There is much symbolism surrounding the arba minim, the four species that we bring together during Sukkot. Yet there is no overarching story that explains the practice. It becomes all the more noticeable in light of the reason provided for dwelling in the sukkah.The instruction brought in the Book of Vayikra 23:43,44 is clearly explained;- Lama’an, in order… or for the sake of future generations who will know… the compassion of God who lovingly protected us through our journey in the desert.
בַּסֻּכֹּ֥ת תֵּשְׁב֖וּ שִׁבְעַ֣ת יָמִ֑ים כָּל־הָֽאֶזְרָח֙ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל יֵשְׁב֖וּ בַּסֻּכֹּֽת
You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths
לְמַעַן֮ יֵדְע֣וּ דֹרֹֽתֵיכֶם֒ כִּ֣י בַסֻּכּ֗וֹת הוֹשַׁ֙בְתִּי֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל בְּהוֹצִיאִ֥י אוֹתָ֖ם מֵאֶ֣רֶץ מִצְרָ֑יִם אֲנִ֖י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶֽם׃
In order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the LORD your God.
The command to take or shake the arba minim is rather enigmatic.
וּלְקַחְתֶּ֨ם לָכֶ֜ם בַּיּ֣וֹם הָרִאשׁ֗וֹן פְּרִ֨י עֵ֤ץ הָדָר֙ כַּפֹּ֣ת תְּמָרִ֔ים וַעֲנַ֥ף עֵץ־עָבֹ֖ת וְעַרְבֵי־נָ֑חַל וּשְׂמַחְתֶּ֗ם לִפְנֵ֛י יְהוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֵיכֶ֖ם שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִֽים׃
On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.
The verse raises more questions than providing answers; is the command for the first day or all seven? What are the actual species and why the reference here for being happy, rather than when sitting and celebrating in the Sukkah? Clearly Sukkot which also escorts us to the additional “Simchat” (joy of the) Torah, does so in a manner where we not only begin again our study of the Written Law, but also the Oral Law too, how else would we be able to fulfill these very directives?
An additional query struck me this year, relating to the blessing we recite for the mitzvah of the arba minim. The question is also raised in Tractate Sukkot 37b
א”ל ר’ ירמיה לר’ זריקא מאי טעם לא מברכינן אלא על נטילת לולב הואיל וגבוה מכולן ולגבהיה לאתרוג ולבריך א”ל הואיל ובמינו גבוה מכולן
Rabbi Yirmeya said to Rabbi Zerika: What is the reason that we recite the blessing only with the formula: About taking the lulav, with no mention of the other species? Rabbi Zerika said to him: Since it is the highest of them all and the most conspicuous, the other species are subsumed under it. Rabbi Yirmeya asked: And if that is the only reason, let him lift the etrog higher than the lulav and recite the blessing mentioning it. Rabbi Zerika said to him that he meant: Since the tree of its species is the tallest of them all, it is the most prominent, and therefore it is appropriate for the formula of the blessing to emphasize the lulav
The tallest or loudest wins, –no! This surely rejects the romance in the idea of all the types, symbolized by the four species coming together, embraced, included and accepted equally. I would like to suggest an alternative. The word Lulav is perhaps expressing a deeper idea; לו לב S/he has a heart. Yes I know that the etrog is supposed to express that, but it is more necessary to demonstrate through this exemplar. For the tallest/ strongest, loudest, qualities are irrelevant. Lev Tahor, a pure heart, caring, compassionate and accepting if not embracing (as the lulav does for the aravot and hadassim) is an additional if not fundamental virtue worthy of blessing.