Sukkot: The Lulav and the Etrog
While the Sukkah hut gives the Sukkot holiday its name, this festival has two other main symbols: the lulav and etrog (esrog).
A lulav is a slender palm branch that is held together with two willow branches and three willow branches. An etrog (esrog) is a citron that looks mostly like a misshapen lemon but smells like heaven. The branches and fruit are waved each day Sukkot, except on Shabbat, in a specific manner for a variety of reasons.
From the Torah
Other translations name the thick branches of leafy tees as “braided branches.” Myrtles are known as braided branches because their branches are thick with leaves that grow in sets of three. Each set overlaps the one above it, creating the appearance of a braid.
When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, the Jewish people used lulav and etrog on the first day. Only the Kohanim who served in the Temple used the lulav and etrog for the rest of the holiday. Once the Temple was destroyed, the rabbis decreed that all Jews should wave the lulav and etrog all seven days as a remembrance of Temple days.
A Deeper Look at the Lulav
Earlier authorities examine the form of the lulav and etrog for clues about their meaning. A midrash in Vayikrah Rabba 30:12 explains the items as symbols of the importance of unity among different types of Jews. The etrog, a fruit, has both a flavor and a scent, like a Jew who is both learned and observant of the commandments. The lulav is from a date palm, and so it has a taste but no scent. It is likened to a Jew to is learned but does not apply that knowledge in action. A myrtle has a pleasant odor but there is nothing tasty about it, and it parallel is the Jew who has little book learning behind his or her observance. Finally the willow lacks both fragrance and food value, just like the Jew who neither studies the Torah nor keeps the commandments. The differences between Jews may be substantial, but, like the lulav and etrog which must be held together for the waving ritual, only when Jews come together do they merit a blessing.
Later in the same Midrash (ibid. 30:14) the rabbis use a quote from Psalms to riff on the lulav and etrog. “All my bones shall proclaim, ‘God, who can be likened to You!” The metaphor is applied in this way: the long straight lulav is likened to the spine. The tiny myrtle leaves become eyes, and the elongated willow leaves morph into lips. Bulbous and firm, the etrog is equated with the heart. As in the first example, holding all parts of the lulav and etrog together for the blessing informs the meaning of the metaphor. The secret ingredient to achieving the true happiness promised by Sukkot is to feel unity within, to be true to oneself and not say one thing and feel another.
Lulav and Etrog Rituals
Lulav and Etrog Storage
Etrog storage is easier or trickier depending on the type of etrog being stored. Some etrog varieties arrive with a pitom, the stamen left over from the etrog blossom, protruding from the top. Be careful with the pitom. Should the pitom fall off, the etrog is no longer considered whole and should not be used for the mitzvah of waving the lulav. Many, if not most, etrogim (pl. etrog) are grown sans pitom. This saves much etrog-handling heartache. There is nothing wrong with keeping the etrog in the box it arrived in. The fibrous stuff surrounding the etrog is usually flax and cushions the etrog from bumps and bruises. Because of the desire to fulfill the commandments in a beautiful way, some Jews purchase special etrog holders made from wood, plastic, silver, metal, and pottery.
Mazor Guide for Sukkot brings you much more about the holiday, its meaning and its traditions... See the links below.
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