restricted access The Lulav and Etrog in Kabbalistic Tradition
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The Lulav and Etrog in Kabbalistic Tradition

The commandment to take up the lulav and etrog on Sukkot is biblical and most of the rules pertaining to this mitzvah are talmudic. The kabbalists built on these foundations with new interpretations of old rituals.

The Mystical Symbolism of the Lulav and Etrog

  1. 1. In this passage we see how the deeds performed in this world affect the divine realm, the core concept of kabbalistic theosophy:

    Come and see: “All that is called by My name, I have created it for My glory, etc.” (Isaiah 43:7). How exalted are the works of the holy Sovereign, for the things that God created in the world below, God connected with exalted things in the world above. When they are taken and used for a particular purpose in the world below, those things in the world above that are associated with them are aroused. . . . Some of them are associated with the holy name, such as the palm branch, the citron, the myrtle, and the willow, all of which are associated with the holy name above. Therefore, we must hold them and perform a deed with them, in order to arouse whoever is associated with them. Consequently, we have learned that in both word and deed we must demonstrate one thing in order to arouse another.1

  2. 2. The following passage is a lovely aggadah on the symbolism of taking up the lulav and etrog on Sukkot. [End Page 56]

    On this day Israel leaves the royal palace with indisputable signs, for they have been victorious in the judgment. And what are these signs? They are the signs of faith, the seal of the supernal Sovereign. It is like two people who went to court before the king. No one knew who had won the case. An officer came out of the royal palace, and they asked him. He replied: “The one who comes out with the royal signs in hand will be the victor.” Similarly, the whole world comes before the supernal Sovereign to be judged and God judges them during the period from the New Year through the Day of Atonement to the fifteenth of the month.2 During this time Jews purify themselves by repenting. They labor with the sukkah, the lulav, and the etrog. However, nobody knows who has won the case. The angels above ask: “Who has won the case?” The blessed Holy One says to them: “Those who come out with My signs in their hands—they will have won the case.” On this day Israel comes out with the Sovereign’s sign, with praise and song, and they enter the sukkah, the etrog in their left hand and the lulav in their right. Everyone sees that Israel are adorned with the signs of the holy Sovereign, and they all begin to say, “Happy is the people that is in such a situation. Happy is the people whose God is the Eternal” (Psalm 144:15).3

Holding the Lulav and Etrog Together

The requirement to hold the lulav in the right hand and the etrog in the left hand when reciting the blessing is found in the Talmud.4 The requirement to hold them together while reciting the blessing is found in the Shulḥan Arukh.5 Rabbi Joseph Karo mentions in his commentary (Beit Yosef) on the Tur that he relied the fourteenth-century kabbalist, Menaḥem Recanati, for this ruling because of the following story:6

On the first night of Sukkot he had a pietist as a guest. Rabbi Menaḥem Recanati saw in a dream that the pietist was writing the Tetragrammaton, but he wrote the final hei at a distance from the first three letters. Recanati asked him why he did this and he responded that this was the custom in his community. Recanati erased the letter and wrote the word properly. In the morning he awoke and did not understand the meaning of the dream until the morning prayers and the time for waving the lulav. He looked at his guest and saw that he was only [End Page 57] holding the lulav in his right hand, without the...