Regarding the mitzvah mitzvah of the four species on Sukkot, the Torah says “Ulekachtem lachem bayom harishon” — “You shall take for yourselves on the first day” — “pri eitz hadar” — “the fruits of a beautiful tree” — which the Sages define as the etrog — citron — “kapot temarim” — “the branches of date palms” — the lulav “anaf eitz avot — “twigs of myrtles” — the hadassim — and “arvei nachal” — “brook willows” — the aravah (Vayikra 23:40).

Since it says “ulekachtem” — “and you shall take” — the halachah is that one must take them into his hand. If one has before him the most beautiful four species but does not take them in his hand, he does not fulfill the mitzvah. For this reason the berachah recited is “al netilat lulav” — “on the taking of the lulav” — and not al mitzvat lulav, to emphasize that the mitzvah is fulfilled only when they are taken in the hand. (See Orach Chaim 651).

Why does the Torah insist that they be taken in one’s hand? Why is looking at the four species insufficient?

According to the Midrash Rabbah (30:14), the four species represent different parts of the human body. The etrog (citron) resembles a heart, the lulav (palm branch) represents the spine, the hadas (myrtle) has small leaves which are like eyes, and the leavesof the aravah (willow) resemble the lips.

With the mitzvah of “ulekachtem” — “you shall take” — the Torah is conveying a message of great importance: that these four major body parts must be taken in hand, that is, be under man’s control.

The heart sometimes lusts for dangerous things. Man must learn to control the desires of his heart. At all times there must also be mo’ach shalit al haleiv — the brain ruling (governing) over the desires of the heart (Zohar, Vayikra 224a).

According to halachah, the lulav must be firm and upright. It should not be loose, curved, or bending to all sides. The spine provides major support for body and the spinal cord controls it. A weak spine can, G‑d forbid, cause a person to be paralyzed or of bent stature. Taking the lulav in hand means that a Jew must be firm in his convictions, walk upright, and be proud of the fact that he is a Torah observant member of the Jewish people. He must never “bend” — compromise or yield — in his Torah observance.

The hadas leaves, resembling eyes, must grow upright on their stems. This teaches us that a Jew must always look up to G‑d in Heaven with optimism, and it also teaches not looking down upon other people.

The message implied by the halachah requiring that the hadas be taken in the hand is that one must learn to control his eyes and also to be happy with one’s lot and not look enviously on other people’s good fortune, thinking, as the saying goes, “the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

The leaves of the aravah must be smooth and not have sharp serrated edges. The mitzvah of taking it into the hands emphasizes the importance of controlling one’s lips. In particular, one should be careful not to make biting remarks; and one should speak well of a fellow Jew.

The halachah that the four species must be held in one’s hand teaches us that it is imperative that man be in control of himself, his ideals, and ideas.

In this vein I will conclude with a comical story I once heard.

One time late at night, an elderly woman frantically telephoned the police emergency number 911, and yelled “Help! thieves broke into my car — they removed the steering-wheel, the brake and the gas pedal. Please send someone immediately to investigate.” Fifteen minutes later, she telephoned again: “Disregard my previous call; by mistake I got into the back seat.”

From the halachah pertaining to the need to grasp the four species in one’s hand we learn the importance of being in the driver’s seat. We should not be content to merely “be in the back seat” and be controlled by others. When one is in control of himself and not controlled by the dictates of secular society, his entire year is zeman simchateinu — a life of joy and happiness.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, regarding the etrog — citron — the Torah specifies that it be “pri eitz hadar” — fruit of a beautiful tree. When people go shopping for an etrog, they look for one which is a hadar — beautiful. Though the Torah does not mention hadar by the other three species, the halachah states “ Since all the four species appear in the same verse, they are likened to one another by a hekesh — textual association — hence, all Four Species must be mehudarim — beautiful — in their appearance and shape” (see Alter Rebbe’s Shulchan Aruch 645:2).

It is our fervent prayer and berachah that you develop into a Jew with a beautiful heart, spine, eyes, and lips. It requires much work on your part, but remember that achieving this will make you very beautiful in the eyes of Hashem and people. Mazal Tov.


This week’s parshah contains the command of celebrating the Festival of Sukkot with the taking of the Four Species. The Torah is quite clear in describing three of the four: the lulav — palm branch — the hadas — myrtle — and the aravah — willow branch. Of course the Gemara discusses each in detail and places specifications for each one, but reading about them in the Torah gives us a good idea what we are talking about.

However, when it comes to what we call the etrog — citron — it is very unclear. All the Torah says is “pri eitz hadar” — “the fruit of a beautiful tree” — (tree of splendor). It is so unclear that the Gemara (Sukkah 35a) considered that it may be palpelin — peppers — that are ground up as spices (i.e. peppercorns) not the peppers generally eaten as vegetables. According to a treatise written by my friend Mr. Sholom Golombeck, a scion of the famous spice dealers M.J. Golombeck and Son, it refers to a product called “Meliguite Pepper” or “Grains of Paradise” of Western Africa, where it is served as a popular pepper substitute. It is grown on a reed-like plant that produces pods that contains the grains or the seeds.

The Gemara decided that pri eitz hadar is etrog because in lieu of “pri eitz hadar” — “fruit of a beautiful tree” — it should have just said “pri hadar” — “a beautiful fruit.” This indicates that there is a unique similarity between the tree and its fruit: “ta’am eitzo vepiri’o shavah” — “the tree and the fruit have a similar flavor.” This quality is found only by the etrog tree.

The Gemara also says that the Torah’s intent is a etrog — because we read hadar (הָדָר) — splendor — as hadar (הַדָר) — “dwelling.” It is a fruit that “hadar b’ilano mishanah l’shanah” — “it dwells on its tree from year to year, i.e., from one year to the next.” (The citron remains on the tree two or three years.)

The Torah says, “Ki ha’adam eitz hasadeh” (Devarim 20:19).Translated literally, this verse is asking a rhetorical question: “Is the tree a human being?” Why, then, should a tree be wantonly destroyed even when waging a war against the inhabitants of the city? We find, however, that the Gemara (Taanit 7a) interprets this statement as a matter of fact, as if saying, “Indeed the tree of the field is like man,” and many lessons are learned from the tree to guide man in his development.

What can we learn from the beauty of the etrog to make man a beautiful Jew?

True splendor for a Jew is achieved when the taste of the tree (parent) and the fruit (child) is the same. It is the greatest source of pride and feeling of achievement for parents when the children do not merely represent a physical resemblance, but are inspired to carry on in the image of the parents spiritually as well.

The Jew is a hadar — beautiful — when his observance of Torah and mitzvot is throughout the entire year and weathers all seasons. His attachment to Hashem remains firm in good times and in bad times, in joy and in sorrow, in poverty and in plenty.

On the top of an etrog is a pitom — stem — topped with a shoshanta — rosette blossom. Should one of these fall off, the etrog is no longer considered to be beautiful. (See Shulchan Aruch Harav, 648:17, 649:18.) One who does not rest contented with the family’s past glories, but goes forth to blossom on his own, is indeed a hadar — a very beautiful person.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, like the etrog that is the most valuable and expensive amongst the four, you are dear and valuable to your family and Klal Yisrael. It is our fervent wish and prayer that you be a hadar — a beautiful fruit — in the Jewish community. By embodying and practicing the qualities of the etrog, that were mentioned, you will be rated a hadar — a beautiful fruit in the Garden of Hashem. Mazal Tov.