Sukkah 33

Towards the end of today’s daf (Sukkah 33b), attention is given to the term עַרְבֵי נָחַל which is used by the Torah (see Vayikra 23:4) to describe the willow that, as we are also taught in today’s daf (Sukkah 33a), is bound with the myrtle to the lulav.

Given that the term עַרְבֵי נָחַל literally means ‘brook willows’, we are taught in a Beraita that some explain this to refer to a willow which grows by a brook, while others explain that, though this may be the case, the description is more symbolic because the leaves of the willow are ‘elongated like a brook’.

Yet while I was reflecting on this beautiful image of the leaves of the willow being shaped like a brook, I was reminded of a parallel symbolic explanation about the leaves of the myrtle. You may recall that the Torah (see Vayikra 23:40) refers to the myrtle with the term עֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת, meaning ‘the shoot of a plaited tree’, and this leads the Rabbis to describes its leaf structure as being קלוע כמין קליעה ודומה לשלשלת – ‘Plaited like a braid and chain-like’ (see Sukkah 32b).

What a contrast! The willow is shaped like a free-flowing brook, the myrtle is chain-like in its structure, and yet they stand alongside each other in the lulav bundle! Of course, there are many messages we can draw from this image, but for me, it reminds me that there are certain things in life that we cannot change or that involve absolute commitment and staying power, while there are other things that deserve – and often require – movement and change like the water of a brook.

And so, by binding the myrtle and willow together with the lulav, we communicate a profound message to ourselves that echo the words of the serenity prayer – to accept the things we cannot change, the courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference.