by Rabbi David Seidenberg

The four species of the lulav [waved in blessing and praise on the holiday of Sukkot] represent the four types of ecosystems in the land of Israel: desert (date palm), hills (myrtle), river corridors (willow), and sh’feilah or lowlands (etrog – agricultural).

Each species has to be fresh, with their tips intact. They can’t be dried out, because they need to hold the water of last year’s rain. Together, the four species make a kind of map of last year’s rainfall, and together, we use them to pray for next year’s rains.

Lulav and Etrog, JHD

This teaching is found in [the prayerbook] Siddur Lev Shalem, on the same page where the blessing for the lulav is found. It’s not just a clever interpretation. There’s no way to prove it, but I am certain that this is the p’shat [plain meaning], the reason why the custom of taking the four species of plants began, not just an after-the-fact interpretation. You can delve deeper into that interpretation here.

This time in our history, with climate disruption throwing chaos into our food systems and ways of living, we most need to share what connects us to the rhythms and needs of the land.

Lulav in Nature_ Shir Yaakov Feit

What is clear is this: we don’t just wave the lulav in all directions to show “that God is everywhere”. We wave it in all directions because we need the strength and help of the winds and clouds from all directions to bring us a year of sustenance and fertility, because the land of Canaan is “not like the land of Egypt, which…you gave drink with your foot (by pumping river water)…She is a land of hills and valleys, by the rain of the heavens will she drink water, she is a land that YHVH seeks out, always the eyes of YHVH your God are on her, from the beginning of the year until the end of the year.” (Deut. 11:10-12)

The land’s power is found in its fragility, in the risk and uncertainty that makes us dependent on help from the One. . .This fragility is also the source of everything about joy that is Sukkot. The fact that we rejoice now, in the face of that risk, is an
expression of our very deep faith that God wants us to thrive. It can be harder to do when we face floods and other threats related to climate change, which is why it’s so important to do it.


Rabbi David Seidenberg is the author of Kabbalah and Ecology

Featured Image (and full image in post): Lulav in Nature (Hudson Valley), Shir Yaakov Feit

You can learn more about the symbolism of the Four Species. and How to Wave the Lulav and Etrog, at My Jewish Learning.

Read an account of Finding God in the Wilderness, or return to the Gateway of Wilderness.