04 – The Four Species

01. The Mitzva of the Four Species (Arba’at Ha-minim)

On Sukkot there is a mitzva to take the four species: etrog (citron), lulav (palm branch), hadas (myrtle), and arava (willow). As we read: “On the first day you shall take the fruit of a hadar tree, branches of palm trees, boughs of dense-leaved trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days” (Vayikra 23:40). The Gemara elaborates: “The fruit of a hadar tree” refers to an etrog; “branches of palm trees” to a lulav; “boughs of dense-leaved trees” to hadasim; and “willows of the brook” to aravot (Sukka 35a; see Me’iri and Ritva ad loc. and Rambam’s introduction to Peirush Ha-mishnayot).

Since the lulav is the tallest of them all, the mitzva is referred to as “taking the lulav,” and the berakha recited is “Who has made us holy through His commandments and has commanded us about taking the lulav” (“al netilat lulav”).

On a Torah level, the mitzva only applies on the first day, as we read, “On the first day you shall take.” Only in the Temple precincts are we commanded to take the lulav each day, as we see from the continuation of the verse, “and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.” In practice, since there is a mitzva to go up to the Temple on the three pilgrimage festivals, in Temple times many Jews performed the mitzva of lulav for seven days.

After the destruction of the Temple, R. Yoḥanan ben Zakkai ordained that the lulav should be taken for seven days everywhere, to commemorate the Temple. Such commemorative practices are very important, as our Sages tell us that by remembering the Temple and continuing to observe the mitzvot that were observed there, we help to restore what was lost with the destruction and exile and hasten the redemption (Sukka 41a).

We take one etrog, one lulav, three hadasim, and two aravot. In pressing circumstances, one takes just one hadas and one arava but does not recite the berakha (SA 651:1).[1]

If any one of the four species is very small, it is invalid. The minimum sizes are: an etrog must be at least an egg’s volume; the spine of the lulav must be at least 4 tefaḥim long; hadasim and aravot must be at least 3 tefaḥim long. There is no maximum size. As long as one can carry them, they are kosher. We will expand on these laws below (sections 7-9, 12; nn. 4, 6).


[1]. R. Tarfon maintains that one must take three hadasim and two aravot. Rav Yehuda, quoting Shmuel, declares that this is the halakha (Sukka 34b). This is the opinion of most of poskim, including Behag, Rambam, and Rosh, and it is the ruling of SA 651:1. Others say that the halakha follows R. Akiva, who maintains that one hadas and one arava are taken. Ramban and Ritva are of this opinion. Rema states that under pressing circumstances, one may rely on this view. Although some say that one even recites the berakha in this case (see MB ad loc. 6), many maintain that one should not recite the berakha, and we refrain from reciting berakhot in cases of uncertainty.

02. Expressing the Unity of the Jewish People

In order to fulfill the mitzva, all four species must be taken. If any one of them is missing, the mitzva cannot be fulfilled (Menaḥot 27a). Le-khatḥila they should be taken together, the lulav bundled with the hadasim and aravot. However, be-di’avad, if someone took them serially, he has fulfilled the obligation (SA 651:12; see 5:2 below).

This halakha teaches us something profound. Our Sages say that just as among the four species there are two that produce fruit (lulav and etrog) and two that do not (hadas and arava), so too, in Israel there are Torah scholars and people of action. Just as the presence of all four species is necessary to fulfill the mitzva, so too the presence of both scholars and doers is necessary for the nation to thrive. Scholars cannot survive without doers, who help support them; and doers cannot survive without scholars, who enrich their lives with spiritual content and help connect them to the next world (based on Menaḥot 27a; Ḥullin 92a; Tanḥuma Emor; R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at, Hilkhot Lulav).

A more elaborate midrash explains that the four species represent four types of people. The etrog, which both tastes and smells good, corresponds to Jews who are full of both Torah and good deeds. The lulav (date palm), whose fruits taste good, but which has no smell, corresponds to Torah scholars who are full of Torah but do not perform many good deeds. The hadas, which smells good but has no taste, corresponds to people who perform good deeds but are not Torah scholars. The arava, which has neither taste nor smell, represents simple Jews who do not have much Torah or many good deeds. At first glance, we might think that their lives are not worth that much, and they will be unable to reach the next world. But God says: “Bundle them all together, and they will atone for one another.” When this is done, God is exalted and the supernal chambers are built up, as we read (Amos 9:6): “He builds His chambers in heaven when His bundle is established on earth” (Vayikra Rabba 30:12).

Our Sages further suggest that the four species correspond to the founders of the Jewish people: the three patriarchs and Yosef, or the four matriarchs. They also suggest (based on wordplay) that the species hint at the Sanhedrin and Torah scholars (Vayikra Rabba 30:9-11).

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.

04. What Invalidates the Four Species

There are five categories of disqualification that invalidate the four species:

  • The species must be those which the Torah specifies, and no others. The “fruit of a hadar tree” is an etrog and not a lemon. Even a hybrid etrog is invalid (section 10 below). “Boughs of dense-leaved trees” are hadasim with threefold leaves, not wild hadasim. One must take a willow branch, not a poplar branch.
  • They must retain their natural form. Thus, if the leaves of the lulav grow on only one side, or most of the leaves of the hadas or arava have fallen off, they are invalid.
  • They must be of the required size. If they are too small, they would not be referred to as “the fruit of a hadar tree” or “branches of a palm tree” or “boughs of dense-leaved trees” or “willows of the brook” (as explained in sections 7-9 and 12 below).

If a specimen does not meet these three requirements, it is invalid for the entire festival.

  • They must possess hadar (beauty, aesthetic pleasantness), that is, they have not lost their natural form and beauty – for example, by completely drying out, even if they retain their basic shape. Most poskim invalidate specimens that lack hadar only on the first Yom Tov (Rambam; Ramban). Others say that this invalidates them all seven days (Rosh).
  • They must be whole. When it comes to an etrog, this means it must not be missing any flesh (section 11 below); regarding a lulav, it means the tiyomet must not be split (section 6 below). These defects invalidate the lulav and etrog on the first Yom Tov, but do not invalidate them during the rest of the festival. (See Sukka 34b; Tosafot ad loc. s.v. “she-tehei”; Rashi on 36b, s.v. “u-meshaninan.”)

Thus, to disqualify a specimen, it must have undergone a significant change. It follows that the stress that some people feel when choosing their specimens is unwarranted. True, in the upcoming sections we will deal extensively with the various defects that invalidate the four species, but these issues rarely come up.

Even though most of the specimens on sale are kosher, Jewish practice is to enhance the mitzva by choosing beautiful specimens, as the Torah says, “This is my God and I will glorify Him (ve-anvehu)” (Shemot 15:2), which the Sages expound to mean: “Beautify (hitna’eh) yourself before Him through mitzvot: Make a beautiful (na’ah) sukka, a beautiful (na’eh) lulav…” (Shabbat 133b). This, however, should not be a source of stress.

When circumstances are pressing and it is impossible to obtain kosher specimens, one may fulfill the mitzva using specimens that lack hadar or are not whole (requirements 4 and 5 above), such as a lulav which is dried out or has a split tiyomet. According to most poskim, one even recites the berakha when taking them; others say that one does not recite it.[2]

In addition to the five types of disqualification, which relate to the specimens themselves, one also does not fulfill the mitzva with a stolen specimen. On the first Yom Tov, even a borrowed specimen is invalid (as explained below in section 13). Additionally, anything dedicated for idolatry is invalid to fulfill the mitzva (SA 649:3).


[2]. “R. Yehuda said: ‘It happened that city-dwellers would bequeath their lulavim to their children (i.e., a dried -out lulav is kosher).’ [The Sages] said to him: ‘Pressing circumstances are no proof’” (Sukka 31a-b). Thus, even the Sages agree that a dry lulav may be used under pressing circumstances. According to Raavad, they would use dry lulavim only so that the mitzva would not be forgotten, but they did not recite the berakha. SA 649:6 shows concern for this position. In contrast, Rambam maintains that one does recite the berakha over a dry lulav, but not over a lulav disqualified for one of the other reasons. According to the vast majority of Rishonim, under pressing circumstances one may recite the berakha over the four species even if they are not hadar or are incomplete. These include R. Yitzḥak ibn Gi’at; Maḥzor Vitri §373; Rabbeinu Tam; Rid; Itur; Ha-manhig; Raavya 2:653; Rosh (Sukka 3:14); Smag; Or Zaru’a; and many more. This is also the view of Radbaz; MA; Eliya Rabba; and MB 649:58.

05. The Lulav

Lulav leaves grow from both sides of the lulav and cover the spine. A lulav is invalid if it has leaves on only one side of the spine, while the second side is bare (SA 645:3). Generally, the lulav’s leaves grow one atop the other, covering the entire spine. If its leaves are so short that one leaf does not reach the one above it, it is invalid (SA 645:4).

The branches of the palm tree begin as lulavim, branches whose leaves are all tight to the spine. As the branch continues to grow, the leaves open, forming the fan-like branches that people associate with date trees. At this point they are referred to as ḥariyot.

Le-khatḥila it is best if the leaves of the lulav are tight to the spine, such that if the lulav is left on a table, the leaves still cling tightly to it without assistance. If the leaves of the lulav have started to open, the lulav is kosher as long as the leaves can be bound together and pulled tight to the spine. This is referred to as “a lulav whose leaves have separated.” If the opening leaves have hardened so that it is impossible to bind them together and draw them flat to the spine of the lulav, then the lulav is invalid. This is referred to as “a lulav whose leaves have broken free” (Sukka 29b; SA 645:1-2).

If the lulav has become so crooked that it is semicircular, like a scythe, it is invalid. If it is not so crooked, it is kosher but not mehudar (especially beautiful), as straightness is a feature that makes a lulav beautiful. If it is bent like a scythe, but the curve is toward the spine, this is somewhat common natural curvature, so the lulav is kosher (SA 645:8).

If the spine is bent over at an angle, it is invalid (SA 645:9). Some say that even if just the leaves are bent at an angle, the lulav is invalid (Taz; MB ad loc. 40-41). However, if just the tips of the uppermost leaves are bent like the letter vav, the lulav is kosher, as some lulavim grow this way.

Some say that if the tips of the uppermost leaves are bent over like the letter peh, resembling a button (a “knepel”), the lulav is invalid (Ran and Ritva). Others maintain that such a lulav is actually mehudar, as this ensures that the tiyomet of the upper leaf will not open (Rosh). In practice, this lulav is kosher, as many lulavim grow this way. However, since some are stringent, it is not considered mehudar (SA 645:9 and MB ad loc. 42).

06. A Split Tiyomet

Every leaf in a lulav is comprised of two leaflets joined together by the posterior edge. The place where they are joined is called the “tiyomet,” because it makes each pair of leaflets resemble conjoined twins (“te’omim”). As the lulavim continue to grow and develop into ḥariyot, the tips of the leaves open up. The first to open is the central, uppermost leaf in the lulav. Since the leaves of the lulav are naturally closed because they are connected at the tiyomet, when the tiyomet opens, the lulav is considered deficient, not whole. Thus, even though it still looks like a lulav, it is disqualified for use on the first Yom Tov, as all the species must be whole. However, it may be used on subsequent days.

The poskim disagree about how to define a split tiyomet. Some say the lulav is invalid only if most of the tiyomot of most of the leaves are split (Rif and Rambam). Others say the law of the split tiyomet applies only to the upper, central leaf, since it is the most prominent and discernible of the leaves; if most of this tiyomet is split, the lulav is invalid (Ge’onim and Ran). The halakha in practice follows the latter view: on the first Yom Tov, if most of the central tiyomet is split, the lulav may not be used. In truth, in the vast majority of lulavim, most of the central leaf is closed, so almost all lulavim are kosher for use even on the first Yom Tov. Some are meticulous to avoid, le-khatḥila, a lulav whose central tiyomet has even a small split. However, there are very few lulavim where the tiyomet is completely closed, and the more developed and beautiful the lulav, the more likely that a bit of its uppermost leaf will be open. It would seem preferable to use a large, beautiful lulav with a slightly open central leaf than a small, shriveled lulav with a closed upper leaf. If one is concerned that the central leaf will continue to open and be mostly open by the first Yom Tov, he may glue it together to prevent its disqualification.

If there are two leaves at the central tip of the lulav, the tiyomet of each one has to be mostly closed. However, if these two leaves separate from one another, the lulav is kosher since they are two different leaves (MB 645:15; Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav ad loc. 4).

Some prefer to use a lulav which has “korei,” a flaky brown membrane that keeps the leaves together. In their view, as long as there is a korei on the leaves, they are considered closed. However, others say that le-khatḥila it is preferable to take a lulav without a korei, for two reasons: First, they maintain that the korei does not ensure that the central leaf is closed. True, it is not necessary to worry that it is mostly split underneath the korei, because that is extraordinarily rare, but it is possible that a small split is hidden underneath, which is not mehudar according to some. Second, Ashkenazic custom is to shake the lulav in such a way that it rustles. When a lulav has korei, this cannot be done.[3]


[3]. According to most Rishonim, including Rabbeinu Ḥananel, Rif, Rambam, and Ramban, a split tiyomet invalidates a lulav if the majority of the leaves are split most of the way down. SA 645:3 rules this way. According to R. Paltoi Gaon and Ran, if the central leaf’s tiyomet is split, the lulav is invalid. Even though most Rishonim are lenient, on the first Yom Tov almost no Aḥaronim allow using a lulav if the tiyomet of its central leaf is split. Within that view, some say the lulav is invalid only if the tiyomet is split all the way down (Rema; SAH; Ḥayei Adam; Ḥazon Ovadia), while others invalidate it even when it is split only most of the way down (Ran; Yam shel Shlomo; Baḥ; Vilna Gaon; MB 645:19). Some write that a lulav whose central leaf has not opened is most mehudar, but there is a disagreement about this hidur. Taz says it means it is not split more than a tefaḥ, while Ḥayei Adam and Bikurei Yaakov say it cannot be split at all. In any case, since we are talking about a hidur, and it is the subject of dispute, it is better to look for lulavim that are beautiful in other ways.

In the opinion of Bikurei Yaakov 645:9, when the middle leaf is closed by the korei, it is considered closed even if it turns out after the korei is removed that it was open. From this perspective, a lulav with korei is mehudar. This is the ruling of R. Mordechai Eliyahu. However, Ma’amar Mordekhai 645:4 maintains that having korei does not mean the lulav is considered closed. Many defer to this opinion. Therefore, those who want to ensure that the lulav is closed according to all opinions prefer one without korei (Ḥazon Ish; Ḥazon Ovadia; Piskei Teshuvot 645 n. 13). For those who follow Ashkenazic custom, there is another reason that a lulav without korei is better: it rustles when shaken (Bikurei Yaakov 645:2). However, according to SA (651:9), there is no need for it to rustle.

07. The Requisite Size of a Lulav and a Canary Island Date Palm Lulav

If most the upper leaves of a lulav were pared or truncated, or the central leaf is pared or truncated, the lulav is invalid for use on the first Yom Tov (SA and Rema 645:6). If there is a thorn-like protrusion on the tip of the uppermost leaf, it is not considered part of the lulav, so even if it is singed or cut off, the lulav is kosher even according to the most meticulous.

A lulav whose uppermost leaf ends in a zigzag, as sometimes happens, is kosher le-khatḥila.

If most of a lulav’s leaves have dried out and turned white, with no green left at all, the lulav is invalid (SA 645:5).

The spine of a lulav must be at least 4 tefaḥim tall (c. 32 cm, or 25.3 cm in pressing circumstances). This is the minimum size required to fulfill the obligation. However, it is a hidur for the lulav to be tall, as is accepted (MA 672:3).[4]

In recent times a question has arisen concerning the validity of lulavim from a particular species of date palm imported from the Canary Islands. The Canary Island date palm differs from the common date palm in several respects: its leaves are shorter, denser, and softer; it is greener, and its dates do not taste good; its spine is softer and more flexible, bending in whichever direction it is tilted.

Those who deem the Canary Island date palm acceptable maintain that since it comes from a palm tree that produces dates, it is kosher, despite all the differences (Tzitz Eliezer 8:22; R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach). Others say that since its dates are not so edible and it differs from the common date palm in so many ways, it does not qualify as the “branches of palm trees” referred to in the verse (Igrot Moshe, OḤ 4:123). In practice, since there are acceptable species of the date palm similar to the Canary Island date palm, the reasoning of those who are lenient seems more convincing. Nevertheless, since this is the subject of dispute, it is preferable to avoid using a lulav from a Canary Island date palm. When circumstances are pressing, one may rely on those who are lenient, use it, and recite the berakha.


[4]. According to R. Tarfon, the tefaḥim used to measure the four species are a sixth smaller than standard tefaḥim (Sukka 32b). Tosafot, Rabbeinu Yona, Rosh, and Ran rule this way. However, the four species are measured using standard tefaḥim, according to Rif and Rambam (following the general principle that we rule in accordance with the first Tanna quoted in a mishna). The SA and Rema rule that le-khatḥila we use standard measurements, but when circumstances are pressing, we are lenient. The berakha is recited even when the smaller measurements are used (SA and Rema 603:1). As we have seen previously, there is also disagreement as to the size of a standard tefaḥ. According to R. Ḥayim Naeh it is 8 cm, which means that a lulav must be 32 cm le-khatḥila, and 26.6 cm under pressing circumstances. Based on updated measurements, a tefaḥ is 7.6 cm, which means that a lulav must be 30.4 cm le-khatḥila and 25.3 cm under pressing circumstances. Nevertheless, what I write above does not follow the updated measurements. This is because R. Naeh’s measurements have been in use for the last couple of generations (and involve round numbers). However, when necessary, the updated measurements can be used, because really they are the correct ones. (See above, ch. 2 n.1. There is a more stringent shi’ur following Noda Bi-Yehuda and Ḥazon Ish, according to which a tefaḥ is 9.6 cm. Following this, a lulav should be 38.4 cm lekhatḥila and 32 cm if circumstances are pressing.)

08. The Hadas

“Boughs of dense-leaved trees (anaf etz avot)” are myrtle branches whose leaves grow in groups of three, look like braids, and cover the stem, making them look like densely-leaved boughs. Each group of three leaves must sprout from the same node, that is, from the same height; if a hadas has one leaf higher or lower than the other two, it is referred to as a “wild hadas” and is invalid (Sukka 32b; SA 646:3). A healthy, vibrant hadas normally has three leaves sprouting from each node. One need not be too exacting; as long as the three leaves appear to the naked eye to sprout from the same height along the branch, they are threefold, even if one is in fact slightly higher than the others.[5]

Three hadasim must be taken together with the lulav, and each must be at least 3 tefaḥim tall (c. 24 cm; under pressing circumstances, 19 cm). There is no limit on how long a hadas may be. Even if it is very long indeed, it is still kosher, but when bundling the hadasim and lulav together, one should make sure that the lulav extends at least a tefaḥ higher than the hadasim (SA 650:1-2; see 5:2 below).

Le-khathila, the threefold leaves must cover the full length of 3 tefaḥim, as some maintain that the hadas is invalid otherwise (Ge’onim). However, in practice, if the threefold leaves cover most of the 3 tefaḥim, the hadas is kosher, as this is the position of most poskim (Raavad; Rosh; SA 646:5). Even if the branch is 4 tefaḥim long or more, as long as the threefold leaves cover the majority of 3 tefaḥim, it is kosher. If there are at least 3 full tefaḥim of threefold leaves, even if the branch also has leaves that are not threefold, the hadas is kosher even for the most scrupulous (Baḥ; see BHL 646:9, end of s.v. “u-le’ikuva”).[6]

The hadas produces small berries. They start out green and turn red and black. If the berries are green, the hadas is kosher. If they are red or black, and the number of berries exceeds the number of leaves across 3 tefaḥim, the hadas is invalid because it is of a spotted color. If one picks off the berries, it reverts to being kosher, but one may not remove the berries on Yom Tov, as it looks like he is fixing something (Sukka 33b; SA 646:2, 11).

Sometimes additional branches grow between the leaves. It is recommended to prune them (SHT 646:36).

If the top of a hadas is truncated, it is preferable to take a different one, as some maintain that such a hadas is invalid (Raavad; Ha-ma’or). If no other hadas is available, the branch should be cut in such a way that the leaves hide the truncated part, and then one may recite a berakha on it (SA 646:10; SHT ad loc. 32).

A hadas whose leaves have withered is still kosher. However, if it has become completely desiccated, to the point that it crumbles to the touch and lost all its greenness, it is invalid. If the hadas was soaked in water for a day and is no longer blanched and crumbly, we see it was not entirely desiccated, and it is kosher (SA 646:6-7; MB ad loc. 20).


[5]. Sometimes, the leaves look threefold at first glance, but upon closer examination, it becomes clear that one leaf is a little higher than the others. Nevertheless, the principle is that if the leaves look threefold at first glance, they are deemed threefold. This is evident from the practice of many poskim, who give the hadas a cursory glance, and therefore this is the halakha. (See Harḥavot 4:8:1.) Some are more meticulous, but even according to them, if the petiole of all three leaves intersects a common plane, it is kosher. The petiole (the part of the leaf that connects to the stem) is generally at least 2 mm long, so if one leaf is 1.5 mm higher than the others, all three still intersect a common horizontal plane – some at the top of the petiole and some at its base.

[6]. See above, n. 4. According to R. Naeh, hadasim must be 24 cm long. According to the updated measurements they must be 22.8 cm long, and 19 cm under pressing circumstances. (According to Ḥazon Ish, they must be 28.8 cm long.) The length is determined by measuring the branch, not including the leaves that extend beyond it. To fulfill the mitzva le-khatḥila, the branch should be measured from where the lowest leaves start growing. When calculating whether threefold leaves cover the majority, most of the length of the branch must be threefold, and le-khatḥila most of the nodes must be threefold. If initially there were three leaves at each node, and one leaf per node fell off, some say it is kosher (Ra’ah; Rabbeinu Yeruḥam; Ritva), and others disqualify it (Ran; Beit Yosef). According to many Aḥaronim, one may be lenient under pressing circumstances (SHT 646:21).

09. The Arava

There are three criteria that an arava must meet: 1) The leaves are elongated, like a brook, but not symmetrical; 2) the edges of the leaves must be smooth; 3) the stem must be reddish – even if it is green when young, it must be of a species that reddens later. The poplar is similar to the arava, but it lacks those features. Its leaves are symmetrically elongated, its leaves are serrated, and its stem is green. True, there is a type of arava whose leaf edges are not smooth, but its serrations are gentler than those of the poplar (Sukka 33b; SA 647:1).

Since most aravot grow alongside streams, they are known as “willows of the brook.” Still, this is not a necessary condition for a kosher arava; rather, any type of willow, even one that grows in the mountains or deserts, is absolutely kosher, even for the most meticulous.

One must take two aravot together with the lulav. Each arava must be at least 3 tefaḥim long (c. 24 cm, or 19 cm under pressing circumstances; see notes 4 and 6). There is no limit as to their length; they are kosher even if very long. However, when bundling the aravot with the lulav, one should make certain that the lulav extends at least a tefaḥ above the aravot (SA 650:1-2; below, 5:2).

The primary characteristic of the willow tree is that it is full of vitality and growth potential, so naturally it grows near water. When an arava is deprived of water, it quickly dries out. If most of its leaves dry out, to the point where it pales and loses its greenness, it is invalid. If the leaves are withered but not completely dried out, it is kosher be-di’avad (SA 647:2). Since aravot dry out quickly, those who are meticulous replace their aravot several times during the course of the festival. Sometimes, if the aravot are kept in a sealed plastic case and removed only to be used for the mitzva, their beauty is preserved for the entire festival.

If most of the leaves fall off an arava, it is invalid. One must watch out for this, because sometimes leaves get pulled off when inserting the aravot into the lulav bundle (SA 647:10).

If the top of an arava was truncated, the arava is invalid because it lacks hadar. However, if the top leaf falls off but the stem remains whole, it is kosher (MB 647:10).

10. A Grafted Etrog and the Status of the Pitam

The “fruit of the hadar tree” that we are commanded to take on Sukkot is the etrog. The identity of the etrog is a tradition passed down from generation to generation. Just as with all fruits, there are different varieties of etrog: some large, some small, some yellow, some greenish – and all kosher.

A few hundred years ago, a serious problem arose. Since the etrog tree is delicate, sensitive, and susceptible to disease, its cultivators (most of whom were non-Jews) often grafted an etrog branch onto a lemon or bitter orange tree. Although some poskim were lenient about these etrogim, the accepted ruling is that an etrog that grows from a grafted tree is invalid. For the Torah commands that an etrog be taken, whereas a grafted etrog is considered a new being or a combination of two fruits, an etrog and whichever tree the etrog branch was grafted to (Rema; MA; Shvut Yaakov). Others invalidate it because it is the product of a prohibited action – it is forbidden to graft the branch of one tree onto the trunk of another (Levush). Nowadays, etrog growers are careful to avoid hybrids, so one can rely on sellers when they state that their etrogim are not grafted.

All etrogim start out with a pitam (blossom-end), but it usually dries out and falls off while the etrog is very small. These etrogim without a pitam are kosher le-khatḥila and are not deficient in any way, as this is how they grow. There are some varieties of etrogim that are more likely to retain their pitam. Sometimes the pitam is very robust and fleshy, and other times it is dry and woody. There is a spray that stops the pitam from drying out and falling off, and cultivators who want to grow etrogim with fleshy pitams use it.

A fleshy pitam is the same color as the etrog, and its flesh resembles the flesh of the etrog. At its tip is a shoshanta (stigma), a dry, woody flower knob. The fleshy pitam has the same status as the tip of the etrog in every respect. Any deficiency or stain that invalidates the etrog when found on its sloping top (“nose”) also invalidates it when found on the fleshy part of the pitam. With regard to the shoshanta, if it is entirely missing, the etrog is invalid, but if enough remains of it to cover the flesh of the pitam, the etrog is kosher. (See Harḥavot 4:10:7-9.)

The status of a woody pitam is more lenient. If the pitam is completely missing, so that nothing at all protrudes, the etrog is invalid. If even a tiny bit of it remains protruding from the etrog, the etrog is kosher (SA 648:7; MB ad loc. 30).

If the entire oketz – the end of the branch that joins the etrog to the tree – is missing and the flesh of the etrog is visible, the etrog may not be used for the first Yom Tov because it is deficient. If enough of the oketz remains to cover the flesh of the etrog, the etrog is kosher and may be used even on the first Yom Tov (SA 648:8; MB ad loc. 33).

11. Deficiency and Stains

An etrog that was pierced and is missing a piece (ḥaser, deficient) is invalid for use on the first Yom Tov, as the etrog used then must be whole, as it is written: “On the first day you shall take (u-lekaḥtem)” (Vayikra 23:40). Our Sages expound: “lekaḥtem” means “lekiḥa tama” – something whole must be taken. However, during the rest of the festival, even if part of the etrog is missing, it is kosher. Even on the first Yom Tov, if the etrog was damaged by a thorn, and it is uncertain whether the etrog is missing a part, the etrog is kosher. Additionally, even if it is clear that the etrog was missing a piece, but it continued to grow and the site of the damage scabbed over, the etrog is kosher for the first Yom Tov (SA 648:2; Harḥavot 4:11:1-4).

If a ḥazazit – a sort of festering lesion – is found on the etrog and cannot be peeled off without removing some of the etrog’s flesh, then if the ḥazazit covers most of the etrog, it is invalid. Similarly, if a ḥazazit was found in two or three places that are spread out over most of the etrog, even if the ḥazazit, in the aggregate, does not cover most of the etrog, the etrog is invalid since it looks spotted. If the ḥazazit appears on the nose – the sloping upper part – of the etrog, even if it is small, if it stands out to a cursory glance, the etrog is invalid. A black, white, or strange-colored stain has the same status as a ḥazazit (SA 648:9-13, 16). These lesions and stains are very rare, as only anomalies invalidate the four species.[7]

Common yellow, gray, and brown stains (bletlekh) do not invalidate the etrog, as they are normal for etrogim. These stains are generally caused by the etrog’s contact with leaves and branches, which lightly scratch it. The scratch causes the discharge of a liquid that forms a crust on the outside of the etrog. If these stains protrude and cannot be removed without taking off some of the flesh of the etrog, some people avoid using this etrog except in pressing circumstances (MB 648:50, 53). However, in practice, even if the stains protrude and cannot be scraped off, they do not invalidate the etrog, since they are commonly found on etrogim. Nevertheless, the more stains an etrog has, the less beautiful and mehudar it is.

It should be noted that after an etrog is picked, if it absorbs a light blow, there is concern that it will be damaged and discharge some clear liquid that will form a brown stain on the site. Though this stain does not invalidate the etrog, it does impair its beauty. For this reason, people generally wrap their etrog in flax or styrofoam mesh. If an etrog absorbs a blow, the discharged liquid should be rinsed off so that no stain forms.


[7]. A ḥazazit invalidates the etrog because it is lacking hadar (Bi’ur Ha-Gra 649:5), so according to most Rishonim as well as SA 649:5, it invalidates only for the first Yom Tov, and according to Rosh and Rema, it invalidates for the entire festival (section 4 above). Rema further writes that cutting off the ḥazazit after the first Yom Tov does not validate it for use then, because even though a deficient etrog is kosher after the first Yom Tov, in this case, since the new defect is created by the removal of the original defect, it remains invalid. However, in practice one may be lenient in this case, since SA and most poskim say the etrog is kosher after the first Yom Tov even if the ḥazazit is not removed (so states MB ad loc. 38). Additionally, according to Taz (649:9) and Pri Megadim, it is unclear whether a ḥazazit invalidates due to lack of hadar or because it is considered deficient. If the reason is that it is deficient, all agree that it invalidates only on the first Yom Tov. Therefore, when circumstances are pressing, one may be lenient for the rest of the festival and use an etrog with a ḥazazit, even without cutting it off (MB 649:49 and SHT ad loc. 53).

12. More Laws Concerning the Etrog

A black etrog is invalid, because this is not the normal color of an etrog (SA 648:17). An etrog that is dark green is invalid because it is immature. But if it is clear that it will turn yellow under the right circumstances (e.g., if left to ripen with apples), even when it is still dark green, it is kosher (SA 648:21). An etrog that has turned orange is kosher (Mor U-ketzi’a 648).

For an etrog to be kosher, it must be fit to eat. Therefore, an etrog is invalid if it is orla or if it has not had teruma and ma’aser taken from it (MT, Laws of Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 8:2).

An etrog is invalid if it is smaller than a keveitza (c. 50 cc), because it is immature. However, if it is a keveitza, then even though it is still unripe, it is kosher. There is no upward limit on size. Even if carrying an etrog requires both hands, it is kosher (SA 648:22). Some are stringent and require the etrog to be at least the volume of two eggs(100 cc). Although we do not follow this opinion, but rather rule that an etrog of 50 cc is kosher (Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10 n. 11), le-khatḥila it is preferable to beautify the mitzva, and part of this is for the etrog to be normal-sized and not small.

A dried-up etrog – one that does not discharge any liquid, so that if one pierces it all the way through with a threaded needle, the thread will remain dry (SA 648:1) – is invalid because it lacks hadar (Sukka 31a and 34b). Any etrog left over from the previous year is assumed to be dried out (Rema ad loc.). However, if it was kept carefully in a refrigerator or a sealed bag, even after a year, it may retain some moisture and thus be kosher (Bikurei Yaakov ad loc. 4; SHT ad loc. 8).

An etrog is invalid if its shape is totally different from that of a regular etrog – for example, if it is round like a ball or was grown in a square container. However, an etrog that has two tops but is fused at the bottom, like conjoined twins, is kosher, as it is not totally different from the standard shape (SA 648:18-20).

13. Borrowed and Stolen

On the first Yom Tov of Sukkot, one must use a lulav that belongs to him, as it is written, “On the first day you shall take (u-lekaḥtem lakhem)” (Vayikra 23:40), which literally reads as “you shall take unto yourselves,” and which the Sages interpreted to mean “of your own (mi-shelakhem),” i.e., the lulav must belong to the person performing the mitzva. Therefore, one cannot fulfill his obligation with a borrowed lulav on the first Yom Tov. During the rest of the festival, there is no requirement that the lulav belong to the person performing the mitzva, and one may fulfill the mitzva with a borrowed lulav.

If, however, a lulav’s owner gives his lulav to someone as a gift, the recipient can fulfill the mitzva with it even on the first Yom Tov. In order to avoid the possible complication of the recipient refusing to return the lulav, the owner should give the lulav to the recipient on condition that the recipient returns the lulav to him (matana al menat le-haḥzir); if the recipient does not return it within a reasonable amount of time, the condition has not been fulfilled, and the gift is annulled (Sukka 41b; SA 658:3-4).

According to halakha, a minor (a child under the age of bar or bat mitzva) can accept a gift but cannot give one. Therefore, if an adult gives a minor a lulav as a gift, the minor is unable to return it. Thus, on the first Yom Tov, one must make sure to give a minor the lulav only after all the adults have already fulfilled the mitzva (SA 658:6; see below, 5:6 n. 5).

If one of the four species is stolen, no matter how beautiful, it is invalid for performing the mitzva throughout Sukkot, as it is a “a mitzva that comes through sin” (mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira). However, if the owner of the stolen lulav has despaired of getting it back, and the thief gave or sold it to a third party, one may use it to perform the mitzva, since it is no longer in the thief’s possession. Nevertheless, it is forbidden to recite a berakha on this lulav, even if it was passed on to someone else, who passes it along to someone else, and so on; as long as the lulav is known to be stolen, one may not recite a berakha on it, and one who does is considered to be cursing instead of blessing (BK 94a; SA 649:1; MB ad loc. 6).[8]

If someone who does not have a lulav arrives at the synagogue and sees a lulav there, he should ask the lulav’s owner for permission to use his lulav to perform the mitzva. If the owner is nowhere to be found and there is no way to ask his permission, the person may use the lulav without permission. It has the status of a borrowed lulav and thus cannot be used to fulfill the mitzva on the first Yom Tov, but it can be used during the rest of the festival. Normally, someone who takes an item without permission is considered a thief. However, in this case, as the person is taking something to use for a mitzva, the Sages presume that people want their belongings to be used for mitzvot. This is on condition that the borrower does not take the lulav from its place and is very careful with it (Rema 649:5). If the lulav owner is known to be especially particular about his belongings, then it is forbidden to use his lulav without his permission, even to perform the mitzva (MB ad loc. 34).


[8]. The Gemara (Sukka 29b) records a dispute regarding a mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira. According to the vast majority of Rishonim, a mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira is not considered a mitzva. This is the view of Behag, Rif, Raavad, Ramban, Ra’ah, Rosh, Ritva, Ran, and others. However, according to Ha-ma’or, the sin does not negate the mitzva, and it seems that Rambam agrees. The ruling in practice is that any mitzva ha-ba’a ba-aveira is disqualified (Rema 649:1; Levush; Birkei Yosef; and others). If the lulav left the thief’s possession – for instance, if the original owner despaired of recovering it and the thief passed it on to someone else – since the lulav no longer belongs to the original owner (as the thief is required to return the monetary value of the lulav, not the lulav itself), one may fulfill the mitzva, but one may not recite the berakha over it.

14. Hidur Mitzva – Beautifying the Mitzvot

There is a mitzva to beautify mitzvot, as it is written, “This is my God, and I will glorify Him (ve-anvehu)” (Shemot 15:2), which the Sages expound to mean: “Beautify (hitna’eh) yourself before Him through mitzvot: Make a beautiful (na’ah) sukka, a beautiful (na’eh) lulav, a beautiful shofar, and quality tzitzit. Have a beautiful Torah scroll, written for the sake of heaven by a skilled scribe using quality ink and a quality quill, and wrap it in a beautiful silk covering” (Shabbat 133b). Along these lines, we find that God accepted the offering of Hevel, who brought his best and fattest sheep, while He did not accept Kayin’s stingy offering of simple fruits and vegetables (Bereshit 4:3-5; MT, Laws of Altar Prohibitions 7:10-11).

Our Sages tell us that in order to beautify a mitzva, one should be prepared to spend up to a third over and above the basic price of the item (Bava Kamma 9a). For example, if one went to the market and found kosher lulavim at different prices, it is a mitzva for him to add a third to the price of the simplest lulav in order to buy a nicer one. If he wishes to further beautify the mitzva by spending even more for an even better lulav, God will reward him. This is on condition that the additional spending will not be at the expense of his fulfilling other, more important mitzvot or of his ability to pay his bills or provide for his household.

So, if one has three possible lulav sets to buy – a kosher set that costs $30, a nicer set for $40, and an even nicer set for $50, the mitzva to beautify requires him to add a third (i.e., add $10 beyond the $30 price of the basic set) and buy the $40 set. If he wants to beautify the mitzva even more, he may buy the $50 set, and God will reward him.

This all applies to the average person. But for someone whose financial situation is precarious, there is no mitzva to add a third (Yam Shel Shlomo; MA; MB 656:6). Conversely, if one is fortunate enough to be wealthy, it is appropriate for him to pay more than an additional third to beautify the mitzvot. This is especially true of someone who generally buys expensive clothing and furniture and is prepared to pay several times the basic price of those items. He should be prepared to spend similarly on mitzvot.[9]


[9]. The Gemara (Bava Kamma 9a) discusses whether the extra third is calculated by the final price (milevar, “from the outside”) or the basic price (milegav, “from the inside”). Calculating milegav means that one must add 1/3 of that basic price, so, for instance, if the basic set costs $30, one must add a third of that, or $10, and buy a $40 set. Calculating milevar means that the additional spending must come to 1/3 of the final price, so, for instance, if the basic set costs $30, one must add $15, which is 1/3 of the final price of $45. Most Rishonim rule that we calculate milevar (Rabbeinu Ḥananel, Ran, Raavan, and others), but Rosh rules leniently, that we calculate milegav. Beit Yosef (656:1) rules accordingly since we are lenient in cases of uncertainty about rabbinic law. This is also the position of most Aḥaronim, and I follow this method of calculating in the text above.

If one bought a basic set and later has an opportunity to buy a better one, the mitzva of hidur requires him to buy it and pay more, but only if he can find someone to buy the basic set from him. Otherwise, he would ultimately be adding more than an extra third (Vilna Gaon based on Yerushalmi; MB 656:5; SHT ad loc. 2).

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