The Etrog as a Marker of Passage

by Deborah Wenger

It was Hoshana Rabba, the last day of Sukkot on which we use the arba minim, and I was sitting in my office with my etrog occupying a prominent place on my desk. This year I had been fortunate to find a real beauty, and I was reluctant to put it away for the last time.

The mitzvah of arba minim has had a particularly personal meaning for me over time. When I was married, I “shared” my husband’s arba minim, making the berakhah on it, but merely watching him during hoshanot. After we separated, one of the first mitzvot that I was able to take on for myself was that of arba minim, which I felt was a symbol of my independence. However, during hoshanot I generally found myself alone or almost alone in the women’s section, with no one to join me in hoshanot. Although I had my own arba minim, I still did not feel as if I were participating fully in the mitzvah.

Time passed. My son, who was just going off to college at the time of my divorce, has married and now lives in Atlanta. For the past several years, I have had the privilege of joining him and his family and davening at the Young Israel of Toco Hills, where women’s hoshanot participation is similar to that described in the preceding article. At last, I can enjoy my arba minim to the fullest!

When Sukkot ends, I will keep my etrog in its tightly closed box (a family heirloom) until the following year, when I will remove the dried-out—but still very fragrant— remnant of the previous year’s etrog and replace it with a new one. I keep all the old ones in a large vase—a reminder of the passage of time, the independence I now enjoy, and my gratitude at being able to perform this mitzvah year after year.

— Deborah Wenger


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