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Torah Commentary
Chol HaMo-eid Sukkot (October 3, 2015)

Rabbi David M. Posner

The Book of Leviticus (23:40) speaks of four kinds of species — arbaah minim — to be used in the observance of the festival of Sukkot. They are known collectively as the lulav and are used on the first seven days of the holiday, with the exception of Shabbat. The four species are the etrog (citron fruit), lulav (branches of palm tree), hadasim (branches of three-leaved myrtle) and aravah (willows of the brook).

The ancient Sages ascribed many meanings to the four species. They have been likened to four human traits: generosity (etrog), pride (lulav), beauty (hadasim) and humility (aravah). Others insisted that the four species represent the four elements of nature — earth, air, fire, water. And still others likened each symbol to a part of the body. The etrog is said to be shaped like a heart, symbolizing service to God. The lulav represents the spine, the foundation of the body. The hadasim resemble the human eye, and the aravah symbolizes the lips, for with speech we may praise and give thanks to God.

Even the very fruitfulness and aroma of the species were thought to have a hidden meaning. The etrog, beautiful in form and of pleasant odor, was compared to one righteous and intelligent. The lulav, which bears fruit but has no odor, was likened to one who is learned but wanting in good deeds. The hadasim, possessed of odor but no fruit, were compared to one who is righteous but lacks education. And the aravah, with neither fruit nor odor, represented one who remains both uneducated and void of good deeds.

None other than Moses Maimonides, in his Guide to the Perplexed, states that God commanded the Israelites to take these four species during the festival, to remind them that they were brought out from the wilderness, wherein no fruit grew and no people lived, into a land of brooklets and water — a land flowing with milk and honey. For this reason did God command us to hold in our hands the precious fruit of the land, while singing praises to the One who wrought miracles on our behalf in days of yore and at this season.

Moadim l’simcha, chaggim u’z’mannim l’sason...
Times of joy and seasons of gladness to all.


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