The mishnah says that a curved lulav is invalid. Rava says that only if the lulav is curved to its front is it invalid. But if it is curved back it is valid, because that is the natural way for it to grow.
There are different traditions concerning what R. Nahman said about a lulav that grows to the sides. Some say he thinks it is like a lulav that grows to the front, and it is invalid. Others say it is valid like a lulav that grows towards its back and it is valid.
If all of the lulav’s leaves go to one side the lulav is invalid.
In today’s section we continue to interpret the mishnah about various problems that invalidate the lulav.
R. Papa interprets the mishnah. “Detached” doesn’t mean that they were fully detached. Such a lulav is obviously invalid. What it means is that the leaves were separated from the spine like a broom. Such a lulav is invalid, with its leaves wide apart, is invalid. If the leaves were merely spread apart the lulav remains valid.
R. Papa asks now about the central middle leaf of the lulav. This is the middle leaf that you might have seen people looking at with a magnifying glass to see if it is split (especially if you’ve been to the shuk in Jerusalem). R. Yohanan says that if the central leaf is removed, the lulav is invalid. But, the Talmud notes, this is a different question from if it is split.
Note that the Talmud does not really answer R. Papa’s question.
This is an alternative version of R. Yohanan’s statement. Here he clearly says that if the central leaf is split it is invalid.
In the mishnah, R. Judah said he should tie the leaves of the lulav together at the top. Our sugya discusses the source for this ruling.
The Torah calls what we identify as the lulav “kapot temarim,” usually translated as branches of palm-trees. The word “kapot” can mean to bind. So from this word R. Judah learns that if the leaves had separated, as they tend to do, one should bind them together, as he said in the Mishnah.
Ravina and other amoraim now asks how we know that the Torah mandates taking the part of the palm tree that we call the “lulav”? The Hebrew words are not at all clear, so how can we be so sure that what we use is the correct part.
I should note that by Ravina’s time there was a centuries’ old tradition to use this branch as part of the four species. This is probably a tradition whose origins are lost—we don’t really know why they originally used this part of the palm. Our sugya asks how we know that this is the right part—but no matter how we answer this question, the tradition to use this part of the palm on Sukkot will certainly remain.
The first suggestion is to use the hardened part of the palm closer to the trunk. The problem with using this part is that the spread apart leaves are already so hardened that they can’t be bound up. Since the Torah uses the word “kapot,” which we have interpreted as “bound up” the leaves must be such that they can be bound.
The second suggestion is to use the large central branch or stalk of the palm tree. The problem with using this part is that its leaves can never become separate. The lulav needs to have leaves that can be separated such that it can be bound.
The third suggestion is to use the spiky part of the palm (I have a palm tree in my front entrance and I’ve encountered this part too many times). Abaye rejects the use of this part because it would be exceedingly unpleasant to use it. The Torah is supposed to be pleasant and carrying a spiky lulav is not.
Finally, Rabbah Tosfa’ah asks why we can’t use the bunches of dates themselves. I should note that this might indeed be the simple meaning of the verse. The first answer is that the Torah writes the word “kapot” without a vav, meaning that it is singular. Rabbah Tosfa’ah responds that if so, we could just use one bunch of dates. To this Ravina responds that one bunch of dates is called “kaf” and not “kapot.” Thus by paying attention to Hebrew grammar and spelling Ravina rejects using bunches of dates. As I noted above, it seems quite clear that this was not how the decision to use the lulav branch was made. Rather this is what we call a “supporting midrash.” The ancient halakhah is clearly a tradition, one whose origins have been lost.
Today’s section interprets the section of the mishnah that allows one to use lulavim that grow on the “Iron Mountain” (which is also identified in our sugya). Evidently these lulavim have poor leaves and therefore there is a question as to their usability.
The mishnah allows one to use the thorny palms from the Iron Mountain for a lulav. Abaye restricts this ruling to a case where the top of one palm leaf reaches the junction of the next leaf. But if there are so few leaves that the top of one doesn’t reach the next leaf, the palm branch cannot be used as a lulav.
Abaye’s ruling also aids in solving a contradiction between a baraita which forbids using these palm branches and the mishnah which permits using. Abaye clarifies that when the leaves don’t reach the next, they cannot be used (baraita), but when they do reach the next leaf they can be used (mishnah).