Aravot (ערבות, also pronounced “aravos”) are leafy branches of the willow tree. Together with the lulav (palm frond), etrog (citron), and hadasim (myrtles), they make up the Four Species used in a special waving ceremony during the holiday of Sukkot.

In the Torah, they are referred to as arvei nachal, “willows of the stream,” since they typically grow near water. It is perfectly acceptable, however, to use willows grown in other places as well.

Watch: Why the Aravah Need Not Grow Near Water

How Are Aravot Used?

Two aravot are included in the Four Kinds bundle. According to Chabad custom, they are fastened to the lulav with rings made of lulav leaves. One aravah is placed on each side, positioned so that they are hidden by the hadasim.

Read: The Four Kinds

What Constitutes a Kosher Aravah?

  • The aravah must be at least three handbreadths long.1
  • The twig must be complete, with the tip intact.
  • The leaves must be supple and properly attached to the stalk.
  • It must have the majority of its leaves, ideally all.
  • The aravah species can be identified by the following characteristics:
    • The twigs turn reddish as it matures
    • The leaves are long and have smooth edges.2
  • Note that a weeping willow, whose branches extend downward, is not an aravah.

When Else Are Aravot Used?

  • In Temple times, every day of Sukkot, the priests would “place long aravah branches alongside the altar, with the heads of the branches bent over the altar.”3 The priests would then sound the shofar and circle the altar. On the seventh day, Hoshanah Rabbah, they did so seven times.
  • On Hoshanah Rabbah (the seventh day of Sukkot), we take a bundle of five aravot and beat it against the ground five times. The custom to take aravot on Hoshanah Rabbah is quite ancient, instituted by the final three prophets—Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Kabbalistic sources teach that there are five supernal levels of severity, and they are “sweetened” and tempered when we strike the five willows.

Read: Hoshanot: Winding and Willows

What Does the Aravah Symbolize?

According to the Midrash, each of the Four Kinds represents a body part:

  • The lulav is the spine.
  • The etrog is the heart.
  • The hadasim are the eyes.
  • The aravah is the mouth.

Another tradition connects each of the Four Kinds with a type of Jew. The aravah represents the Jew who excels neither in good deeds nor Torah study. Yet, this sincere Jew is also bundled into the mitzvah, forming an integral part of the Jewish people.

Read: The Aravah Jew