The Jewish and cinematic musings of the Rabbi of The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York.
Friday, October 2, 2009
Lulav and Etrog - A User's Guide
“On the first day you shall take the product of the beautiful (hadar) tree, branches of palm trees, thick branches of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days” (Leviticus 23:40). The four species are: • Lulav (לולב) – a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree • Hadass (הדס) – boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree • Aravah (ערבה) – branches with leaves from the willow tree • Etrog (אתרוג) – the fruit of a citron tree
A midrash in Vayikrah Rabba 30:12 explains the items as symbols of the importance of unity among different types of Jews. 1. The etrog, a fruit, has both a flavor and a scent, like a Jew who is both learned and observant of the commandments. 2. The lulav is from a date palm, and so it has a taste but no scent. It is likened to a Jew to is learned but does not apply that knowledge in action. 3. A myrtle has a pleasant odor but there is nothing tasty about it, and it parallels the Jew who has little book learning behind his or her observance. 4. Finally the willow lacks both fragrance and food value, just like the Jew who neither studies the Torah nor observes the commandments.
Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:14) the rabbis use a quote from Psalms to learn more from lulav and etrog comparing each element to a part of the human body. “All my bones shall say, ‘God, who is like You!” (Psalm 35:10). The metaphor is applied in this way: 1. The long, straight, flexible lulav is likened to the spine. 2. The tiny myrtle leaves are like the eyes 3. The elongated willow leaves resemble the lips. 4. Round and firm, the etrog is symbolic of the heart.
As in the first example, holding all parts of the lulav and etrog together for the blessing informs the meaning of the metaphor. The secret ingredient to achieving the true happiness promised by Sukkot is to feel unity within, to be true to oneself and not say one thing and feel another.
The Mitzvah of netilat lulav: 1. Take the lulav in the right hand and the etrog in the left (unless you are a lefty – then do the opposite). Hold the etrog stem side up. Be sure to have the spine of the lulav facing the person holding it. The myrtle (the one with smallish leaves) should be on the right and the willow should be on the left. 2. Say the blessing: "Baruch ata Adonai, Elo-heinu Melech ha'olam, asher kid'shanu bi'mitzvo-sav, vi'tzivanu al ni-tilat lulav." Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, who sanctified us with Your mitzvot, and instructed us to raise up the Lulav. 3. The first time you wave the lulav and etrog follow with the Shehechiyanu. Begin by switching hands with the etrog facing stem side down Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech HaOlam shecheyanu, vikiyamanu, vihigiyanu laz'man ha'zeh R. You then wave the lulav in the following directions: East, South, West, North, Up, and Down – reminding us how God is all around us.
One other note: According to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai (BT Rosh Hashana 30a), we take up the lulav every day of Sukkot in remembrance of the Temple. The modern observance is to do this every day except on Shabbat. However there is a tradition in the Mishnah that states if the first day of Sukkot is Shabbat, then one fulfills the mitzvah on Shabbat (Mishnah Sukkot 4:2). Except the majority of Jews throughout the world do not fulfill the mitzvah of netilat lulav on Shabbat (perhaps as a reminder of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem).
Rabbi Sharff is the Senior Rabbi for The Reform Temple of Rockland in Upper Nyack, New York. He was raised in Houston, Texas where he discovered the acoustic and electric guitar while sitting in his dorm room one day. Rabbi Sharff graduated from the University of Texas and was ordained at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati.
Rabbi Sharff is the rhythm guitarist for RTR's in House Band, and he also served as the editor for Howard Salmon's z"l Comic Book Siddur.