This morning we started saying Tachanun again, which means that even the last vestiges of the Jewish High Holiday season are behind us. One of the most powerful symbols we have during this time is the Lulav and Etrog that we handle during Sukkot. Naturally, there a number of reasons given why we take up this bundle of tree branches and lemon-like fruit, but the most obvious to me boils down to this: you're going to die.
I know, happy thought.
See, every year my Lulav and Etrog starts off in pristine condition. Within a few days, the willow branches have started to wilt, and by the end of the holiday, the Lulav is reduced to little more than a collection of twigs. The Etrog holds on longer, but in a few weeks it begins to shrivel and will eventually join the Lulav in a state of decay.
Intended or not, that's one heck of a metaphor for life. In the span of a week you can see what time has in store for all of us, and it isn't pretty. So don't put off running that marathon, taking that trip, or fostering those kids, do it today. You just never know when you're going to start developing mold or begin to shrivel.
The story could stop there, but in the past few years I've realized it doesn't have to. The solution: I've embraced the tradition of putting my Etrog to use after the holiday. Last year I made Etrog liqueur and planted the Etrog seeds. In 2013 we made Etrog Meringue Pie! This year I went the liqueur and seed route again.
The liqueur is easy to make, just follow the steps here. I grabbed my Etrog, a peeler and went to work:
The batch from last year was quite drinkable. That's almost certainly due to the copious amounts of sugar the recipe calls for. Still, the liqueur absolutely had an Etrog flavor to it.
Planting the seeds isn't much trickier. This year I used the old egg carton trick, and planted two seeds per cup. When I ran out of room in the egg carton, and I sliced open an Almond Milk container and planted the remaining ones in there. For now, these cartons sit in my basement, covered by saran wrap, on top of the water-heater waiting to germinate. Will these grow into flourishing Etrog trees? Probably not. But the seeds I planted a year ago are still alive and fighting. And to literately see life take shape is its own reward.
So now, when I hold a Lulav and Etrog in my hands there's a new dimension to consider: if we do the work, we can have an impact far beyond our short existence. I'll drink L'Chaim to that!