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D16. Taking Up the Four Species on Sukkot.    [Make a Comment]

We are to take up the four species during the Feast of Sukkot.

This precept is derived from His Word (blessed be He):

Key Scripture

Leviticus 23:39-40 (Maimonides RP169; Meir MP36; Chinuch C324)
But on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered the produce of the land, you are to observe the festival of ADONAI seven days; the first day is to be a complete rest and the eighth day is to be a complete rest. On the first day you are to take choice fruit, palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of ADONAI your God for seven days.

John 7:1-3
After this, Yeshua traveled around in the Galil, intentionally avoiding Y'hudah because the Judeans were out to kill him. But the festival of Sukkot in Y'hudah was near; so his brothers said to him, "Leave here and go into Y'hudah, so that your talmidim can see the miracles you do


The four species are (1) choice fruit, (2) palm branches, (3) thick branches, and (4) willows of the brook. Traditionally, parts of each are bound together into a bouquet (sometimes referred to as a lulav, but literally, lulav only refers to a palm branch) and are preserved and waived for each of the seven days of Sukkot. The command to take up the four species clearly applies to the first day but, since the Scripture states that we are to celebrate for seven days, we suppose that waving them as part of the celebration is contemplated. Scripture does not specify a particular select fruit, so the tradition developed to use an etrog (citron) that has part of its fragile stem still attached. Halachically, therefore, the etrog becomes unusable if the short nub of a stem becomes detached.

We do not know whether, during the time of Yeshua, binding the four species together and waving all four was practiced at celebrations other than Sukkot. The practice was probably specific to Sukkot because we read in John 12:12 (speaking of before Passover) that Yeshua was met with the waving of palm branches only. The question remains, however, "What is the significance of waving the four species at Sukkot?" Scripture is silent on this, but its significance was probably agricultural since Sukkot is a harvest celebration. The Talmud seeks to answer this by suggesting that the four species represent God's creation, and that waving them in all directions signifies that HaShem is Lord of all.

It is significant that an expression of worship meant for God (waving palms) was used to recognize and welcome Yeshua, and it is also significant that John 12:15 states:

Daughter of Tziyon, don't be afraid! Look! your King is coming, sitting on a donkey's colt.

What it means to "take up" the four species is open to interpretation, but this Mitzvah is unquestionably applicable to Jews and, in my opinion, to K'rov Yisrael Gentiles as well. Because we don't know exactly what "taking up" means, the procedure should be done according to the established practice or halachah of each community in which the worshiper finds himself. I do not believe that taking up the four species is required of other Gentiles as part of their worship of God during Sukkot, but they may do so if they deem it to be meaningful.

Classical Commentators

Maimonides, Meir, and HaChinuch state their respective mitzvot somewhat differently as follows: (1) Maimonides: Rejoice with a palm branch for the seven days; (2) Meir: Lift up (or wave) one palm branch, one etrog, three myrtle branches, and two willow branches on each of the seven days (but not on Shabbat); (3) HaChinuch: Similar to Meir, but adds considerable content from the "oral tradition", including the analogy of each species to a man's organs. The etrog is said to be like the heart, the lulav (palm branch) like the spine, the myrtle like the eyes, and the willow like the lips.


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