Judaism: I've Got My Whole Self In My Hands
There are multiple well known midrashim in chapter 30 of Vayikra Rabbah which correlate the Four Species of Sukkot with different "foursomes" throughout Jewish history and lore. Some of these include the 3 avot along with Yosef, the 4 foremothers, 4 different types of Jewish people and 4 different components of the Sanhedrin and the Jewish high-court system.
Another very well known correlation that the midrash makes is that they are associated with 4 body parts. The lulav is associated with the spine, the hadasim with the eyes, the aravot with the mouth and the etrog with the heart. The midrash bases these correlations with the pasuk in Tehillim (35:10), "All of my limbs shall declare, 'Hashem who is like You!"
What is the deeper significance of the parallelism between the waving and celebrating with the arba minim and the body?
The Slonimer Rebbe ob"m, is his celebrated work, Nesivos Shalom (Chelek II, pg. 204) tackles this question with the following fantastic approach. All year long there are many immense spiritual and emotional obstacles and challenges which introduce tension and dissonance into one's life. Often times without even realizing, society, culture and technology can inundate us with powerful stimuli which can simply hijack us and take control of our decision making faculties and our mental clarity. In the blink of an eye one can find himself being entirely out of his own rule and under the spell of an external sensation or a cultural trend.
We may not realize it, but if we think about it in a serious way, how much of what we do are we truly in total control of? Are we actually making deeply thought out individual decisions as to how to behave, how to speak, how to think, what clothing to wear, what to do with our free time, what to eat...and everything we do? Or are there such potent and powerful forces surrounding us which sometimes stealthily penetrate our psyche and come to dominate all of our functions and prevent us from living a true, pure, authentic life?
Following the season of teshuvah and soul searching, recently culminated on Yom Kippur, a Jew is now in a very cleansed and purified state. The state of being that we hope to be at, at this point in our year, is one of purity and clarity. A fundamental part of teshuvah is to sever ties, to the best of our ability, with all of those things which place us under such a potent spell all year long. It is precisely this reality which the midrash is driving at.
Once we are cleansed we are now able to truly hold ourselves in our hands. No longer are we trapped in the clutches of external forces. When we pick up the arba minim, we are expressing that we now are the sole decision-maker in our life; we are in the driver seat. The four body parts which are represented by the Four Species, the eyes, the mouth, the heart and the spine are all organs which many are prone to lose control of at one time or another.
Whose eyes have not been abducted by the flashing lights and pleasurable sights which surround us all? Whose mouth has not fallen victim of society at one time or another by speaking inappropriate speech or eating improper food? Whose heart has not been filled with crooked desires or unholy emotions as a result of what is considered "in" or exciting in the cultures in which we live? Whose spine and limbs have not engaged in unbecoming behaviors and movements as a result of what is normal or acceptable in the world around us?[i]
But once Sukkot comes we are now given the opportunity to express that we are the baal ha'bayit!, the boss We are in control of ourselves. We proudly can hold our eyes, our mouths, our hearts and our spines in our own palms.
In this vein, it is quite noteworthy to mention one approach of the Ramban in his explanation of the deeper significance of the etrog. He teaches (Vayikra 23:40) based on the Midrash, that the etrog was the fruit in Gan Eden which enticed Chava to the first sin. It was sensually appealing and desirable and brought about a great downfall. On Succot, when we pick up our etrogim we are, in one sense, proclaiming that the lure and attractiveness of the etrog does not rule us, but rather we are able to grip it in our hands and confidently express our true and pure spiritual autonomy.
One specific halakha highlights this theme as well. Regarding the etrog, the Shulchan Aruch (648:8) states that if it is so rounded that it is the shape of a ball then it is pasul, unfit for use. Rav Isaac Herzog, the first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, explains ("Judaism, Law & Ethics", Pg. 25), "A ball is non-resisting. One slight toss and it will roll in whatever direction you wish. The Jew must not be like this. He must have back-bone, stamina, power of resistance. Jewish firmness Jewish steadfastness, we are "a stiff necked people". He must not let himself be easily moved, be easily swayed and rolled by adverse influences from without or by de-Judaising forces from within. The Jew must be no plaything, no ball".
The great Rebbe, Tzvi Elimelech of Div in his writings on Chag HaSukkot (Maamarei Tishrei 11:1) quotes a Kabbalistic tradition that the Four Species are very unique in that they do not have any angel or spiritual intermediary which empowers it to grow. Instead they are all under the direct providence of Hashem and "answer" only to Him. This too demonstrates this fundamental notion. Through the taking of the Four Species we too must enter into a renewed consciousness of total autonomy. Nothing has any control over us besides the Rebbono Shel Olam.
Lastly, may the mitzvah of the Four Species, the arba minim, inspire us to have a year and an eternity of complete true, authentic and pure self expression.