The mitzvah of taking the Arba Minim (four species) — hadassim (myrtle), aravos (willow), lulav (palm frond) and esrog (citron) — symbolizes the ultimate joy of the Yom Tov of Sukkos. As it is written in the Torah,1 "On the first day, you should take for yourselves: The fruit of the tree…the fronds of a date palm…branches of a [myrtle] tree…and willows of the brookside. You should rejoice before G-d your G-d, for a period of seven days."
The esrog is the most prominent of the four species; it is the only one that has a taste and aroma. In Chassidic circles, the esrog is compared to the tzaddik who studies Torah and does mitzvos. The lulav, on the other hand, only has a taste, representing the Torah scholar whose main emphasis is the study of Torah as opposed to the performance of mitzvos. So why is it that the brocha is made on the lulav?
The lulav merits actual mention in the brocha …Al netilas lulav recited upon shaking the Arba Minim for several reasons. First, the lulav is the tallest and most noticeable of the Arba Minim.2 In addition, the letters in lulav spell out ול (36) and בל (heart), which symbolizes the 36 hidden tzaddikim in every generation and the 36 volumes of the Babylonian Talmud. The lamed and beis also refer to the Torah (which starts with beis and ends with lamed). The numerical value of the word "lulav" is the same as "life" and one is assured a long life if they are stringent in observing the laws of lulav.3
The lulav, part of a fruit tree, is used for a mitzvah during Sukkos (the harvest season) to remind us that all of the produce we just gathered has a higher purpose.4 It also symbolizes the human spine which provides anatomical support to the entire body to show that the entire body needs to be utilized in serving Hashem.
The mitzvah of Arba Minim is mitzvah 324 in the Torah (Sukkah is mitzvah 325). Since the Yom Tov is named after the sukkah, and chronologically we perform the mitzvah of sukkah first (the first night of Sukkos, as opposed to lulav which is not done until the following morning), it seems that sukkah really should be listed first. The Netziv (32:43) explains that the Arba Minim represent weapons of a battle – signifying our victory in the judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. When we hold up the lulav it is a sign that we have emerged from judgment favorably. This reminds us that Sukkos is not a completely independent holiday; rather it is connected to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. It symbolizes the ascent from teshuva inspired by yirah during the Days of Awe to the simcha and Ahavas Hashem of Sukkos. Listing lulav first reminds us to keep increasing and building on the teshuva of the Days of Awe.
Sukkos is the only Yom Tov mentioned twice in Parshas Emor. In the first mention, the posuk states, "On the fifteenth day of this (hazeh) seventh month5," while the second instance says, "On the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you gather in the produce of the Land, you should celebrate the festival…6" The second mention, which goes on to detail the instructions for taking the Arba Minim does not include the word "hazeh".
The Meforshim also ask a question here. Why is Sukkos mentioned twice, and why does the first mention include the word "hazeh" and not discuss the mitzvah of Arba Minim? One answer is that when B’nei Yisroel first lived in the midbar, they were not living in sukkos as a mitzvah connected to the Yom Tov, so they did not build a sukkah or shake lulav for the mitzvah. That is why the first posuk includes the word "hazeh" (the posuk was instructing for that first Sukkos in the midbar only). Another answer is that the first Sukkos in the midbar began on Shabbos and since we do not take the Arba Minim on Shabbos, the first posuk gave specific instructions only for that specific first day of Sukkos, and therefore used the word "hazeh".
The lulav is a shoot from the date palm (Phoenix dactylifera), which is native to the Middle East and parts of South Asia. Date palms are dioecious (separate male and female plants) and the lulav can be taken from a plant of either gender.
Originally the Jewish people probably utilized a Judean variety of the date palm which was native to the Land of Israel. This Judean cultivar (variety) is described by historians of that period and depicted on coins minted in Ancient Israel. Judean date palms were renowned for their sweetness and succulence, but unfortunately became extinct shortly after the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash.
While any cultivar of the date palm is acceptable as a source for the lulav, most halachic authorities forbid use of the canary palm (Phoenix canariensis), which is a close relative of the date palm. Some expertise is required to differentiate between a date palm and a canary palm, so one should only purchase a lulav from a reputable dealer or allow a halachic expert to examine the lulav if there is reason to harbor suspicion about its origin.7
How to Choose a Lulav
When choosing a lulav it is important to look for one that has a straight spine, resembling an arrow. The leaves should be tight together, but if they start to separate the lulav is still kosher as long as the leaves are soft enough to be potentially tied together (they do not actually have to be tied). The tyumos (top leaves) of the lulav should be tight together and not split from the tip. 8
According to some authorities, it is preferable for the tyumos to be bent, since this enables the tyumos to stay intact when shaken. 9 In fact, it is a custom among many Chassidim to choose a lulav with twisted tyumos. The leaves along the entire spine of the lulav should overlap each other, or at least reach the base of the leaf above.10 Some
The spine of kosher lulav must be at least 4 tefachim long, excluding the tyumos. The preferred size is 16 thumb-lengths, but 13 1/3 thumb-lengths is the minimum length. 11 There is no maximum height for a kosher lulav. A lulav harvested during a shmitta year may be purchased and used for the mitzvah of Arba Minim.12 In fact, during a shmitta year, many dealers sell the lulav for an extravagant price and include the esrog as a "gift" since the esrog is subject to the laws of shmitta and may not be sold or purchased.
Ownership of the Lulav
One’s ability to perform the mitzvah of Arba Minim is dependent on actual ownership of the lulav and esrog. There are a variety of halachos regarding the kosher status of stolen lulav, as well as how to lend a lulav to someone else. A stolen lulav is posul, but if one steals it and then cuts it to size one can fulfill the mitzvah without a brocha.13 If the original owner has not given up hope (which would render it hefker – ownerless) of reclaiming his lulav, others may use the stolen and cut lulav, but not on the first day of Sukkos. However, a stolen lulav (that has not been cut to size) may not be used by the thief. If one buys a lulav from a non-Jew, it is best to watch him cut it directly from the tree to ensure that it was not stolen.14
One may borrow a lulav from another person without informing him, since that person would not mind if his property was used for a mitzvah.15 On the first day of Yom Tov, one must own the lulav and cannot borrow one from someone else.16 It is permissible to give someone one’s own lulav on the condition that the receiver gifts it back to the original owner. If the second person fails to return the lulav he will not have fulfilled the mitzvah of lulav since he broke the condition and, therefore, did not actually own the lulav he used to make the brocha.17
When someone is handed the lulav without specification, the assumption is that he must gift it back to the owner.18 One should not give their lulav and esrog to a child on the first day before all of the adults in the household have used it, because a child is not halachically able to gift the lulav back to the owner.19 A child who understands how to shake lulav must have his own lulav, at least for the first day of Yom Tov. It is preferable to buy the child his own lulav so he can shake it during Hallel with the congregation.20
One may purchase a lulav in partnership for the mitzvah of Arba Minim.21 In the past, many congregations would purchase the Arba Minim together (women did not have to contribute) in order to be able to perform the mitzvah of lulav since it was often very difficult to obtain a personal set of Arba Minim. Although a partnership is permissible, it is always preferable to have one’s own private set of Arba Minim.22
When No Kosher Lulav Is Available
There were many times in our history that it was impossible to purchase a kosher lulav. Sometimes this was due to war or import limitations, drought or disease of the plants, and, more commonly, extreme poverty. If one cannot obtain a kosher lulav, one should use a non-kosher one without a brocha.23 If the lulav is not kosher because it is dried out, it is permissible to recite the brocha over it if there is no other kosher lulav available. However, a non-kosher species of lulav should not be used even if no kosher one is available.24 Obviously, one may not substitute an entirely different item as a substitute for a kosher lulav, since it may cause another person to mistakenly use the wrong plant.
Preparing the Arba Minim
Only one lulav should be used for the mitzvah25 as is decreed from the verse םירמח תפכ which is spelled in the singular, but read as plural. The preferred way to perform the mitzvah of Arba Minim is by shaking all four species together, but one may take each one separately and make a separate brocha on each item (only if receives each of the species separately and speaks in between each brocha).26
The three species – lulav, hadassim and aravos – should be bound together with a knotted binding (not tied in a bow).27 [Some have the custom to tie the three species with a bow, instead of a knot.28] The spine of the lulav must always tower over the other species by a tefach when bound together.29 While it is permissible to use any material to knot the species together, it is preferable to use a component of one of the three species to tie them together. If one did not tie the three species before Shabbos or Yom Tov, they can be tied with a bow since it is forbidden to make knots on Shabbos and Yom Tov. 30
The three species should be tied at the bottom portion so that all three are in one’s hand when shaking. The custom is to tie three separate knots around the lulav (one that connects the species and two for niceness) to symbolize the three patriarchs – Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov.31 Some authorities stipulate that the three knots are in addition to a primary connecting knot. One must leave a tefach of all three species above the highest knot to allow the lulav to shake properly.32 Some have the custom to remove the three knots around the lulav and some remove two of the five knots (not those holding the three species together) on the last day of Sukkos.33 A lulav brought by a non-Jew from outside the t’chum for the use of the mitzvah may be used by a Jew on Yom Tov.34
One may return the lulav to water on Yom Tov, and some authorities allow one to initially place a lulav in water on Yom Tov. One can also add fresh water to the container, but it cannot be emptied and refreshed until Chol HaMoed.35
How to Perform the Mitzvah of the Arba Minim
In order to perform the mitzvah of the Arba Minim, one takes the lulav in the right hand (a left-handed person should use the left hand). The brocha of al netilas lulav should be recited while standing and the brocha shehechiyanu is recited after al netilas lulav.36 One may shake the lulav while it is in a holder specially prepared for lulavim, but not in a utensil (like a cup) or wrapped in a cloth37 (we even remove tefillin shel yad [for those who wear tefillin on Chol HaMoed] before shaking lulav). One shakes the lulav when preforming the mitzvah, as well as during Hallel. The method of shaking includes pointing the lulav in each of the six directions – above, below, front, back, left and right – in sets of three while pausing to shake it when his arms are extended and then the hands and Arba Minim are brought back to the heart.38 There are different customs regarding the order of the six directions. One cannot perform the mitzvah of lulav if any of the other species are missing.39
When to Perform the Mitzvah of the Arba Minim
The mitzvah of lulav is always performed during the day.40 It is preferable to shake lulav first thing in the morning and again during Hallel at Shacharis. One may not eat before shaking lulav, especially on the first day of Sukkos.41 A woman is not required to shake lulav, but she is permitted to do so, so the lulav is not muktza for her on Yom Tov.42 Biblically, the requirement is to shake lulav seven days only in the Temple and on the first day everywhere else.43 However, we shake all seven days in remembrance of the Temple service.44 We do not shake lulav (and it is muktza) on Shabbos, even if it falls out on the first day of Sukkos, since one might carry it in a public area.45
As mentioned, in our times we shake lulav all seven days only as a remembrance of the Temple. In this merit, may we soon actually shake the lulav seven days, as commanded, in the rebuilt Beis HaMikdash with the coming of Moshiach speedily in our days.
The Ideal Lulav
• Color should be green and fresh.
• Height of spine should be at least 13 inches (excluding tyumos).
• Lulav should be perfectly straight.
• Leaves should be tightly connected to each other and only separate when shaken with force.
• Tyumos should be not be split at the tip.
Factors that Render a Lulav Not Kosher
• Most of the leaves are dangling downwards.46
• Most of the leaves are not attached to the spine.47
• Most of the leaves are split along the length of the lulav. (Even if the lulav grew this way, it is not kosher.)48
• The top leaves (tyumos) are split more than a tefach.
• The top of each leaf does not reach the bottom (or higher) of the leaf above it.49
• The lulav is dried out. (While some authorities are very lenient with this rule, one should not use a lulav that is no longer green.)50
• Most of the leaves have the tips removed.51
• The tyumos are missing.52
• The lulav is split at the top (in a "V" shape).53
• A lulav that is bent.54
• The top of the lulav spine is bent, resembling a hook.55
2. Taamei HaMinhagim 798.
3. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 645, Biar HayTayv 9.
4. Sefer HaChinuch, Mitzvah 324.
5. Vayikra 23:34.
6. Ibid 23:39.
7. Igros Moshe 4:123.
8. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 645:1-3.
9. Aruch HaShulchan, Orach Chaim 645:20 in the name of the Rosh.
10. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 645, Be’er Halacha on Rema.
11. Ibid 650:1.
12. Rambam, Hilchos Shmitta 88:11.
13. Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim 649:1.
14. Ibid 649, Rema.
15. Ibid 649:5, Rema.
16. Ibid 658:3.
17. Ibid 658:4.
18. Ibid 658:5.
19. Ibid 658:6.
20. Ibid 657:1.
21. Ibid 658:9.
22. Ibid 658:9, Rema.
23. Ibid 649:6.
24. Ibid 649:6, Mishna Berurah 53.
25. Ibid 651:1.
26. Ibid 651:12, Rema.
27. Ibid 651:1.
28. Ibid 651, Mishna Berurah 8.
29. Ibid 650:1.
30. Ibid 651:1.
31. Ibid 651, Be’er Halacha 5.
32. Ibid 651:1.
33. Ibid 664:1.
34. Ibid 655:1.
35. Ibid 654:1.
36. Ibid 651:2-3.
37. Ibid 651:7.
38. Ibid 651:9.
39. Ibid 651:12.
40. Ibid 652:1.
41. Ibid 651:2.
42. Ibid 654:1, Mishna Berurah 1.
43. Ibid 658:1.
44. Ibid 658:1, Mishna Berurah.
45. Ibid 658:2.
46. Ibid 645:2.
47. Ibid 645:2, Rema.
48. Ibid 645:3, Rema.
49. Ibid 645; Be’er Halacha 1.
50. Ibid 643:5; 649:6 Rema.
51. Ibid 645:6.
52. Ibid 645:6, Rema.
53. Ibid 645:7.
54. Ibid 645:8.
55. Ibid 645:9.