A facet of Sukkos that is somewhat striking, is the categorization of an Esrog as a `beautiful fruit.’ The Torah itself describes the Esrog in this fashion, in fact it is intrinsic to its name- Pri Eitz Hadar. It seems a bit odd that a bumpy, somewhat misshapen fruit would be considered beautiful. I recall a time in my youth that a beautiful fruit in my world view would more likely be a luscious looking red apple, a smoothly rounded multicolored peach, or a perfect bell shaped pear.
In trying to analyze why my `sense’ of beauty in a fruit was not in sync with the Torah’s depiction, the reason became self-evident. My impression about fruit was probably formed from famous still life pictures of a bowl of fruit, advertisements about fresh fruits at the local supermarket and my own childhood experiences of enjoying delicious fruits in season. The Torah has a different criterion, and thereby a vastly differing conclusion.
This is important, because it is symptomatic of many of our attitudes and perceptions of life, what is truly valuable, and our criterion for deciding on what is worthwhile for us and our family. Outside the direct dictates of Torah and Mitzvos, forbidden and permitted actions, there is a universe of attitudes and feelings about people, places and things that are constantly forming and re-forming in our conscious and subconscious mind. Where do these values come from? They come from everywhere and everything that our mind absorbs. Children’s attitudes form from off-the-cuff comments from parents about people, places and events, exposure to secular media and what teachers discuss and classmates share. We may take trips to many places and meet people who share their opinions with us.
Do we stop to think how much or how little our attitudes are informed by Torah values? We would do well to realize to what extent we are Americans (or `natives’of whatever country we were raised in) in perception and attitude, and how little of our worldview comes from the Torah. For those of us who were raised outside of Israel and who spent significant time in Israel as young adults, we’ll easily recall how different we felt from the locals, even if we shared a common commitment to Torah and Mitzvos.
It is essential to keep in mind that we can’t just `let’ our children’s attitudes develop – we must mold and guide them as we do in Torah learning and Mitzvah observance. Let’s listen with a discerning ear to the comments that come from our children about different facets of life – they indicate what their developing inner values really consist of. This is part and parcel of our obligation to educate and train our children to live their life in the path of Torah.
May your Sukkos be filled with joy and Nachas,
Rabbi Kalman Baumann