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Vayikra/Leviticus 23:40 You shall take for yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of a tree of splendour
Rabbi Abba bar Kahana (Pesikta de Rab Kahana, Piska 27) connects this command with a verse from the Writings: "Take my instruction, and not silver, and knowledge rather than choicest gold" (Proverbs 8:10, NASB). He suggested that Wisdom - G-d's Word, the active force by which the world was created (Proverbs 8:22-31), the prototype for Rav Sha'ul's linkage of Messiah Yeshua to creation (Colossians 1:16) and finally the Word Incarnate (John 1:1-3) - is saying that G-d's instructions, in other words the Torah, is a better choice than silver. He then goes on to quote from the Prophets: "Why do you weigh out silver for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance" (Isaiah 55:2, NASB). Here Rabbi Abba's point is that we have to pay tribute of silver and labour to the world because we have not eaten enough of the bread of Torah, nor drunk enough of the wine of Torah as Wisdom calls out: "Come, eat of my food, and drink of the wine I have mixed" (Proverbs 9:5, NASB).
A story is told of a certain Rabbi Johanan who sold his farm, his vineyard and his olive orchard in order to enable him to study Torah. When asked why, Rabbi Johanan replied that he had given up what took six days to provide (for "in six days the L-rd made heaven and earth" (Shemot 31:17)) for what took forty days and nights to provide (for "[Moshe] was there with the L-rd forty days and forty nights" (Shemot 34:28)). The rabbis of his generation eulogised him using a verse from Solomon's love poem: "When a man gives all the substance of his house for love", as Rabbi Yohanan had done for the Torah, "he will be given rich spoil" (Song of Songs 8:7, Targum)). Yeshua was later to answer His disciples' claims that they had given up everything to follow him in a very similar way: "Everyone who has left houses, brothers, sisters, father, mother, children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times more, and he will obtain eternal life" (Matthew 19:29, CJB).
It is possible, then, to take this commandment - in its p'shat, straightforward plain meaning of the text, the familiar command to take and wave the lulav and etrog on the first days of the festival of Sukkot - as a hint to choose first the studying of G-d's word over other possible ways of spending our time such as the pursuit of wealth. This choice is to be made by us, for our own benefit, so that we may bring forth fruit from our studies in the Word by both teaching others and putting it into practice by letting it shape and mould our lives and characters. As we teach others and they too follow our example, the fruit multiplies until we bring forth a harvest - "thirty, sixty or a hundredfold" (Mark 4:20, CJB).
Yet another side of this command can be seen by asking what the "tree of glory" might be. Variously translated as "beautiful tree" (NASB), "splendid tree" (ESV), "majestic tree" (NRSV), "goodly tree" (KJV), this is usually taken as the citron tree, the fruit being the etrog - a highly prized lemon-like fruit. This together with a palm frond, myrtle and willow leaves is waved before the L-rd to celebrate and proclaim His sovereignty over all the earth and all of creation. The Hebrew word has the meaning "ornament, splendour, honour" from a root that can mean "to show oneself glorious", so that the "tree of glory" might be allusion to the tree, the cross or stake on which Yeshua died for our sin. Then the fruit of the tree might be forgiveness for sin, a way of reconciliation between G-d and mankind, and that would multiply to represent the lives of all those who turn to Him and become part of His kingdom so that Yeshua becomes, "the firstborn among many brethren" (Romans 8:29).
Whatever the precise or allegorical meaning of the phrase, the imperative nature of the command makes it clear that we are expected to act: we have to extend ourselves to participate in what G-d is doing. Whether we wave the lulav and proclaim G-d's sovereignty, or whether we accept Yeshua's atonement for us for the first time, this cannot be something that someone else does for us. Only you can participate for your benefit - and accrue the blessing that G-d gives to those who obey Him and seek Him.
Further Study: Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-17
Application: What will you be doing over this Sukkot? Have you bought a lulav and etrog so that you can fulfill this commandment, or will you make sure that you share someone else's so that you can participate? Taking, for yourself, the opportunity to connect with G-d in this way is a symbol or a measure of how serious we are about connecting with Him and obeying Him in other areas too. Don't get left behind!
© Jonathan Allen, 2007
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