03. Additional Symbolism

The Torah links the principle of hidur (beauty) to the etrog, which both tastes and smells good, corresponding to wholesome people who both study Torah and perform good deeds, and thus alluding to the wholesomeness that will be achieved in the future. As we will learn, we are more meticulous about the hidur and magnificence of the etrog than we are about the other species.

The lulav corresponds to Torah scholars, who represent the holy Torah, even if they do not perform many good deeds. Just as the lulav is taller than all the other species, so the Torah is above everything. The Sages ordained that the berakha is recited on the lulav, indicating that there is nothing more exalted than the Torah.

The basic condition for Torah study is that it must remain connected to, and united with, the entire Jewish people. Even though Torah contains different opinions and perspectives, it all comes from a single source, and the pieces will ultimately join together again. The unique form of the lulav expresses this unity. Its leaves grow on opposite sides of the spine, but they remain close to it, in unity. There are many leaves, but they are not separate. Rather each one overlaps with the next and just adds a little bit of its own. Together, the leaves cover the spine. Furthermore, each leaf is actually two leaves, held together at the tip (the tiyomet, as explained in section 6). The straightness of the lulav also expresses unity, as it is entirely oriented toward one goal. If a lulav is crooked, it is invalid because it faces in two directions. Thus, our Sages state, “Just as the palm has only one heart, so too Israel has only one heart, for their Father in Heaven” (Sukka 45b). Additionally, our Sages state, “The palm branches (kapot) are Torah scholars, who force (kofin) themselves to learn Torah from one another” (Vayikra Rabba 30:11). Thus, the lulav alludes to Torah, which has disagreements and different views that all stem from one source and share a common goal. This idea should inspire Torah scholars to increase peace and unity in the world. (See Berakhot 64a and Ein Aya ad loc.)

Hadasim allude to mitzvot and good deeds. The impact of good deeds radiates outward like a pleasant fragrance. The Sages say that the righteous are referred to as hadasim, and it is in their merit that the world endures (Sanhedrin 93a). It is through the practice of mitzvot that holiness is revealed in the activities of daily life. This discloses the value of this world, and it thus is worthy of enduring. The hadasim also allude to the mitzva to procreate and to educate one’s children. Its threefold leaves express increase, and the Sages say that the hadas alludes to our forebears Yaakov and Leah: “Just as the hadas is surrounded by leaves, so Yaakov was surrounded by children…and so Leah was surrounded by children” (Vayikra Rabba 30:10). Women who undertake the difficult jobs of having children, bringing them up, and educating them are the ones who primarily have the privilege of revealing the holiness of daily life.

At first glance, it would seem that the arava has no stature at all. It has neither aroma nor taste, neither Torah nor good deeds. But it has incredible growing power and expresses the vitality and beauty of this world, the “common decency” which precedes Torah study. Therefore, the arava has great value, just as the vitality of simple Jews sustains Torah scholars and doers. Out of this vitality, Torah giants grow. We are witness to this frequently – people who are notable for their Torah knowledge or good deeds emerge from simple families.

Furthermore, the arava expresses the condition of Israel in this world. On the one hand, this world naturally has tremendous potential for growth, and through it God’s name can be sanctified in incomparable ways. On the other hand, holiness does not regularly manifest itself in this world. So too, the arava has no taste or smell, and when it does not receive water, which alludes to Torah and faith, it withers rapidly, just as when our Temple was destroyed, and we were exiled. We also find the Sages stating (Vayikra Rabba 30:10) that the arava alludes to Raḥel and Yosef: On the one hand, the existence of the Jews in this world is thanks to them, for all of Yaakov’s children were born because of his desire to marry Raḥel, and Israel’s continued existence in Egypt was thanks to the actions of the righteous Yosef, who laid the groundwork there that allowed them to flourish. On the other hand, since Raḥel and Yosef were connected to this-worldly life, which tends to distance people from the spiritual source of life, they both died younger than their siblings. Nevertheless, they are the ones who take the primary role in uncovering the redemptive elements in this world. Raḥel and Yosef’s extraordinary beauty alludes to this. This is also what the Sages mean when they say that during the future redemption, all trees will start bearing fruit (Ketubot 112b).

We see that all the species are needed alike, and only by unifying these forces can Israel fulfill its destiny, improve the world, and benefit all of creation in accordance with the word of God.

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Translated By:
Series Editor: Rabbi Elli Fischer

The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman