The Four Species: Every Jew Included
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Wednesday 8th October 2014

And they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses. One shall say: 'I am the Lord's and another shall call himself by the name of Ya’akov and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord and label himself with the name, ‘Israel’. (Yeshaya/Isaiah 44:4-5)

On Succot, there is a mitzvah to bring together the 'four species' (arba’a minim). These are: an etrog – the fruit of a citron tree; a lulav – a ripe, green, closed frond from a date palm tree; hadass – boughs with leaves from the myrtle tree and the aravah – branches with leaves from the willow tree.
These four are underpinned by much symbolism. The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 30:12) states that an etrog has both a good taste and a good smell, which hints to those who have both Torah learning and good deeds. The lulav has taste (from its dates), but no scent, representing those who study Torah but do not possess good deeds. The hadass has a decent aroma but no flavour, symbolising those who possess good deeds but do not study Torah. The aravah has neither taste nor smell, denoting those who lack both Torah study and good deeds. All four ‘characters’ are united on Succot.
The Vilna Gaon (Rabbi Eliyahu Kramer, d.1797) asks what is the redeeming feature of the simple person symbolised by the aravah? Why should such a person be part of this holy alliance? He answers that such a person, although lacking in education and practice, is clearly a part of the Jewish community.
Based on this analysis, the Vilna Gaon goes on to interpret the aforementioned extract from Yeshaya in the most profound of ways: 'One shall say: 'I am the Lord's'' – this is the 'etrog-type', the spiritual giant, who belongs to G-d.
'Another shall call himself by the name of Ya’akov’ – this is the 'lulav character', based on the verse, 'Moshe commanded us to uphold the Torah, an inheritance of the congregation of Ya’akov (Devarim 33:4). Such a person learns Torah without any spiritual ambition, and therefore does not perform the mitzvot. He perceives it merely as tradition from our forefather, Ya’akov, rather than something he is actively dedicated to continuing.
'Another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord' – this is the 'hadasstype', who serves G-d ‘with his hand’ through performing mitzvot, without necessarily learning about Judaism.
'And label himself with the name, Israel' – this is the 'aravah-like' individual. Even though he does not know or observe anything, he nevertheless calls himself a Jew. He is an essential ‘part of the team’ as he is still a voice of ethical monotheism, as the Talmud states, 'Anyone who denies idolatry is called a Jew' (Megillah 13a).
The Vilan Gaon concludes that this is the secret of the opening phrase, ‘And they shall spring up among the grass, as willows by the watercourses'. Even the aravot – the willow leaves, those Jews with little know-how, but who hold a pure, loyal faith in their hearts – they too will flourish and will have a part to play in the unravelling of the great Jewish destiny.
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