Jewish Ritualism or Biblical Command?
The Mystery of the
Why do Jewish people during the Feast of Sukkot or
Tabernacles carry a "lulav" -- four special species of
plants -- and wave it back and forth as they march in
a procession around the synagogue? Is there something
Biblical about this custom? Or is this just a "ritual" that
stems from either "legalism" or "tradition," and nothing we
as Christians should be concerned with -- even though
we observe the Annual Holy Days?
William F. Dankenbring
"Lulav? What is the world is that?" many people would ask, or think, when they first heard the word. 'Is it Biblical?" others would ask.
Why is there so much ignorance and lack of understanding about the "lulav," is supposedly Christian circles, including those churches which profess to observe the "Feast of Tabernacles"?
Yet every year, at the Feast of Tabernacles, Jewish people purchase a special bundle of branches of various plants, composed of a palm branch, three myrtle branches, two willows, along with an "etrog" or citron -- called a "lulav" -- and then use them in worshipping before the Lord!
But why do they do this? And why are Christians, who even claim to observe the Feast of Taberncacles, totally ignorant of this ancient custom?
What IS the "Lulav"?
What about this matter of "lulavs"? What are they? What does the "lulav" have to do with observing the Feast of Tabernacles? Is it mere ritualism? Legalism? Jewish "tradition"? Or approved Biblical command -- custom -- and something we should take note of , and observe, during the Feast of Tabernacles? Certainly, if Almighty God says "DO IT!," then we should jump up and DO it -- without hesitation, equivocation, or hemming or hawing! Who are we to refuse a direct commanment of GOD? God is the FINAL AUTHORITY!
As Solomon warned: "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the END thereof are the ways of DEATH" (Prov.14:12; 16:25).
What does God's Word have to say about the "lulav"? Where does modern Rabbinic Judaism come up with the idea of waving a collection of branches before the Lord during the Feast of Tabernacles? Let's notice!
The original instructions God gave on this matter are found in Leviticus 23. We read, beginning in verse 39, the following:
"v.39. Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered
in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days:
on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.
"v.40. And ye shall take on the first day the boughs of goodly trees,
branches of palm trees, and willows of the brook; and ye shall
REJOICE before the LORD your God seven days."
Now notice! The Septuagint makes this even more clear:
"v.39. And on the fifteenth day of this seventh month, , when ye
shall have completely gathered in the fruits of the earth, ye shall
keep a feast to the Lord seven days; on the first day there shall be
a rest, and on the eighth day a rest. And on the first day ye shall take
goodly fruit of trees, and branches of palm trees, and thick boughs
of trees, and willows, and branches of osiers from the brook, TO
REJOICE before the Lord your God seven days in the year."
Do you see the meaning of this commandment? God instructs His people to take these fruits and branches, and to REJOICE before Him! How simple can it be? Yet how many people today even begin to have an inkling of what this commandment of God is all about?
Going on, then:
"v.41. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the
year. It shall be a STATUTE FOR EVER in your generations: ye shall
celebrate it in the seventh month.
"v.42-43. Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelite born
shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the
children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the
land of Egypt: I am the LORD thy God" (Lev.23:39-43).
Now let's notice one important discovery, right from the beginning. In verse 40 God tells us to take unto us on the first day of the Feast the boughs of various trees (which the Jews refer to as the "lulav"), and we are to REJOICE WITH THEM SEVEN DAYS.
Then in verse 41, God RECAPITULATES the Festival instructions, and says we are to observe the Feast itself SEVEN DAYS, during the seventh month (the month of Tishri). He says we are to do this FOREVER. Notice that this verse ends the train of thought. Verse 40 tells us to take various branches, and rejoice seven days. Then God says we are to observe the Feast for these seven days, for ever -- a perpetual covenant.
But then, in verse 42, God introduces a NEW INSTRUCTION -- a new thought, separated from the instructions to take various branches, and to rejoice with them, by the summary instructions of verse 41 regarding observing the Feast "forever." Now, in verse 42, God says we are to "dwell in booths seven days." Why did God add this new instruction?
"That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel
to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I
am the Lord thy God" (verse 43).
The Septuagint has this passage thus:
"Seven days ye shall dwell in tabernacles: every native in Israel
shall dwell in tents, that your posterity may see, that I made the
children of Israel to dwell in tents, when I brought them out of the
land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God" (v.42-43).
Notice! This is NEW instruction! It is not defining the "boughs" of verse 40 -- it says nothing about the boughs of verse 40. Rather, it is completely separated from that verse and those boughs by verse 41, which recapitulates the basic instructions of celebrating the Feast! Therefore, verse 42, which mentions dwelling in booths, has no direct connection with verse 40, which discusses taking boughs and REJOICING BEFORE THE LORD seven days!
The Jewish rabbis noticed this distinction, and therefore concluded that we are to take these boughs of verse 40, and use them in REJOICING before the Lord! During the time of the Second Temple -- from 445 B.C. to 70 A.D. -- they took these boughs to the Temple, and waved them "before the Lord" during the Temple services, especially the "Water Drawing Ceremony," every morning of the Festival. The priests and Levites themselves also waved the "lulavs" before the Lord, at the Temple, as they paraded in a procession around the Altar, each morning during the Feast!
The Voice of Josephus and History
The Jewish historian Josephus, who lived in the first century, and who was himself of the Jewish priestly line, and a Pharisee, in his opus Antiquity of the Jews, writes about the Feast of Tabernacles, and the custom of carrying fruit and branches from trees -- the "LULAV" -- as an integral part of the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles!
"Upon the fifteenth day of the same month, when the season of the year is changing
for winter, the law enjoins us to pitch tabernacles in every one of our houses, so that
we preserve ourselves from the cold of that time of the year; as also that when we
should arrive at our own country, and come to that city which we should have then for
our metropolis, because of the temple therein to be built, and keep a festival of eight
days, and offer burnt offerings, and sacrifice thank offerings, THAT WE SHOULD
THEN CARRY IN OUR HANDS A BRANCH OF MYRTLE, AND WILLOW,
AND A BOUGH OF THE PALM TREE, WITH THE ADDITION OF THE POME
CITRON" (Ant., bk.3, chap.10, par.4).
How clear it should be that Josephus, a sage and historian among the Jewish people of the first century, who fought in the war against Rome in 69-70 A.D., knew the customs of his people, and plainly wrote that they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles by pitching "booths" or "tabernacles," and by carrying "in their hands a branch of myrtle, and willow, and a bough of the palm tree, with the addition of the pome citron" -- the "lulav"!
This was a commanded, integral part of the celebration of God's Feast!
Josephus further alludes to this custom in his discussion of the reign of Alexander, about one hundred years before Christ. This "king-priest" was of the party of the Sadducees, who rejected the oral law handed down by the Pharisees. Josephus records an incident which occurred during the Feast of Tabernacles during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus (103-76 B.C.):
"As to Alexander, his own people were seditious against him; for at a festival which
was then celebrated, when he stood upon the altar, and was going to sacrifice, the
nation rose upon him and PELTED HIM WITH CITRONS, [WHICH THEY THEN
HAD IN THEIR HANDS, BECAUSE] THE LAW OF THE JEWS REQUIRED,
THAT AT THE FEAST OF TABERNACLES EVERY ONE SHOULD HAVE BRANCHES
OF PALM TREE AND CITRON TREE: which things we have elsewhere related"
(Ant., bk.13,, chap.13, par.5).
The fact that the Feast of Tabernacles was celebrated with the holding, waving, and shaking of the assorted branches composing the "lulav" should be self-evident from these historical references.
However, E. P. Sanders, in Judaism Practice & Belief 63 BCE-66 CE, provides us with further insight into this ancient festival. He relates of the "Feast of Booths":
"This was also an agricultural festival, marking the conclusion of the season of
harvest. It was a showy and happy occasion with something of a carnival spirit.
WORSHIPPERS CARRIED LULAVS, MADE OF BRANCHES FROM PALM,
WILLOW AND MYRTLE TREES, TO WHICH A CITRON (a citrus fruit) WAS
ATTACHED (Lev.23:40, Antiq.3.245). Priests carrying willow branches marched
around the altar. There was flute playing and dancing by night" (p.139).
Clearly, the use of the "lulav" in worshipping God, and praising Him and thanking Him for a bountiful harvest was done at the Feast of Tabernacles in obedience to God's command!
So why aren't many church people who claim they are celebrating the "Feast of Tabernacles" in the fall of the year OBEYING THIS PLAIN COMMAND?
Indeed, why not?
One reason, I believe, is that too many people simply follow their own customs, or the customs of their church, rather than look into the Scriptures to see HOW God commands us to observe His festivals!
Too many people try to look at God's Word, and His commandments, in "isolation" -- without considering at all the historical setting, and the observances and practices of God's people -- the Jews -- and how they have historically and traditionally observed the annual holy days. Many, because of latent anti-Semitism, have dismissed anything and everything "Jewish" simply because the Jews rejected the Messiah and did not accept Christ as the Saviour.
The Mishnah, the Oral Law of the Jews as handed down from generation to generation, and compiled into written form in the centuries after the fall of Jerusalem, that is, from 200-500 A.D., in the section on "Sukkah," part 3, gives the instructions regarding the "lulav," in detailed form. These instructions pointed out the form of the lulav -- according to Rabbi Ishmael: "Three myrtle branches [are needful] and two willow branches and one palm branch and one citron . . ." (Sukkah 3:4). The Mishnah also declares, "Beforetime the Lulab was carried seven days in the Temple, but in the provinces one day only. After the Temple was destroyed, Rabbi Jonathan B. Zakkai ordained that in the provinces it should be carried seven days in memory of the Temple" (Sukkah 3:12).
Even today, the Jews in the synagogues obtain lulavs, and wave them in worship during the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a fascinating and wonderful ceremony, tracing back to ancient Biblical times. Why, then, do the many "churches of God" entirely neglect this Biblical practice?
Isn't it about time we do as the apostle Jude exhorted? He wrote: "Beloved, my whole concern was to write to you in regard to our common salvation. [But] I found it necessary and was impelled to write you and urgently appeal to and exhort [you] to contend for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 3, Amplified Bible).
Isn't it time we "contend earnestly" for the faith once delivered, and strive to recapture the "true values" of Scripture -- and the Biblical Festivals? Isn't it time we observe God's Feast of Tabernacles in the way and in the manner He commanded?
Salvation Is "of the Jews"
Jesus Himself plainly said, "Salvation is of the JEWS" (John 4:22). The apostle Paul explained in simple terms, and clear language, "What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto THEM were committed the ORACLES of God. For what if some did not believe? shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect? God forbid" (Rom.3:1-4).
The Jews as a people, even though most of them have never recognized Jesus Christ as the Messiah -- nevertheless, they have preserved not only the Old Testament Scriptures, but also many important historical writings, commentaries, and religious works, relating to the Bible, and its observances and ordinances -- such as the Midrash, the Mishnah, and the Talmud. Therefore, when it comes to gaining insight and understanding of the Festivals of God, who better to turn to than the Jews, who have been observing them for centuries -- and millennia? Here is a vital storehouse of knowledge which the vast majority of Christians, including festival observers, have totally ignored!
The apostle Paul was himself a Jew. Did he disparage and denigrate the knowledge of the Jews, when it came to the laws of God? Not at all! In fact, Paul himself declared of the Jews, "Who are Israelites; to who pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises" (Rom.9:4). Obviously, therefore, there is a great deal we can learn from the Jewish people -- if we are open-minded and sincerely searching for truth!
The Apostle Paul's Own Background
Paul himself even "boasted" -- and claimed, under divine inspiration of God -- "I am a man verily which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city [Jerusalem] at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the LAW of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day" (Acts 22:3). Paul had high respect for the Jewish laws and knowledge of God. He did not reject all the teachings and ramifications of Judaism -- not at all.
In fact, Paul even boasted, "If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcized the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee . . . touching the righteousness which is in the law, BLAMELESS" (Phil.3:4-6).
Paul was a Pharisee -- he himself said so. He identified with them even after being called of Christ into the Church as an apostle -- even in A.D. 60, some twenty five years later, in fact !
Paul also tells us, in the last chapter of the book of Acts, in his discourse to the Jewish leaders of Rome:
"Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the
people or CUSTOMS of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner
from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans" (Acts 28:17).
Common sense, therefore, tells us that Paul himself did NOT preach against the waving of the lulav, a very notable "custom" of the Jewish fathers, and rabbis, during the time of Christ and the apostles!
However, this is certainly not all of the proof we have that the waving of the lulav is a commandment of God, as initially given in the book of Leviticus! The Pharisees of the time of Christ very plainly taught that this should be done, as they interpreted the meaning of Leviticus 23:40. But what does Jesus Christ, the Messiah, say about this? Surely, we have no greater
Authority than His!
Jesus Christ tells us this simple, basic fact -- and we must deal with it honestly and objectively. He said very simply:
"The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore WHATSO-
EVER they bid you observe, THAT OBSERVE AND DO; but do not ye
after their works; for they say, and do not" (Matt.23:2-3).
Now let me make this plain: The scribes and Pharisees taught that the 'lulav" was to be used in celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles! This fact is not in dispute. It is crystal clear.
Therefore, the real question is: Should Christians follow this example today, in observing the Feast of Tabernacles? If we are to listen to the words of Christ, the answer is very simple: It is a resounding YES!!!
So with these principles in mind, let us research further into this question. Just what do the Scriptures really say?
What the Scriptures Say
We read in Leviticus 23 concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, the following statements: "And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, saying, The fifteenth day of this seventh month shall be the feast of tabernacles for seven days unto the LORD. On the first day shall be an holy convocation: ye shall do no servile work therein. Seven days ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: on the eighth day shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD: it is a solemn assembly; and ye shall do no servile work therein" (Lev.23:33-36). Here the observance of the Feast of Tabernacles is commanded.
Additional instruction in observing God's festival is given in verses 39-43 of this chapter. Notice: "Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath. And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees ["thick" trees: the Hebrew word for "thick" is awboth, and means "intertwined, dense"], and willows of the brook; and ye shall REJOICE before the LORD your God seven days. And ye shall keep it a feast unto the LORD seven days in the year. It shall be a STATUTE FOR EVER in your generations: ye shall celebrate it in the seventh month" (Lev.23:39-41).
Notice that if we simply read this passage as God inspired it to be written, on the first day of the Feast the Israelites were to "take . . . the boughs of goodly [Strong's #1926, hadar, meaning, "magnificence, ornament, or splendor: -- beauty, comeliness, excellency, glorious, glory, goodly, honor, majesty"] trees [Strong's #6086, 'ets, meaning: "a tree, hence wood, sticks, staff, stalk, stick, stock, etc.], branches of palm trees, and willows of the brook."
And then what does Scripture say we are to do? The very next God-breathed words -- the very next commandment -- is, "AND YE SHALL REJOICE before the Lord your God seven days."
Can't we see the connection here? It is really very straightforward. First, we gather these beautiful, ornamental branches of various plants, including the palm, and the willow, and other ornamental, goodly plants, and then USE them in REJOICING before God!
Then what? We are commanded to DO this "seven days" (v.40). Verse 41 says, "It shall be a statute forever"! What is the "statute for ever"? Everything God has said up to this point -- keeping the Feast, keeping it in the seventh month, keeping it seven days, and taking the branches and boughs and rejoicing before the Lord during the seven days of the Feast!
So far, so good. Then what? The next thing we are told, in verse 42, is that "Ye shall dwell in booths seven days." This Feast, then, was to be celebrated in "booths." The Hebrew word for "booths" here is sukkot and means "hut or lair; booth, cottage, pavilion, tabernacle, tent" (Strong's #5621). This is where the Feast of "Tabernacles" gets its name.
This passage concludes: "Ye shall dwell in booths seven days; all that are Israelite born shall dwell in booths: That your generations may know that I made the children of Israel to dwell in booths, when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD thy God" (Lev.23:42-43).
Some have assumed that the branches, boughs and "trees" mentioned in verse 40 are the source of the building materials for these "booths." But carefully reading this passage, we find it does not say that at all. That is a mental "leap" that a modern person may conclude, not knowing either the history of Israel, or the customs of the people of Israel, in regard to this Festival of God. This shows the danger of trying to interpret and understand these commands of God without a teacher -- without further knowledge!
This danger reminds me of the Worldwide Church of God minister, who said, "The Bible is enough for me. Just the Bible. I don't need no other books at all." He did not even use veterinary books in attending to his sick animals (sheep or goats). He just resorted to "oil and wine," thinking he was following the example of the "good Samaritan"! Such a man's ignorance is laughable, or would be, if it weren't so serious. In his ignorance he is looked up to many church members, who don't realize they are being led by an ignorant "blind" man!
In the Days of Nehemiah
What we have just read is the totality of God's command, concerning the Feast of Tabernacles, as He gave it in Leviticus 23. Other Scriptures show that this Feast was to be observed at the place where God chose to put His name (Deut.14:23-25), and celebrated there, using a tithe of their increase, year by year (v.22). This would be a "second" tithe, because the first tithe in its entirety belonged to God (Lev.27:30-33). This "second tithe" was to be used "for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after [i.e., desires], for oxen [beef steaks, etc.], for sheep [lamb roast, etc.], or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the LORD thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou and thine household" (v.26).
This was God's command. But over the centuries, the nation of Israel was negligent in observing this Feast. We read in the book of Nehemiah, that after Israel returned from Babylon, in the days of Ezra the scribe, they observed the first day of the seventh month, reading in the book of the law of Moses (Neh.8:1-2). They read also from the law on the second day (v.13), and found a commandment they were not aware of!
As the people were gathered to learn more of the laws of God, "they found written in the law which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the children of Israel should dwell in booths in the feast of the seventh month: And that they should proclaim in all their cities, and in Jerusalem, saying, Go forth unto the mount, and fetch olive branches, and pine branches, and myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make booths, as it is written. So the people went forth, and brought them, and made themselves booths, every one upon the roof of his house, and in their courts, and in the courts of the house of God, and in the street of the water gate, and in the street of the gate of Ephraim. And all the congregation of them that were come again out of the captivity made booths, and sat under the booths: for since the days of Joshua the son of Nun unto that day had not the children of Israel done so. And there was very great gladness. Also day by day, from the first day unto the last day, he read in the book of the law of God. And they kept the feast seven days; and on the eighth day was a solemn assembly, according to the manner" (Neh.8:14-18).
Here again the Feast of Tabernacles is described -- and the statement is made that the festival had not been observed in this manner, with the construction of booths, since the days of Joshua himself! Truly, in the days of Ezra, there was a turning back to observe the laws of God among the people, and much more attention was given to proper and correct observance.
Now, the question arises -- since the Israelites used olive branches, pine branches, myrtle branches, and palm branches, and branches of thick trees, to make their booths, was this act the fulfillment of the command to "take you on the first day the boughs of goodly trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs from thick trees, and willows of the brook: and ye shall rejoice before the LORD . . ."? The original instructions in Leviticus said the people were to take various branches of various plants, and "rejoice before the Lord"! Period!
Mainstream Judaism, which is descended from the Pharisees of Christ's time, teaches that this verse means exactly what it says -- no ifs, ands, or buts! That is, we are to take these boughs of palm trees, the myrtle ("thick" with leaves), and the willows, together with "goodly" fruit -- the citron or etrog -- and REJOICE with them!
But the instructions in Nehemiah refer to "olive" branches in addition, plus "pine" branches, as well as others. The olive and pine are not mentioned in Leviticus 23. These instructions in Nehemiah also said the Israelites were to build "booths" to dwell in for seven days -- temporary shelters -- with these branches, including the olive and pine.
These are a separate set of instructions -- specifically designed to inform us as to what we should use in building the "sukkah" booths! But the instructions in Leviticus 23:40 refer to what we are to take and REJOICE with!
There is a huge, gaping difference between the two sets of instructions!
In Ezra's day, over a thousand years later, they rediscovered the "law" and kept the Feast of Tabernacles for the first time in many generations! They used the materials mentioned in Nehemiah to build the booths. When we put both of these passages of Scripture together, then it is clear that the Israelites
1) used the branches mentioned in Leviticus and waved them before the LORD, in a rejoicing and worshipping context; and
2) they also used these and other branches (pine and olive) of various trees to construct their booths.
The Scripture is Nehemiah is not re-interpreting the passage in Leviticus as to HOW the branches were used in "rejoicing." Rejoicing means literally "rejoicing" -- not building a booth, or constructing a dwelling! The Hebrew wore for "rejoice" is Leviticus 23:40 is samach [Strong's #8055], and means, "to brighten up, to be blithe or gleesome, cheer up, be glad, have joy, make merry, make to rejoice."
That is the first command, all by itself! The second command is to build a "booth"! They are NOT the same thing! Building a booth itself is not rejoicing, but building. On the other hand, taking the branches described, and waving them, and marching in procession with them, before the Lord, shouting praises to God, and singing worshipful songs, THAT IS REJOICING BEFORE THE LORD, and that is what the people of Israel did during the time of the Second Temple -- and during the time of Christ!
Isn't this clear?
A Lesson from Rabbinic Judaism
Notice! Let's take a look and examine how the people of God, who preserved the oracles of God -- the Jewish people, and Jewish rabbis, and the Pharisees, who "sat is Moses' seat," remember -- understood this commandment!
In the book Celebrate! The Complete Jewish Holidays Handbook, we read:
"Khag HaAsif (Festival of Ingathering) was to take place once the produce of the
vineyards and product of the threshing rooms was collected (Exo.23:14-17; 34:22).
Beginning on the fifteenth of the seventh month, this Khag Adonai (Festival of God)
would last seven days, the first a sacred occasion when no work was to be done. The
Israelites were to take the 'product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of
leafy trees, and willows of the brook' (later called the four species) and rejoice with
them before God.
"Then another dimension was added as a 'law for all time.' For the duration of
the festival the Israelites were to live in booths (sukkot) 'so that future generations
will know that I made the Israelite people live in sukkot when I brought them out
of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God' (Leviticus 23:39-43)" (Celebrate!, by
Lesli Koppelman Ross, p.211).
During the time of the second Temple, festival goers would gather in Jerusalem, which was festive in garlands of olive, palm, and willow branches, fragrant with fruits and flowers. The people would participate in public prayers, sing hymns, and watch or join in with religious processions at the Temple. At this time, the "four species" of foliage, specified in Leviticus 23,
would be used to celebrate and rejoice before the Lord.
We read the following:
"The four species (definitively identified through Oral Tradition as palm, willow, and
myrtle bound together into a lulav, and an etrog [citron]) were now part of the ritual.
Each day of sukkot, the priests, holding the lulav and etrog in hand, marched around
the altar, which had been adorned with freshly cut willow branches. As they circled, they
recited a psalm asking God to 'please save us' (Hoshiah na)" (p.213).
Why are these "four species" used to celebrate Sukkot? Says The Jewish Book of Why by Alfred J. Kolatch:
"The use of four species of plants is PRESCRIBED IN LEVITICUS 23:40: 'And you
shall take on the first day [of the holiday] the fruit of goodly trees, branches of palm trees,
and boughs of thick trees [myrtle branches], and willows of the brook, and you shall
rejoice before the LORD your God seven days.' The Bible does not specify precisely
which trees and fruits are to be taken.
"Jewish authorities have interpreted the 'fruit of goodly trees' to mean the etrog [the
citron] , and the 'branches of [date] palms' to mean the lulav. The 'boughs of thick
trees' refers to the myrtle (called hadasim in Hebrew], and 'willows of the brook' are
the familiar willow trees (called aravot in Hebrew). These four species were to be
held in the hand and blessed each day of the Sukkot holiday" (p.250).
Why are so many people so loathe to do ANYTHING that smacks of "Judaism" -- even when it is clearly supported by the Scriptures? Why are so many people inclined to follow the system of teachings of the SADDUCEES, and REJECT the teaching of the Pharisees, on this and many other issues?
It's about time many of us WAKE UP, AND REPENT of our attitudes, our self-righteousness, our spiritual PRIDE!
The Sadducees VERSUS the Pharisees
It is a historical fact that the Sadducees disputed with the Pharisees over this issue of waving the "lulav" in rejoicing before God. As Alfred Edersheim writes in The Temple: Its Ministry and Services:
"As usual, we are met at the outset by a controversy between the Pharisees and the
Sadducees. The law had it: 'Ye shall take you on the first day the fruit of goodly
trees, branches of palm trees, and the boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook,'
which the Sadducees understood (as do the modern Karaite Jews) to refer to the
materials whence the booths were to be constructed, while the Pharisees applied it
to what the worshippers were to carry in their hands."
Here was one of the great schisms between the Pharisees and the Sadducees! The Sadducees interpreted the "law of Moses" to say that these plant boughs were to be used in the making of the booths. But the Pharisees said they were to be used in REJOICING before the Lord! Who was right?
Declares Alfred Edersheim:
The latter interpretation [that is, the PHARISEES'S INTERPRETATION!] is,
in all likelihood, the correct one; it seems borne out by the account of the festival
at the time of Nehemiah, when the booths were constructed of BRANCHES OF
OTHER TREES than those mentioned in Leviticus 23; and it was UNIVERSALLY
ADOPTED IN PRACTICE AT THE TIME OF CHRIST" (p.273).
Do you see? There is a difference even in the kinds of trees mentioned in Leviticus and Nehemiah. Also, the common Jewish practice in the DAYS OF JESUS CHRIST was to take the branches, and make "lulavs" of them, and use them to carry in their hands and wave before the Lord in worship!
And again -- who was right? The Pharisees? or the Sadducees?
Remember, Jesus Himself said the "Pharisees sit in Moses' seat" -- not the Sadducees! (Matt.23:2). He further said, "ALL therefore whatsoever THEY [the Pharisees!] bid you observe, THAT observe and DO" (v.3).
In other words, the issue is clear-cut. The Pharisees, in this case, say we are to carry the "lulav" branches, and wave them before the Lord -- that is what they bid us to "observe and do" in this case -- so, to obey Christ, THAT IS PRECISELY WHAT WE OUGHT TO DO!!!
The Sadducees, on the other hand, were, according to Christ Himself, ignorant of the Scriptures, and the power of God! He rebuked them, saying, "Ye do ERR, not knowing the Scriptures . . ." (Matthew 22:29). They were so ignorant, they did not believe in a resurrection from the dead (Matt.22:23), or the existence of angels, or spirit beings (Acts 23:8).
I suppose the real question is simple: Who do you wish to follow? The Sadducees, whom most end-time churches of God seem intent on following (by keeping Pentecost on a Sunday, instead of Sivan 6 -- the day the Pharisees kept!) -- or the Pharisees, whom Jesus Christ the Messiah HIMSELF said "sit in Moses' seat," and who commanded us, in plain words: "Therefore whatsoever THEY bid you observe, THAT observe and do" (Matt.23:2-3).
Can we not get this straight? Must we allow the Devil to plant doubts in our minds, and succumb to his temptations and seductive arguments and wiles?
This principle seems to me as easy as boiling water! Woe to those who can't even get this straight!
The LULAV -- the Four Species
The four species of plants waved before the Lord, in celebrating the Festival of Sukkot, are called Arba Minim in Hebrew. Jewish rabbis have several explanations for the meaning of these fruits and boughs. Symbolically, the four species represent the four kinds of people that make up a congregation or community.
1) The etrog or citron, a tasty fruit which also has a pleasant aroma, represents the righteous people who have both Torah (Bible) knowledge and good deeds (or works).
2) The lulav, or branch of a date palm, produces a sweet fruit, but has no aroma or fragrance. This represents the person who has Torah knowledge (such as a scholar), but is lacking in good deeds. He is deficient in good works.
3) Then the hassidim, or sweet-smelling myrtle, are the people who have good deeds, but may not have much technical knowledge -- these people do good works, but are deficient in knowledge or scholarship. The majority of people may fall into this category.
4) Finally, there is the willow, or aravot. This species grows near the water, and needs water, but is odorless and tasteless -- representing those people who are lacking in both knowledge and good deeds. Yet even they have potential!
All four types of people can be found in a typical community or congregation. Says Finkel:
"Thus the lulav bundle symbolizes the totality of the Jewish people, all extending
a helping hand to one another, all striving toward the same goals: Fulfillment of
Torah to the best of their abilities and thereby proclamation to all humankind that
God is the Creator and Maker of the universe" (p.80).
In the book Celebrate! we read of the profound significance of the waving of the lulav to the six directions:
"The qualities of the four species are likened to those of four categories of Jews.
The etrog, possessing both taste and aroma, stands for Jews who have knowledge
of Torah and do good deeds. The palm's fruit (date) with taste but no aroma,
represents people with Torah knowledge. The myrtle, with no taste but aroma,
represents the opposite, and willow, with neither aroma or taste, stands for those
self-concerned and ignorant of Torah.
"We serve God with all four elements held together, the spiritually lofty with the
mundane, the scholar, aristocrat, merchant, and laborer. In society, all elements
must likewise hold together, so that the wise and righteous can influence those
less so, and because each contributes its part to society's functioning and progress
when they UNITE for COMMON WELFARE. As our sages put it, 'As one does not
fulfill his duty on Sukkot unless all four species are bound together, so some will not
be redeemed unless all Jews hold together.' A strong message about the need for
UNITY among our diverse segments" (p.222).
Another analogy of the "lulav" is to compare the palm branch to the backbone in the human body -- which gives strength and uprightness -- righteousness. The myrtle then is compared to the eyes, with which we see. The etrog is comparable to the heart, with which we understand, have compassion, and empathize with others. And the willow is comparable to the mouth, which speaks words and communicates (or fails to do so). In this picture, then, we must use ALL FOUR SPECIES -- backbone, heart, eyes, and mouth -- to serve God and our fellow man, to do the Work of God, and to fulfill the purpose for which God placed us on this earth -- to be His Partners in Creation!
Says Leslie Koppelman Ross:
"From the body of Israel the rabbis moved to the body of the individual, seeing through
their shapes the palm as backbone, the citron as heart, the myrtle as eye, and the willow
as mouth. Together they express our desire to use all our vital components to worship
God, and to atone for transgressions resulting from an envious eye, malicious mouth,
or lustful heart. In mysticism, each species represents one letter in God's name. The
lulav is the vav ('and') uniting them as a conduit for Divine energy into the world.
"Myrtle represents beauty and mercy, like the heroine of the Purim story who had the
same Hebrew name (hadas [sah]. Since myrtle stays fresh for days after it is cut, it
became an ancient symbol for success and immortality. In contrast, willow leaves droop
as soon as the branches are cut. On the one hand representing our exit from the desert
to the Land full of water [a type of the Holy Spirit], it also symbolizes our exile from
the Land and the sadness and longing we have felt at the separation" (p.222).
Interestingly, the four species express a fundamental but hidden truth about the Godhead! The Tetragammaton (Yod He Vav He) name of God, expressed in the four letters, is also expressed in the four species of the lulav! The yod represents God the Father, or the Hand of God; the first he (pronounced "Hay") represents the Logos or Word of God, His "first principle" or creation; the vav represents the connecting link between God and man, Yeshua the Messiah (the incarnate Word -- see John 1:1-3); and the final he -- what does it represent? It represents the final addition to the Godhead, the extended family of God, being prepared for salvation and rulership with Christ and the Father (see Romans 8:14-18). In other words, the final he represents spiritual Israel, the true "body of Christ" (compare Matt.16:18; Gal.6:16; I Cor.10:17; Eph.4:3-4), being prepared for entrance into the God Kingdom as the "bride of Christ" (Eph.5:23-27).
A Spanish Rabbi, Aaron Halevi, at the end of the thirteenth century, in a book called Sefer HaHinukh ("The Book of Education") illustrated the basic, underlying principle of the lulav in these words:
". . . Since the rejoicing [of the holiday of Sukkot] might cause us to forget the fear
of God, He, praised be He, has commanded us to hold in our hands at that time
certain objects which should remind us that all the joy of our hearts is for Him
and His glory. It was His will that the reminder be the four species. . . for they
are all a delight to behold.
"In addition, the four species can be compared to four valuable parts of the body.
The etrog [citron] is like the heart, which is the temple of the intellect, thus allud-
ing that man should serve his Creator with his intellect. The lulav is like the spinal
cord [or backbone], which is essential for the body, alluding that one should direct
one's entire body to His service, praised be He. The myrtle is like the eyes, alluding
that one should not be led astray after his eyes on a day when his heart rejoices.
The willow branch is like the lips. We complete our actions through speech, and
thus the willow branch alludes to the fact that we should control our mouth and the
words that issue from it, fearing God, praised be He, even at a time of rejoicing."
Learning to use all our resources and senses to serve God is no easy task. Worshiping God with all our being requires diligent effort and focus. Solomon wrote, "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life. Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee. Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil" (Prov.4:23-27).
As the apostle Paul writes: "For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (I Cor.6:20). Also, Paul wrote: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (I Cor.10:31).
Paul adds, "And whatsoever ye do, in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him" (Colossians 3:17). This is a full-time commission -- a full-time job!!!
How We Use the Four Species
During the Feast of Sukkot, the people of the congregation take the Four Species -- the lulav, etrog, hassidim, and aravot -- and hold the etrog or citron in their left hand, with the pitam facing down, and the bundle of the palm branch, myrtle, and willow in the right hand. After reciting the blessing, the etrog is turned over, with the pitam pointed upward, the two hands are joined together, and the bundle of the lulav in the right hand with the citron in the left hand are waved in front of the person, then in back, to the right side, then to the left, upward and then downward -- the six directions. This is done as we parade or march around the room, as our forefathers marched around the altar at the Temple, singing praises and shouting hoshanahs to God, "Save us," "Help us," "Deliver us," "Blessed by Thy Name," "Blessed be the Name of the Lord," and so forth.
What does this picture for us? In Temple times, the worshippers of God marched around the Temple court, singing praises and shouting for joy. Today, we cannot do that, as there is no Temple. However, in remembrance of the Temple, or Sanctuary, and this service, we can march or parade around our meeting room, or even out-of-doors, where we hold services to worship God, on the seven days of Sukkoth -- the Feast of Tabernacles -- and thus fulfill the Biblical command!
Marching around the room -- or, the altar in the Temple court, in Temple times --gives us an opportunity to act out our faith in God, as we call on Him to save us, to be with us, to deliver us from our trials, our enemies, and Satan's wrath! Then, on the final day or seventh day of the Feast, that is, on Hoshana Rabbah, we parade or march around the room seven times, reminding us of the Israelites, who marched around the city of Jericho seven times! Then they shouted, Hoshana Rabbah, "Save us!" and God smote the walls of Jericho and caused them to fall flat in a mighty earthquake!
"Be Ye DOERS of the Word"
As we enact, or act out this ancient mitzvah, or commandment to wave the lulav and rejoice, we are following a custom that goes back to the very time of Christ, and the Second Temple period! This is not some weird "legalism" -- this is not some silly "ritualism" -- these are not some mere "traditions" of the Jews, or additions that Rabbis came up with in the Middle Ages! Rather, this custom goes all the way back to the time of Christ and the apostles -- and they never condemned it! When Christ disagreed with the Sadducees and Pharisees, and the Rabbis of His time, He made it plainly known, and rebuked them publicly! (Matt.15; Mark 7). But when He remained SILENT on a matter of worship, then it should be plain that He endorsed and approved of it.
It is much like the Dentist, who examines your teeth. He says nothing about the good teeth, as he explores your mouth. But when He comes to a tooth with cavities, he says, "Aha! There's a cavity!" Even so, when Christ found something objectionable in the teachings and interpretations of the Rabbis, He let it be made known! His silence, therefore, concerning the common practice of waving the lulav, and parading around the Temple courtyard, praising God, speaks volumes, showing that He did not disapprove of this custom!
Nor did the apostle Paul disapprove. In fact, he wrote, "Men and brethren, though I committed nothing against the people, or CUSTOMS of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans" (Acts 28:17).
The custom of waving the "lulav," then, is THE TIME-HALLOWED CUSTOM of God's people! There are lessons WE
should learn, in performing this custom, today! It should be very meaningful -- even for US!
As the apostle Paul said, "For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the DOERS of the law shall be justified" (Rom.3:13).
And as James wrote, "But be ye DOERS of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves" (James 1:22).
One of the lessons of the lulav waving ceremony is simply the lesson of UNITY, as the people of God. As we joyously do this custom, together, as the body of Christ, we picture SPIRITUAL UNITY -- our being united together in Christ.
Performing this together, as one body, pictures SPIRITUAL UNITY!
The Lesson of UNITY
The fact that we do this together, as a congregation, even as Israel marched around Jericho as a congregation, reminds us that we are in this spiritual struggle and fight together -- we need each other -- and we must help one another! When ancient Israel marched into the Promised Land, so long as they were united, as one, and obedient, God gave them miraculous victories over powerful nations. But when disunity occurred, and some disobeyed, then even the smallest city, like tiny Ai, could overwhelm and defeat the Israelite armies!
When we are united in truth, then we are powerful by the Spirit of God flowing through us and out from us. Therefore, Paul wrote, "Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no DIVISIONS among you, but that you be PERFECTLY JOINED TOGETHER IN THE SAME MIND and in the same judgment" (I Cor.1:10).
As David wrote, "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in UNITY! It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down on the beard, the beard of Aaron, running down on the edge of his garments. It is like the dew of Hermon, descending upon the mountains of Zion: For there the LORD commanded the blessing -- Life forevermore" (Psalm 133:1-3).
How can we have true love, when we don't even have true unity?
The Lesson of LOVE
Joel Ziff, in Mirrors in Time, tells us how the experience of the Feast of Sukkot teaches us the lesson of community, sharing, and loving one another. He writes:
"We do not limit ourselves to the symbols of support and nurturance; the sukkah
ritual encourages us to the actual experience as we feed one another. We invite
guests into our sukkah and accept invitations [or we dine out together, and enjoy
the fellowship of one another] from our neighbors. Difficulty in coping successfully
with our stresses is often exacerbated by isolation and alienation. When we regard
our problems as too overwhelming or difficult, we tend to expect others to be disinterested
or unable to help. As a result of the changes we have made during the Days of Awe, we
are more open, honest, and responsive. Others who have similarly worked to change
themselves are also more open, honest, and responsive. On this Holy-Day, we strengthen
` the BONDS WITH OTHERS, feeling the ability to GIVE TO OTHERS and to receive
from them" (p.239).
Ziff continues this theme, showing how the Feast of Sukkot focuses our attention away from selves and outward to others, teaching us the lessons of giving and sharing. He writes:
"In contrast to the inward turning quality of the Days of Awe, on Sukkot, our energies
EXTEND OUT. In the ritual of the four species, we make the blessing and then point
the lulav to each of the SIX DIRECTIONS -- south, west, north, east, upward, and
downward. In the Hoshanot and in the Hakafot, we circumnabulate the synagogue
in a PARADE. We emphasize prayers for peace and prosperity, for water for our crops,
not only for ourselves as a people but for ALL THE PEOPLE OF THE WORLD. We
extend OUTWARD towards others as well. We SHARE our meals in the sukkah, and
we join hands and voices as we celebrate with singing, dancing, and merry-making. The
ritual thereby helps us turn our energies outward as well. As we experience changes in
ourselves, we begin to translate those changes into our activity in the world. We are
energized by our experience and move naturally outward" (p.239).
Joel Ziff concludes this theme, saying, "Sukkot serves as a BRIDGE by helping us translate our experience of Essence on Yom Kippur so that we can apply and integrate what we have learned into everyday life activity" (ibid.). In other words, Sukkot teaches us to express love, which is out-going, and which is the very nature and fundamental character of God Himself.
As the apostle John wrote: "Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born [begotten] of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
"Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another . . . ."God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (I John 4:7-16).
As Jesus said so plainly, we must learn to really "love one another" (John 13:34). He added, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have LOVE for one another" (v.35). He added, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:12-13).
Jesus prayed to the Father than His Church would truly be unified, even as He and the Father are in total unified agreement (John 17:11). He prayed that true Christians "all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be ONE just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one . . ." (John 17:21-23).
Peter put it plainly: "And above all things, have FERVENT CHARITY [LOVE] among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins" (I Peter 4:8). And as Paul wrote: "And above all these things put on CHARITY [LOVE], which is the bond of perfectness" (Col.3:14).
True brotherly love creates perfect unity. The strong help to uphold the weak, the rich help to support the poor, and everybody adds his particular strength and gift and talent to the pool, so that all may be nourished and strengthened in faith, hope, and love.
The apostle Paul sums it up nicely. He wrote: "Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely; does not seek its own; is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. . . .
"And now abide faith, hope, love, these three: but the greatest of these is love" (I Cor.13:4-13).
The "booths" of the Feast remind us of our need for FAITH. The command to "rejoice" reminds us of our eternal HOPE, our calling and destiny in life, by the grace of God and His goodness. The "lulav" reminds us of our need to develop LOVE for
others in our heart and soul -- true godly compassion and chesed -- which is translated "loving-kindness."
Waving the Lulav -- an Awesome New Vitality
There is far more meaning and significance to the waving of the 'lulav," and rejoicing before the Lord with branches and goodly boughs of trees, than most of us, if not all of us, have ever imagined. The "lulav" ceremony itself -- something which most Christians are totally ignorant of -- contains awesome meaning and significance -- more than any of us have even begun to remotely imagine!
Lesli Koppelman Ross in Celebrate! sums up the awesome meaning of the lulav in a powerful way. Notice:
"Like the four plant types themselves,the wavings (na'anu'im) have symbolic
significance. They represent Israel's acceptance of God's sovereignty over all
of nature (the four directions), heaven (up) and earth (down).Talmud likened
the motion to the offering of omer brought on the second day of Passover and
waved in four directions to contain ill winds [symbolic of false doctrines and
bad news -- see Eph.4:14] and to a sacrificial offering on the altar. LIFTING
THE LULAV EXPRESSES JOY (as when you lift a child or a trophy into the
air) AND VICTORY, publicly proclaiming Israel's successful emergence
from the Divine Judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. (When people
used to appear before a judge, the one who exited holding palm branches was
recognized as the victor.) According to midrash, the outcome of the Yom
Kippur judgment of all nations of the world is not revealed until the first day
of Sukkot. The procession of Israelites AROUND THE ALTAR (or bimah),
THEIR LULAVIM HELD ALOFT, PROCLAIM'S ISRAEL'S VICTORY and
hints at MESSIANIC fulfillment as promised in Isaiah (55:12): 'You shall
leave in JOY and be led home SECURE. Before you mountains and hills shall
SHOUT ALOUD, and all the trees of the field shall CLAP THEIR HANDS. . . .'
When we shake the lulav, the palm leaves hit against each other as if hands
clapping, bringing to mind God's promise to Israel" (Celebrate!, p.227).
Meditate on these words. Read them slowly, and make them part of your heart and mind. The "lulav" is no mere insignificant "ritual" of the Jews -- it is a POWERFUL WEAPON to show our faith and reliance on God, and our JOY in serving Him, and our VICTORY through His power and assistance in our lives!
We hold it aloft, in faith, in worship, in praise and trust in God to give us the FINAL VICTORY through Christ! As the apostle Paul declared: "But thanks be to God who giveth us the VICTORY through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor.15:57). Paul went on, "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (v.58). So let's shake those lulavs, brethren, at the Feast of Tabernacles next year, and every year hereafter!
The Waving of the Lulav
The basic command concerning the four species (arba minim) is to take them, hold them in your hand, and shake them, in an attitude of rejoicing before God. The four species, or "lulav," consists of a long palm branch (2 or 3 feet in length), with a holder attached, in which are placed two willows (aravot) and three myrtle branches (hadasim). These are held in the right hand, and a citron (etrog) in the left hand. (Although a citron is the fruit of choice, depending on circumstandes, other fruits will do; such as the lemon, lime, or orange, etc.)
The procedure is as follows: While standing, pick up the lulav, with its attached willows and myrtle in your right hand, holding it upright so that the spine of the palm branch is toward you. Pick up the etrog in your left hand with its tip (pitom) pointing down. Hold the etrog next to the lulav, bringing your hands together. The blessing is then recited, as follows:
'Baruch Atta Adonia, Melek Ha Olam,
Asher Kidshanu B'Mitzvotav,
V'tzivanu Al Netilat Lulav."
"Blessed are you, O Lord our God, King of the Universe
Who has sanctified us by your commandments,
And who has commanded us concerning the
Taking of the Lulav."
Turn the etrog right side up, and shake and wave the lulav! The blessing can be recited at home, and it is also customary to recite it inside the Sukkah.
It is also customary to wave the lulav when reciting the Hoshanot psalms (those beginning with "Hosha na," or "Save us"). For example, although there are many customs, one custom is that the lulav is waved or shaken twice when reciting Psalm 118, verse 1, twice in Psalm 118, verse 25, and twice in Psalm 118, verse
29 -- or six times in all, during that Psalm.
How do we shake the lulav? One common custom is to point the lulav in front of you, while facing east, and shake it three times, then bringing it backs to your heart; then shaking it toward your right (south) three times, and bringing it back to your heart; then shaking it three times over your right shoulder (west), behind you, and bringing it back to your heart; then shaking it to your left three times (north, and bringing it back to your heart; then shaking it three times pointing upward, toward heaven (God's Throne), and bringing it back to your heart; and finally lower it below you, bending over a little bit, holding it downward, though not pointed down, toward the earth, and shaking it three times, then bringing it back to your heart.
What does this symbolize? Our rejoicing before God, and blessing God, who is our Protection and the Giver of every good and perfect gift (Psalm 18:2; 27:1; James 1:17), from whom all blessings flow. We wave the lulav in every direction, thus honoring and worshipping God in every aspect of our lives -- in every direction. He surrounds us, and encompasses us, with His love and protection. Waving the lulav in every direction is expressive of our seeking His Divine presence in every aspect of our lives, and His total involvement in our lives.
Says Michael Strassfield in The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary,
"A mystical interpretation begins with the obvious masculine imagery in the
lulav and the feminine breast imagery in the etrog. The four species are seen
as conduits of the divine flow into the world, each representing one of the four
letters of God's special name [yod he vav he, or YHVH], with the lulav [palm]
as the letter vav, which is the main channel for that flow. There is a striving for
union, out of which comes blessing" (p.131).
Strassfield goes on, saying:
"As we shake the lulav and etrog in the six directions, we acknowledge God's
surrounding presence. By shaking it forward and then drawing it back, we
are drawing into ourselves God's presence. It also suggests a gathering in
of our resources before the coming winter. . . .
"The motif of gathering in and encircling is a constant refrain of Sukkot. We
surround ourselves with the walls of the sukkah. We remind ourselves of how
God encircled the Israelites in the desert with the clouds of glory. We shake
the lulav in all directions . . ." (p.140).
In another interpretation, the seven elements of the lulav (2 willows, 3 myrtle, 1 palm branch, 1 etrog = 7), tie in with the seven sefirot or characteristics of God mentioned by the prophet Elijah, according to an ancient Jewish midrash. They are as follows:
3 myrtles -- chesed lovingkindness
gevurah contained strength
tiferet beauty, mercy, compassion
2 willows -- netzach victory, triumph, eternity
hod glory, splendor
1 palm -- yesod foundational strength
1 etrog -- malkut kingdom, leadership, manifestation
As we wave and shake the lulav, then, we are drawing into ourselves and our inner being the characteristics of God's own holy, righteous character. We are expressing unity with the Divine Presence -- union with Almighty God. And as we wave and shake the lulav, we are worshiping Him with all our heart (citron), strength (palm branch), mind (willow -- symbolizing the mouth, which speaks the thoughts of the mind), and soul (myrtle -- the symbol of the eyes which reflect the inner soul or life essence).
Are you willing to worship God with your entire being -- heart, mind, soul and strength? Then let's express our love and joy in Him by waving the lulav, as He commanded, with all our hearts!
Waving Palm Branches or "Lulavs"
in the Kingdom of God
In ancient Israel, during the water libation ceremony, called the Beit Ha Shoevah, when the high priest poured out water from the pool of Siloam on the altar at the Temple, during the seven days of the Feast of Tabernacles, it was the custom of the people to wave their lulavs with the palm branches in rejoicing before God. Say Kevin Howard and Marvin Rosenthal in The Feasts of the Lord:
"At the proper time, the congregation waved their palm branches [lulavs] toward
the altar and joined in singing: ''Save now, I pray, O LORD; O LORD, I pray,
send now prosperity' (Ps.118:25). At the same time the priests,with palm branches
[lulavs] in hand, marched once around the altar.
"Psalm 118 was viewed as a messianic psalm and as such gave the feast a messianic
emphasis. This is why Jesus was greeted by the crowds shouting Hosanna (Hebrew
for 'Save now' in Ps.118:25) and WAVING PALM BRANCHES on his triumphal
entry into Jerusalem (Mt.21:8-9; Lk.19:38; Jn.12:13). They viewed Him as the
Messiah King, come to deliver ('save now') Israel in fulfillment of Psalm 118. They
hailed Him with the messianic imagery of PALM BRANCHES from the Feast of
Tabernacles. THIS SAME IMAGERY IS IN VIEW IN REVELATION 7:9-10 WHERE
REDEEMED SAINTS WORSHIP, WITH PALM BRANCHES IN HAND,
around the throne of God and the Lamb" (page 139).
Did you catch that? Did you really notice that statement? What were these saints doing? WAVING LULAVS -- PALM BRANCHES!
During the coming KINGDOM OF GOD, the Messianic Kingdom of Christ, what will the redeemed saints of God DO? What will they actualLly DO around the THRONE of God and the Lamb?
They will wave LULAVS -- represented by the dominant PALM BRANCHES!
Read it for yourself! The apostle John writes plainly of a very strange phenomenon that he witnessed:
"And after this I beheld, and, lo, a GREAT MULTITUDE, which no man could
number, of ALL NATIONS, and KINDREDS, and PEOPLES, and tongues, stood
before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, AND PALMS
[LULAVS!] IN THEIR HANDS; and cried with a loud voice, saying, Salvation
to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb" (Rev.7:9-10, KJV).
"After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from
every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne
and before the Lamb, robed in white, WITH PALM BRANCHES IN THEIR
HANDS. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God
who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (New Revised Standard Version).
In the Kingdom of God -- which is symbolized and depicted by the very Feast of Tabernacles, during which palm branches, or lulavs, were waved every day in worship by the people at the Temple (throne) of God in Biblical times -- the people, the saints of God -- will once again WAVE THEIR PALM BRANCHES, or lulavs, in worship and praise before the throne of God!
Isn't this clear? Then what are we waiting for?
Brethren, its time to "shake and bake," it's time to wave those beautiful lulavs, once again, as was done in Biblical times, as we today celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles which God Almighty ordained!
What about you?
Will you obey God -- and follow this Biblical custom, joyously, with rejoicing and joy welling up in your heart?
Or will you be a spiritual Sad Sack -- a comatose "basket case" -- a glum chum, a gloomy puss -- and refuse to take part in this joyous celebration and happy mitzvah of God?
The choice is up to you!