In this week's Torah reading, G‑d gives the commandments of the holidays, including the holiday of Sukkot, on which we are commanded to hold the four species - namely, the citron (etrog), palm branch (lulav), myrtle (hadas), and willow (arava) - together.

"And you shall take for yourselves on the first day [of Sukkot] the fruit of the beautiful tree, date palms, a branch of the thick-bough tree, and willows of the brook." (Lev. 23:40)

[The Sages explain:] "The fruit of the beautiful tree" is the etrog; "date palms" refers to the palm stem [lulav]; "a branch of the thick-bough tree" is the myrtle [hadas]; and "willows" of the brook" is the willow branch [arava]. (Sukka 32b, 35a)

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai explained (Zohar III:24a) that these plants allude to the seven sefirot that build [the world, and the four letters of the name Havayah].

The seven midot are referred to as the seven sefirot of building [the world], for they manifest in the material world as the seven days of Creation.

To explain: The hadas manifests chesed-gevura-tiferet, which in turn are alluded to by the letter yud spelled out.

The four plants are actually seven….

According to Jewish law, we must hold a minimum of three hadas branches in order to fulfill this commandment. The three hadas branches therefore allude to the primary triplet of the seven midot, chesed-gevura-tiferet.

The letter yud is spelled out with three letters: yud-vav-dalet.

[Inasmuch as the leaves of the hadas] must be triplets, this indicates that we should consider the yud spelled-out twice [i.e., expanded into its third iteration], like this: yud-vav-dalet vav-alef-vav dalet-lamed-tav.

In order for the hadas to be valid, its leaves must issue in triplets from the same point on the branch at least for a length of three handbreadths. Thus, the triplet of hadas branches becomes nine hadas leaves, alluding to an additional iteration of the letter yud.

The two willow branches manifest netzach and hod, and are alluded to by the spelling out of the letter hei: hei-hei.

We must hold two willow branches in performing this commandment. Netzach and hod are always considered a pair.

The lulav manifests yesod, and alludes to the spelling out of the vav: vav-vav.

The lulav must be straight, alluding to the straight line of the vav. It is valid if the two halves of its central leaf are connected for the majority of its length; these two halves allude to the two vav's used to spell out the letter vav.

The etrog manifests malchut, alluding to the final hei spelled out as hei-hei.

Thus, the four plants are actually seven.

The lulav alludes to the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column….

Now, according to this [explanation], the Torah lists them neither in ascending nor descending order. Logically, it should have begun with the hadas, which alludes to chesed-gevura-tiferet, and continued with the willow, which alludes to netzach-hod, etc. Or, it should have begun with the etrog, proceeded to the lulav, and continued with the arava before the hadas.

Furthermore, the lulav alludes to the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column, and yesod is not part of the spinal column, for tiferet is manifest in the spinal column, and all 18 vertebrae are part of it, not yesod. Yesod is below the 18 vertebrae of the spinal column, as we see physically.

Another question: If the etrog is one of the four plants, why don't we tie it together with the others, making one bundle.

The other three plants - the lulav, hadas, and arava are bound together, while the etrog is held separately and just touched to the group of the other three.

Another question: When we shake the four plants, we do so in all four directions, up and down. These [correspond to the sefirot as follows:] south manifests chesed, north manifests gevura, east manifests tiferet, up manifests netzach, down manifests hod, west manifests yesod - in which all the other lights coalesce, as is known - and for malchut, which is manifest in the etrog, we do not make any movement at all.

The Hebrew word for "west", "ma'arav", comes from the Hebrew word for "to mix", "l'arev", for it is in the west that day blends gradually into evening.

In contrast, in the circuits [hakafot, made with the Torah on Simchat Torah] there is a seventh circuit. Moreover, the lulav [and the other three plants] are [held and] moved on the seventh day [of Sukkot], so why with regard to the days [of moving] there is a day [for malchut], while with regard to the movements in particular there is not?

Another question: [Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai] said that the etrog corresponds to the heart, while malchut is the lowest sefira.

The heart is generally associated with tiferet, not malchut.

The source of all seven sefirot and their vitality is stored within daat….

And when we explain, as we will later, please G‑d, that [the etrog] manifests the crown [of yesod], this will give rise to the question of what connection is there between the crown [of yesod] with the heart? The later is one of the internal organs, while the former is one of the external organs.

Finally: The hadasim correspond to the eyes, so why are there three of them? There are only two eyes, not three.

To answer all this, you have first to understand the following: As you know, the sefirot are composed of their essence and their vessel, which [are like] a soul and a body.

These "essence" or "content" of the sefira is also known as its "light".

We are not speaking now of the vessels; [we are speaking] only of the inner entity [of the sefirot], which divides into an inner, middle, and outer aspect, [known as] the Nefesh, Ruach, and Neshama [of the sefira, in reverse order].

Nefesh ("animating soul"), Ruach ("spirit"), and Neshama ("breath") are three synonyms for "soul", and are generally used to indicate the instinctive, emotional, and intellectual aspects of the soul. Here, they are used to describe the three aspects of the divine light within each sefira.

The Nefesh [of the sefira] is the aspect [manifest as] the name Elo-him; the Ruach is the aspect [manifest as] the name Havayah; and the Neshama is the aspect [manifest as] the spelling-out of the name Havayah.

They also possess a simple name Havayah, which is a Neshama to it; and a [further] Neshama to [both of] them, a name Havayah spelled-out; and a [further yet] Neshama to them all, a simple yud. All this will be explained in its context, please G‑d.

In any case, what always strengthens the body and makes it grow is the states of chesed, which produce the drop of semen that initiates the birth process. The source and position [of these states of chesed] is daat.

The "body" here is the sefirot that correspond anatomically to the torso and its limbs, i.e. the sefirot from chesed to malchut.

The states of chesed and gevura within daat are the subjective aspects of the intellect, the propensities of attraction and repulsion toward and against the implications of an idea based on what it means for the individual.

Of daat, it is written, "And with daat the rooms are filled," (Proverbs 24:4) meaning that [the states of chesed within daat] spread out to "water" the body and make it grow. This is the mystical meaning of the [Sages'] statement that "there is no erection without daat" (Yevamot 53b), meaning that the root of the whole body is alluded to and rooted in daat. For this reason, it is forbidden to show mercy to someone who has no daat. (Berachot 33a) It is also said that "Without daat, a soul is not good" (Proverbs 19:2) for the soul needs to live.

Thus, the source of all seven [sefirot] and their vitality is stored within daat. From there, the life-force spreads out and causes all seven [sefirot] to develop. But the origin and root always remains [within daat], and it only spreads forth [in response] to the deeds of [those in] the lower worlds and their arousal [of it] through acts [here] below. [Their acts] cause the upper levels to be aroused and give additional light of daat [in to the seven lower sefirot], and from the plentitude of light that enters the "body", it bestows and adds greatly throughout the seven sefirot.

Yesod, on the other hand, has only a spiritual, not physical, function….

This daat comprises states of chesed and states of gevura. All couplings are effected through via these [states of chesed acting] as male waters and these [states of gevura acting] as female waters. These [ten] are ten simple names Havayah. The masculine ones [extend] to the male [partzuf, Zeir Anpin, particular to its] chesed-gevura-tiferet-netzach-hod. In contrast, [its] yesod and malchut - that is, the crown [of yesod] - do not each possess a state of chesed, as is the case with the first [five of the seven midot], for there are only five states of chesed.

The same applies to the states of gevura [that extend] into malchut, [the female partzuf, Nukva d'Zeir Anpin]. They spread out into here chesed-gevura-tiferet-netzach-hod, as do the states of chesed throughout the male [partzuf].

As for yesod and malchut [of Zeir Anpin], the general radiance of the five [states of chesed] descends to them from daat. This general [radiance extends] to yesod and to the crown [of yesod], too, in order to prepare them to receive the [five] states of chesed themselves.

The same applies to yesod and malchut of Nukva: they also receive the general [radiance] of the states of gevura, in order to [prepare them to] later receive the [five] states of gevura themselves.

This general light that spreads through yesod comes to them [yesod and malchut of Zeir Anpin] from daat, preparing it to receive afterwards the drop of semen from the totality [of the preceding five sefirot], for were they not to receive this general radiance, they would not afterwards be able to receive the states of chesed themselves as a drop of semen, as mentioned.

Similarly, the same applies to [the partzuf of] malchut with regard to the states of gevura.

Thus, there are five states of chesed, their general radiance for yesod [of Zeir Anpin] and their general radiance for malchut [of Zeir Anpin]. These add up to seven. And likewise for [the partzuf of] malchut, it is veritably constructed from the [five] states of gevura, which cause it to develop just as the states of chesed do for the male [partzuf], as is known.

[Now that we have explained all this], it is time for me to tell you another principle. We should ask: why are there only five states of chesed, which shine into chesed-gevura-tiferet-netach-hod, while for yesod and malchut there is only a general radiance, as we have explained? G‑d could have made it so there were seven states of chesed, each [of the seven midot] receiving [the light] of one state of chesed. The same question may be asked about the states of gevura.

The answer is as follows. All the limbs of the body - the hands, the feet, and the torso - perform functions: walking with the legs, artistry and deeds with the hands, and similarly the torso, which is the "stem" of the legs and hands; they are always active. [The limb of] yesod, on the other hand, has only a spiritual, not physical, function, and then only from time to time. It remains flaccid except for during marital relations. This is why it is said that, "Joseph was born" (Zohar I:1b). It means that when [Zeir Anpin] wants to couple [with Nukva], and all the lights [of the higher sefirot] spread through it, it comes to life.

To be continued…

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim parashat Emor; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Reprinted with permission from Chabad of California. Copyright 2004 by Chabad of California, Inc. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this work or portions thereof, in any form, without permission, in writing, from Chabad of California, Inc.