Talmidav Shel Aharon
07-5767 Mitzvah 36
November 27, 2006
Mitzvah 36 – It is a positive commandment to take up the four species on Sukkot.
Hafetz Hayyim: As it says in Scripture: “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of splendid trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of thick trees and willows of the brook.” (Lev. 23:40) This means on Lulav (palm branch), one Etrog (citron), three myrtle branches and two willow branches. One must hold them in the same position that they grow. Once he has lifted them, he has fulfilled the Mitzvah. The entire day is the proper time to take them up. The Sages have declared that they are taken up each of the seven days of the festival, not just the one day that the Bible requires. We do not take the species up on Shabbat, the Sages have forbidden this even if the first day is Shabbat for fear that one may carry them which would be a full violation of Shabbat. If one of the four species is disqualified or missing, the entire set can not be used. You cannot use a borrowed set on the first day of Sukkot but you can on the other days. A stolen set is always disqualified. A child who knows how to wave them properly should wave them even if he is under legal age in order to train him in the Mitzvot. This is in effect at all times and it every place for males but not for females.
A Lulav and Etrog set are known as “The Four Species” and that is the better name since the set includes more than just a palm branch and Etrog. The origin of these branches is a big mystery. The bible requires them, but is unclear just which species are included (thick trees? Splendid trees?) The Etrog is particularly a problem since it is not native to the Middle East. It came through trade to Babylonia in the seventh century and was probably picked up by the Israelite exiles there and brought back to Israel when the exile was over in the sixth century. The book of Nehemiah seems to think that the fruit of splendid trees was olive branches. That would make a lot of sense. Perhaps, in the Greek period, when olive branches were used in pagan rituals, the Etrog was substituted for the olive.
They are held together with the braches down and the leaves pointing up, which are the way they grow naturally. The palm branch is in the middle and with the spine of the palm branch facing you; the myrtle branches would be on the left and the willow on the right. These branches are bound together and held in the left hand. The right hand holds the Etrog, with the stem down and the pitom (the remnant of the Etrog flower) up. When we take up the set for the first time each day, we recite the blessing. Since we can not take the set until we say the blessing and can’t say the blessing without the set, we take the set but hold the Etrog upside down (pitom down) say the blessing and then turn it over before we wave it in the six directions: East, South, West, North, Up and Down. We shake the Lulav three times in each direction, not more, not less. On the first day one also recites the Shehechiyanu.
While one can take the Lulav up all day, it is used on Sukkot in the morning service for Hallel and Hoshanot. It is waved during the recitation of Psalm 118 at the beginning and near the middle and near the end. It is not waved but paraded around the synagogue during Hoshanot. Once each day of Sukkot it is paraded around the synagogue and then it is paraded seven times on the last day, Hoshana Rabba.
It is particularly praiseworthy to have a beautiful set and to carry the Etrog to and from the synagogue in a beautiful carrying box. You should own your own set but you can borrow a set if you do not own one. One can’t use a stolen set at all.
Children who are old enough to use a set, should have a training set to get used to fulfilling the Mitzvot, but they are not obligated to wave the four species until after Bar or Bat Mitzvah.
The Hafetz Hayyim may not require women to wave the four species as it is a time bound mitzvah for which women would be exempt, but Conservative Judaism does require women to wave the four species and women should have their own set.
Hillel Konigsburg asks: Is it one should be able to see the stars or that one has to see the stars? (when standing in the Sukkah). I was always under the impression that it is suggested but not required.Rabbi Replies: You are correct, it is a sign that the top has been arranged properly, it is not a requirement to see the stars.