Four Species, Four Types of People

Chassidus interprets1 the phrase2 bakeseh liyom chageinu, “on the day [the moon] is hidden, for our festival,” as meaning that all matters that are concealed on Rosh HaShanah — “the day [the moon] is hidden” — are revealed on “our festival,” on Sukkos.

This also applies with regard to Yom Kippur. The hidden aspects of its Divine service are also revealed on Sukkos. For Yom Kippur is also referred to as Rosh HaShanah,3 and expresses the inner dimensions of that holy day.4

One of the fundamental aspects of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur is the unity of the Jewish people.5 For our Divine service on these holy days expresses the inner dimension of our souls. This dimension is the same for all Jews,6 from “your heads and your tribes...” to “your hewers of wood” and “drawers of water.”7 On Sukkos, this unity — like all the other dimensions of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur — becomes manifest.

This concept is expressed by the Midrash,8 which states that the four species used for the mitzvah of lulav and esrog refer to four categories of Jews:

“The fruit of a beautiful tree”9 [the Torah’s term for the esrog] — This refers to the Jewish people. Just as the esrog has both a [pleasant] taste and a [pleasant] fragrance, so too, among the Jewish people, there are those who possess [the virtues of] both Torah study and good deeds.

[A pleasant taste is used as an analogy for Torah study. Since Torah study involves intellectual comprehension, the satisfaction it produces is substantial, comparable to the satisfaction derived from food. A pleasant fragrance is used as an analogy for good deeds, because observance of the mitzvos must stem from kabbalas ol, the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke, a commitment which, like a fragrance, produces less tangible satisfaction.]

“A closed palm branch”9 — This refers to the Jewish people. Just as the [fruit of the] date palm has a [pleasant] taste, but not a [pleasant] fragrance, so too, among the Jewish people, there are those who possess [the virtues of] Torah study, but not of good deeds.

“Myrtle branches”9 — This refers to the Jewish people. Just as the myrtle has a [pleasant] fragrance but not a [pleasant] taste, so too, among the Jewish people, there are those who possess [the virtues of] good deeds, but not of Torah study.

“Willows of the brook”9 — This refers to the Jewish people. Just as the willow has neither a [pleasant] taste nor a [pleasant] fragrance, so too, among the Jewish people, there are those who possess neither [the virtues of] Torah study, nor of good deeds.

The Holy One, blessed be He, says: “Tie them all together in one bond, so that each will atone for the other.”10

Moreover, the oneness expressed on Sukkos is greater than that experienced on Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. On Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, the unity does not relate to the different natures within the Jewish people. Yes, everyone joins together in the sounding of the shofar and the teshuvah of Yom Kippur. But this oneness is merely a general feeling, expressing the essential G‑dliness that lies at the core of every Jew’s soul. It does not, however, relate to the differences between one Jew and another. On the contrary, on Rosh HaShanah, these differences are “hidden,” covered up by the revelation of higher lights.

On Sukkos, however, these individual differences receive expression. Each of the four species — the lulav, the esrog, the myrtle and the willow — stands for a different kind of personality. Nevertheless, they are all united in a single bond.11

The Lulav’s Distinction

From the comments of the Midrash cited above, it would appear that the esrog is the most distinguished of the four species, for it possesses both the advantages of taste and smell. In the analog, this refers to Jews who possess both the virtues of Torah study and observance of the mitzvos. The question then arises: Why in the blessing is the mitzvah referred to as “the mitzvah of lulav”?

The answer is given12 that the lulav is taller than the other species. This answer, however, is itself problematic. The existence of every entity in the material realm, and in particular those objects that are associated with mitzvos, reflect their spiritual source. Thus the fact that the lulav is taller than the other four species indicates that spiritually also, it possesses a quality which surpasses them.

What advantage does the lulav possess over the esrog? Seemingly, it represents a lower level, for the lulav possesses only a pleasant flavor (the virtue of Torah study), while the esrog possesses both flavor and fragrance (both Torah study and the observance of mitzvos).

This question can be resolved by comparing the study of Torah to the observance of mitzvos.13 Mitzvos are referred to as “limbs of the King,”14 while it is said:15 “The Torah, and the Holy One, blessed be He, are all one.”

To explain: The limbs of the body are not totally at one with the soul. They are given over to the soul, and as soon as the soul desires, they respond.16 Nevertheless, they are material entities, and remain distinct from the soul, which is spiritual.

Similar concepts apply with regard to the observance of the mitzvos. They express the nullification of a Jew before G‑d, that he carries out G‑d’s will. And yet the very statement that a Jew carries out G‑d’s will implies that he remains an independent entity.

The study of Torah, by contrast, involves a different type of relationship. When a Jew contemplates the Torah, he is grasping G‑d’s wisdom, as it were, and his mind becomes one with G‑d’s wisdom, of which it is said:17 “He and His wisdom are one.”

Moreover, this oneness with G‑d is an active dynamic. The more a Jew gives himself over to the comprehension of the Torah, the more encompassing his oneness with G‑d becomes. This highlights the advantage of the lulav — those individuals who are totally given over to Torah study, even to the exclusion of good deeds.

Certainly, such individuals perform good deeds, for if the person did not, he would not be carrying out the directives of his study, and would thus be deserving of the reproach:18 “And to the wicked, G‑d says: ‘For what reason do you pronounce My statutes?’ ”19 Moreover, we are compelled to say that the person observes mitzvos, for even if the person’s lack of observance is condoned by Torah law, and does not involve transgression, he is still lacking good deeds, and of such a person it is said:20 “Anyone who says: ‘All I seek is the Torah,’ will not possess even the Torah.”

Instead, we are speaking about a person who does observe the mitzvos. His observance, however, is secondary to his Torah study. He commits himself to good deeds only to the extent required by Torah law. For the primary thrust of his efforts is in Torah study.

Such individuals enjoy a deeper bond with G‑d than those in the category of the esrog, who study Torah and perform good deeds. For since the latter individuals are not devoted to Torah study alone — even if the matter which diverts their attention is the performance of G‑d’s will — the intensity of their bond with G‑d is weaker. For a certain time, their connection to G‑d is on the level of mitzvos, and does not reach the all-encompassing bond achieved through Torah study.21

Therefore, the mitzvah of the four species emphasizes the advantage of the lulav, for it expresses the ultimate unity with G‑d established by total devotion to the study of Torah. This is central to the mitzvah of the four species, for the intent of this mitzvah is to establish unity among the Jewish people. And that unity is dependent on the unity between the Jews and G‑d,22 who is simple oneness.

Making Progress

Based on the above, we can appreciate a dimension that applies to the lulav, but not to the other three species — nannuim, the shaking of the lulav. The fulfillment of the mitzvah involves moving all four species to the four directions, above, and below, but only the lulav is shaken. This dimension is further underscored by the custom of the Chabad Rebbeim, who would shake the lulav after moving the species in each of the four directions and before returning it to their chest. Indeed, Torah law requires a lulav to be four handbreadths tall, one handbreadth taller than the other species. Why? So that it can be shaken.23

What is the analog? Souls in the spiritual realms are described as “standing,”24 for they are rooted to a single level. Although they ascend, they are considered as being on one plane because these ascents are measured. By descending to this physical plane, and devoting itself to the observance of the Torah and its mitzvos, a soul attains the potential to proceed, and indeed, to do so in an unlimited manner. This potential is manifest in a Jew’s shaking back and forth during prayer and Torah study.

To cite a parallel: The Zohar25 states that a Jew shakes during prayer because “the soul of man is the candle of G‑d.”26 Just as a candle flickers back and forth because it is drawn to its source,27 so too the soul shakes during Torah study. For Torah study inspires a soul and connects it to its spiritual source.

On the surface, this shaking runs contrary to the intellectual thrust necessary for Torah study.28 For the Torah must be comprehended thoroughly, and its study involves making fine distinctions, and this necessitates a state of contemplative reserve. Nevertheless, it is necessary to shake while studying Torah, for this indicates that even as the Torah is enclothed in an intellectual framework, it remains G‑d’s wisdom. And when a person is involved in the comprehension of the Torah, it must be evident that the inner dimension of his activity is a clinging to G‑d.

This clinging generates the potential for unbounded progress, for G‑d is the essence of infinity.29 Since the ultimate clinging to G‑d is achieved through Torah study, it is Torah study that generates the potential for unbounded progress. For this reason, the lulav, which is identified with the study of the Torah, is shaken.

Of course, the potential for progress generated by the Torah also has an effect on a person’s observance of the mitzvos. And thus when the lulav is shaken, the other species are also moved.30

Growth in Torah

Not only does Torah study produce the potential for unlimited progress, this potential is also reflected within Torah study itself. There are two manifestations of this concept:

a) A person must study Torah in a manner that leads to an increase every day.31 Every day, a person must gain new knowledge. This is the difference between the study of Torah and prayer. With regard to prayer, one repeats the same prayers every day. With regard to Torah study, by contrast, each day must bring an increase.

b) Our Sages state:32 “A person will never comprehend the words of Torah unless he stumbles over them.” One of the interpretations of this statement is that Torah study requires an intellectual give and take, a process of question and answer. At first, a person has one understanding of an idea. Later, his thinking shifts, and he sees it from a different vantage point. And then he adopts a third perspective; thus he “moves” back and forth. It is only after seeing an idea from all six sides,33 that one can truly grasp it.

Forewarning Against Pride

Based on the above, we can appreciate a unique concept. Since according to the Midrash, the advantage of the date palm is its flavor, it would appear fitting to use the date itself for the mitzvah, and not the branches of the date palm.

The resolution of this difficulty can be explained as follows: As mentioned, the mitzvah of the four species involves joining all types of Jews together. For one Jew to come together with another, bittul, selflessness, is necessary. For self-concern and pride keep people apart.34

These spiritual concepts are reflected in the material realm. Each one of the four species reflects bittul,35 and this makes unity with the other species possible.

Where is bittul most necessary? In the most developed species. For the more developed a person is, the more likely he is to be self-conscious, and the more important it becomes to be forewarned against such feelings.36 For this reason, the esrog — which reflects distinction in both the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvos — alludes to the concept of humility in its very name. For the Hebrew word esrog (אתרג) serves as an acronym for the verse:37 אל תבואני רגל גאוה “Let not the foot of pride come against me.”

As mentioned above, the lulav possesses an advantage even over the esrog, for it refers to an individual who is totally devoted to the study of Torah. Therefore the lulav must also contain an allusion to the quality of bittul. This is reflected in the fact that instead of performing the mitzvah with the fruit of the date palm, we use its leaves.

At the Heart of Understanding

We often find a comparison between a man and a tree.38 Developing that analogy, intellect, man’s finest quality, can be compared to fruit, the prime element of a tree. In other sources, intellect is compared to a date palm, which is characterized by a sweet taste but no fragrance. And as stated in the Midrash mentioned above, the date refers to the Torah.

The leaves of a tree protect its fruit. So too, our Sages compare39 the leaves of a vine to the common people who protect the wise. Developing the comparison further, the give and take of question and answer can be seen as the leaves which protect the fruit, the idea itself.

By nature, a person does not derive satisfaction from an intellectual idea until he reaches a conclusion. While he is in the middle of the intellectual give and take (the leaves), before he has clarified all the questions, contradictions and doubts, he does not feel pleasure. On the contrary, he feels want and lack, for he has not yet defined the idea. In such a state, there is no room for pride or self-concern.

This is the allusion to the lulav. By using the leaves rather than the fruit of the date palm, we imply that we are always involved only with the leaves of the Torah. For however high we reach, we must understand that we have grasped only “a drop in the sea.”40 For about the Torah, it is said:41 “Its measure is longer than the earth and broader than the sea.” And the Torah’s ultimate truth is “hidden from all living beings.”42

The emphasis on leaves implies that we are still at the beginning. And this precludes the possibility of self-involvement and pride which could result from Torah study. For the understanding that one can never grasp the Torah’s ultimate truth produces bittul and humility.

This concept is also alluded to by the phrase: “A closed palm branch.” By using the word kapos (literally “bound up”43 ), the Torah indicates that a person is not a separate entity, concerned with himself. Instead, he is “bound up,” united with G‑d.

Indeed, the bittul of the lulav causes it to reach its ultimate fulfillment. For the greater a person’s bittul, the higher he is able to reach and the closer he is to appreciating the true meaning of the halachah. This is reflected in our Sages’ statement44 that because the School of Hillel were “patient and humble,” the halachah was decided according to their opinion.

Learning From the Lulav

We must all devote ourselves solely to the Torah, in a manner which reflects the lulav.

This directive applies not only to yeshivah students and those whose primary occupation is Torah study, but to the entire Jewish people. For as mentioned above, the four types of Jews represented by the four species must be united as one, and each type must appreciate — and adopt to a certain degree — the qualities of the other. Thus even a “willow” Jew must at certain times reflect the behavior of a lulav and study Torah in a complete bond of unity.

When a person studies Torah in such a manner, his efforts lift him to a higher spiritual plane, allowing him to progress in all his affairs. As mentioned above, the shaking of the lulav alsocauses the other three species to be moved, i.e., it affects a person’s observance of the mitzvos, and even his Divine service in mundane matters, enabling him to “know Him in all your ways”45 and be characterized by progress.

This process begins with laboring in Torah study, increasing one’s knowledge every day, advancing higher and higher. And we have the promise46 “If you toil, you will find;” we will discover new insights immeasurably beyond the effort invested.

We are told:47 “A discovery comes when one’s attention is diverted.” Our Sages add that Mashiach will also come “when our attention is diverted.” For laboring in Torah study will lead to the coming of Mashiach, of whom it is said:48 “I found David, My servant.”

At that time, we will grasp the inner dimension of all the Torah concepts which we have labored to understand; we will perceive the motivating principles behind Torah law.49 May this take place in the immediate future.