Sukkos - The Four Species
In the last issue, we discussed a commandment that is unique to Sukkos - the
commandment to dwell in the Sukkah. There is another commandment which is
also unique to Sukkos - the commandment to take the Four Species. In Vayikra
(23:40) the verse says "And you shall take for yourself on the first day the
fruit of a goodly tree, branches of palm trees, the boughs of thick trees,
and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d for
seven days." The Gemora in the tractate of Sukkah ( 35a) explains the verse
as follows: the "fruit of a goodly tree is an Esrog (citron); the branch of
the palm tree is the Lulav; the "boughs of thick trees" are Hadasim (myrtle);
and, the "willows of the brook" are Aravos (willow branches).
The Sefer HaChinuch (324) explains why we have this precept of the taking of
the Four Species. As an introduction to the reason, he writes that man is
influenced by those actions which he does on a regular basis. His thoughts
are drawn to that which he does constantly, whether it be good or bad. This
is why Hashem has given us many Mitzvos (commandments). By increasing the
number of Mitzvos which we perform, we will always have opportunity to do
Mitzvos, we will always be doing Mitzvos, and therefore have Mitzvos (and
Hashem) on our mind. Furthermore, we will also be doing good all day long,
for which we will be rewarded. By performing the commandments, we are to
constantly focus our thoughts toward the good, and we are to remember and
assure that we conduct ourselves in an honest and righteous fashion.
The reason for the taking of the four species is very similar to this
reasoning. The holiday of Sukkos has another name besides "Sukkos:'' The
other name is "Chag Ha'Asif," "The Harvest Festival." It has this name
because at this time of the year the crops are gathered and fruits are
harvested and brought into the house. The harvest is a time of joy and
happiness. G-d commanded that we have a festival at this time of happiness,
so that we could take this natural reaction and channel it towards Hashem.
Hashem, by His command that this happiness should be directed towards Him,
provided us with another opportunity to serve Him, thereby surrounding and
accustoming ourselves to the performance of Mitzvos, and meriting reward at
the same time. By merely being happy, a natural reaction at this time of the
year, we are fulfilling a commandment of Hashem thereby immersing ourselves
in the performance of a mitzvah and meriting reward.
However, since manifestations of joy and happiness are accomplished largely
through physical and material expressions, there is a danger that the
manifestations of joy will be in a way that is anything but a channeling of
happiness directed towards G-d. A person may come to forget Hashem during
this highly emotional time and act in a way that is not in accordance with
Hashem's commandments. Therefore Hashem commanded that we should take in our
hands objects that will remind us that all the rejoicing of our hearts should
be for His sake and for His glory. Hashem also desired that the "reminder" be
something that in it of itself causes happiness and joy, as the season is a
joyful one. Therefore, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, Hashem commanded that we
take the four species because "it is known in the ways of nature that all
four species gladden the heart of those who see them."
The Sefer HaChinuch adds that there is another significance to the Four
Species, as they resemble certain distinctive organs of a person. The Esrog
resembles the heart, which is, as the Sefer HaChinuch notes, "the seat of
the intelligence." We take a heart-shaped specie to signify that we should
serve Hashem with our intelligence. The Lulav is like the spine, that which
is a main element in man. We take the Lulav to signify that one should direct
his entire body towards the worship of Hashem. We take the myrtle, whose
leaves resemble eyes, to imply that one, on this day of happiness, should not
let his eyes lead him astray. We take a willow, whose leaves resemble lips,
to signify that one should focus his words and be cautious not to use them
improperly at this time of rejoicing.
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For questions, comments, and topic requests, please write to Rabbi Yehudah Prero.