For those who do not know, Etrog Fruit are a fruit of symbolic importance used during the Jewish holiday of Sukkoth. They are a yellow citrus fruit, but there isn’t a lot of usable fruit in them. The Sukkoth before this last one (Sukkoth is done and over for the present), I tried to make Etrog Jam. It did not go well. In a few words, I scorched the jelly. It was quite a disappointment. Yet with Lulav branches–palm branches–we use these fruit on Sukkoth. In fact, I have news for Christians: Christ’s Last Supper sounds more like Sukkoth than Passover (Pesach) which involves no palms but a Seder in which Jews used to eat lamb before the Temple was destroyed. However, having told the reader this much (and hopefully not offended them overmuch), I will tell them a folk story that came out of the Sefer ha-Aggadah that involves the sweet smelling Etrog (they do smell nice):
The story is told of a man who practiced charity so ardently that he sold his house and all he had, and spent it on charity. Once on Hashanah Rabbah his wife gave him ten small coins and said, “Here comes the Lord of Charity! Contribute your share to this charity, for we want to buy a wedding dress for a certain orphan girl.” He took the ten coins and gave them to the collectors. Ashamed to go home, he went to the synagogue, where he saw some Etrogim that some children throw about on Hashanah Rabbah. So he took some, filled his sack with them, and set out on a voyage upon the Great [Mediterranean] Sea, until he reached the king’s capital city.
It so happened that when he came there, the king had a pain in his bowels and was told in a dream, “Eat of the Etrogim that the Jews use during their prayers on Hashanah Rabbah, and you will be healed.” So they searched all the ships and all the city, but found none.
Finally, they came upon that man sitting on his sack and asked him, “Have you anything for sale in your sack?” He replied, “I am poor and have nothing to sell.” But they examined his sack and, finding some Etrogim, asked, “Where are these from?” He told them that they were some of those that the Jews use on Hashanah Rabbah. So they picked up the sack and brought it to the king, who ate some of the Etrogim and was healed.
Then they emptied the sack and filled it with denars [coins].
There is much folklore in the Talmud. Really, there are two kinds of material: Halacha and Haggadah. Halacha is legal material and–as my rabbi put it–Haggadah is “everything else.” I would say for myself, however, that “Haggadah” has a heavy emphasis on story-telling.
That leads to one final thought: I finished reading a book: The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. It is an interesting book, but it tries to cover too much scope–from children’s make-believe to dreams to memoirs to fantasy games. I would have preferred a book that focused on that first–children’s make-believe–and then related it, if it’s possible, to folklore… like the kind recorded in Maurice Sendek’s I Saw Esau and the Grimm Fairy Tales. There were a few children among the tellers of the stories the Grimm Brothers collected from friends and acquaintances of the family. Two thirds of these stories were told by women; the others were largely researched in libraries. All of this is despite the fact that the idea that the Grimm brothers scoured the countryside for tales is almost entirely a myth. They already knew the women and girls they interviewed.
Anyway, I like the above story not just for its moral dealing with charity, but for its focus on the sweet-smelling Etrog fruit which someday I hope to make into jelly.