On the holiday of Sukkos, the Torah instructs us to take four species and wave them together. It seems a quite random act, without obvious meaning. Naturally, Jewish Sages have provided explanations of the deeper meanings behind this apparently bizarre ritual.
The four species each provide distinct combinations of taste and smell. The Esrog is a citrus fruit, with both a pleasant fragrance and a pleasant taste. The Date Palm produces tasty fruit, but does not have a powerful smell. Myrtle branches provide the opposite, with a lovely smell but nothing to eat. The willow, the last of the four, has neither taste, nor smell.
One explanation for the combination of these four uses taste and smell as metaphors for Torah and good deeds. Possession of Torah knowledge should change a person internally, and of course inherently means having something good “inside.” Good deeds, on the other hand, are a manifestation of goodness, like a pleasant fragrance. The four species, then, represent four types of Jews — those who possess both Torah and good deeds, those with one or the other, and those with neither.
On Sukkos, the Commandment is to take all four, together. Not only must all four be held, but held together, in order to fulfill the Commandment. The Jewish People requires all four types of Jews. Obviously we all should strive to be like the “Esrog” — but on Sukkos we must also remind ourselves that without every Jew is important. Even without Torah or good deeds, our People isn’t the same without each and every Jew.
But the willow has beauty.