The Jewish nation was commanded to take the four species on the holiday of Sukkot, as it is written “On the first day, you must take for yourself a fruit of the citron tree, an unopened palm frond, myrtle branches, and willows [that grow near] the brook. You shall rejoice before God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40).
The Sages taught that the four species are mutually indispensible, in other words, if one of the species are missing, the mitzvah is not fulfilled (Tractate Menachot 27a).
‘Lechatchila’ (at the preferred halachic level), they should be taken together, binding the ‘lulav’ (palm frond) with the ‘hadassim’ (myrtle branches) and the ‘aravot’ (willows).
‘Bidieved’ (ex post facto), if one took the four species separately, he has fulfilled his obligation, since, in the end, he took all of them (Shulchan Aruch 651:12).
A profound idea is hidden in this ‘halacha’ concerning the unity of the Jewish nation, which is also connected to our preparations for ‘Yom Kippur’, since the primary aspect of ‘kappara’ (atonement) is reliant upon our being a part of ‘klal Yisrael’ (the Jewish nation as a whole).
Four Species, Two Groups
The comparison of the four species to the four different groups of Jews is familiar to many. However, in the Talmud (Tractate Menachot 27a), the Sages arranged the four species into two groups, saying that just like in the four species, two of them yield fruits – the ‘etrog’ (citron) and ‘lulav’ (dates from the palm tree), while the other two – the ‘haddas’ (myrtle) and ‘aravot’ (willows) – don’t bear fruit.
So too, there are ‘talmidei chachamim’ (Torah scholars), and there are ordinary people. And just as one cannot fulfill his obligation of taking the four species if one of them is missing, this is also true concerning the Jewish nation – Torah scholars cannot exist without the help of the regular people who assist them in their livelihood, and the regular people cannot exist without the Torah scholars who connect them to the spiritual world and the World to Come (see Tractate Chulin 92a).
Compared to the Four Groups
In more detail, the Sages explained (Vayikra Rabba 30:12) that the four species allude to four types of people in the Jewish nation. The ‘etrog’, which possesses both taste and smell, is compared to Jews who are complete in Torah and good deeds. The ‘lulav’, which possesses taste but has no smell, is compared to Jews who have Torah but lack good deeds. The ‘haddas’, whose smell is pleasant but does not yield fruit, is compared to Jews who have good deeds but lack Torah. And the ‘arava’, which has neither fruit nor smell, is compared to Jews who lack both Torah and good deeds.
“What does God do with them (the Jews in the category of ‘aravot’)? To destroy them is impossible! Rather, God said: Let them all be tied together in a single bundle, and one will atone for the other.”
Jews compared to the ‘etrog’ are complete in Torah and good deeds, and help the future ‘tikkun’ (perfection) of the world. This is also exhibited in the ‘halacha’ – we are more meticulous concerning the beauty of the ‘etrog’ than all the other species.
Although the ‘etrog’ is indeed the most beautiful of all the species, nevertheless, we cannot ignore the fact that, as far as taste is concerned, the dates which grow on the palm tree are tastier, and the smell of the ‘haddas’ is more pleasant. As if to say: True, the Jews compared to the ‘etrog’ are indeed extremely beautiful and integrate the full range of qualities in their personalities, but they require the ‘lulav’ and the ‘haddas’.
Lulav Jews: Torah Scholars
It is illogical to explain that the Jews compared to the ‘lulav’ are people who diligently study Torah but do not fulfill the mitzvoth; for what value is their Torah study if they don’t identify with its commandments (Tractate Yevamot 109b)? Rather, it refers to diligent Torah scholars who, as a result of their constant learning, don’t merit fulfilling scores of good deeds, but nevertheless, give expression to the importance of Torah study more than others. Their level is especially high, for Torah study is tantamount to all the other mitzvoth combined. In practice, we also see that the ‘lulav’ is taller than all the other species – implying that the level of the Torah is highest of all. Therefore, the blessing over the taking of the four species is “Blessed art Thou… and commanded us concerning the taking of the ‘lulav.”
Torah Study and Jewish Unity
The study of Torah contains a basic stipulation: it must stem from a connection to ‘klal Yisrael’ (the entire community as a whole) in unity. And although there are different opinions and diverse sides of the Torah, all come from one source, and are one.
As the Sages said (Tractate Chagigah 3b): “The men of assemblies,” which means the Torah scholars…some declare certain things pure, while others declare them impure; some prohibit, and others allow; some make valid, while others make invalid. But if one may say: If this is the case, how can I learn the Torah (due to the abundance of rifts and disagreements)? Therefore, it is written: “Given by one shepherd.” One God gave them, and one Master (Moses) said it from the mouth of the Lord of all creatures, blessed be He.”
The Lulav Shouts “Unity”!
The ‘lulav’, in its’ unique shape, expresses the quality of unity. Its leaves grow on two opposite sides, but they cling to the spine of the palm collectively. On the one hand, the ‘lulav’ brims with many leaves; however, one leaf covers the next, with each leaf adding a little bit of its own, and all together, they envelop the spine of the palm in unity. And if the leaves split and are separated from the spine – the ‘lulav’ is ‘pasul’ (disqualified).
Also, every leaf is composed of two separate leaves clinging together via the ‘tiyomet’ (twin), and if the ‘tiyomet’ is divided – the ‘lulav’ is ‘pasul’, not kosher. Even the ‘lulav’s’ straight form expresses unity – aiming completely at one goal – but when it is bent, it curves in two different directions, and therefore, is ‘pasul’.
And thus the Sages said: “Just as the date (from the palm tree) has only one heart, so too, Israel has only one heart – to their Father in Heaven” (Tractate Sukkah 45b).
Similarly, the Sages said: “An unopened palm frond – these are the Torah scholars, who compel themselves to learn Torah from one another” (Vayikra Rabba 30:11) – for only through modesty and unity can Torah truly be learned.
Accordingly, Torah scholars must awaken to spread peace and unity, as the Sages said: “Torah scholars bring peace to the world” (Tractate Berachot 64a).
‘Haddas’ Jews: The Righteous
The ‘haddas’ (myrtle branch) alludes to Jews who perform many mitzvoth and good deeds. Of course, Jews compared to the ‘haddas’ are not disconnected from engaging in Torah, rather, they excel by doing numerous mitzvoth and good deeds, and as a result of these acts, holiness is revealed in the world.
Also, we have seen that the righteous have been called ‘haddasim’, and in their merit, the world survives and is not destroyed by sins (Tractate Sanhedrin 93a). Likewise, Queen Esther, in whose merit the Jewish nation exists in the world, was called ‘Haddasah’, in the name of her righteousness (Tractate Megillah 13a).
The Sages have said: “One who sees a ‘haddas’ in his dream – his assets will be successful, and if he lacks assets – an inheritance will fall to him from somewhere else” (Tractate Berachot 57a).
Most Important Good Deed
In several respects, the greatest mitzvah is to marry and “be fruitful and multiply”. This mitzvah expresses piousness, for by means of it, holy souls are continued into the actual, physical world. And indeed, the Sages said that the multiplicity of the three -pronged leaves of the ‘haddas’ alludes to the multiplicity of children.
Therefore, they said that the ‘haddas’ is compared to our forefather Yaacov, and his wife Leah. “Just like the ‘haddas’ is replete with leaves, so was Yaacov replete with children”, and “so was Leah replete with children” (Vayikra Rabbah 30:10).
The custom of ‘chassidim’ to dance before the bride while holding branches of ‘haddasim’ in their hands was not coincidental (Tractate Ketubot 17a).
The ‘Arava’: Simple Jews
On the face of it, the ‘arava’ has no eminence whatsoever. It has no taste or smell, and the Jews compared to it lack both Torah and good deeds; they exist only by connecting themselves to ‘klal Yisrael’.
However, the ‘arava’ does have intrinsic value, for it possesses a tremendous growth force. If a large willow tree is pruned in the month of Nisan (spring), by Tishrei (fall) it will return to its fullness.
In this respect, the ‘arava’ reflects tremendous vitality in this world. And amongst the nation of Israel, Jews likened to the ‘arava’ express the idea that ‘derch eretz’ (good manners) precedes the Torah, for although they do not engage in Torah study and mitzvoth, nevertheless, they act civilly and are productive individuals.
By virtue of their natural vitality, the Torah scholars and righteous people are strengthened in their work. And from this very same natural vitality, new Torah scholars and active individuals sprout amongst the Jewish nation, as we have witnessed numerous times, that important Torah scholars and achiever’s have come from simple families.
Therefore, it is essential to take the ‘arava’ amongst the four species. And thus we learn that only through unity of all the resources can the Jewish nation fulfill its mission – to perfect the world through the word of God.
‘Arava’: Our Matriarch Rachel
The ‘arava’ alludes to beauty and the natural, practical forces in the world, and when watered properly, it grows strongly; on the other hand, if it is not attached to water, it quickly withers.
In a similar way, the Sages likened the ‘arava’ to the Matriarch Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, for on the one hand, both of them died relatively young, and had difficulties finding full expression in the Jewish nation; on the other hand, their vitality, beauty, and practical talents sustained ‘Am Yisrael’.
In the merit of Rachel, all the Tribes were born, and in the merit of Yosef, Israel survived the famine and exile in Egypt.
The task of the ‘arava’ Jews is extremely difficult. They are required to reveal the holiness contained within everyday-life in this, material world. Unlike the ‘lulav’ Jews who engage in Torah and the ‘haddas’ Jews who fulfill mitzvoth, the ‘arava’ Jews are engaged in the regular duties of this world, “down to earth” – and to reveal holiness there, is no simple task.
Therefore, in the meantime, they are fruitless and seem empty, but the vitality within them expresses high aspirations.
And in the future, when the world is filled with the knowledge of God, and even on the bells of the horses shall there be inscribed ‘Holiness to the Lord’ (Zechariah 14), and non-bearing fruit trees in the Land of Israel will give-off fruit (Tractate Ketubot 12b), the high virtue of the ‘arava’ Jews will be revealed.
We Must Never Separate
In the meantime, it is forbidden to take leave of the ‘aravot’ – firstly, so they don’t fall and get lost amongst the nations, and secondly – if they are missing from the Jewish nation, who will fulfill the great vision of revealing the word of God in this, material world?
It is precisely the ‘arava’ Jews, like Rachel and Yosef Ha’Tzaddik, who, upon connecting to the holy, will merit revealing the holiness in the natural, physical life — in beauty, and in all the talents revealed in the life of this world.