The Four Species

On Sukkos, we shake the four species three times ahead at הוֹדוּ, back at טוֹב, up at לְעוֹלָם and down at חַסְדוֹ. Is there any lesson that these words teach us?

We shake the lulav ahead at הוֹדוּ. It’s “easy” לְהֹדוֹת, to thank,[1] Hashem, when events are in front of us - obvious to a person. Nevertheless, the Gemara[2] tells us, “How frequent is it that a person has no inkling of how much Hashem is helping him every step of the way.”

Next, we shake the lulav back at טוֹב. There are times in our own life when the events seem to appear in ‘back of us’ - i.e. don’t make sense. When that happens, we ask aloud to our Creator, “How is this טוֹב,[3] for my own good?” There is nothing wrong with asking this question.

Rabbi David Aaron gives us a different perspective:

“When life gets rough, ask not ‘why’ this is happening to me but ‘what’ this happening is asking of me. In every painful situation choose to find opportunities for growth and humbly reserve judgment of the Master Mind of the universe.”

Nonetheless, the Gemara[4] tells us, “A person whose suffering causes him to challenge G-d is not sinful.”[5] In fact, the Medrash[6] which states that Yitzchak Avinu asked that man should endure suffering as an atonement. No one can escape suffering. As the Medrash[7] states, “There is no man who goes through life without afflictions!”

As an American, what do I gain from suffering? The Gemara[8] says, “Pain that a person suffers[9] in this world atones for sins.”[10] Regardless of these explanations, we must realize that we cannot understand G-d’s doings. As the Novi[11] states, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and your ways are not My ways.”

Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai[12] says that when Hashem reveals Himself, people will directly perceive how evil causes good, instead of merely understanding this intellectually. For example, in order to make freedom of choice real, Hashem also had to create the possibility of evil.[13] He continues, … All doubt regarding Hashem’s goodness and fairness will then disappear.[14]

The Gemara[15] says, “One must bless Hashem for misfortune as well as for good.” This is actually a practical halacha cited in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.[16] Rabbi Avigdor Miller said that when a glass or dish breaks, the first thing a person should say is, “Thank You, Hashem, for all the times that this does not happen.”[17]

The words לְעוֹלָם חַסְדוֹ mean His kindness is enduring forever. As in “עוֹלָם חֶסֶד יִבָּנֶה, Forever, will [Your] kindness be built.”[18] עוֹלָם can also mean world. If you flip around the word עוֹלָם, it spells עָלוּם, hidden.[19] This teaches us that G-d’s mastery is brilliantly revealed within creation through the Divine workings of הַטֶבַע, the natural [world], which, like אֶלֺקִים [spelled with a ה], has the numerical value of 86.[20] Hashem gives man the ability to see His existence through nature or deny it.[21]

By waving the lulav upwards at לְעוֹלָם, we are saying to Hashem, “Your kindness endures לְעוֹלָם, forever.” When we wave the lulav downwards at חַסְדוֹ, we are telling the Creator, “Even in this עוֹלָם, world, Your kindness exists; although it may seem to be עָלוּם, hidden.” What we often perceive in our lives as G-d’s strict justice, is, in reality, His abundant mercy!

Dedicated in memory of Dovid ben Uri A”H, Kayla Rus bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, Sarah bas Henoch Avraham A”H, Shmuel Dovid HaLevi ben R’ Yosef Moshe HaLevi zt”l and as a merit for a complete recovery of Chayah Malka bas Bas-Sheva, Shmuel ben Channah Menuchah and Shlomo Avraham Moshe ben Rivkah Shaindel.

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[1] The words מוֹדֶה, תּוֹדָה, הוֹדָה and הוֹדוּ are all interconnected with one another.

[2] Bava Kamma 20b.

[3] Interestingly, the Gemara says, “If one sees a ט in his dream it is a good sign for him, for the first ט in the Torah is in the word טוֹב, good” (Rashi on Bava Kamma 55a “ופתח בו”. See also Maharsha, Chiddushei Aggados on Bava Kamma 55a “הרואה טי"ת כו' חד טי"ת כו'”).

[4] Bava Basra 16b.

[6] Bereishis Rabbah 65:9.

[7] Ibid. 92:1.

[8] Arachin 16b.

[9] I.e. physically, emotionally or mentally.

[10] As the Gemara says, “There is no suffering without sin.” (Shabbos 55a). Meaning, if not for a person committing a sin, he wouldn’t receive suffering. However, he would still receive tests/ challenges. [see paragraphs 3 and 4 on the first page]. See Additional Resources for Toward Understanding Suffering and Adversity; Longing for Dawn by Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Baifus; Yissurim by Leib Gershon Seligson; Maharal, Netzach Yisrael, chapter 36 and What to Expect from the Transition Phase of the Messianic Era.

[11] Yeshayah 55:8.

[12] see Zohar volume 1, page 32a; see also Understanding Emunah by Rabbi Yehuda Cahn, page 354.

[13] Zohar volume 1, Bereishis, page 23a ‘דבר אחר נעשה אדם בצלמנו כדמותנו’ and volume 2, Shemos, page 184a ‘ותו דלא מתישבן מלי דאורייתא’.

[14] See note 12.

[16] 59:2.

[17] Let There Be Rain by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman and Rabbi Zechariah Wallerstein, page 195.

[18] Tehillim 89:3.

[19] See Rav Schwab on Prayer, page 125, for a different explanation. See also If You Were G-d by Aryeh Kaplan, pages 180-181.

[20] Shelah HaKodesh, Shevuos 42.

[21] see Rav Shach on Chumash by Rabbi Asher Bergman, page 16-17.