A Time to Reap: The Arba’a Minim and Chag HaAsif
BY RABBANIT SHARON RIMON
“And you shall take for yourselves… the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook” (Vayikra 23:40). The most familiar explanation for this mitzvah is that each of the four species represents a certain type of person, and so we bind these four species together to symbolize the necessity of all of them for the wholeness of the people of Israel:
“Pri etz hadar – this is Israel; just as the etrog has a good taste and scent, so too among Israel are found people who possess both Torah and good deeds. Kapot temarim – this is Israel; just as a date tree has a good taste but no scent, so too among Israel are found people who possess Torah but not good deeds. V’anaf etz avot – this is Israel; just as the hadas has a good scent but no taste, so too among Israel are found people who possess good deeds but not Torah. V’arvei nachal – this is Israel. Just as the aravah has neither a good taste nor a good scent, so too among Israel are found people who possess neither Torah nor good deeds. Said the Holy One, blessed be He: To destroy them is impossible; rather, bind them together as one and they will atone for one another” (Midrash HaGadol, Vayikra 23:40).
Along with the beautiful midrashim, it is worth paying attention to the simple layer of the mitzvah, which is also of great significance to our lives. Chag HaSukkot is also Chag HaAsif, the festival of the harvest, and the mitzvah of the four species is clearly related to the agricultural aspect of Sukkot: “When you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of Hashem… And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm-trees, and boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook and you shall rejoice before Hashem your G-d seven days” (Vayikra 23:39–40).
There are several aspects of Chag HaAsif, which are reflected in the taking of the four species.
Calm at the end of the agricultural year and the Days of Judgment:
Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor sees the four species as “bouquets of flowers” that decorate our lives and make them more pleasing. Dealing with the four species is a sign of luxury, an activity that only a person free from the stresses of making a living can afford himself. Until Sukkot, everyone was preoccupied with agricultural work and the fear of judgment of the High Holidays. At the end of this season, a person begins to feel physical and spiritual calm and contentment, a feeling expressed through the four species:
“So that you will be seen as emerging meritorious from the courthouse, so that you will be seen as princes carrying beautiful and scented fruit in your hand, strolling joyously with branches for seven days… On Pesach and Shavuot you are busy gathering grain. But now you are free…” (Rabbi Yosef Bechor Shor, Vayikra 23:40).
Joy in this year’s produce:
At the time of harvest, man recognizes that the grain grown that year is from G-d, and he rejoices and thanks G-d for it. Taking several kinds of plants that represent the crop, and rejoicing in them before G-d, is the proper way to thank G-d for the crop. The etrog represents fruit, the lulav represents fruit trees, hadassim represent fragrant plants, and aravot represent non-fruit bearing trees.
Prayer for rain and produce:
Alongside joy and gratitude for last year’s crop, we also look forward to next year, and pray it will be blessed. On Sukkot we bring the water libation and begin to pray for rain, which allows for growth and existence. Rabbeinu Bechayei sees the four species as part of the prayer for rain:
“These four species grow through water and require more watering than other fruit. Therefore, we are commanded on Sukkot, the time of the water libation and the day of judgment for the upcoming year’s rain, to please G-d with the four species which represent water…” (Rabbeinu Bechayei, Vayikra 23:40).
These three aspects of the four species explain, together, one unified process. We pause to reflect on the year just completed, we express thanks for the abundance we have received, and from this we recognize that we must, once again, pray to G-d for abundance and blessing in the year ahead.
Rabbanit Sharon Rimon teaches Tanach and is Content Editor for the HaTanakh website.