The Scent of the Willow

There is an intrinsic reason why we need to hold the 4 species as we do. How does this connect to the true smell of the Arava?

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

We all learned in kindergarten the famous Midrash that details the uniqueness of each of the four species, and what they symbolize. But beyond the beautiful Midrash, there is a very interesting halachic implication as well as a lesser-known message that we can actually learn from the Arava.

The Midrash says in Vayikra Rabba: “The פרי עץ הדר (etrog) has both a scent and a taste, and it corresponds to Jews who both learn Torah and perform good deeds. The כפות תמרים (lulav) has a taste but does not have a scent, and it corresponds to Jews who learn Torah but do not perform good deeds.”

The Midrash continues: "The ענף עץ עבות (hadas) has a scent but not a taste, and it corresponds to Jews who perform good deeds but do not learn Torah. The ערבי נחל (arava) has neither a scent or a taste. It corresponds to those Jews who do not learn Torah nor perform good deeds. And what does the Holy One, Blessed be He, do for them so they should not be lost? He binds all of the species together so that they can atone for each other.”

How is that unity expressed halachicly? The Beit Yosef is one of the commentators who answers this question. He begins with a question: “Is it necessary to attach the etrog to the lulav, hadassim and aravot at the time of the na’anu’im (shaking) and to shake them all together or is it sufficient to shake the “lulav bundle” with the right hand and the etrog is not shaken together with them but is merely held in the left hand? We do not see an answer to this in the Gemara or the commentary.”

Beit Yosef brings a story in the name of Rabbi Menachem Rikanati, who was one of the greatest Kabbalists: "The etrog should be attached to the other species. The secret was revealed to me in a dream during the first night of Sukkot when a pious guest, Rav Yitzchok Ashkenazi stayed in my house. In my dream I saw Rav Yitzchok write the holy 4 letter name of G-d but he distanced the last ה from the other 3 letters. I asked him ‘what have you done?’ and he answered ‘That is the customary way of writing G-d’s name where I come from.’ And I erased his writing and wrote the name correctly and I was confused about his actions.”

“The next morning” Rabbi Rikanti continues, “when it was time to shake the lulav I saw that Rav Yitzchok only shook the lulav, hadassim and aravot without the etrog and then I understood my dream. The Rabbanim tell us in Vayikra Raba that all 4 species are referring to G-d. The etrog is called “פרי עץ הדר” and G-d is described as “הוד והדר לפניו”. The lulav is called “כפות תמרים” and G-d is called “צדיק כתמר יפרח”. The Torah says about G-d “הוא עומד בין ההדסים” and it also says that G-d “סלו לרוכב בערבות”.

The connection between all of the different types of Jews is also the connection between letters of the name of G-d and G-d’s name should never be separated, G-d forbid. Therefore, the correct way to shake the luluv is to attach all 4 species to each other.”

Rabbi Zvi Yehuda Kook zt”l writes that it says in the prayer:
בפי ישרים תתרומם ובשפתי צדיקים תתברך בלשון חסידים תתקדש ובקרב קדושים תתהלל ובמקהלות רביבות עמך בית ישראל ברינה יתפאר שמך מלכינו.

There are levels of people: first ישרים then צדיקים then חסידים then קדושים but the highest level is מקהלות רביבות בית ישראל – when all of Israel is united.

But there is another amazing thing that can be learned about the arava. On Hoshana Rabba, after we connected of all the species throughout a whole week, comes the time where we beat the arava on the ground. Suddenly, at this moment, the scent of the arava is smelled in the synagogue. From this we learn that although on the outside the arava seems odorless and tasteless, the truth is that the arava, deep inside, is like any other Jew, full of the scent of Torah.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol serves as Dean and Founder at the Barkai Center for Practical Rabbinics and Community Development, and as rabbi of Kehillat Shaarei Yonah Menachem in Modi’in