Hebrew Bible

Sukkot: All About the Lulav & Etrog

Sukkot 2023 will be starting at sundown on Friday, September 29, so now’s the time to brush up on the meaning and origins of one of the key parts of the holiday: the Lulav and Etrog!

 

Like we mentioned in our Sukkot Fact File post, the waving or shaking of the Four Species, also commonly referred to as the lulav and etrog, is a key commandment of Sukkot.

 

 

Why do we shake the Lulav and Etrog?

In Leviticus 23:40, the Jewish nation is commanded:

You shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a beautiful tree, date branches, thick branches, and spring willows, and you will celebrate before the Lord our God for seven days.

How do we “celebrate” with a collection of plants? The Rabbis interpreted the law to mean celebrating the beauty of God’s natural world; to do that, we gather the different species and joyously wave them in a prescribed pattern, in a kind of dance.

The Talmud identifies the “thick branches” as myrtle leaves on a branch.

The “fruit of a beautiful tree” has been interpreted to mean an etrog or citron. It’s special because not only is the fruit fragrant and flavorful; the whole tree is beautiful as its bark and leaves are also fragrant. The etrog is also special because it grows with a pitom – a clove-like stem which must be present for the fruit to be considered kosher and fit for use.

 

Celebrating Sukkot with the Four Species in a synagogue in Tzfat, Israel

 

What do the Four Species look like?

The lulav (palm frond) is normally held in a woven wicker handle, with two side sections – one holds two myrtle branches; the other, three willow stems.

The wicker handle containing three of the four species is commonly referred to as the lulav, even though it is comprised of three different plants.

The etrog looks similar to a lemon, but is often larger and has the identifying pitom stalk.

 

Holding the Four Species together

 

How do we shake the Four Species?

Symbolically, we wave the lulav and etrog in six different directions: left, right, forward, backward, up, and down. We completely encircle ourselves to represent the different directions from which God rules the earth.

 

 

What do the Four Species represent?

The Midrash explains that the Four Species represent four different types of Jew:

  • The Lulav (date palm) has a taste but no smell. This symbolizes those who study Torah but do not do good deeds.
  • The Hadas (willow branches) smell good but are tasteless. They represent people with good deeds who do not study the Torah.
  • The Aravah (myrtle branches) are unfragranced and have no flavor. They symbolize people with no meritorious deeds who also don’t study the Torah.
  • The Etrog (citron) is scented and flavored. It symbolizes those with both Torah learning and good deeds.

 

 

By binding the four together, we symbolize the unity we hope to see between all of Israel, as we all come together to serve God.

Another explanation is offered: the straight lulav represents the spine; the small, almond-shaped willow leaves, eyes; the longer myrtle leaves symbolize mouths; while the full-figured, plump etrog resembles a heart. By holding them together, we show our desire to use our whole body for God’s service.

As mentioned above, we wave the Four Species in six directions to describe God’s absolute power over our world. Sukkot is a harvest festival; on Shemini Atzeret, we add a prayer for rain. The lulav and etrog’s six directions symbolically voice a request for abundant rainfall to help all our plants grow.

 

Wishing you a Chag Sameach – a happy and joyful Sukkot!

btn
Sukkot-Gifts-cat-m

JWS POST YOU MAY LIKE

mask-ge88719a39_1920
Purim Traditions Explained
The festive Jewish holiday of Purim will begin on Saturday night, March 23, 2024 – or Sunday night, March 24
Vagone Shoah con Stella di Davide in primo piano
Why Some Are Calling the ICJ Case Against Israel the Modern Dreyfus Affair
As Israel fights one of its toughest wars yet, following the brutal attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, Israelis
Holding techelet tzitzit during Jewish prayer
How Israel Rediscovered the Ancient Tekhelet Dye
The original Biblical commandment called for adding a blue string called tekhelet to the white tzitzit fringes on one’s tallit or shirt. The exact blue dye
Pomegranate seeds in a shape of a heart on wooden background.
Top Love Symbols in Judaism You Didn't Know About
Check out these uniquely Jewish representations of love, and then get your loved one a romantic Jewish gift right from
Biblical Jewish Priest Standing In Front Of King Solomon's Templ
Who Were the Temple Priests?
Who were the priests of ancient Israel and why were they so important? What did they do in the Holy
AdobeStock_660482182
Learn About the IDF Special Forces
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) includes various branches and units, and among them are several special forces units (in Hebrew