Bringing Together the Lulav and Etrog
The Torah tells us as it relates to an etrog that we are supposed to take a peri etz hadar, a beautiful fruit. There is a special emphasis on hadar, as it relates to the etrog. Hadar is to a certain extent subjective. What is beauty?
For me, I always try to find the biggest, kosher etrog possible. This year my sources did not disappoint me, and my friend Yitzi, secured me an amazing etrog.
But the sheer size of my etrog leads to a different question: how one is supposed to hold the four species (daled minim).
The Torah tells us: “Ulekachtem lachem bayom harishon peri etz hadar kapot temarim vanaf etz avot vearvei nachal, you shall take for yourself, on the first day a beautiful fruit of a tree, branches of palm trees, branches of thick trees, and willows of the brook” (Vayikra 23:40).
The Talmud tells us that these species are a reference to an etrog (citron), a lulav (palm), haddasim (myrtle), and aravot (willows).
How many of each species are we supposed to take in order to fulfill the mitzvah?
The Mishanah (Sukkah, 34b) tells us that there is a dispute between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva. R. Yishmael says we are required to take 3 haddasim, 2 aravot, 1 lulav, and 1 etrog. R. Akiva says that just like we take only one lulav and etrog, so too we only take one hadas and one aravah.
Even though as a normative practice today we use at least three hadassim (some use more), the Talmud tells us that R. Yishmael recanted his position and agreed with R. Akiva that you only need to take one hadas.
The practice is that we bind the lulav together with the haddasim and aravot. This is called iggud. The Tamud records a dispute about this practice. R. Yehuda (33a) says it is essential and that if there is no iggud then one has not fulfilled their mitzvah. The Sages disagree with R. Yehuda and say that iggud is not essential, but it is merely a beautification of the practice of taking the species. So in their opinion it is a nice thing to do but not essential.
The Talmud tells that R. Eliezer says the following:
“yachol yehei etrog imahen be-agudah achas amarta ve-khi neemar per etz hadar ve-kapot temarim vehalo lo neemer elah kapot, one might thing that the etrog needs to be bound together with the other three species, but does it say an etrog AND a branch of a lulav? No. It says an etrog, a branch of a lulav” (Sukkah, 34b).
There are two main ways to interpret this teaching of R. Eliezer.
Arukh La-Ner (R. Jacob Ettlinger, 1798-1871) says that R. Eliezer is making his statement in light of the earlier teaching of R. Yehuda; i.e. R. Yehuda says that it is essential to bind together the species. So R. Eliezer is asking do we need to include the etrog in the binding with the other species. (Our practice is not to do that.)
The Chazon Ish (R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz, 1878-1953) takes the opposite approach to understanding R. Eliezer.
He says that R. Elizer is addressing his question to the Sages who argue with R. Yehuda. They say that iggud is not essential and that it is only beautiful. According to them, R. Eliezer is asking is it even permitted to bind the Etrog with the other species. And the Chazon Ish says that the answer to that is, “no-it is not permitted.”
In order to understand why the Chazon Ish gives this interpretation we have to go back several centuries into a world of dreams, kabbalah, and false messiahs.
The author of the Shulkhan Arukh, R. Yosef Karo (16th c, Safed) records in his Beit Yosef (Orech Chaim, 651) that it is not clear from the Talmud and the commentators if one is supposed to touch the etrog and lulav together during the waving of the daled minim or, alternatively, if one is supposed to wave the lulav and haddasim and aravot in the right hand, and while doing that keep the left hand steady holding the etrog without moving.
However, R. Menachem Reccanati (13th c., Italy), a mystical rabbi, tells us that we must connect the etrog and the lulav, and hold them together so as not to separate the banyan (building). He said he learned this essential teaching via a dream and an incident (recorded in his commentary to parashat Emor, s.v. ulekachtem).
One year on Sukkot he was hosting a German rabbi named, R. Yitzchak.
The Reccanati dreamed that this man was writing Gd’s name in a strange fashion. He was writing the first three letters together and then writing the final letter—hey—at a distance from the other letters. So he asked him: “Why are you doing this?” and The German rabbi responded, “that is our practice.” So the Reccanati got very upset and erased the name and wrote the whole name properly, all together.
The Reccanati did not know what to do with this strange dream.
The next day the Reccanati watched as the German rabbi was waving his four species. He noticed that he was only waving three of the species and he was keeping the etrog away at a distance. The Reccanati had an “aha” moment. He said that this must be the explanation of his dream for just like the name of God needs to be written together, so too the four species must be touching each other. When the guest heard this he immediately changed his practice and made sure to hold the lulav next to the etrog.
So according to this dream, when we connect the lulav and the etrog it is like we are connecting the name of God.
The Shelah Hakadosh (R. Isaiah Horowitz, 1565-1630, Safed), a great kabbalist, rules explicitly like the Reccanati, that when waving the four species we must be sure to connect the lulav and etrog because in doing so we are making a symbolism below for what is going on above. And we are trying to connect the Sefirot. The Kabbalists have a concept that the Divine entity consists of Sefirot and that when we act properly on earth we have helped unify the Sefirot. The four species symbolize the Sefirot of Gd, and when we combine them properly on earth during our rituals, then it is like we are combining the Sefirot of heaven(Sukkah, perek ner mitzvah, note 14).
But then the question becomes how do we combine the lulav and etrog? Are we supposed to hold them in one hand or in two hands?
The Peulat Tzaddik argues that we are supposed to hold them in two separate hands because the Talmud tells us that the lulav is supposed to be held in the right hand because it has three mitzvoth, and the etrog in the left hand because it has only one mitzvah (Sukkah, 37b). And so from this he argues that we should be holding the lulav in one hand and etrog in the other hand.
But going back to the Chazon Ish, we should be holding them together, but not binding them. Because if we bind them then we have disqualified the mitzvah.
However, the Chemdat Yamim (published in 1732) rules that the entire time we are holding the daled minim the lulav and etrog must be connected to each other. Almost all commentators reject that approach and say that the lulav and etrog should only be connected for the actual blessing and waving, but not at other times, like for example, when holding the daled minim during the hallel, then the lulav and etrog should be held apart.
The Chemdat Yamim whose opinion is forcefully rejected here is a very controversial work. It is written anonymously and contains many kabbalastic customs. But the work was accused by many (like, R. Yaakov Emden) of being written by Nathan of Gaza, the leading follower of Shabtai Zvi. To this day scholars are debating whether or not it is true.
So where does this leave us?
The proper way to hold the daled minim is to
a) hold the lulav with three haddasim and two aravot bound together in our right hand
b) hold the etrog in our left hand
c) when one says the bracha and the waves the species, then we should bring the four species together so that they are all touching
d) but when not saying the bracha and performing the waving, we should be careful not to have the etrog touching the other species
e) the etrog should not be bound together with the other species.
Is there a deeper spiritual message behind this debate?
There are two powerful messages that speak to me.
First, we should be aware that when we are lifting up the daled minim, there is a great spiritual and cosmic power to this ritual. Many of our rabbis saw in this ritual an attempt to symbolize the unity of Gd. So when we connect the etrog with the lulav it is like we are undergoing a theological drama of combining the different aspects of Gd’s unity which have been shattered, so to speak, by our sins. This is a powerful point which we should internalize as we lift our daled minim.
And second, we should ponder why it is so important that the etrog and lulav are not bound together all the time. Why must they be separated and then brought together and then separated again?
This is a metaphor for our own spirituality. We have moments where we are connected to Gd—deeply connected, like the etrog touching the lulav. But it is not possible, perhaps not healthy, to have those moments all the time. That is why there needs to be a connection between the lulav and the etrog, but also a separation.
Perhaps the holidays themselves represent this. We the people are like the etrog and we come together with Hashem on the three festivals. We can’t remain like this for our entire lives but we can certainly appreciate the transcendental moments of powerful spiritual connection with Hashem.
We are about to enter in the holiday of Sukkot. Not only should we be cognizant of the mitzvah of lulav and etrog, but we must be aware of the fleetingness of spirituality. If we are aware of it, then we can truly appreciate that moment where the lulav meets the etrog.
[Note: May of the sources cited here were cited in Peninei Halakha to Sukkah, 34b, in Mesivta Shas.]
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