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Lulav and Etrog  The Four Species  



"And you shall take on the first day, the fruit of goodly trees,branches of palm trees, boughs of thick-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Eternal your God seven days."

As described above, it is a mitzvah during Sukkot to gather Arba-ah Minim, the four species mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:40). These symbols include the hadar (fruit of goodly trees, hadar p'ri etz, in Hebrew), which the rabbis decided was the etrog, a yellow citron fruit; the branches of palm trees or the lulav; the boughs of thick-leaved trees, by tradition myrtle branches or hadas; and finally willow branches, called aravot. These represent fulfillment of the earth's cycle and the bounty of the harvest. With them in our hands, in the midst of our families and community, we are commanded to rejoice before God for the blessings of freedom and prosperity.

What we call the lulav consists of three of the four species. The single palm branch, composed of many long spiny leaves, is bound or held together by bands and by a holder of woven palm. The palm branch rests in the center of the holder, which has two other pockets, one on the right holding three myrtle branches and one on the left containing two willow branches.


The etrog and lulav can be purchased by mail from a Jewish book store or on the internet, but best is a trip to the Lower East Side after Yom Kippur. There, dozens of tables are set up in the street and manned by competing vendors, who seem to be either Israelis
or Orthodox Jews. You can bargain, the best prices to be had the closer you get to Sukkot, and choose your ideal etrog and the components of the lulav. The concept of "hiddur mitzvah", beautifying, enhancing or adorning the commandment, applies here; the idea is to acquire the most beautiful, the most nearly perfect that your eye and patience and money can find. Basically, the etrog must be of a good yellow color, have a pleasing, symmetrical shape, not have any discoloration or black spots, and,
most importantly, its stem-like protuberance called the pitam must
be intact, not broken off. The lulav should be fresh, not dried up, at least 14 inches long, with its backbone intact and extending from tip to bottom. The leaves of the myrtle branches should grow in clusters of three and the willows in clusters of two, and the branches of all three should be checked to see that the leaves are not torn, broken, or missing.


Myrtle Branches

Myrtle Branches

Willow Branches

Willow Branches

The ritual of waving the lulav is called "bensching lulav" and is done during every morning service during Sukkot except Shabbat. While facing east, the lulav is held in the right hand and the etrog in the left, hands together, with the pitam downward. The following blessing is said, which on the first day only, is followed by the Sheh-hechianu prayer:


Baruch atah Adonai eloheynu melech ha-olam, ash-er kid'shanu b'mitzvotav, v'tzi-vanu al n'tilat lulav.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy through Your commandments and has commanded us concerning the waving of the lulav.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha-olam, sheh-hechianu v'ki-imanu v'higianu lazman ha-zeh.

Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, for giving us life, for sustaining us, and for enabling us to reach this season.


The etrog is then shifted so the pitam is now up. With the hands together, you stretch your arms out in front of you and with a shaking motion strong enough to rustle the lulav's leaves, reach outand draw in three times. Slowly and deliberately, the same motions are repeated - to your right, over your shoulder, to the left, up towards the sky, and down towards the earth, so that all six directions of the universe are taken in. Perhaps the waving symbolizes God's dominion over nature, the triumph over the pagan nature gods. Perhaps this is a remnant of sympathetic magic, meant to stimulate the earth's fertility.

A traditional midrash explains that the four species represent different types of Jews, with taste equated with learning and smell with good deeds. The etrog, which is both tasty and aromatic, represents those who study Torah and do good deeds; the palm, which has no smell but produces tasty fruit, those who study but do not act; the myrtle, which has smell but no taste, those who do good deeds but do not study; the willow, with neither taste nor smell, represents those who neither study nor act. According to the midrash, all four types are necessary to a community.


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1998 Temple Israel of Northern Westchester.
Last Modified: 09/05/1998