This section refers to the line in the mishnah concerning how they would set up the lulavim on Shabbat in the Temple so that they would not have to carry them to get them there.
According to the tanna’s (the professional reciter’s) version of the mishnah the lulavim were set up on the roof of the “portico.” This was the covering for the outer portion of the Temple, a sort of patio that was open but that had benches. This was called the “portico.”
R. Nahman finds this set up problematic for it would dry the lulavim out.
Therefore, he reads in the Mishnah “on top of the portico.” In Hebrew, there is only one letter difference גב vs. גג. The portico was covered by an overhanging. This would prevent the lulavim from drying out.
The last statement in this section describes how the collonades were set up in the Temple. There was an inner and an outer colonnade. This statement has no bearing on the previous issue about the lulavim.
This section consists of a mishnah. My explanation is taken from Mishnah Yomit. We have already discussed a lot of these issues, but a little review is probably not a bad thing.
This mishnah teaches how the special mitzvah of the aravah (the willow) was performed in the Temple. This ritual is not mentioned at all in the Torah and according to the majority opinion in the Talmud it is either an ancient halakhah, a prophetic enactment or a custom. However, others derive the mitzvah of the aravah from the Torah by using a midrash.
It seems likely that the Sadducees, a group that rivaled the Pharisees while the Temple stood, did not believe that this was indeed a mitzvah. There is a story in the Talmud that one time the Baytusim (the name of a sect possibly synonymous with the Sadducees) covered the aravot with a heap of rocks to prevent the mitzvah from being performed. The fact that other sects of Jews opposed this mitzvah explains why it was performed with so many verbal demonstrative acts (recitations and shofar blasts). This was a way to demonstrate that this mitzvah should be performed and a way to convince others to do so.
After the destruction of the Temple, the custom developed to circle around the synagogue one time each day of the week while holding the lulav and seven times on Hoshanah Rabbah, the last day of Sukkot.
Section one: Most of this ritual is self-explanatory. The aravot would need to be about 11 cubits high (more than five meters) so that their tops would go over the altar which was ten meters high. The shofar blasts were meant to give the ritual great publicity and great authority. They were also a sign of rejoicing.
Section two: While circling the altar the people would recite Psalms 118:25, which is a plea to God to save us and bring us prosperity. Since Sukkot is the holiday on which we pray for the beginning of the rainy season, it is likely that the prosperity which they were praying for was rain.
Section three: According to Albeck, Rabbi Judah pronounced the beginning of this verse differently. Whereas we pronounce it “ana adonay”, he would pronounce it “ani vaho.” However, the meaning of “ani vaho” is not clear. Others read “ani vehu” which would mean “I and God”, meant to express the idea that God also participates in the sorrows and sufferings of His people Israel.
Section four: On the seventh day they would circle the altar seven times. This is the origins of “Hoshanah Rabbah”, the last day of Sukkot on which we circle the Torah, which is placed in the middle of the synagogue, seven times.
Section five: The end of this seven day ritual was also accompanied by recitations, again meant to emphasize the importance of the aravah ritual and our sadness that the joyous occasion is completed. The people are actually paying homage, in a sense, to the altar. Through the altar the people of Israel receive atonement and hence it is desirable for us to praise it. We should note that we often think of Judaism as an anti-iconic religion—God is transcendent, has no body or image, and we therefore deemphasize religious artifacts and emphasize intentions, emotions and our intellect. While this is not the space to enter into a thorough examination of these issues, it does seem to me that this is largely a Maimonidean concept of Judaism. In our mishnah we see that most rabbis had no problem directly speaking to the altar itself.
Section six: Rabbi Eliezer adds that the praise should not go only to the altar, but to God as well.
1) As was its performance on a weekday, so was its performance on Shabbat, except that they would gather them on the eve of Shabbat and place them in golden basins so that they would not become wilted.
2) Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka says: they used to bring palm branches and they would beat them on the ground at the sides of the altar, and that day was called “[the day of] the beating of the palm branches.”
3) Immediately after beating the willows (or palm branches) the children undo their lulavs and eat their etrogim.
Section one: The mishnah emphasizes that when this ritual was done on Shabbat (if it fell on the seventh day) it was done in the exact same way that it was done during the week. This seems to be an emphasis of the rabbis in several places—certain holiday rituals are indeed carried out on Shabbat. This is another area of halakhah in which the rabbis/Pharisees deeply disagreed with the Sadducees and the sect from the Dead Sea. Indeed, according to the solar calendar used by the Dead Sea Sect, the holidays mostly began on Wednesdays. They thought that holiday ritual never superseded Shabbat and they shaped their calendar accordingly. In contrast the Pharisees/rabbis said that on certain occasions, it did.
Section two: In this section we learn that Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka disagrees with all of the previous mishnayot. He holds that the entire ritual was done with palm branches and not with aravot.
At the end of the rituals they would beat whatever had been carried around the altar for seven days (the palm branches according to Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka, and aravot according to the other sages). That day was called “the day of the beating of the palm branches/aravot.” To this day beating the aravot on Hoshanah Rabbah is still customary.
Other commentators explain that Rabbi Yohanan’s debate with the other sages is only concerning the seventh day. On that day one takes palm branches and aravot. On the other days he agrees that he takes only aravot.
Section three: Once the ritual of the aravah was completed, children would immediately undo the ties binding their lulavim together and would immediately eat the etrogim. This seems to encompass two concrete ways of demonstrating that the mitzvah was utterly completed. Once the lulav is untied it is no longer really a lulav—it is now just a palm branch, a willow and a myrtle branch. Once the etrog has a bite taken out of it, it can no longer be used on Sukkot.
This section begins to explain the Mishnah.
The Mishnah had stated that the place from which they picked the aravot was called Moza. But the Talmud has a baraita in which it is called “Kolonia.” The Talmud accepts this name and provides a “midrashic” reason for why it should be called “Moza”—the people there were exempt from the king’s taxes. “Moza” in Hebrew can mean “to take out” here interpreted as something like “taken out from the tax of the king.” Assumedly, the name “Kolonia” is actually the Greek name, whereas Moza is the Hebrew.
The mishnah taught that at the end of the daily aravah ritual, they would lean the aravot against the sides of the altar. The aravot were long enough that they would bend over the tops of the altar. Must have been a really beautiful sight, the altar hidden in the willows (would make a nice title for a book).
Maremar does the math and sees that if the aravot were only (!) eleven cubits high, they could not have been placed on the ground, because the altar did not go straight up. There are two spots where it goes in a cubit. This would mean it would need to be placed on the foundation in order for it to lean over the altar.
R. Abbahu takes a verse that mentions “boughs” which he interprets as the aravot, as being brought up to the horns of the altar.
In this statement, R. Abbahu offers a different interpretation of “boughs.” The word for “boughs” is similar to the word used for the hadas in Leviticus 23 (עבתים/עבות). So he interprets the verse as referring to the hadas. The word “bind” he interprets as the lulav, which is bound together. Taken altogether, the verse teaches that taking the lulav and the hadas is equivalent to offering a sacrifice.