Sukkot - Power of the 4 Species

And you shall take for yourselves on the first day, the fruit of the hadar tree, date palm fronds, a branch of a braided tree, and willows of the brook
וּלְקַחְתֶּם לָכֶם בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים וַעֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת וְעַרְבֵי נָחַל 

Vayikra 23:40

Patriarchs and 4 Species

Rabbeinu Behaye explains by way of midrash from Midrash Vayikra how the 4 species for Sukkot relate to the 4 Patriarchs.

  • Etrog = Avraham
  • Lulav = Yitzhak
  • Hadas = Yaacov
  • Aravah = Yosef
How are the characteristics of the Patriarchs of the Jewish People reflected in the essential four species of Sukkot? What is the impact and significance of this connection?

Avraham - Etrog

  • Fruit (פרי) - The first species mentioned in the verse is the "fruit of the hadar tree". The verse specifically calls this the "fruit" (פרי) in the singular. The embodies the spirit of Avraham, since Avraham sought to bring awareness of the singularity of Hashem in the world. Literally, Avraham's efforts bore fruit, as it says "And Abram took Sarai his wife and Lot his brother's son, and all their possessions that they had acquired, and the souls they had acquired in Haran, and they went to go to the land of Canaan" (Breisheit 12:5).
  • Tree (עץ) - When a tree (עץ) is dried out, then placed in water, it is revitalized and can bear fruit again. This reflects the experience of Avraham since he had nearly given up of ever having a son, getting quite old, then he was told he would have a son and his spirit was renewed.
  • Hadar (הדר) - Since Hakadosh Baruch Hu enriched Avraham's old age by giving him a son as the verse says:

Until Abraham there was no old age; whoever wished to speak to Abraham would speak to Isaac, and the reverse (because they looked exactly alike.)  Thereupon he prayed, and old age came into existence, as it is written (Breisheit 24:1):  "And Abraham was old, advanced in days, and the L-rd had blessed Abraham with everything. (וְאַבְרָהָם זָקֵן בָּא בַּיָּמִים וה' בֵּרַךְ אֶת אַבְרָהָם בַּכֹּל)"
This is like it says in Mishlei (20:29): "the beauty of elders is white hair. (הֲדַר זְקֵנִים שֵׂיבָה)"

Yitzhak - Lulav

  • Palm fronds (כפות) - is embodied in Yitzhak because he was bound for sacrifice (כפות ונעקד על גבי המזבח). 
  • Dates (תמרים) - this comes from the wording the verse in Shir HaShirim (3:6) "Who is this coming up from the desert, like columns of smoke (כְּתִימְרוֹת עָשָׁן)" Just as this word (תמרים/תימרות) is literally reflected in the verse, it aslo captures the essence of Yitzhak since his essence is described as the perfect offering (which goes up in columns of smoke).

Yaacov - Hadas

  • Branch (ענף) - Just as a branch is covered by leaves, so also Yaacov was surrounded by his sons - the 12 tribes. 

Yosef - Arvah 

  • willows of the brook (ערבי נחל) - What is the nature of the willow? It follows a cycle of being moist, withered, and dried out. So was the life of Yosef, he was 'moist' and vibrant while serving as viceroy to the king. Withered upon seeing the death of his father. 'Dried up' in that his death preceded his brothers. 

Hint to the Merit of our Ancestors

Rabbeinu Behaye wants to say in all these interpretation that when we go to do the mitzvah of taking the 4 species in our hands, we incite mercy from Hashem that we should be protected based on the merits of our great forefathers.  This is what we saw Moshe do when he prayed, he would say (Shmot 32:13) "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your very Self (זְכֹר לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיִשְׂרָאֵל עֲבָדֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּעְתָּ לָהֶם בָּךְ)".

Parts of the Body

In this same vain of interpreting the 4 species to another context, Rabbeinu Behaye says we can apply the 4 species to the 4 vital organs of the body: 
  • Eyes 
  • Heart - As it says in Bamidbar (15:39) "and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray ( וְלֹא תָתוּרוּ אַחֲרֵי לְבַבְכֶם וְאַחֲרֵי עֵינֵיכֶם אֲשֶׁר אַתֶּם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם)"
  • Lips - Many mitzvot and transgression hang on the actions of our lips
  • Spine - This is the central component of the body, supporting the brain and enabling power for our bodies
So we can compare the 4 species to each of these vital parts of the body:
  • Heart is Etrog
  • Spine resembles a Lulav
  • Eyes resemble the Hadas
  • Lips resemble the Aravah
Rabbeinu Behaye suggests that as we stumble by way of employing these organs for sin, so also their counterparts in the 4 species can provide atonement. For every transgression there is a mitzvah available to provide atonement. 

This is seen in the discussion in the Talmud (Baba Batra 4A), for Herod had killed thousands and many Rabbonim from Israel. Herod asked Shimon Ben Shettach if there was a remedy for his actions. Shimon Ben Shettach answered him saying that it was possible to receive atonement if he built the Beit HaMikdash. As it says "As you have blinded the eye of the world, [for so the Rabbis are called] as it is written,  If because of the eyes of the congregation it was committed inadvertently, (Bamidbar 15:24)  go now and attend to the eye of the world, [which is the Temple]" This shows that for every transgression there must be a mitzvah to undo it. 

We see also the lulav representing the bones of the spine in the verse in Tehillim (35:10) "All my bones shall say, O Hashem, who is like You, Who saves a poor man from one stronger than he and a poor man and a needy one from one who robs him."

Smell and Taste in the 4 Species

  • Etrog: smell and taste
  • Lulav: taste (from the dates) but no smell
  • Hadas: smell but no taste
  • Aravah: no smell of taste
These characteristics provide deeper meaning. 
  • Etrog: smell and taste is like a Tzadik who has Torah and great deeds
  • Lulav: with just taste indicates one that just has Torah
  • Hadas: with just smell represents one that just has great deeds, but no Torah
  • Aravah: with neither smell nor taste is the lowly person who lacks both Torah and deeds
And Hashem instructs us to bring these 4 species together as one, representing all these different types of individuals and together Hashem forgives everyone for all of their iniquities. We see a similar step taking with the bringing of the incense in the Mishkan, saying (Shmot 30:34) " "Take for yourself incense, [namely] balsam sap, onycha and galbanum, aromatics and pure frankincense; they shall be of equal weight."

Rashi explains that 'galbanum' has a vile odor and "counted it among the ingredients of the incense [in order] to teach us that we should not look askance at including Jewish transgressors with us when we assemble for fasting or prayer. [The Torah instructs us] that they should be counted with us. -[from Keritot 6B]"

Here we see that Hashem accepts the wonderful smelling Tzadikkim along with the bad smelling transgressors accepting Tshuvah for everyone.

Saved from 4 Kingdoms

In the merit of the 4 species has Hashem promised to save us from the assault of 4 kingdoms.

  • Etrog (Babylon) - this comes in contrast to the Babylonians. Just as a lush yellow etrog resembles gold, so also Daniel (2:38) relates to Babylon as gold saying "You are the head of gold"
  • Lulav (Persia) - the lulav is long, and the gallows that Haman was hung were tall.
  • Hadas (Greece) - hadas is composed of many small leaves, and the Greek empire was composed of many smaller nation-states.
  • Aravah (Rome) - the stalk of the aravah is red, representing the kingdom of Edom 

4 Small Creatures

There are four small creatures on the earth, yet they are exceedingly wise;
אַרְבָּעָה הֵם קְטַנֵּי אָרֶץ וְהֵמָּה חֲכָמִים מְחֻכָּמִים
Mishlei 30:24
These represent the 4 species, which are "exceedingly wise." The 4 species themselves teach and educate merit and obligations, as it says in the Mishne Torah "provide a foothold for a person of understanding to [develop] love for Hashem, as our Sages said regarding love: 'In this manner, you will recognize He who spoke and [thus,] brought the world into being.'"

This World and the Next

Rabbeinu Behaye continues and explains that Etrog and lulav encompass the rewards of this world and the next, while Hadas and aravah capture the path of teshuvah, suffering and realization.

  • Etrog (פרי עץ הדר): represents the rewards of this world, since there are mitzvot that one enjoys the fruits of which ever year, like how an etrog lives on it's tree from year to year
  • Lulav (כפות תמרים): indicates the rewards of the world to come, just as a lulav is big so also stands the reward awaiting us in the world to come. Just as the leaves of the lulav are constructed one on top of the other, so also are the levels of the world to come built one on top of the other. And just as the lulav tree only has fruit after 70 years (Taanit 23A), so also the rewards of the world to come are received only at the end of a lifetime.
  • Hadas (ענף עץ עבות): This is bitter-tasting but very fragrant. This represents the the suffering felt in the path of repentance. That one's body suffers from fasting, beatings, and further limitations according to the extent of the sin and the remorse. From these acts, a wonderful smell rises to heaven.
  • Aravah (ערבי נחל): This represents submission and humility, and so it doesn't grow on mountains but in streams in a low place, in order to submit the heart, bring humility, and atonement.
According to this way of thinking, one should take their lulav, hadas and aravah in their right hand to hint at the great reward, the reward of the world to come that awaits us at the end of our lives along with suffering and submission. Likewise, the etrog should be held in the left hand, indicating the reward of this world. The world to come is attributed to the right, and this world is attributed to the left.

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