Sukkot: What Are the Four Species?

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Pelaia, Ariela. "Sukkot: What Are the Four Species?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 29, 2015, thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339. Pelaia, Ariela. (2015, December 29). Sukkot: What Are the Four Species? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339 Pelaia, Ariela. "Sukkot: What Are the Four Species?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339 (accessed September 26, 2017).
A citron on the left with a lulav on the right.

Meaning and Origins

Known as the arbah minim or arba'at minim (ארבעת המינים), literally "the four kinds," these are plants that have symbolic significance during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot.

The concept of the arbah minim finds its origins in in Leviticus 23:40, which comes directly after a discussion of Sukkot:

"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 the Lord your God for seven days."

 

From this text emerged the four species, which are identified differently based on the above verse and in the Talmud. The Hebrew terminology used in the above verse includes:

  • etz hadar (עץ הדר): magnificent/beautiful trees
  • tamarim (תמרים): date palm trees
  • etz avot (עץ עבת): thick, leafy trees
  • araveh nachal (ערבי נחל): willows of the valley

At one time, these four species were waved in a special service on all seven days of Sukkoth in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, but once the Temple fell, the great rabbis declared that the waving ceremony should continue as an homage to the Temple. Thus, in the Talmud, these species became named as such: 

  • etrog (אתרוג): a citron
  • lulav (לולב): the frond of a date palm tree
  • haddas (הדס): myrtle boughs
  • aravah (ערבה): branches from a willow tree

The Talmudic definitions are what are used today, and the language that Jews use is narrowed down to the etrog and lulav, which comprises one lulav itself, a minimum of three haddas, and two aravah.

Deeper Meaning

There are a number of interpretations of the meaning of each of the four species, as well as what is meant by the fact that the four species are "bound" together. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) suggests that by binding the four species, which identify four different types of Jews, Jews are expressing a desire for unity in service of God.

The four types are:

  • etrog: the Jew who studies Torah and does good deeds
  • lulav: the Jew who studies Torah but does no good deeds
  • haddas: the Jew who does good deeds but does not study Torah
  • aravah: the Jew who lacks the study of Torah and doesn't practice good deeds

Each of the symbols is tied to the unique character of the species itself.

  • etrog: has both a good taste and a good smell
  • lulav: has a taste but no smell
  • haddas: has a good smell but no taste
  • aravah: has no taste or smell

Another theory suggests that the four species are tied to different parts of the human body, according to the shape of the latter. 

  • etrog: the heart
  • lulav: the spine
  • haddas: the eye
  • aravah: the mouth

The Selection Process

As Sukkot approaches, Jews the world over begin reserving and purchasing their ​lulav and etrog. For many, it's a very painstaking and important process, tied to the command of hiddur mitzvah, or "beautifying the mitzvah." There are countless discussions and even a movie where one of the central storylines is finding the best etrog possible (despite the main characters not being able to afford it). Because of this special mitzvah, and because beauty is in the eye of the beholder, if you're purchasing a ​lulav and etrog for the first time, you might want to speak to your local rabbi for advice or find an online guide to purchasing the "right" items.

 

How To

On Sukkot, the ​lulav and etrog are bound together and waved during the day as part of the Sukkoth synagogue service, except on Shabbat. There are countless ways that the lulav and etrog are wrapped, with customs varying depending on your location and lineage. You can read more about How to Wave the Lulav and Etrog here

Bonus Fact

At one time, especially in Eastern Europe, it was next to impossible for everyone in the community to track down the four species, and in many cases, an entire community would have to share the ​lulav and etrog.

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Pelaia, Ariela. "Sukkot: What Are the Four Species?" ThoughtCo, Dec. 29, 2015, thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339. Pelaia, Ariela. (2015, December 29). Sukkot: What Are the Four Species? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339 Pelaia, Ariela. "Sukkot: What Are the Four Species?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/sukkot-what-are-the-four-species-2076339 (accessed September 26, 2017).