Shabbat-Table Talks: Sukkot


By: Rabbi Ralph Tawil <>


Value: Appreciating and rejoicing in the diversity of the creation. One of the misvot of the festival of Sukkot is the taking of the four species of plants, Etrog(citron), Lulab (Palm), Hadas (Myrtle) and ‘Araba (willow). Many allegorical explanations are connected with these four species. Although the allegory is sometimes stretched, each of the explanations has a point reflecting an important value. In this talk, we will speak about some of the explanations of the four species and the values to be learned from them.


Background: Culminating a section of the Torah describing all the festivals of the year, the Torah describes the festival of Sukkot. Then, following a verse of summing up, the Torah mentions the commandment to take the four species. This section connects the idea of rejoicing specifically with the festival of Sukkot and specifically with the taking of the four species.


Text: Leviticus 23:33-44

Mark, on the fifteenth day after the seventh New-Moon, when you have gathered-in the produce of the land, you are to celebrate the pilgrimage festival of Hashem, for seven days: on the first day (is) a Sabbath ceasing and on the eighth day is a Sabbath ceasing. You are to take yourselves, on the first day, the fruit of a beautiful tree, branches of palms, boughs of thick tree-foliage, and willows of the brook. And you are to rejoice before the presence of Hashem your God for seven days., you are to celebrate it, a pilgrimage festival to Hashem for seven days a year—a law for all your ages, throughout your generations: in the seventh New-Moon you are to celebrate it—in huts you are to stay for seven days, every native in Israel is to stay in huts—in order that your generations may know that in huts I had the Children of Israel stay when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I am Hashem you God!



Discussion: These verses describe the commandment to take the four species and the commandment to live in Sukkot (huts) for seven days. Notice that the commandment to live in huts has a reason associated with it and the taking of the four species is not associated with a reason. Our sages have suggested various reasons with the taking of the four species.


Abarbanel sees a connection between the rejoicing and the four species. In an agricultural society, this is the time when all the harvests were already gathered into the house. The gathering of the four species reminds one of the gathering of all the harvests, a reason for rejoicing. In addition, Abarbanel explained that these four species make the heart rejoice because of the way they look and the good that they provide for man. The beauty of the Etrog and Lulab, along with the shade provided by the Hadas and the 'Araba, especially to a people that were coming from the shadeless wilderness were all a source of joy to Bne Yisrael.


Expanding on this idea. Look at all the diversity that Hashem has put into creation. This diverse beauty is exciting and is part of the beneficence that God shows to us. (Suggested activity: Take the time to notice the different trees that grow around your house. Notice the colors and shapes of the leaves. Notice the different greens and the other hues that are visible in the fall. Better, yet, Sukkot is a great time to make a trip to the botanical gardens and enjoy the diversity of Hashem’s creation.)


One of the rabbinic midrashic explanations of the fours species connects them to the different types of people within Bne Yisrael.

Fruit of a beautiful tree—That is Israel, just as the Etrog has taste and fragrance, likewise Israel has people who have Torah and good deeds.


Branches of palms-- That is Israel, just as the Lulab has taste but no fragrance, likewise Israel has people who have Torah and but lack good deeds.


Boughs of thick tree-foliage-- That is Israel, just as the Hadas has fragrance but lacks taste, likewise Israel has people who have good deeds but lack Torah.


Willows of the brook--That is Israel, just as the ‘Araba lacks both taste and fragrance, likewise Israel has people who lack both Torah and good deeds.


What does the Holy One, blessed be He, do to them? He cannot destroy them. Rather, the Holy One, blessed be He, said let them all be bound together into one group and they will atone for each other. And when you do this, I also am raised up, that is what is written: “Who built His chambers (ma’alotav) in heaven,” and when is He raised up? When they become one group (aguda)  as it says: “and founded His vault (agudato) on the earth (Amos 9:6).” That is why Moshe warns them: “You are to take yourselves….” (Vayiqra Rabbah 30:12)


This beautiful Midrash sees the connections of all the different types within our people as ultimately leading to the raising up of Hashem. This Midrash gives us an important message. There might be people with whom we disagree with as far as their Torah knowledge is concerned, but they might have good deeds. On the other hand, there might be people within our nation who lack good deeds but have Torah knowledge. There might be people who lack both. The message in this Midrash is that we only atone for one another when we join and become one unit. We should not cut off one part of our people because it lacks one or another of these good traits. Rather, even the one with all the good traits must be connected to all the other parts of Israel. By doing this we cause God Himself to be raised up!


In our times, in particular, it is important to recognize the need for unity within our nation; to appreciate the diversity within nature and within people and to thank Hashem for creating these diverse and beautiful plants, and for allowing us to join with the different people within our nation.



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