What use is the willow?

The date palm gives us delicious fruit, just perfect for sponge rolls and spreads. The myrtle's aromatic scent revives us at havdala time and the esrog yields fine jelly and a pleasing fragrance. The willow, however, is barren and without value or use. Or is it?

Fragrance represents good deeds and flavour represents learning. Therefore, the hadassim represent the man with good deeds but little learning. He bustles from one committee to the next, full of well meaning resolutions. He's a chevraman, cheering and bringing peace here, fixing a problem there. He's accomplished, caring but rather an ignoramus when it comes to the books.

The lulav represents the man who sits in the Beis Midrash all day- a masmid. He struggles to understand his Gemara- attains zchut in his learning but his family does not see him. His neighbours probably don't recognise him unless they catch sight of him dashing to vasikin or wending his way home after the last seder.

The esrog represents the ideal balance- the tzaddik. He is someone like Rabbi Akiva who devoted many years to acquiring Torah wisdom, but selflessly laid aside his books when the needs of the community demanded it, travelling to raise funds for families in need.

We return to the humble willow. This represents a man who has neither good deeds nor Torah learning. We all daven together on Yom Kippur, without judging who is worthy or not worthy to be included. We include him out of a sense of achdus and ahavas Israel on Succot. Can we assume, however, that the willow is completely without value? Can we assume that the man he represents is a useless extra in society?

What do we know about willows? Since the days of antiquity we wove baskets from the stems of the willow. We used these baskets to carry the bikurim to the beis hamikdash and these days we use these baskets to hold mishloach manos, as well as for many other household purposes. (The latin word for willow is Salyx- the Hebrew word for basket is "sal". A coincidence? Rav Yitzhak Ginzberg compared the basket to the written word. How? In classic Hebrew the basket is called "tene", Tet, nun, aleph. This stands for ta'amim, nekudot, otiot. These are the components of written language- the accents, the consonants and the vowels. Rav Ginzberg said that our words are like the fruits of our minds. Are we going to bring beautiful, wholesome fruit or are we going to bring rotten, ugly fruit? The vessel is the means, the cli, the components of the word.

Willows are also a source of medicine- aspirin prepared from salycilic acid, derived from the bark of the willow tree. This medicine, in moderation, is effective in lowering fever and alleviating pain.

Perhaps we can conjecture a meaning for the willow. Perhaps the willow represents the man of words? Perhaps these are the poets, bards, writers who engage in wordcraft. Oops.. wait a minute... does that make me... ? Never mind, I think I can live with that- or at least an aspiration toward that. The writer takes the concepts, the elements, the colours of the observed world around us and shapes these into words.. perceptive expressive adjectives, vivaciously active verbs and adverbs, clear and solid nouns. The writer weaves for you on paper those heartaches and joys and experiences common to all of us in life. If you know a writer, it's a good idea to tell her all your most interesting anecdotes and words of wisdom - they may appear in print some day- and you might even get the credit. Isn't that nice?

And sometimes we can make a little joke to alleviate the pain of your day!

Copyright © 1999 Gila Atwood

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