It are basically forces that are feminine (malchut) and need their masculine counterparts in order to function without harshness. Otherwise, their vision is shortsighted and they behave from a perspective of fragmentation. So we pray to the Creator to sweeten them, meaning to marry them to their masculine counterparts so they can function from a vantage point of kindness, the sefira of chesed.

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