Part of the charm of Sukkot is the shuk arba minim, the chaos of the lulav and etrog market.
The narrow window of time for this ad hoc religio-enterprenuerial market is just as soon as Yom Kippur is over until just before the arrival of Sukkot. We’re talking a few days. Once a year. But amidst the practical necessity of securing the four species for the holiday, combined with the pleasure and charm of the sensory experiences of the piled high emerald greens and sunshine-y yellows, the fragrant, braided boughs of myrtle, alongside the perfume of the citrusy etrog cocooned in flaxen wrapper, the chaotic marketplace beckons.
There are the potential etrog buyers jostling for closer views of the etrogim, as the vendor ever so carefully unfurls the flaxen wrapping of their wares, lest the delicate pitom be bruised, so that the etrog can be inspected, almost to an obsessive level. The etrog must pass the potential buyer’s appraisal, while ambitious children linger nearby deftly and quickly weaving pale butter colored and green tinged palm fronds into koshiklach — the four species holders — officially three separate compartments so as to individually hold the horticultural species, yet keep them bound together.
The etrog will be cupped in one’s bare hand alongside it.
“Netilat lulav” is the Sukkot commandment to sanctify the holiday daily by “taking” — blessing and shaking — the four species. Playing on these words, a few years ago in Israel, ten friends — young social activists — got together and created an Israeli organization called Netinat Lulav (the Giving of Lulav) —rather than the “taking” of the lulav.
They had noticed the high profit to be made in selling the four species sets for Sukkot. Their idea was to create a volunteer infrastructure for the purchase and organization of the four species sets, so that the profit can be leveraged for charitable contributions to nonprofit organizations. Netinat Lulav would be focused on chesed, kindness in helping people in need.
Basically, any time a set of four species is purchased from Netinat Lulav, the profit automatically rolls over to a nonprofit organization of the purchaser’s liking. As of this year, the fourth year of Netinat Lulav, there are 11 charities to choose from, and a broad spectrum of causes as well, so that each purchaser can find a cause that is personally meaningful or appealing. The charities range from children who are struggling with illness to teens at risk or the handicapped.
The first year, 1,500 sets were sold. The second, 3,000. And last year, 5,000.
Each year their sales have been climbing and the organization hopes to achieve a higher bar again this year.
Another way Netinat Lulav amplifies the mitzvah of the four species is by encouraging people to purchase one additional set for those who cannot afford one, thereby offering a gift of dignity and joy, allowing the poor to be part of the community on Sukkot with their own personal set of the four species in shul.
As I say, the entire enterprise, from beginning to end, is a volunteer initiative. Even the pickup and distribution centers are essentially a network of families and friends who to open their homes for hundreds of people to pick up their online order of the four species.
It’s real old school, a people to people kind of effort.
Since the symbol of binding the four species together is the binding of different strata and types of Jews, partaking in the endeavor of Netinat Lulav feels like a meta-mitzvah. At one and the same time, you acquire your obligatory Four Species while tangibly helping and uniting different kinds of Jews.
Granted, the pre-Sukkot pleasure of the short lived market is charming and part of the lead up to the holiday. I’m not giving up on those markets. They are part of the Sukkot landscape.
But the next time I’m in Israel I’m embracing a new tradition of transforming Netilat Lulav into Netinat Lulav.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News