The holiday of Sukkot (the Festival of Booths) features some celebrations that are unlike other Jewish festivals. In addition to the command to reside in a temporary dwelling (a sukkah), found in Leviticus 23:42, a “visual aid” is apparent at prayer services.
Known collectively as “the four species,” branches from a palm tree, willow tree and myrtle tree are bound together and held with a citron. They are waved during morning prayers at specific points, both in joyful celebration and while asking for God’s continued mercy and favorable judgment—connecting to the themes of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.
In Hebrew the four species are called the “lulav” (the collective name for the bound palm, willow and myrtle) and “etrog” (citron). Their use is based on a very old interpretation of Leviticus 23:40: “On the first day you must take fruit from majestic trees [the citron, according to tradition], palm branches, branches of leafy trees [the myrtle, according to tradition] and willows of the streams….”
Temporary stands selling the four species pop up all over Israel, commonly alongside decorations and other necessities for the sukkah. Consumers may buy the four species already bundled together, like a software package, or select them individually. People who are especially stringent may even use a jeweler’s loupe to inspect them for flaws!
The annual fulfillment of this unique obligation is part of the joy of the holiday. After the introspection and repentance of the season’s earlier holy days, we are happy to reach the point where we can continue with Leviticus 23 and “rejoice before the Lord your God for seven days. You will celebrate this festival to the Lord for seven days each year; this is a permanent rule throughout your future generations.” (v. 40-41).