By Rabbi David Cohen:
ּולְקַחְתֶם לָכֶם בַ ּיֹום הָרִאׁשֹון פְרִ י עֵץ הָדָר
The fruit that is initially mentioned in this pasuk is the p’ri eitz hadar. Chazal (Sukkah 35a) have a lengthy discussion as to how to identify this fruit, and suggest various possibilities before concluding that it can only be the etrog. Chazal’s rationale is that the pasuk states p’ri eitz hadar, which refers to a fruit in which the taste of the branch is equivalent to the taste of the fruit — ta’am eitzo upiryo shaveh. The only fruit that matches such criteria is the etrog. Why does the Torah introduce this mitzvah with this quality?
Chazal tell us that there was a sin that was committed prior to the sin of man. HaShem commanded the land to produce trees and plants in which both the tree and the plant tasted just like its fruit. The earth disobeyed the commandment of HaShem and created the natural world that we are familiar with, where the fruits and vegetables have taste but the plants and trees that bear them are tasteless. The Torah is teaching us what Hashem defines as beauty. P’ri eitz hadar, according to the Torah, is a fruit whose bark tastes like the fruit. This represents a new perspective that focuses equally on the growth process and the end product. It is not enough to have a good tasting fruit. The process must also be good.
After we experience the Yamim Noraim, the Torah reinforces this message. We hold the etrog and think, not only about the result, but about the process. A new perspective on how to approach our journey in life. Instead of just looking at the end result — are we doing aveirot or mitzvot — we pay attention to the process that brings us to those results. When we dedicate ourselves to the process and place genuine effort on the journey, it makes the growth process beautiful, wholesome and representative of true avodat HaShem.
May we all be zocheh to begin a new journey with our esrog and merit a life of fulfillment.