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What do Abraham and an etrog have in common?

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The Chief Rabbi’s D’var Torah for Sukkot


Abraham was an etrog. 

This surprising statement is featured in the midrash Torat Kohanim, which declares: “Etrog zeh Avraham Avinu.” 

Abraham, our patriarch, was the personification of the characteristics of the etrog – the citron – which is one of the four kinds which we take over the festival of Sukkot.

What logic can we read into this statement? And if the midrash is going to compare the etrog to a Biblical character, why davka is it Abraham and not anyone else?

The Gemara in Masechet Sukkah (35a) brings to us the words of the Torah: “Pri etz hadar.” This is how an etrog is described by the Torah. It’s the fruit of a citrus tree. 

The Gemara tells us that the term hadar also literally means, “which lives” or “which resides.” That’s its description of the etrog which lives on the tree. And it’s true – remarkably an etrog never falls off the tree, not even when it’s ripe. You have to pluck the etrog off the tree. 

The etrog therefore is a symbol of dependability and continuity, and that sums up the character of Avraham Avinu. He continuously followed the word of Hashem. Nothing could stop him from doing so. For example, straight after his brit milah, there he was outside his tent in the heat of the day to welcome visitors. Nothing could stop him from dispensing chessed, acts of loving kindness towards others. Even though he had prayed to Hashem to save the inhabitants of Sedom and Amorrah after they were destroyed the very next morning he returned, “el hamakom asher amad sham,” – to the same place where he stood every single day, in order to daven to Hashem. 

So too when Hashem commanded him to take his son, his only son, to the akeidah, after three long days of the journey, his passion had not waned. Avraham was absolutely committed to this most challenging of tasks. Neither Nimrod and his fiery furnace nor the threats of Pharaoh, King of Egypt could stop Avraham from continuing to follow the word of Hashem.

Therefore it makes a lot of sense that Avraham is compared to the etrog, and I find it so apt, so timely, so suitable that immediately after Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, right at the beginning of a new year the etrog, in being compared to Avraham Avinu, reminds us of the timeless and crucially important lesson which is that while occasional and seasonal interest in Judaism must be welcomed, nonetheless it’s only 24/7 commitment to Torah law which will guarantee our continuity.

I wish you shabbat shalom and chag sameach.