The Four Species of Sukkot

I've been reading about the four species of Sukkot, and I am convinced that the traditional interpretation is not correct. Leviticus 23:40 says...

And you shall take on the first day the [1] fruit of splendid trees, [2] branches of palm trees and [3] boughs of leafy trees and [4] willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.

For at least 2000 years, the popular interpretation of these are
  1. Etrog or citron
  2. Palm fronds
  3. Myrtle
  4. Willow
In an ancient ceremony filled with symbolism, the celebrant takes a lulav made of a single palm frond, two willow branches, and three myrtles that have been bound together using palm leaves in his right hand and recites a blessing. He then takes an etrog in his left hand, recites another blessing, and then waves the lulav and fruit gently in six directions: south, north, east, up, down, and west.

There are various meanings ascribed to each of the four species and the waving. The most popular is that they represent four types of Jews:
  1. Etrog: those with Torah knowledge and good works.
  2. Palm: those with Torah knowledge but not good works.
  3. Myrtle: those with no Torah knowledge, but with good works.
  4. Willow: those with no Torah knowledge and no good works.
All Jews will be united by Messiah, regardless of merit. The waiving of the lulav probably evolved from a combination of popular holiday activities of the common people and Temple ceremonies sometime between the times of Nehemiah (who knew nothing of it, according to Scripture) and Yeshua.

It's a beautiful tradition that I don't have any particular problem with. It doesn't break any commands; it's not contrary to Torah. I appreciate the long history, the ceremony, the symbolism... I've waived the lulav many times before and I'll probably do it again, but unless I find some new information, I just don't think it's what God meant.

The meaning of the Hebrew for palms (tamarim) and willows of the brook (va-aravah nakhal) is pretty clear. Those words definitely refer to palm trees and willows, although they don't specify a particular species, part of the plant, nor what we're supposed to do with them.

The meaning of the Hebrew for the other two species, the beautiful/splendid/goodly tree (ets hadar) and boughs of leafy trees (va-anof ets abot) isn't so clear. We can only tell that the first is a fruit tree and the second is a densely leafed tree, but based on the text of Leviticus 23:40, that's all we can tell. I believe the intent wasn't to say it must be two specific varieties of tree, but that the trees selected must be healthy and productive. The fruit must come from a good tree and the bough must come from a tree with full foliage.

The meaning of this is, of course, up to interpretation.

1 comment:

  1. The goodly fruit is surely a pomegranate. Just do a scripture search it adorned the temple etc.


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