THE FOUR SPECIES
After the sukkah, the most visible elements associated with the celebration of the festival of Sukkot are the Arba Minim, the Four Species. While the sukkah is a reminder of the temporary nature of our journey and the need for God’s supernatural provision and protection in the wilderness, the four species are related to the Land and fruitfulness, to settled productivity.
There are seven species specifically connected with the Land of Israel, which many people use in some way as decorative items in the sukkah. These are wheat, barley, grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates, as listed in Deuteronomy 8:8. The successful growth of each of these crops is entirely dependent on the weather patterns and the provision and timing of the seasonal rainfall. As these are in the hands of the Creator, prayers are said at the end of Sukkot for His timely provision of rain. The prophet Zechariah also makes a millennial connection with the Feast and rain: “And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, there will be no rain upon them” (14:17).
The particular four species gathered together for Sukkot are: the lulav (an unopened palm branch), hadassim (three myrtle branches), aravot (two willow branches), and the etrog (the citron). Customarily, the branches are placed together in a special holder of woven palm fronds and are held together with the etrog when praying special prayers. They also are waved in a specific manner before God. This is done in response to the commandment:
You shall take on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.
A well-known rabbinic analogy compares the four species to four types of believers in God.
- The beautiful, shining etrog is a fruit that has both taste and fragrance. It represents the person who is both learned in knowledge of the Torah and who lives what he learns; he studies and walks in obedience to the commandments of God.
- The lulav is part of the palm tree, the fruit of which has taste but no fragrance. This represents one who studies the Scriptures and has knowledge of God but does not have the deeds to match. In modern vernacular, he does not “walk the talk”.
- The hadassim, myrtle branches, have fragrance but no taste and represent those who do many good deeds but have little knowledge of the Torah or teaching of God.
- The aravah, willow, has neither taste not fragrance and represents the believer who has not studied and gained knowledge of God and also has not grown spiritually by performing mitzvot, the good deeds taught in God’s Word such as prayer, charity, hospitality, etc..
When the four species are gathered together and lifted before God, the Father of all, they are a powerful symbol of unity. Although people have varying strengths and weaknesses, when they come together and are united as one before God, they are elevated in His love and gain victory over the foe – which I like to consider as an acronym for the force of estrangement – that divides and weakens. In unity, we can strengthen and encourage one another in our service to our Father, and we receive His blessing.
Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity!
…For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life for evermore. (Psalm 133:1-3)
On Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of the week of Sukkot, the willow branches are separated and beaten on the ground. Not many, if any, leaves remain on the branches, which are now wilted and weakened. This can symbolize the casting off of our sins, which have been atoned for by our Savior and Redeemer. Also, it is a vivid challenge that one not be content with being a willow-branch believer, but rather, in the year ahead, to grow in knowledge and understanding of the Word and in the doing of it. May we aspire to live a life that is both fruitful and fragrant!
A Whole and Holy Body
The combination of the three types of branches of the lulav together with the etrog provides an interesting illustration of parts of one’s physical body. Thus, when holding them together and lifting them before God, we can understand that we are offering our very selves to Him. As our Father in Heaven, we gratefully thank Him for the life He has given us and, acknowledging Him as King, we yield our bodies to His service.
The lulav, the long, straight, slender palm branch, is placed in the center and depicts the spine, which holds all the limbs of the body in place and in alignment. Through His loving grace and atoning mercy in Yeshua, we can stand upright and strong in His Presence.
During the forty year journey through the wilderness, palm trees would have been a most welcome sight to the Israelites. Their tall, waving branches signaled water and a place to settle and rest from their travels. The tree God chose to adorn the walls of His Temple were palm trees, indicating the place that contained the resting place of His Presence and the ‘living water’ of His Word – the oasis of our strength and sustenance.
The hadassim, myrtle branches, placed to the right of the palm branch when holding the lulav, have shining, green leaves that are shaped like eyes. They remind us that we are to guard our eyes, for what we focus on and see with our eyes will inform our minds and hearts. We should regularly keep them fixed on His Word in order to study, to gain understanding, and to grow in healthy and holy relationship with Him and with one another.
The aravot, willow branches, placed on the left of the lulav, have leaves in the shape of lips, the gates of our speech. Often this is an area of greatest weakness. The willow tree needs much water to stay healthy and strong; our minds, that inform our speech and the use of our tongue, likewise need to be constantly strengthened and refreshed with the living water of the Word. When our lips are yielded to our Father then our words, which represent our attitudes and thoughts, will be filled with His praises and will speak His words of love and truth.
A shining, fragrant etrog.
The etrog is considered to be the pri etz hadar, the fruit of goodly trees, as listed in Leviticus 23: 40. The word hadar means ‘that which dwells’; thus the fruit is interpreted to be fruit that dwells continuously all year on the tree. It implies permanence, similar to the English word, ‘endure’. The etrog (citron) tree fulfils this requirement of constant dwelling, for most other fruits are seasonal but the etrog blossoms and produces fruit throughout all the seasons. It stubbornly perseveres in the heat and the cold, in wind and storm. It endures! This persistence adds depth to its beauty.
The fragrant etrog has the shape of a heart, indicating the organ that maintains our life; and which represents the very place of our Savior and Lord’s life in us. With His Spirit of Holiness indwelling and empowering us, we can persevere through life’s difficulties, we can proclaim the victory of life over death, and celebrate the promise and hope of an eternity in the glorious Presence of God. The etrog also has the shape of a flame, a symbol of God’s Word and His Spirit. May His Word indeed be written on our hearts by His Spirit of holiness; then they will be purified like gold and we will shine for His glory!
The Shaking of the Lulav
When the three branches are joined together they are simply referred to as “the lulav”. They are traditionally held together with the etrog and shaken as part of one’s prayer. The gentle shaking indicates trembling in awe as one stands before the wondrous Presence of the Almighty God. The rustle of the leaves reminds us of the soft wind of His Spirit that is ever present in our lives. As the lulav can represent both one’s physical body and the Body of believers, it becomes a spiritual ‘weapon’ of unity against the forces of evil that constantly try to prevail against the Kingdom of God. The lulav is held and shaken in six directions – North, South, East, West, up and down – which proclaims God as Creator of all and to indicate that His Kingdom stretches to the ends of the earth and to the heavens. 
The action involves holding the lulav upright in the generally stronger right hand (with palm branch in the middle, myrtle branches on the right and the willow on the left) and the etrog in the left hand, the side of one’s heart. Facing toward the East, draw them close to the chest, indicating the identification with one’s self, then extend your arms forward while pointing the lulav and gently shake it three times, just enough to hear a rustle of the leaves. Then turn clockwise 90 degrees to face South and repeat the procedure, followed by turns to the West and North. Then, facing East once again, raise the lulav up to the heavens and then down to the earth, each time it shaking three times. This is a powerful proclamation of God’s promise of His Salvation reaching to all the earth:
* Who has ascended to heaven and come down? …Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name? Surely you know! Every word of God proves true; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him (Proverbs 30:4-5).
* My eyes have seen Thy salvation which Thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the gentiles (all the nations), and for glory to Thy people Israel (Luke 2:30-32).
It also is a prophetic action, anticipating the promises of full Redemption that await fulfillment:
* All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to YHWH; and all the families of the nations shall worship before Him. For dominion belongs to YHWH, and he rules over the nations (Psalm 22:27-28).
* As Thy Name, O God, so Thy praise reaches to the ends of the earth. Thy right hand is filled with victory; let Mount Zion be glad!
* And then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. And then YHWH will send out the angels, and gather His elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (Mark 13:26-27).
You can proclaim these five verses as you face in the different directions and proclaim a resounding “HalleluYah!” at the last, facing down towards the earth. May all the earth praise Him indeed!
As we gather and raise the lulav and etrog, and shake them in all directions, we depict the commitment of ourselves and our material resources – the work of our hands, as it were – to God. It also represents our devotion to God in our praise and proclamation of His Word and Kingship.
The sukkah, on the other hand, reminds us of God’s commitment and devotion to us and how we are encircled by the “clouds of glory” of His protection and Presence. The portable nature of the sukkah points to the desire of God to dwell among us as His people. Immediately after Moses descended on Yom Kippur from Sinai bearing God’s atonement and forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and the second set of stone tablets engraved with His Words – the symbol of His lasting covenant with His people – He instructed the building of His sukkah, the Mishkan, or Tabernacle (Exodus 25:8).
Once the permanent dwelling of His Holy House, Beit ha’Mikdash, was built in Jerusalem, a total of seventy sacrifices were made on the altar during Sukkot, corresponding to the traditional count of the number of the nations in the world.  This signified, as foretold by the prophet Zechariah, that in the end of days all things shall be Kadosh le’YHWH, “Holy to the Lord,” and all the nations will go up to Jerusalem on Sukkot to worship the God of Israel:
Every one that survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, Adonai Tzevaot, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the Feast of Tabernacles (14:16).
It is a great prophetic blessing that, since God’s restoration of Israel, and of His people to the Land, thousands of Christian representatives from many nations of the world, even from the farthest corners and islands, go up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot every year.  What joy there will be when, according to another prophet, Messiah will take up his throne in Jerusalem and “the knowledge of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the seabed” (Isaiah 11:9) and all nations shall rejoice together with Israel at the great and glorious Festival of Sukkot. HalleluYah!
~Keren Hannah Pryor
1. As it can be viewed as a ‘weapon’ the lulav is not handled or used on Shabbat.
You can order a good set of the lulav and etrog online at Israel Catalog or Judasim.com. Or you can draw and color a cardboard set of your own to practice with!
2. Michael Strassfield, The Jewish Holidays, A Guide and Commentary,Harper & Row, NY,1985, 146.