We are now in a period of the year that celebrates the holiday of Sukkot.
Sukkot commemorates the years that the Jews spent in the desert on their way to the Promised Land, and celebrates the way in which G-d protected them under difficult desert conditions. Sukkot is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, or the Feast of Booths.
Sukkot is celebrated by, first of all, building a sukkah. Jews are required to eat in the sukkah for eight days (seven days in Israel), and some even sleep in the sukkah for the duration of the holiday. The sukkah is decorated and the first day is considered a holy day in which most forms of work are forbidden.
The arba minim, (four species) are recognizable symbols of Sukkot. They are the etrog (looks like a large bumpy lemon), lulav (palm branches), hadasim (myrtle branches) and aravot (willow branches). The term lulav is often used to refer to the palm, myrtle and willow branches all together.
The above stems from what we read on the first day of Sukkot in the Fifth Aliyah at Leviticus 23:40-43 where the following is stated:
“And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your G-d for a seven day period.”
“And you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord for seven days in the year. [It is] an eternal statute throughout your generations [that] you celebrate it in the seventh month.”
“For a seven day period you shall live in booths. Every resident among the Israelites shall live in booths,”
Forgive me but I have always had a great deal of difficulty in associating with some of the symbols we deal with in order to practice our religion. Carrying the lulav and etrog are part of what I have trouble associating with. It seems to me that people look at these symbols as part of some mystical connection to the Almighty that I for one do not need in order to understand that there is a Supreme Being that is to be revered. Besides, the lines that I quoted merely state that “you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook”. Where does it say you are to shake the lulav for the seven days or look at the etrog for the entire time of the holiday? It is clear that we are supposed live in the sukkah for the entire seven day period.
At least there is justification for the above in that it is found in the Torah. Over the centuries, many customs have sprung up that allegedly enhance the way in which we enter certain holidays such as tghe just concluded Yom Kippur. Some of these customs, such as flogging oneself to atone for sin, happily have been forgotten. Others, such as immersion in a mikvah to indicate a state of purity, are still practiced by some. The most well‑known and yet most controversial of these customs is the practice of Kaparot, which literally means “atonements,” but in the sense of “ransom.”
You ask, "Why do generations of Jews have to suffer because of the transgressions of some of our fore fathers?"
What's the difference between shaking a lulav and etrog and swinging a bat? You might find this question silly at first. The bat swings for a purpose, but ultimately a bat swinging is just as ultimately purposeless as anything else given that sports is ultimately frivolity, which we use as an opportunity to behave fanatically.
I would think of waving a lulav and etrog more like Tai Chi than anything else. We are trying to orient ourselves in space by identifying the six directions. We link those six directions to two phrases. Phrase one is Hodu l'Hashem ki tov and the second is Ana Hashem hoshia na. Sometimes, physicalizing a practice makes the lesson more attainable. I suppose we could just point in the six directions, but introducing objects into the practice seems to ground a person more effectively in space. I also think that the fact that the four species are mentioned in the Torah is incredible. Our relationship with these four species is ancient.
Secondly, I see you challenging G-d frequently and wondering whether what He has asked of us is too much. I think this is a fair question to ask given how great the challenges facing the Jewish people are. I believe in your challenges and think they reflect an important sense of commitment to the covenant. I appreciate you thinking about these matters and your unwillingness to settle for pious answers.