All Four One


Dear Rabbi,

Can you please explain to me the mitzvah of the “four species” and what’s special about it?




  1. Gladly! And for the record, every mitzvah is special!

    The Torah (Leviticus 23:39-40) commands us to “take for ourselves” four species; the lulav (palm branch), the esrog (citron), the willow branch and the myrtle branch, on Succos. What is the significance of this commandment, in which we take the above species and wave them during our prayers?

    Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch in Horeb, Chapter 31, points out that each of the species has different qualities. Together, they symbolize all the physical blessings that God has given us.

    The esrog, being a fruit, provides sustenance and aroma; the date-palm branch, sustenance but no aroma; the myrtle branch, aroma but no sustenance, and the willow branch neither sustenance nor aroma — it is just wood. These four indicate clearly that everything has been created by God for man, to benefit him through nature.

    If we look at them in greater detail we see that each represents a different category of our benefits from nature. Rabbi Hirsch divides our blessings into the following categories. The first group includes things in nature that require no finishing touches by man. For instance, the air you breathe, the light which shines for you, the beauty which makes you happy, the sweet-smelling scent which refreshes you, etc. This category is symbolized by the myrtle, which has a pleasant aroma, and the esrog, which has aroma and sustenance. The second category comprises things in nature that are inherently beneficial to man, but out of which man has to extract the benefit, i.e. all means of sustenance, which are represented by the lulav, a branch of the date-palm. The third category includes things whose consummation depends entirely upon the hand of man, upon which man exercises his power as their master and from which he extracts all the usefulness that is in them. Nature supplies only the raw material. For instance, his dwelling, clothing, utensils, etc., represented in general by wood, i.e. the willow branch , which has no aroma or sustenance.

    In the words of Rabbi Hirsch: “Take these four to represent all that God offers you as gifts of nature. Take them as your very own before the Lord, your God. Acknowledge and acclaim that it is God who vouchsafes to you all that is good in life. Cling to them only as the means of living in the presence of God according to His will. Rejoice in them before your God as the means of fulfilling your duties.” This commandment is a way of acknowledging that the purpose of all our physical blessings, strengths and capabilities, is to “take them before God” and to dedicate them to a spiritual purpose. Do not ignore the physical — you may enjoy it and benefit from it but do so with the purpose of reaching beyond the physical world and into the spiritual world.

    Best wishes from the Team