The Arba Minim, or the Four Species, are an integral and symbolic part of the Jewish festival of Sukkot, representing unity, diversity, and the agricultural roots of the holiday. Comprising a palm frond (lulav), a citron (etrog), myrtle branches (hadas), and willow branches (aravot), the Arba Minim hold deep spiritual significance and remind us of the interconnectedness of all Jews.
The Torah itself commands the use of the lulav in Leviticus 23:40: “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, the branches of date palms, twigs of a plaited tree, and brook willows.”
The Components of the Arba Minim:
1. The Etrog (Citron): The etrog is often seen as the heart and represents those who both study and follow the Torah: letter and spirit of the law. It is central to the bundle but physically separated and symbolizes the unity of the Jewish people, as the heart is the vital organ that sustains life.
The citron is often compared to the heart. Just as the heart is the vital organ sustaining life, the etrog is central to the Four Species. It has a pleasing fragrance and taste. The etrog serves as a symbol of unity, as mentioned in the Midrash Rabbah: “Just as the etrog has taste and fragrance, so too Israel has taste and fragrance.” The etrog, with its pleasing fragrance, signifies those who possess the wisdom of Torah. It is not only beautiful to look at but also delights the senses with its fragrance, symbolizing that true Torah knowledge should permeate and enrich one’s life.
2. The Lulav (Palm Frond): The lulav, with a pleasant taste but no fragrance, represents the spine and symbolizes individuals who gains Torah knowledge but does not go above and beyond to perform good deeds: only the strict letter of the law. Its straight form signials moral uprightness, and is often likened to a spine.
3. Hadas (Myrtle Branches): The hadas, which has a pleasant fragrance but no taste, symbolizes one who attempts to perform good deeds, but lacks a Torah learning. The leaves are shaped like eyes, focusing on outward acts, but not perfecting oneself by focusing inward.
4. Aravot (Willow Branches): The aravot have no fragrance or taste, representing those which has a delightful fragrance but no taste. Nevertheless, they are a vital part of the bundle. The shape of the leaf is like the lips.]
How to Hold the Arba Minim: During the morning prayers on each day of Sukkot (except for Shabbat), the Arba Minim are held together and waved in six directions: in front, to the right, back, to the left, up, and down. The lulav, hadas, and aravot are held together in a bundle, and there are many ways people go about tying them together using spare lulav leave, while the etrog is held in the left hand pressing everything together.
Their inclusion signifies that every Jew, regardless of their spiritual or moral state, is a part of the larger Jewish family.
This ritual where all wave their lulav is known as hoshanot.
Unity of All Jews: The Arba Minim represent a beautiful message of unity within the Jewish community. Just as each of these species has its unique qualities and may lack certain attributes, Jews come from diverse backgrounds, experiences, and levels of observance. Sukkot is a time to celebrate this diversity and emphasize that every member of the community, regardless of their strengths or weaknesses, has a vital role to play.
Conclusion: The Arba Minim are not merely botanical elements; they are rich symbols of unity, diversity, and the shared heritage of the Jewish people. As we hold them and wave them during Sukkot, let us remember the importance of unity within our community and embrace the differences that make us stronger together. In this way, we can draw deeper meaning from the Arba Minim and the festival of Sukkot as a whole.