Lulav and Etrog: The Four Species

How to assemble and shake a lulav.

Print this page Print this page

Reprinted with permission from The Jewish Catalogue: A Do-It-Yourself Kit, edited by Richard Siegel, Michael Strassfeld, and Sharon Strassfeld, published by the Jewish Publication Society.

It is a positive commandment from the Torah [Leviticus 23:40] to gather together the Four Species during Sukkot:

"On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before Adonai your God seven days."

"The first day" refers to the first day of Sukkot. "Fruit of goodly trees" refers to the etrog (citron). "Branches of palm trees" refers to the lulav. "Boughs of leafy trees" refers to the myrtle (hadasim). "Willows of the brook" refers to the aravot or hoshanot.

The four are lumped together under the inclusive term lulav, since the lulav is the largest and most prominent. Thus, while the mitzvah is to wave the lulav, this actually refers to the four taken together as one.

How the Four Fit Together

The lulav is a single palm branch and occupies the central position in the grouping. It comes with a holder-like contraption (made from its own leaves) which has two extensions. With the backbone (the solid spine) of the lulav facing you and this holder in place near the bottom, two willow branches are placed in the left extension and three myrtle branches are placed in the right. The myrtle should extend to a greater height than the willows.

This whole cluster is held in the right hand, the etrog is held in the left, and the two should be touching one another. Some have the custom of picking up the etrog first and then the lulav--reversing the order when putting them down--because the etrog is referred to before the others in the biblical verse.

Waving the Lulav 

 

It is a mitzvah to wave the lulav on each of the first seven days of Sukkot. The proper time is in the morning--either before the Morning Service or during the service immediately before the Hallel. A meditation (found in the Siddur) is recited prior to the blessing (this has many kabbalistic secrets concealed within it).

The blessing is:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us concerning the waving of the lulav."

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam asher kid'shanu b'mitzvotav v'tzivanu al netilat lulav.

On the first day of waving add:

"Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustenance, and permitted us to reach this season."

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha'olam shehehiyanu v'kiyemanu v'higiyanu lazman hazeh.

Before the blessing, the etrog is held with its pittum (stemlike protrusion) pointed downward. After the blessing, it is inverted so that the pittum faces up. At this point you wave/shake the lulav (together with the other three) in the following manner:

1. Stand facing east.

2. Hold the lulav out to the east (in front of you) and shake it three times. Each time the motion of shaking should be a drawing in to you--reach and draw in, reach out and draw in, reach out and draw in.

3. Repeat the same motion three times to your right (south), behind over your shoulder (west), to your left (north), raising it up above you, lowering it down below you.

4. All of these should be done slowly and deliberately--concentrating on the symbolisms and intentions of the act. The lulav is also waved during Hallel while saying:  "Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His lovingkindness endures forever."

lulav and etrog in sukkah

Hodu - shake front [East]

L'Adonai - [never shake when saying God's name]

Ki - shake right [South]

Tov - shake back [West]

Ki - shake left [North]

Le-olam -  shake up

Chasdo - shake down

This verse occurs twice during Hallel.

The lulav is again waved while saying:  "Let Israel say that His lovingkindness endures forever."

Yomar - shake front [East]

Na - shake right [South]

Yisrael - shake back [West]

Ki - shake left [North]

Le-olam -  shake up

Chasdo - shake down

And it is waved again while saying: "We implore You, Lord, save us."

A-na - [Shake front/East on first syllable, shake right/South on second syllable]

Adonai - [never shake when saying God's name]

Ho-shi-ah [Shake back/West first syllable, shake left/North second syllable, shake up last syllable]

Na - shake down

The lulav and etrog are traditionally not waved on Shabbat because bringing these items to the synagogue would violate the prohibition against carrying. Some liberal synagogues do wave the lulav and etrog on Shabbat. While it is customary for each individual to have a lulav and etrog, many synagogues leave some sets in the synagogue sukkah for the use of their members. The lulav and etrog may also be waved at home.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

Michael Strassfeld is the rabbi of the Society for the Advancement of Judaism, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Manhattan, co-author of The First Jewish Catalog, The Second Jewish Catalog, A Night of Questions: A Passover Haggadah, and author of The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary.

Sharon M. Strassfeld is co-author of the Jewish Catalog series.

Richard Siegel

Richard Siegel is the Interim Director of the School of Jewish Communal Service at HUC-JIR. He worked for 28 years at the National Foundation for Jewish Culture, the last 16 as Executive Director.