Lulav and Etrog: The Four Species



On Sukkot it is a mitzvah to take the Arba Minim (Four Species).

 'Now on the יום ראשׁן first day you shall take for yourselves the foliage פּרי of beautiful trees, palm תּמרbranches and boughsענף of leafy trees and willows ערב of the brook, and you shall rejoice before  your Elohim for seven days. Vayikra 23:40

First day

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh haolam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’higiyanu laz’man hazeh

Blessed are you YHVH, our Eloheinu, King of the universe, who has given us life, and sustained us, and brought us to this day”.

Blessing over the Waving Lulav

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu al n’tilat lulav

Blessed are you Lord, our God, king of the universe, who has commanded us to lift up the lulav.

Blessing for sitting in the sukkah (booth  ):

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh haolam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav, v’tzivanu leisheiv basukkah.

Blessed are you YHVH, our Elohim, king of the universe, who has commanded us to sit in the sukkah.

Erev Shabbat / **Havdalah that fall in between Sukkoth

Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh haolam, borei m'orei ha'eish. (women only)

Blessed are you YHVH, our Eloheinu, king of the universe, who creates the lights of fire.

**Barukh ata Adonai, Eloheinu melekh haolam, hamavdil bein kodesh l'chol, bein or l’choshech, bein Yisrael la’amim, bein yom hash'vi'i l’sheishet y’mei hama’aseh.

Blessed are you YHVH, our Eloheinu, king of the universe, who distinguishes between holy and profane, between light and dark, between Yisrael and the other nations, between the seventh day and the six days of Creation

What they are and what to do with them

The commandment regarding the four species is found in the Torah. After discussing the week-long Sukkot festival, specific instructions for how to celebrate the holiday are given.

Leviticus 23:40 instructs: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days."

These are the four species that form the lulav and etrog.  The four species are waved in the synagogue as part of the service during the holiday of Sukkot. Traditionally, they are not waved on Shabbat because bringing these items to the synagogue would violate the prohibition against carrying.  Some liberal synagogues do wave the lulav and etrog on Shabbat. While it is customary for each individual to have a lulav and etrog, many synagogues leave some sets in the synagogue sukkah for the use of their members. The lulav and etrog may also be waved at home.

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Catalogue: A Do-It-Yourself Kit, edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld and Susan Strassfeld, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

 It is a positive commandment from the Torah [Leviticus 23:40] to gather together the Four Species during Sukkot:

"The first day" refers to the first day of Sukkot. "Fruit of goodly trees" refers to the etrog (citron). "Branches of palm trees" refers to the lulav. "Boughs of leafy trees" refers to the myrtle. "Willows of the brook" refers to the aravot or hoshanot.

The four are lumped together under the inclusive term lulav, since the lulav is the largest and most prominent. Thus, while the mitzvah is to wave the lulav, this actually refers to the four taken together as one.

How the Four Fit Together

The lulav is a single palm branch and occupies the central position in the grouping. It comes with a holder-like contraption (made from its own leaves) which has two extensions. With the backbone (the solid spine) of the lulav facing you and this holder in place near the bottom, two willow branches are placed in the left extension and three myrtle branches are placed in the right. The myrtle should extend to a greater height than the willows.

This whole cluster is held in the right hand, the etrog is held in the left, and the two should be touching one another. Some have the custom of picking up the etrog first and then the lulav--reversing the order when putting them down--because the etrog is referred to before the others in the biblical verse.

A man standing in a sukkah recites the blessing on the lulav and etrog.

Credit: Congregation Shir Shalom

Waving the Lulav

It is a mitzvah to wave the lulav on each of the first seven days of Sukkot. The proper time is in the morning--either before the Morning service or during the service immediately before the Hallel. A meditation (found in the Siddur) is recited prior to the blessing (this has many kabbalistic secrets concealed within it). The blessing is:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning the waving of the lulav."

On the first day of waving add:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustenance, and permitted us to reach this season."

Before the blessing, the etrog is held with its pittam (stemlike protrusion) pointed downward. After the blessing, it is inverted so that the pittam faces up. At this point you wave/shake the lulav (together with the other three) in  following manner:

1. Stand facing east.

2. Hold the lulav out to the east (in front of you) and shake it three times. Each time the motion of shaking should be a drawing in to you--reach and draw in, reach out and draw in, reach out and draw in.

3. Repeat the same motion three times to your right (south), behind over your shoulder (west), to your left (north), raising it up above you, lowering it down below you.

4. All of these should be done slowly and deliberately--concentrating the symbolisms and intentions of the act. The lulav is also waved during Hallel while saying:  "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever."

Hodu – shake front [East]

L’Adonai – [never shake when saying God’s name]

Ki – shake right [South]

Tov – shake back [West]

Ki – shake left [North]

Le-olam -  shake up

Chasdo – shake down

This verse occurs twice during Hallel.

The lulav is again waved while saying:  "Let Israel say that His lovingkindness endures forever."

Yomar - shake front [East]

Na - shake right [South]

Yisrael - shake back [West]

Ki – shake left [North]

Le-olam -  shake up

Chasdo – shake down

And it is waved again while saying: "We implore You, Lord, save us."

A-na – [Shake front/East on first syllable, shake right/South on second syllable]

Adonai - [never shake when saying God’s name]

Ho-shi-ah [Shake back/West first syllable, shake left/North second syllable, shake up last syllable]

Na - shake down

Lulav and Etrog: Symbolism

There are many interpretations to what the four species represent.

1. The four [species] represent the four-letter Name of God, with the lulav being the [Hebrew letter] vav, which channels the divine energy into the world and man. If for no other reason, the four must be held together while waving for the Unity of the Name.

2. There is a masculine-feminine symbolism within the Four Species, besides that represented within God's Name. The lulav is obviously a masculine symbol and the etrog, with the form of a breast, is obviously feminine. Since these are conduits of divine flow, it is important that they be perfect and whole. The necessity of having the pittam intact makes ultimate sense in this context (cf. Sefer Sefat Emet, the comment on Sukkot).

3. Each of the species is a hint or allusion to God, according to a midrash

found in Leviticus Rabbah, 83:

"Etrog--because it is written (Psalms 104: 1): 'You are clothed in glory and majesty.' (The word translated as majesty is hadar. In the Torah (Leviticus 23:40), the etrog is called the fruit of the goodly tree.  The same Hebrew word, hadar, is used in that context to mean goodly.)

"Palm--because it is written (Psalms 92:13): 'The righteous bloom like a date palm.' Myrtle--because it is written (Zechariah 1:8): 'And he stood among the

myrtle-trees.'  Willow--because it is written (Psalms 68:5): 'Extol Him who rides on the clouds [aravot], the Lord is His name.'

4. Each of the four relates to a particular limb through which man is to serve God (cf. Seier ha-Hinukh, #285):

"Etrog refers to the heart, the place of understanding and wisdom.  Lulav refers to the backbone, uprightness.  Myrtle corresponds to the eyes, enlightenment. Willow represents the lips, the service of the lips (prayer)."

5. Taste represents learning. Smell represents good deeds. The etrog has both taste and smell. The lulav has taste but not fragrance. The myrtle has smell but no taste. And the willow has neither. Each represents a different type of man. Some have both learning and good deeds; some have one without the other; and some have neither. Real community is found in their being bound together and brought under one roof.

Symbolism of Waving the Four Species

The motion and order of the wavings is highly significant.

1. On a basic level there is simply the arousal of our joy, thanksgiving, and

praise of God at the time of the final fruit harvest.

2. The directions are symbolic of divine rule over nature.

3. There is the representation of the fertility of the land and the desire for rain.

4. This is also representative of our complete immersion in the holiday. On one level, we are surrounded by the sukkah. On another level, through this motion (of bringing in toward us), Sukkot enters us. The lulav becomes a conduit of peace and God's presence from every direction; transcendence and immanence. We gather in and are gathered in.

Through all of these, the themes of Sukkot are played out and interwovenbeautifully: redemption, universal peace and brotherhood, completion.

(c) The Jewish Publication Society

How to Buy a Lulav and Etrog

What to look for, how to care for it and uses after Sukkot

With regard to selecting the lulav and etrog, there is an operative principle involved called hiddur mitzvah. This is a bit difficult to explain. Essentially it entails going beyond the specification for the "legal" minimum-to select the. most beautiful, elegant, and as nearly perfect fruits as possible.

Thus, although there are relatively few categories of absolutely unacceptable species, there are many criteria--we'll discuss these soon--relating to the level of beauty of the species. Much of the fun of buying sets is in making your own evaluations and selecting the best among large varieties. After knowing what the criteria are, choose what you like. You are the one who is going to have to live with your lulav and etrog for seven days.

 The Etrog

You must pay the greatest attention to the selection of the etrog. Compared to selecting an etrog, choosing a lulav is like an afterthought. Begin the buying process with the selection of the etrog, then the lulav, then the myrtle, then the willows. It is with the etrog that the greatest variation existsand the greatest obligation for hiddur mitzvah--beauty-- applies (based on the etrog being "the product of the hadar [beautiful] trees").

 It must have a pittam [a piece of the stem protruding from the end of the etrog]; there are some varieties which do not grow a pittam to begin with and are therefore usable. But if you have an etrog without a pittam, make sure that it is from such a variety and that the pittam did not simply fall off.

It should be a good yellow color.

It should have a pleasing, basically symmetrical, oblong shape.

It should not have little black spots on it or any permanent discoloration or disfiguration (rub your nail over it to see if spots will come off). An etrog without any discoloration or black spots at all is very expensive and almost impossible to find. Still, these imperfections should definitely be avoided around the top third of the fruit (toward the side of the pittam).

For even greater elegance, there should be lengthwise ridges extending from the bottom toward the pittam. It is also good if the skin is sort of evenly bumpy. Again, the choice is yours as to what is and is not a beautiful etrog-color, shape, size, smell, weight, etc.

The Lulav

It should be fresh--i.e., not dried up. It should be at least four tefahim (approximately 14") long so that it will shake well. Its backbone--a solid ridge from which the leaves spread--ideally should extend from the bottom all the way to the top.

So that the leaves of the palm do not spread out obtrusively, the lulav should be bound at three points along its length. The bands are made from its leaves. If they are not already on the lulav, you can ask the seller to bind them for you, or you can improvise a bind yourself. (The three bands represent Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; creation, revelation, redemption...) Aside from this, it should have a good feel in your hand and possess whatever other qualities you feel a lulav should possess--e.g., good spring, length, tight leaves, loose leaves, a thick backbone, a thin backbone.

When you buy it ask for a plastic bag to keep it in. This will be used to preserve its freshness and protect it throughout the holiday.

The Myrtle

They should be at least three tefahim (approximately 10") long. There must be three branches.

The leaves of the myrtle, ideally, should grow in clusters of three at every

spot on the stem. Often, however, the three leaves do not emanate from the exact same spot on the stem. You should select myrtle branches which have at least three clusters of three emanating from single spots-preferably near the top.

The Willow

They should be at least three tefahim (approximately 10") long. Theremust be two branches.

The leavesof the willow, ideally, should grow in clusters of two at every spot on the stem. Often, however, the two leaves do not emanate from the exact same spot on the stem. You should select willow branches which have at least two clusters of two emanating from single spots-preferably near the top.

How To Care For The Species

Until you have to assemble them, store the parts separately. The etrog will come wrapped in a padding material and enclosed in a box. Make sure to keep it wrapped in this, with the pittam well protected. If you have a separate etrog box, store it there. Otherwise, keep it in its box and in a safe place. It is advisable, although not necessary, to keep it in the refrigerator. The etrog has an amazing quality: It will not rot. It will dry up, but not spoil. The myrtle and willow will spoil and should be kept in the refrigerator wrapped in a wet towel. These will dry up and the leaves will fall off. So handle them with care. Avoid overhandling them. Once they are squeezed into the little holder gadget that comes with the lulav, it is best not to remove them, as this will generally rip the lower leaves off.

Rather than do this, either:

1. Take off the entire holder, wrap the leaves in a wet towel, and store in the refrigerator; or

2. slip the whole lulav with the holder and branches into the plastic bag, put a little bit of water in the bottom of the bag, seal (tie) the top. It can be left out as is or stored in the refrigerator.

The lulav will generally stay fresh for at least the seven days without special care required of it.

What To Do With It Afterward

Virtually nothing can be done with the myrtle and willow. Until it dries up the myrtle can be used for besamim, spices, during Havdalah. The lulav can be:

1. Used for decoration. It has a certain slim elegance and graceful dignity to it.

2. Saved and waved on Hanukkah (see 2 Maccabees 10:5-8).

3. Saved and used in place of a feather for searching out the hametz [leavened items] before Pesach. Then burn it with the hametz.

The etrog has a number of wonderful uses after its need during the holiday is exhausted:

1. Collect etrogim from friends and make etrog marmalade: Slice etrog into thin cross-sections. Place in a pot or bowl of water for four days or so. Change the water every day. This serves to take out some of the abundant bitterness and acidity of the etrog. For the curious, try tasting a bit of the water on the second or third day. After this process, proceed with any marmalade, jelly, or preserves recipe. You may have to add oranges for volume. Even if the etrog is but a small part of the whole, it is worth the effort.

2. Collect etrogim from friends and make etrog wine.

3. Stick a lot of whole cloves into the etrog. Cover totally with powdered cinnamon and let dry for a few weeks. You will then have a wonderful spice essence. Use it for Havdalah. Let it cast its fragrance in a closet. Give it to a friend.