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Peninei Halakha > Sukkot > 05 – Taking the Lulav

05 – Taking the Lulav

01. The Time of the Mitzva

The lulav is taken by day, not by night. It is customary to take the lulav at Shaḥarit. However, if one did not take it then, he should take it later. If the sun has already set, he should take it without reciting a berakha. Once the stars are out, he has lost the mitzva for the day (SA 652:1; MB ad loc. 2).

It is a mitzva to take the lulav while reciting Hallel and to shake it while reciting the verses, “Hodu la-Shem ki tov ki le-olam ḥasdo” (“Thank the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”) and “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na” (“Lord, please, save us”). The Sages instituted a berakha to be recited before taking the lulav. While it is generally recited before Hallel, some recite it earlier, before prayers, in the sukka (section 3 below).

Le-khatḥila one should not take the lulav before sunrise. However, if one needs to set out early and will not be able to take the lulav after sunrise, he may take it and recite a berakha once dawn has broken (SA 652:1; Peninei Halakha: Prayer 11:2 note 1).

As we have seen (4:1), the Torah commands us to take the lulav on only the first day of the festival. Only in the Temple was there a mitzva to take it all seven days. During Temple times, everywhere in the world except for the Temple, the lulav was taken only on the first Yom Tov; during the rest of the festival, only pilgrims to the Temple took it. If the first day of the festival was on Shabbat, those living in Eretz Yisrael still took the lulav, but to ensure that people would not carry the lulav in the public domain (thus desecrating Shabbat), the Sages instituted that it be taken at home (Sukka 42b). Those who lived outside of Eretz Yisrael did not take the lulav if the first day was on Shabbat, because they did not know with certainty when the month had been sanctified by the beit din. Due to the resulting uncertainty about when the festival begins, they observed two consecutive days of Yom Tov. The extra day is called Yom Tov Sheni shel Galuyot. Since the people did not know for certain that the first day was indeed on Shabbat, the Sages ordained that outside of Eretz Yisrael, the lulav should not be taken at all on Shabbat, not even in the home, lest people mistakenly violate Shabbat by carrying the lulav in a public domain (Sukka 43a). However, because Diaspora Jews observed a second day of Yom Tov, even if one day coincided with Shabbat, they would take the lulav on the other day, and in years when neither day of Yom Tov coincided with Shabbat, Diaspora Jews would take the lulav on both days.

After the destruction of the Temple, the Sages ordained that throughout the world, the lulav should be taken on all seven days of the festival (except on Shabbat), to commemorate the Temple. They also instituted that even in Eretz Yisrael, when the first day is on Shabbat, the lulav is not taken, so that all Israel is uniform in its practice (Sukka 44a). Later, when the calendar was fixed and there was no longer uncertainty about when the first day was, the prohibition of taking the lulav on the first day of the festival when it fell on Shabbat remained in force (MT, Laws of Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 7:16-18).

Perhaps we can suggest the reasoning behind this ruling. After the destruction, the spiritual impact of the mitzva of lulav was diminished, so it was necessary to reinforce it by having everyone, everywhere take the lulav all seven days. On the other hand, the Sages were very concerned about impinging on the sanctity of Shabbat, for after the destruction, Shabbat remained as the foundation of the vitality and blessing of continued Jewish existence; on Shabbat, we can say, the sanctity of the day accomplished what taking the lulav accomplished on the other days. So to ensure that no one desecrate Shabbat (God forbid), the Sages decreed that on Shabbat, even when it coincides with Yom Tov, the lulav is not taken. In practice, this means that when the first day of Sukkot is on Shabbat, we do not fulfill the Torah commandment of taking the lulav, as taking the lulav during the rest of the festival is rabbinic.

02. Bundling the Four Species

The four species are all requisite; if one of them is missing, the mitzva is not fulfilled with the other three (Menaḥot 27a). The mitzva is to take the four species together. Be-di’avad, the mitzva is fulfilled, and the berakha may be recited, by taking them serially (SA 651:12).

Not only is there a mitzva to take all four species together, there is also a mitzva to bundle the lulav with the hadasim and aravot, as doing so beautifies the mitzva, and beautifying a mitzva is itself a mitzva, as the Torah says, “This is my God and I will glorify Him” (Shemot 15:2). But the etrog is not bundled with the other three. The Sages derive this from a subtlety in the verse (Vayikra 23:40) that describes the four species. The lulav, hadasim, and aravot are joined by a conjunction, the letter “vav,” while the etrog stands alone (“pri etz hadar, kapot temarim va-anaf etz avot ve-arvei naḥal”). Thus, the etrog is not bundled with the rest.

Some say it is necessary to use a permanent knot – the kind forbidden to tie on Shabbat, like a double knot. Consequently, even those who use koishelakh (“little baskets” woven from lulav leaves) to hold the three species together should also bind them with a double knot (SA 651:1). Others say this is not necessary; rather, the main thing is for the three species to be bundled together (Ritva; see MB 651:8).

Despite the fact that many people bundle the three species using lulav leaves, one may use any type of thread or strap (SA 651:1).

When bundling the lulav with the hadasim and aravot, one must make sure that the spine of the lulav extends at least a tefaḥ beyond them (SA 650:2). If the hadasim and aravot are long and the lulav is so short that its spine does not extend a tefaḥ beyond them, one must either shorten the hadasim and aravot to the minimum requisite length of 3 tefaḥim, so that the spine of the lulav extends a tefaḥ beyond them, or one should bundle them lower than the lulav, so that the spine of the lulav extends a tefaḥ beyond their tips.

One should not take more than one lulav and one etrog at once. The minimum is three hadasim and two aravot, and if one wishes to add hadasim and aravot he may, although many are meticulous not to add to the required three hadasim and two aravot (SA 651:15).

One may not add a fifth species to the four mandated by the Torah. One who does so violates the prohibition of “bal tosif” (adding mitzvot to the Torah) (SA 651:14).[1]

Some place the hadasim on the right of the spine of lulav and the aravot on the left (Shlah; MB 651:12). Others place one hadas on the right, one on the left, and one in the middle, and one arava on the right and one on the left (MA ad loc. 4 in the name of Arizal). Both ways fulfill the mitzva even for the most meticulous.

Some are meticulous to have the hadasim extend a little higher than the aravot, because hadasim symbolize the righteous, while aravot allude to the unlearned (Rema 651:1).

In addition to the mitzva of bundling the three species together, some are meticulous to bind the lulav itself with three additional knots, though Ashkenazim take care to leave the top of the lulav unbound, so that it rustles when shaken (Rema 651:1; MB ad loc. 14). Some have the custom of binding the lulav with 18 knots. (See Kaf Ha-ḥayim ad loc. 16.)

[1]. Some say that just as it is prohibited to add a fifth species, so it is prohibited to add a wild hadas (Behag; see 4:8 above). Others maintain that a wild hadas is not considered an additional species, so one who wishes to add it may do so (R. Natronai Gaon and R. Paltoi Gaon). This is the Yemenite custom.

03. The Procedure for Taking the Lulav and Reciting the Berakha

The bundled lulav, hadasim, and aravot are picked up with the right hand, and the etrog with the left, because the three species together are more significant than the etrog and should therefore be picked up with the more prestigious and stronger right hand. If one mistakenly did the reverse, he has still fulfilled the obligation. Some maintain that even lefties should take the lulav in the right hand, because even for lefties, the right hand, which alludes to the divine attribute of kindness, has significance (SA 651:3). This is the kabbalistic practice. Others maintain that since the left hand is dominant and more important for him, a lefty should take the three bundled species in his left hand and the etrog in his right (Rema).

One must hold the four species in the direction they grow: their stems pointing downward and their tips pointing upward. Accordingly, the oketz of the etrog should be at the bottom and the nose on top, for this is how it begins to grow from the tree. If one of the species is reversed, he has not fulfilled the mitzva (Sukka 37b, 45b; SA 651:2).

When one picks up the lulav, its spine should face him. The etrog should be held next to the lulav bundle (SA 651:11). Holding the four species thus, one shakes them in each of the four directions, as well as up and down, as is explained in the next section.

Our Sages ordained reciting a berakha before fulfilling the mitzva: “Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, Who has made us holy through His commandments, and has commanded us about taking the lulav” (“al netilat lulav”). So that the berakha is recited just before fulfilling the mitzva, one picks up the four species before reciting the berakha but holds the etrog upside down (oketz up, nose down, a manner that does not fulfill the mitzva). Then one recites the berakha and immediately flips the etrog and shakes the four species. Some hold only the bundled species when reciting the berakha; then, immediately upon concluding the berakha, they pick up the etrog and shake it with the other species (SA 651:5). On the first day, She-heḥeyanu is recited before performing the mitzva (ibid. 6).

It is customary to stand while reciting the berakha and taking the lulav. The berakha covers all the lulavim one might take and shake for the rest of the day (Rema 651:5).

The custom is to take the lulav and recite the berakha right before beginning Hallel (SA 644:1). Some show alacrity by taking the lulav and reciting the berakha in the sukka before going to the synagogue, in order to combine the mitzva of lulav with the mitzva of sukka (Arizal; Shlah). People who pray vatikin (reaching the Amida at sunrise) may not do so, as the time for taking the lulav begins at sunrise.

There must be no barrier between one’s hands and the four species; one who places them in a case or container and then picks up the container does not fulfill the obligation. However, the material used to bundle the three species together is not considered a barrier, as it is meant as an auxiliary to the species. Some people take care to remove rings, but technically rings are not considered barriers, as they cover only a very small part of the hand (SA 651:7).

If one’s hand is bandaged, but his fingers extend beyond the bandages so that he can still hold the species with them, he may, be-di’avad, fulfill the mitzva in this way (Ikarei Hadat 33:25; see Harḥavot). If he cannot hold the four species directly with his fingers, he should fulfill the mitzva using his unbandaged hand only. He should recite the berakha, pick up the bundled species, put them down, and then pick up the etrog. As we have learned, be-di’avad the species may be taken serially.

04. Shaking the Lulav

By merely taking the four species and lifting them, one fulfills the mitzva, as it is written: “You shall take the fruit of a hadar tree…” (Vayikra 23:40). The Sages ordained shaking the lulav in the way that the Torah commands the waving of certain offerings (Sukka 42a; Menaḥot 61a).

The Gemara describes how the offerings were waved: “One moves forth and back, up and down.” That is, one moves the lulav away from himself and then brings it back, lifts it up and brings it back down. This is also an expression of faith: “forth and back – for the sake of the One to Whom the four corners of the earth belong; up and down – for the sake of the One to Whom heaven and earth belong (Sukka 37b). This is why the custom is to wave the lulav toward all four directions plus up and down. Our Sages further expound: “forth and back – to halt harmful winds; up and down – to halt harmful dew” (ibid.).

Additionally, following Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur, the days of judgment when we stood before God in prayer, we begin the new year joyously. We wave the four species as a symbol of our victory in successfully repenting and renewing our close relationship to God (Vayikra Rabba 30:2; above, 1:3).

The procedure for shaking the four species is as follows: The bundled species in the right hand and the etrog in the left are brought together and held close to the body. Some are careful to pull them all the way to the chest. From there, the lulav and etrog are moved in a given direction, with the top of the lulav pointing upward but angled toward that direction. Then the four species are brought back to the body. This is repeated three times for each of the six directions (east, west, north, south, up, down). When shaking the lulav in the downward direction, one does not turn it upside down; rather, the top continues to point upward, and the person moves the lulav downward from the chest.

Some begin by shaking eastward and then continue moving rightward – south, west, north – and then upward and downward (SA 651:10). Some follow this order but begin with the direction that worshippers are facing.

According to the custom of Arizal, the first shake is to the south, followed by north, east, up, down, and west.

Some turn their whole bodies in the direction in which they are shaking the lulav; when they shake it upward and downward, they face east. Others face east the whole time but angle the lulav according to the procedure for shaking. All of these customs are acceptable, and each person should continue his family’s custom. If the custom is unclear, he may do as he wishes.[2]

Ashkenazic custom is to shake the lulav such that its upper leaves rustle (MB 651:47). Sephardim do not follow this practice.

[2]. The Gemara (Sukka 37b), as we saw, says: “One moves it forth and back, up and down. Forth and back – for the sake of the One to Whom the four corners of the earth belong; up and down – for the sake of the One to Whom heaven and earth belong.” Many interpret this to mean that one must shake the lulav in all four directions plus up and down (Shibolei Ha-leket; Rosh 3:26). This is the widespread custom (SA 651:9). Others read it more simply – one moves it away from himself, then back toward himself, and then up and down, with no requirement to turn to the four directions (MT Laws of Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 7:10; Ritva). This is the custom of some Yemenites (Maharitz). Regarding the number of shakes, we learn: “One must shake three times in each case” (y. Sukka 3:8). Some interpret this to mean that when the lulav is away from the body, one jiggles it three times, and after bringing it back to the body, one jiggles it another three times (SA 651:9). Others take it to mean that it is moved away from the body and back toward the body three times in each direction (Rema). Arizal supported the latter custom, which is the widespread practice. Some take care to fulfill both views. They move the lulav forth and back three times in each direction, and during one of those times, they jiggle it three times while it is away from the body and three more times when it is close (Baḥ; Maharshal; Taz; Bikurei Yaakov 651:33). Some stay facing forward and simply shake the lulav in each direction without turning (Maharil; Eliya Rabba 651:24; MB ad loc. 37). Others turn their bodies in each direction (Ma’amar Mordekhai ad loc. 13; Kaf Ha-ḥayim ad loc. 96). Arizal’s custom of beginning each shake at the chest fits better with the latter custom. (See SHT ad loc. 49.)

05. When to Shake the Lulav

In addition to the shaking after the recitation of the berakha on the lulav, the Sages ordained holding the lulav during the recitation of Hallel and shaking it when reciting the verses of “Hodu la-Shem ki tov ki le-olam ḥasdo” (“Thank the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”) and “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na” (“Lord, please, save us”) (Sukka 37b). They linked their enactment to a verse: “Then shall all the trees of the forest shout for joy…. Thank the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever. Declare: Save us (hoshi’enu), O God, our deliverer, and gather us and save us from the nations, to acclaim Your holy name, to glory in Your praise” (1 Divrei Hayamim 16:33-35). How can trees “shout for joy”? When they sway and rustle. And when is that? When they recite “hodu” and “hoshi’enu.” The end of this verse may allude to an additional function of shaking the lulav – it may serve as a prayer for the ingathering of the exiles from the four corners of the earth.

Since Sukkot is when we are judged concerning rain, shaking the four species – which grew from the rains of the previous year – expresses thanks for the blessings of the previous year and a prayer for the upcoming one: that from the heaven, the earth, and the four winds will come beneficial rain and dew, not harmful precipitation and destructive winds.

As we have learned, we shake the lulav when we recite the verses “Hodu la-Shem ki tov ki le-olam ḥasdo” and “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na” in Hallel. The shaking is parsed according to the words, and when saying God’s name, one stops and concentrates on the holiness of His name. Thus, when reciting “Hodu,” which contains six words apart from the name of God, one shakes in one direction with each word. When reciting “Ana,” which has only three words apart from the name of God, one shakes in two directions with each word (MB 651:37).

According to the kabbalists, we shake the lulav five times: 1) After reciting the berakha on the lulav; 2) at the first instance of “Hodu”; 3-4) at the two instances of “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na”; 5) during the recitation of “Hodu” at the end of Hallel. There is no difference between the ḥazan and the congregation in this respect. Sephardim and some Ḥasidim follow this practice. Yemenites shake the lulav only four times, as they recite “Ana Hashem hoshi’a na” only once.

According to Ashkenazic custom, the congregation shakes the lulav nine times, and the ḥazan seven, because according to this practice, the custom is to shake the lulav every time the verse of “Hodu” is recited. When the ḥazan recites “Hodu” and the next three verses (“Yomar Na,” “Yomru Na Beit Aharon,” and “Yomru Na Yir’ei Hashem”), the congregation responds with “Hodu.” The ḥazan shakes the lulav only to accompany the first two verses, “Hodu” and “Yomar Na”: the first because he is praising God, and the second because he is calling on all of Israel to praise God, and he is part of their subsequent praise. In contrast, the last two verses are not all-inclusive but are limited to the house of Aharon and God-fearers; he is not included among them, so he does not shake the lulav then (SA and Rema 651:8). The ninth shake (the ḥazan’s seventh) is at the end of Hallel, when Ashkenazim recite the verse of “Hodu” twice and shake the lulav each time, whereas, as we said in the previous paragraph, the kabbalistic practice is to shake only once then.[3]

[3]. In some Ashkenazic synagogues, the ḥazan also shakes the lulav during the congregation’s recitation of “Yomru Na Beit Aharon” and “Yomru Na Yir’ei Hashem” (as described in Tosafot, Sukka 37b, s.v. “be-hodu”). Bikurei Yaakov 651:32 states that this custom should not be annulled. In Sephardic practice, the congregation repeats each of the four verses (rather than responding to each verse with “Hodu”). So in that part of Hallel, “Hodu” is recited only once. See Peninei Halakha: Zemanim ch. 1, n.17 for the sources of the Ashkenazic and Sephardic customs concerning this responsive reading.

06. Women and Children

Women are exempt from the mitzva to take the lulav since it is time-bound, and as a rule, women are exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot (Kiddushin 29a). Nevertheless, a woman who wishes to fulfill a time-bound positive mitzva is rewarded for doing so.

According to most Sephardim, women do not recite a berakha over the performance of a time-bound positive mitzva, for how can one who is not commanded recite a berakha that contains the word “ve-tzivanu” (“and commanded us”)? According to Ashkenazic custom, since women are fulfilling a mitzva, they recite the berakha; the language of the berakha is not a problem, as they do not recite “and commanded me” but “and commanded us” – “us” connotes the Jewish people as a whole. Even though Sephardic women generally do not recite berakhot over time-bound positive mitzvot, many recite the berakha over the lulav, and some have offered kabbalistic reasons for this.[4]

Once a young boy knows how to properly shake the lulav, forth and back, up and down, his father must train him to do so. When the son has reached an age when he can go to the synagogue and pray, his father should buy him his own set of four species, so he can shake the lulav at the times ordained by the Sages. If a father does not have the means to buy his son his own set, he should allow his son to use his, so that the son can fulfill the mitzva (Sukka 42a; SA 657:1; MB ad loc. 4).[5]

Young girls should be encouraged to shake the lulav each day of Sukkot. Even though women and girls are exempt, they fulfill a mitzva by doing so, and it teaches them to love mitzvot.

[4]. See Peninei Halakha: Women’s Prayer 2:8 n. 9. Ḥida writes that women should recite the berakha, as do Zekhor Le-Avraham; Rav Pe’alim 1, Sod Yesharim §12; and Kaf Ha-ḥayim 589:23. Additionally, this was the practice of R. Ovadia Hedaya’s family. R. Shalom Messas writes in Shemesh U-magen 2:72:3 that women may recite the berakha. In contrast, according to Shulḥan Arukh, they may not recite the berakha, and R. Ovadia Yosef reinforces this in Yabi’a Omer 1:39-42 and 5:43.

[5]. As we learned above in 4:13, on the first Yom Tov one cannot fulfill the obligation with a borrowed lulav. Thus, one must be careful not to give the lulav to a minor then. Since he is unable to give it back, no one else would be able to fulfill the mitzva with it. However, after all the adults have fulfilled the mitzva, one may give the lulav to a minor (SA 658:6). Some say that even then, it is preferable not to give the lulav to a minor, because an adult might come along who needs to fulfill the mitzva (Eliya Rabba ad loc. 10). According to this, presumably the minor would use a borrowed lulav. However, some say that a minor does not fulfill the mitzva for training purposes on the first Yom Tov unless the lulav belongs to him, just as adults cannot fulfill the mitzva with a borrowed lulav (MA; Eliya Rabba; Pri Megadim; Ḥayei Adam). Others say that since this is for training, he may use a borrowed lulav and may even recite the berakha beforehand (Bigdei Yesha; Mordekhai, Raavan, and SA according to MB 658:28 and SHT ad loc. 36). This opinion may be relied upon.

07. Caring for the Four Species

One must try to keep the hadasim and aravot fresh, and to that end the longstanding practice is to keep them in water. The Mishna states that it is permissible on Yom Tov to return the three bundled species to a container of water where they had already been kept, and even to add water to the container (Sukka 42a). However, the Sages forbade filling a container with water or changing the water in the original container on Yom Tov, as it is bothersome and resembles the action one would take to fix a kli, as it allows the species to last (SA 654:1).

On Ḥol Ha-mo’ed, some people would change the water in which they hydrated the lulav, hadasim, and aravot to keep them fresh. Others would unbundle the species and place the hadasim in a vase with water and wrap the aravot in a damp towel or place them in water. Another way to keep the species fresh is to place them in a sealed carrying case, but this works only if they have not been out for very long; if they were out for a long time and have already started drying out, it is better to first place them in water to revive them.

Some beautify the mitzva by changing the aravot every day, as the main way to beautify the aravot is to keep them fresh (Rema 654:1). Many are content to make efforts to keep them from drying out.

As we learned above (section 2), there is a mitzva to bundle the lulav with the hadasim and aravot. Therefore, when one introduces new aravot or returns the hadasim from the vase, he should not just jam them into the existing bundle. Rather, he should re-tie the knot, gently reinsert them into the koishelakh, or at least add a new knot, to fulfill the mitzva of bundling (MB 654:5).

08. Muktzeh and the Four Species

Once the four species have been taken on the first day, they are considered to be set aside (muktzeh) for the mitzva and may not be used for any other purpose. Therefore, one may not eat the etrog or smell the hadasim during the festival. One may not even use the hadasim for havdala after Shabbat. Even if the etrog or hadasim become invalid during the course of Sukkot, they are still muktzeh until the end of the festival (SA 653:1 and 665:1).

It is, however, permissible to smell an etrog, because its primary purpose is for eating, so it is muktzeh only in this regard; it is not muktzeh with respect to its aroma (Sukka 37b). If one picks up an etrog with the idea of fulfilling the mitzva and also enjoying its smell, uncertainty arises regarding the proper berakha. Some say that since he is deriving pleasure from its fragrance, he should recite the berakha of “Who gives pleasant fragrance to fruits.” Others say that since the primary reason he is picking it up is to fulfill the mitzva, he should not recite this berakha. In order to remove this uncertainty, it is proper for one to have in mind when picking up the etrog that he is doing so in order to fulfill the mitzva and not to enjoy its scent (SA 216:14 and 653:1). However, if someone wishes to smell the etrog at a time when he is not fulfilling the mitzva, he recites the berakha of “Who gives pleasant fragrance to fruits.”[6]

When the festival ends, the species cease being muktzeh and may be used for any purpose. However, they may not be treated disrespectfully; for instance, they may not be stepped on or thrown into the garbage (SA 664:8).

If one had in mind before taking the four species that they would not become muktzeh, but rather could be used in whatever way he wanted, this condition is effective. They do not become muktzeh and can be used without restriction during the festival.[7]

[6]. The Gemara (Sukka 37b) states: “Rabba said: A hadas used to fulfill the mitzva may not be smelled, while an etrog used to fulfill the mitzva may be smelled. Why? A hadas is for smelling, so when it is set aside [for the mitzva], it is set aside from smelling. An etrog is for eating, so when it is set aside [for the mitzva], it is set aside from eating.” When one picks up the etrog in order to fulfill the mitzva, he may smell it incidentally. However, he does not recite the berakha, just as one does not recite a berakha if he happened to smell a fruit in the course of eating it. What if one picks up the etrog and has in mind to smell it? According to Raavya, Raavan, and Roke’aḥ, he is then obligated to recite the berakha, but according to Rabbeinu Simḥa, he does not recite it, since the etrog’s status as a mitzva object annuls its status as an aromatic object. Rabbeinu Peretz writes that in order to avoid this uncertainty, it is preferable to avoid smelling the etrog (cited in SA 216:14 and 653:1). What if one picks up the etrog at a different time in order to smell it? According to most Rishonim, Maharshal, MA, and Ḥavot Ya’ir, he recites the berakha, but according to Rabbeinu Simḥa, Taz, Eliya Rabba, Ḥayei Adam, and Seder Birkhot Ha-nehenin, he does not recite it. Mainstream halakha follows the view that the berakha is recited, as this is the plain meaning of Sukka 37b. So state MB 216:52, BHL s.v. “ha-meri’aḥ,” and Ḥazon Ovadia: Hilkhot Berakhot, p. 327. Additionally, if one is in the habit of smelling his etrog and reciting the berakha, it is as if he has made a condition that the etrog would not become muktzeh for smelling purposes, and thus even those who are stringent allow him to recite the berakha. (See BHL 664:9 s.v. “im.”)

[7]. Sukka 46b states that if one set aside seven etrogim, one per day for each of the seven days of the festival, then each etrog becomes muktzeh on its designated day; however, once that day is over, it is permissible to eat that day’s etrog. This is the ruling of SA 665:2. If one made a condition from the start that the four species would not become muktzeh, then they do not, and they may be used freely. Bi’ur Halakha explains that according to Tosafot, on the first Yom Tov, when the four species must be whole, this condition does not take effect. It is only for the rest of the festival that it is effective. However, according to Rashba, Ran, and Yere’im, the condition is effective even on the first Yom Tov, and this is the position cited in SA 664:9 (BHL 664:9 s.v. “im”).

09. Hakafot (Circling the Altar) in Temple Times

On each day of Sukkot, the kohanim in the Temple would circle the altar once; on the seventh day they circled it seven times. During these hakafot (circuits) they called out: “Lord, please, save us. Lord, please, grant us success” (“Ana Hashem hoshi’a na. Ana Hashem hatzliḥa na”). According to R. Yehuda, they called out: “Ani Va-hu, hoshi’a na” (Sukka 45a). Some maintain that they carried the lulav with them during the hakafot, while others maintain that they carried the aravot (Sukka 43b).[8]

The Sages tell us that the Temple hakafot were instituted in commemoration of God’s command to Israel to circle Yeriḥo (Jericho) at the time of Yehoshua bin Nun, enabling them to conquer it and the rest of the land (y. Sukka 4:3). The circuits at Yeriḥo were done as follows: The procession was led by soldiers and kohanim. A vanguard walked at the very front, followed by seven kohanim blowing the shofar. Then came the Ark, carried by other kohanim. The rest of the soldiers walked behind the Ark. They circled Jericho once a day for six days; on the seventh day, they made seven circuits. With the conclusion of the final circuit, the kohanim blew a teki’a gedola, the entire nation shouted, and miraculously the walls of Jericho sank into the ground, allowing Israel to conquer the city (Yehoshua ch. 6).

According to the kabbalists, Jericho, which is the lowest city in the world, was the center of Canaanite culture; Canaan’s spirit of impurity was concentrated there. The Canaanites subverted the sanctity of Eretz Yisrael to serve their mundane desires. The great walls that surrounded the city served as a barrier blocking the divine light and allowing the Canaanites to carry on with their corrupt ways without any disturbing thoughts of repentance or pangs of conscience that emanate from the divine illumination that envelops all of existence. This is why Jericho was the “lock” that prevented Israel from entering the land and revealing God’s word there. (See Bamidbar Rabba 15:15.) God commanded Israel to circle (lehakif) Jericho and thus disclose the divine light that envelops (makif) all existence. This caused the walls of Jericho to fall, allowing Israel to conquer it and begin revealing the sanctity of the mundane.

Just as the mitzva of settling Eretz Yisrael illuminates all of existence and discloses the sanctity of the mundane, so too the mitzva of dwelling in the sukka, which encompasses the entire human being, reveals the sanctity of the mundane by transforming the physical aspects of life, such as eating and sleeping, into mitzvot.

The Sages instituted hakafot around the altar on Sukkot in order to bring down the walls of impurity that block the divine light from shining upon us, and to strengthen the illumination of the enveloping light. Through this we can increase our faith and reveal the sanctity within the physical world.

[8]. There is a debate in Sukka 43b (and the Rishonim explaining it) as to what the kohanim held during the hakafot in the Temple. According to Rashi, they held aravot; Tosafot agrees and adds that when the hakafot were finished, the aravot were left standing by the side of the altar. In contrast, Rambam (MT Laws of Shofar, Sukka, and Lulav 7:22-23) and Ran maintain that the hakafot were done while holding the lulav. Rambam adds that the aravot were left standing alongside the altar rather than used during hakafot. Our custom follows that of Rambam: We do the hakafot while carrying the lulav. On Hoshana Rabba, after the completion of the hakafot, we put down the lulav and pick up aravot. (However, according to SA 664:3, on Hoshana Rabba the hakafot are done with aravot.)

10. The Contemporary Custom of Hakafot (Hoshanot)

Following the destruction of the Temple, Israel adopted the practice of performing hakafot in the synagogue to commemorate the Temple. Since this was never formally ordained, we find that different customs emerged in the Geonic era, though by the time of the Rishonim, custom crystallized into the relatively uniform custom that is practiced today.

The Torah scroll is placed on the bima, the entire congregation takes their four species in hand, and they circle the bima once each day, and seven times on the seventh day. We circle the Torah because after the destruction of the Temple, Torah study is in lieu of the altar, for one who studies the laws of the offerings is considered as having brought them on the altar. The prevailing custom is that one person stands at the bima and holds the Torah scroll during the hakafot (Ḥida; Pri Megadim), although some Sephardic communities do not insist on this (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 660:6).

Over time, special prayers were composed for recitation during these hakafot. The refrain of these prayers is the phrase “hosha na” (“please save”) and the similar phrase “hoshi’a na,” which is why these prayers are often called “hoshanot.” Depending on custom, these prayers are recited before, during, or after the hakafot.

Someone without a lulav does not circle the bima (Rema 660:2; Birkei Yosef; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 660:13), so it is customary to have such a person stand at the bima and hold the Torah scroll.

The circuits are counterclockwise; that is, if one is facing the bima, he turns to his right to begin his circuit (SA 660:1; MB ad loc. 3).

Some maintain that during hakafot the lulav is held in the same way as it is held to perform the mitzva – with the bundled species in the right hand and the etrog in the left, with the two hands close together (Roke’aḥ; Maharil; Ben Ish Ḥai). Others say that one who needs to hold his siddur in one hand may hold the bundled species and the etrog together in the other (Yafeh La-lev; Ginat Veradim). Both customs are fine.

It is customary to leave the ark open during the hakafot (Kitzur Shulḥan Arukh 137:11).

Some maintain that if there is no Torah scroll, there are no hakafot (Bikurei Yaakov 660:2), while others say hakafot are done even without a Torah scroll (Ben Ish Ḥai, Ha’azinu §15).

The custom of Sephardim and ḥasidim is to perform hakafot after the recitation of Hallel and before the recitation of Kaddish Titkabel (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 660:4). Some Ashkenazim perform hakafot after Musaf (Olat Re’iya, vol. 2, p. 370).

On Shabbat, hakafot are not performed. Some recite the accompanying hoshanot prayers anyway, while others do not (SA 660:3; Kaf Ha-ḥayim ad loc. 23).

Some say that a mourner within the year of the death of a parent does not perform hakafot, since they were instituted to bring joy (Rema 660:2; MB ad loc. 9). Many maintain that a mourner does participate in the hakafot (Beit Yosef; Arizal; Ḥayei Adam 148:19). This is the custom of all Sephardim and many Ashkenazim (Gesher Ha-ḥayim 20:3:60).

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