Arba Minim in the Torah
The Torah describes the mitzvah of the Arba Minim (Four Species) that are used on Sukkot.
Read the verse from Leviticus (Vayikra) and answer the questions below.
If you didn't know anything about the Arba Minim but wanted to fulfill the mitzvah described in the verse, what difficulties would you have in following the instructions?
What do you need to know in order to fulfill the mitzvah?
Arba Minim in the Mishna
The Mishnah, the first book of the Oral Torah, further explains the mitzvah. Chapter 3 of Tractate Sukkah explains the requirements for each of the four species that make up the Arba Minim.
(ד) רַבִּי יִשְׁמָעֵאל אוֹמֵר, שְׁלשָׁה הֲדַסִּים וּשְׁתֵּי עֲרָבוֹת, לוּלָב אֶחָד וְאֶתְרוֹג אֶחָד...
(4) Rabbi Ishmael says: three hadasim, two aravot, one lulav and one etrog...
Research each of the elements of the Arba Minim. What do they look like? Smell like? Taste like? Add your notes in a comment below.
To learn more about each of the parts of the Arba Minim, see Chapter 3 of Mishnah Sukkah.
Symbolism of the Arba Minim
The midrash below says that each element of the Arba Minim represents a different type of person.
Read the midrash and create a chart identifying the characteristics of each of the elements.
דָּבָר אַחֵר, פְּרִי עֵץ הָדָר, אֵלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה אֶתְרוֹג זֶה יֵשׁ בּוֹ טַעַם וְיֵשׁ בּוֹ רֵיחַ, כָּךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם תּוֹרָה וְיֵשׁ בָּהֶם מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים. כַּפֹּת תְּמָרִים, אֵלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה הַתְּמָרָה הַזּוֹ יֵשׁ בּוֹ טַעַם וְאֵין בּוֹ רֵיחַ, כָּךְ הֵם יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ בָּהֶם שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם תּוֹרָה וְאֵין בָּהֶם מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים. וַעֲנַף עֵץ עָבֹת, אֵלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה הֲדַס יֵשׁ בּוֹ רֵיחַ וְאֵין בּוֹ טַעַם, כָּךְ יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ בָּהֶם שֶׁיֵּשׁ בָּהֶם מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים וְאֵין בָּהֶם תּוֹרָה. וְעַרְבֵי נָחַל, אֵלּוּ יִשְׂרָאֵל, מָה עֲרָבָה זוֹ אֵין בָּהּ טַעַם וְאֵין בָּהּ רֵיחַ, כָּךְ הֵם יִשְׂרָאֵל יֵשׁ בָּהֶם בְּנֵי אָדָם שֶׁאֵין בָּהֶם לֹא תּוֹרָה וְלֹא מַעֲשִׂים טוֹבִים, וּמָה הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא עוֹשֶׂה לָהֶם, לְאַבְּדָן אִי אֶפְשָׁר, אֶלָּא אָמַר הַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא יֻקְשְׁרוּ כֻלָּם אֲגֻדָּה אַחַת וְהֵן מְכַפְּרִין אֵלּוּ עַל אֵלּוּ, וְאִם עֲשִׂיתֶם כָּךְ אוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה אֲנִי מִתְעַלֶּה
Another explanation: "The fruit of a beautiful tree" - these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this citron (etrog), which has taste and has smell, so too Israel has among them people that have Torah and have good deeds. "The branches of a date palm" - these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this date, which has taste and has no smell, so too Israel has among them those that have Torah but do not have good deeds. "And a branch of a braided tree (a myrtle)" - these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this myrtle, which has smell and has no taste, so too Israel has among them those that have good deeds but do not have Torah. "And brook willows" - these are [referring to] Israel. Just like this willow, which has no smell and has no taste, so too Israel has among them people that have no Torah and have no good deeds. And what does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? To destroy them is impossible, but rather the Holy One, blessed be He, said "bind them all together [into] one grouping and these will atone for those." And if you will have done that, I will be elevated at that time.
Others compare the Arba Minim to different parts of the body: Heart, spine, lips and eyes.
What else could the Arba Minim represent?
Choose at least two questions to discuss with your partner.
Be prepared to participate in a class discussion about the Arba Minim.
- Have you or your family ever had your own Arba Minim?
Where were they grown? Did you buy it as a set or select each individual component separately?
Some people buy the Arba Minim as a complete set and others pick out each element separately. How do you think you would feel about the Arba Minim if you chose each component yourself?
What is the reason for the Arba Minim?
What do they represent? (There are many answers to this question.)
How are the Arba Minim used?
The festival of Sukkot is also called zman simchateinu (the time of our happiness).
Why is Sukkot a happy time?
How do the Arba Minim add to or express our joy?
Why do you think the Arba Minim are held together? What can we learn from the fact that the mitzvah requires shaking the four separate elements together?