Activity: The Four Species
- To learn about the meanings behind the Lulav and Etrog
- To think about how difference can bring out positivity
Age: Ideally suited for Key Stages 3+ but could be amended for younger children.
Resources Needed: none, just pictures and sheets below. This activity is Shabbat/Yom Tov friendly.
Ask the participants to think about some oddly matched pairs/groups/things that work together:
- Peanut butter and banana sandwiches
- Diversity dance troupe
- Homer and Marge Simpson
- London Architecture
Please feel free to add other examples. With each example, ask them to think about why they work well together and how their differences support each other, leading to better team work, outcomes etc.
Read the quotes below, either splitting into smaller groups to discuss or as a whole group.
Bring all the groups together and ask them to feedback about their discussions. Draw on similar themes that come from discussions and sum up by thinking about unity, even despite our differences.
Finish by reading Yoni’s aphorism:
‘Every human being is beautiful. Each has his own needs, wants, desires, passions which serve to complement and influence our experiences. This realisation not only heightens our empathy towards each other but sets each person a mission.’
Vayikra Rabbah 30:12.
דבר אחר: פרי עץ הדר, אלו ישראל. מה אתרוג זה, יש בו טעם ויש בו ריח. כך ישראל, יש בהם בני אדם, שיש
בהם תורה, ויש בהם מעשים טובים. כפות תמרים, אלו ישראל. מה התמרה הזו, יש בו טעם ואין בו ריח. כך הם
ישראל, יש בהם שיש בהם תורה ואין בהם מעשים טובים. וענף עץ עבות, אלו ישראל. מה הדס, יש בו ריח ואין
בו טעם.כך ישראל, יש בהם שיש בהם מעשים טובים ואין בהם תורה. וערבי נחל, אלו ישראל. מה ערבה זו, אין
בה טעם ואין בה ריח. כך הם ישראל, יש בהם בני אדם שאין בהם לא תורה ולא מעשים טובים. ומה הקב”ה
עושה להם? לאבדן אי אפשר, אלא אמר הקדוש ברוך הוא יוקשרו כולם אגודה אחת, והן מכפרין אלו על אלו,
ואם עשיתם כך אותה שעה אני מתעלה, הדא הוא דכתיב (עמוס ט): הבונה בשמים מעלותיו. ואימתי הוא
מתעלה? כשהן עשויין אגודה אחת, שנאמר (שם): ואגודתו על ארץ יסדה. לפיכך משה מזהיר לישראל: ולקחתם
לכם ביום הראשון:
Another explanation: “The fruit of a beautiful tree” – these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this citron (etrog), which has taste and has smell, so too Israel has among them people that have Torah and have good deeds. “The branches of a date palm” – these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this date, which has taste and has no smell, so too Israel has among them those that have Torah but do not have good deeds. “And a branch of a braided tree (a myrtle)” – these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this myrtle, which has smell and has no taste, so too Israel has among them those that have good deeds but do not have Torah. “And brook willows” – these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this willow, which has no smell and has no taste, so too Israel has among them people that have no Torah and have no good deeds. And what does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? To destroy them is impossible, but rather the Holy One, blessed be He, said “bind them all together [into] one grouping and these will atone for those.”
And if you will have done that, I will be elevated at that time. This is [the meaning of] what is written (Amos 9:6), “He Who built the upper chambers in the heavens” (indicating his elevation). And when is He elevated? When they make one grouping, as it is stated (Ibid.), “and established His grouping on the earth.” Hence Moshe warned Israel, “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day.”
These four species are noticeably different from one another. The etrog has both a pleasant taste and a pleasant fragrance. The fruit of the tree from which the lulav is taken, the date, has a pleasant taste, but no fragrance. The myrtle has a pleasant fragrance but no taste, and the willow has neither fragrance nor pleasant taste. Taste symbolizes Torah study, because understanding Torah gives us a concrete pleasure, similar to the sensation of experiencing a pleasing flavor. Smell symbolizes the fulfillment of mitzvos, because the quality which usually motivates us to fulfill the mitzvos is kabbalas ol, an unquestioning acceptance of the yoke of heaven. Since we often do not understand the reasons for the mitzvos, their observance may be less tangibly gratifying than Torah study is, in much the same way that smelling something is less palpably gratifying than tasting it. An extension of this symbolism enables us to see each of the four species as representing a different type of individual. The etrog represents a person who studies Torah and fulfills the mitzvos, the lulav represents one who studies Torah but does not perform mitzvos, 3 the myrtle represents one who fulfills mitzvos but does not study
Torah, and the willow represents a Jew who neither studies Torah nor observes mitzvos.
Do we need all of these types of people?
How can the four types of people work together?
How can you relate this to your life? If you had to think of 4 types of people what would they be?
The mitzvah of the lulav and etrog demonstrates that no individual can attain fulfilment unless they are willing to go beyond themselves and join together with thier fellows. Even the etrog, the species which symbolizes both the virtues of Torah study and observance of the mitzvos, cannot be used for the mitzvah on Sukkos unless it is taken in hand and held together with the humble willow. By the same token, no matter how much we develop ourselves as individuals, we cannot reach our true potential without the help of others. The unity of our people as a whole is an indispensable ingredient in the growth and progress of every individual.
The concept of unity is so central to this mitzvah that it is reflected not only in the requirement of taking all four species together, but also in the characteristics of the individual components of the mitzvah. Our Sages4 stipulate that a lulav may be used for the mitzvah only if its leaves are bound together. The only species of myrtle that may be used for the mitzvah is that which has successive rows of three leaves each. In each row, the three leaves must be level with each other, with no leaf significantly higher or lower than another.5 The species of willow used also expresses the concept of unity, since it grows in bunches.6
Can you think of other instances when you cant complete something without working together?
Why do you think unity is so central to Sukkot?
How can we relate this idea of unity to our lives?
The motif of unity is also reflected in the etrog. Indeed, because the etrog represents a category of people whose potential for achievement is greater than that of others, its emphasis on unity must be greater.
The etrog expresses the concept of unity by virtue of the fact that it grows on the tree for an entire calendar year and is exposed to all the seasonal variations and changes of climate. Not only does the etrog withstand all these influences, but it responds positively to them; each of these influences contributes to its growth.
We must learn from the etrog, and not merely tolerate people of all kinds, including those with characters and personalities very different from our own, but actually grow through contact with their divergent perspectives. As the Mishnah teaches, "Who is wise? - One who learns from every man."
Why is it important that the etrog must grow on a tree for an entire year?
What does tolerant mean to you?
How can we use this idea to bring together the Jewish people? And the wider community?
Another Midrashic interpretation (Vayikra Rabbah 30:14) sees each of the 4 species as representing a different part of the body. The lulav is the spine. The etrog represents the heart. The willow, the lips, and the myrtle, the eyes. Only when they work in unison, can a body function. Metaphorically, then, only when people speak out, feel for, and see those they may often overlook, do they appreciate the ability of the back (the spine and the centre of a person) to stand strong.
When our community is fragmented we are weak. But when men and women, gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, singles and married, young and old, all stand together – we can, as is so of the lulav and etrog, move in many directions. As Jews sit in the sukkah, whether it is the sukkah at their congregation with fellow congregants, at the JCC with neighbors, or at home or with friends and relatives, may all feel renewed by God’s presence, sheltering and blessing us and our newly invited guests.
Why do you think these parts of the body were chosen? Would you chose another part?
Do you agree that this could be used as a metaphor for inclusivity? What other metaphors could you think of?
How can you seek to be more inclusive on Sukkot.
Written by Sam Clifford Sam Clifford is the director of the Yoni Jesner Foundation and has worked in the Jewish community for nearly 15 years in community programming, leadership development and project management.