FOUR SPECIES (Heb. אַרְבָּעָה מִינִים, arba'ah minim), the four different plants which form an obligatory part of the rite of Sukkot according to the biblical commandment "And ye shall take you on the first day [of Sukkot] the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook, and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days" (Lev. 23:40). "Ye shall dwell in booths for seven days" (Lev. 23:42) is also enjoined. Despite the fact that it would appear that in the time of Nehemiah, the plants in the first verse were regarded as referring to the materials from which the sukkah (see: *Sukkot), mentioned in the second verse, was to be constructed (Neh. 8:15), the traditional interpretation sees it as a commandment separate and distinct from the injunction of the sukkah.
Two of the species are given explicitly: the "branches of palm trees" are the lulav, and the "willows of the brook," the aravot. Tradition has universally identified the "fruits of goodly trees" with the etrog and the "boughs of thick trees" with hadassim ("myrtle"; Suk. 32b–33 but see the remarkable passage in Lev. R. 30:15). The four species are made up of three sprigs of myrtle and two of willow, which are bound to the lulav with strips of palm, the former on the right and the latter on the left of the lulav. They are held in the right hand and the etrog is held separately in the left (Suk. 37b).
During the Temple period the main ceremonial of the four species took place in the Temple. They were taken and waved during the seven days of Sukkot whereas elsewhere, the rite was confined to the first day only (Suk. 3:12). They were waved in a prescribed manner: toward the east, south, west, north, upward, and downward, in acknowledgment of the divine rule over nature (Suk. 37b). This took place during the recitation of Psalms 118:1–2 and 25 in the Hallel. After the Musaf sacrifice of the day had been offered, the four species were again taken, this time in procession around the altar while Psalms 118:25, or the words ani va-hu hoshi'ah na, a popular version of that verse, were chanted. On the first six days, only one circuit of the altar was made; on the seventh day, seven circuits. After the destruction of the Temple, R. *Johanan b. Zakkai ordained the Temple ceremonial as universal practice "in remembrance of the Temple" (Suk. 3:12); all the features of the Temple rite were included in the synagogue service (see: Sukkot, *Hoshana Rabba).
The popularity of the ceremony during the period of the Second Temple is reflected in the fact that *Ḥanukkah was celebrated by the Maccabees as a second Feast of Tabernacles, as well as in the incident in which the vast throng of worshipers in the Temple pelted King Alexander *Yannai with their etrogim during the festival, in protest against his disregard of the Feast of Water Drawing (see *Sukkot) (Jos., Ant., 13:372; cf. Suk. 4:9). The remarkable hold which the four species had on the sentiments of the people during the Second Temple period, and immediately afterward, is evidenced by the fact that even during the rigors of war, Bar Kokhba took special care to see that his warriors were supplied with them (see Yadin, in bjpes, 25 (1961), 60–62).
In the Bible no attempt is made to explain the symbolism of the four species. They probably symbolized the fertility of the land as evidenced in the harvest just concluded, and as desired for the coming season, especially with a view to the fact that the rains are due immediately after Sukkot. The Midrash gives a number of moral and homiletic interpretations (see Lev. R. 30:9–12); the most popular (ibid., 30:12) is based on the qualities of the four trees. The etrog has both "taste and odor," the date (palm) only taste, the myrtle only odor, the willow none. "taste and odor" symbolize "Torah and good works"; respectively the four species represent four categories of Jews insofar as they possess both, one, or none of these virtues. But Israel is regarded as a whole, and the failings of one are compensated for by the virtues of the others.
Another interpretation depends upon the shape of the species. The lulav resembles the spine, the etrog the heart, the myrtle leaves the eye, and the willow leaves the mouth. Therefore one should submit these organs, and all the others, to the service of God, in accordance with Psalms 35:10, "All my bones shall say, Lord, who is like unto Thee" (Lev. R. 30:14). It has also been suggested that the four species represent the four agricultural areas of Israel: the lulav, the lowland; the aravot, the river; the hadassim, the mountains; and the etrog, the irrigated areas. Kabbalistic symbolism interprets the four species in terms of the doctrine of the Sefirot.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
"Four Species." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (October 23, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/four-species
"Four Species." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved October 23, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/four-species