Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Feast of Sukkot - The Four Species (Arba Minim)

An important part of the Sukkot celebration involves the  "Four Species".

 This is based on the scripture, Leviticus 23:40:   "On the first day, you will take for yourselves a fruit of a beautiful tree, palm branches, twigs of a braided tree, and brook willows.  You will rejoice before the Lord, your God,  for seven days."

Based on the Hebrew version and from the ancient writings, this means you shall gather:

1.  An etrog from the etrog tree (aka citron) - This is the fruit of the beautiful tree.  It is a tree that grows native in Israel.  It looks like a bumpy lemon.   If you do not have a citron/etrog tree growing in your backyard, you can order them from Judaica stores.    They will deliver a fresh, kosher citron/etrog to you.  Make sure you do this early enough to get it in time.....   (Note:  Some use lemons but this is not rabbinically correct...!)

2.  Lulav - palm branches

3.  Aravot - Willow branches, you will need two per person to start with (and you will want more for later so get a whole bunch.... the fresher, the better)

4.  Myrtle - The myrtle trees they are speaking of have braided twigs.  We have myrtles everywhere around here and they are not braided.  You can order the four species if you need to.  You will need three of these per person, the fresher the better.  

So those are the "Four Species" or "Arba Minim".  Notice it is a total of SEVEN items needed.   (1 etrog, 2 willows, 3 myrtles).     There are SEVEN days of Sukkot, this is the SEVENTH month, and it is the SEVENTH feast.   Seven, being the number of completion.

I have seen pictures where some people are just waving banana leaves around, or just whatever they could find to do this so that they were waving *something*.   (that might explain the earthquake there!  jk!)

It is said that the three Myrtle branches are so that each person has one for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.   They are said to be visiting your Sukkah during Sukkot.

WHY these four species????   I wondered that also and this is what I have found:

The etrog:  This bumpy lemon has a pleasing taste and a pleasing scent.   It represents those who have studied the torah and perform the commandments (mitzvots).

Palm Branch:   Makes tasty fruit, but has no scent.    This represents those who study the torah but do not do what it says.

Myrtle Leaf:  Has a strong scent but no taste.   This represents those who do the commandments/mitzvots but do not study the torah.  (I.e., you are at the Feast of Sukkot because your parents made you)

Willow - has neither taste nor scent.   This represents those who don't study the torah and they do not do what it says to do.  (You are at the Feast of Sukkot because you heard it was a party).

On Sukkot, we are all brought together and united; bound together in one bundle and atone for each other.

So, What do we DO with these Four Species???

According to the Zohar and the ancient writings, actions are needed and not just words.    We wave these fresh branches to draw in the blessings into this world.   (Think "as above, so below")  As we are doing the earthly feast, there is also a heavenly feast.   We want to wave these species, to bring in the blessings.

You want them to be the freshest possible (I am thinking about growing my own etrog tree!).  "Fresh" refers to their being full of abundance to draw blessing into the world.

During the time of the 7 days of Sukkot, think your whole year is being blessed from this waving of the four species.....   (So do the best you can!)


First, find EAST (thats where Jerusalem is!)   Stand facing East.
Put the etrog in your left hand with the GREEN TIP UP  (I havent figured out yet why this is so important...)
Put the Lulav in your right hand (the bundled branches).
Have both hands together at your chest.

Here is the blessing in English:
"Blessed are you Lord, our God, Creator of the Universe who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to take up the Lulav.  Amen"

In transliterated Hebrew:  (because everything should be spoken in Hebrew, "the pure language")
"Barukh atah adonai,
 Eloheinu melekh ha-olam
Asher kidishanu b'mitz'votav v'tzivanu
al n'tilat lulav.  Amein."

Now, TURN THE ETROG in your hand with the green tip DOWN.  (dont ask why, I dont know)

Shake both your hands (left hand etrog, right hand lulav bundle)
 gently three times to the east (in front of you).

Bring your hands back to your chest

Shake 3 times to the right (south)
Then over your right shoulder 3 times (west)
then to the left (north)
then up
then down

This represents that God is everywhere.

This is waved every morning during the Feast of Sukkot,  during the morning service, the Water Ceremony, during the Hallel (Psalms 113-118).   It is also used during Hoshana Rabbah.

This is what was happening when we see Jesus entering in and everyone is waving their palm branches.  The people were waving their lulavs and saying "Hosanna" during the Hallel.   :)

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