December 17, 2018

Best of Friends, Best of Fronds: A Lulav Story

For several months now, I have been dreaming of finding the perfect lulav — a palm frond the Torah requires us to wave as part of the ritual of the four species on Sukkot. 

To be kosher, a lulav needs to be at least 16 inches. Most lulavim that we see in synagogues are around 3 to 4 feet tall, but there is no maximum height limit for the lulav. 

I wanted a unique lulav to demonstrate my love of the commandment and my desire to serve Hashem. And, of course, I wanted something that would be exciting for the children of our synagogue in Washington, D.C., to see.

So I set out to search for a very, very tall lulav. 

The first step was to contact my friends in Israel and see if they could help. They couldn’t. The logistics were too complicated.

I then started looking in Arizona. I called the largest date farmers in the state. They were somewhat interested until they learned that I was looking only for a single frond.  After that, they weren’t so quick to return my calls. 

By this time, it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and I feared that this year my dreams would not come true.

I had one last hope. I called my friend
Rabbi Yossi Cunin, the Chabad shliach to Beverly Hills.

The night before Rosh Hashanah, every rabbi has a million things to do. But when I called Rabbi Cunin, he seemed to drop everything to help me.

He called palm tree nurseries and date farms and random farmers looking for the right lulav.

The day after Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Cunin drove to a farm and looked at its palm trees. The owners offered him one frond that was almost 7 feet tall, the farm’s tallest. There were, however, a couple of catches. The farm wanted $650. We couldn’t justify paying that exorbitant price when an entire set of Four Species typically costs less than $65.

It already was almost Yom Kippur. I was ready to give up.

That night, Rabbi Cunin couldn’t sleep. He tossed and turned all night.

He got up early in the morning and looked up at the heavens to ask Hashem for direction. He desperately wanted to help me find my lulav.

And then, he noticed, high in the sky, way, way up where he almost never looked before, there was a single, kosher lulav growing directly over his property.  

He had never noticed it before, but there it was — beautiful and glorious!

The next morning as the sun rose, he started calling gardeners to help him get it down. Finally, one man came and started climbing the palm tree. On his way up, he estimated the lulav was only 4 or 5 feet in length.

But then he cut it down and it turned out to be 9 feet 2 inches. It was the perfect size for us!

Rabbi Cunin immediately drove to Melrose Carpets, and the owner was kind enough to give him a carpet tube to ship it in across the country to Washington. It was too big for air freight, so it required ground delivery — seven days, with an arrival on the eve of the holiday of Sukkot.

I started out looking for the perfect lulav, but what I really found was the perfect friend. Here was a rabbi who dropped everything on the eve of a major holiday in order to help another rabbi in his service of Hashem.

I am so grateful that Rabbi Cunin shares with me the value that when it comes to serving Hashem, our efforts are a reflection of our values. If we put our heart and soul into performing a commandment, it demonstrates that we recognize that we are servants of our Creator.  And once we recognize that, then that in turn will impact every action we do in our lives. As true servants of God, we will be better able to visit the sick, feed the hungry, comfort the mourners and inspire the weary.

So if you want to wave the perfect lulav this year, you can stop by our synagogue. But even if you can’t make it, we all can join together in recognizing that we humans have work to do on this earth: We are all servants of our Maker.

RABBI SHMUEL HERZFELD is the head rabbi at Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C.