The meaning of Jewish traditions has always been questioned and attempted to be understood, however some of the traditions we are not meant to understand. Sometimes we have to blindly follow the ways of the Torah….so while discussing sukkot, the question arises of the purpose of the species and aravot. Luckily, for this question, we do have an answer.
The Lulav and Etrog are made up of 4 species: Citron, Palm, Willow, and Myrtle branches. The choice of these plants might seem random, but they actually have a good reason for them: it all has to do with taste and fragrance.
If the plant possesses good taste, then it symbolizes strong learning of the Torah. If the plant has a strong fragrance to it, then it symbolizes a passion for doing mitzvot. Each of these species represents a broad variety of Jews, all differing in priorities.
The citron has both a good smell and taste, so this is the Jew that holds both mitzvot and Torah Learning. The palm branch only has Torah learning, but no actual mitzvot to its name. The myrtle branches have mitzvot but do not learn Torah. Lastly, the Willow branch has neither of the two, lacking in both learning and mitzvot.
To widen the spectrum of this understanding, G-d placed different types of things on this earth, everything having a purpose. There are three categories of additions made by god: “Sweet and pleasant”, “good”, and things that are not only inherently good but also naturally “beneficial or healthful.” When it comes to looking at the physical world, “sweet and pleasant” is considered the lowest level. For example, eating a piece of chocolate cake every night might taste delicious, but in the long run, won’t do so well for you. The second level is “good”, which is something that is not terrible but slightly better. Lastly, the level that is most praiseworthy is “beneficial or healthful”. This is if someone decides to drink kale juice every morning because they know it is good for them, even if they do not love the taste.
On the other side of the coin, the religious side, the order of superiority is inverted. If a Jew is only praying every day because she knows for certain that it will benefit them in the end, then that is not true fear and love of G-d. It is not an exchange, a Jew should not only Daven to get something in return. Silver in rank is “good”, which is when there is fear of going against G-d’s will, but also an ulterior motion in place. The purest form of spirituality is “Sweet and Pleasant”. Jews do not need to know the reasoning behind all of G-d’s rulings, we may be intrigued and searching for answers, but at the end of the day it does not matter. Jews need to follow G-d’s path simply because they are Torah obligations. Once this level is reached, G-d will shower them with sweet and pleasant things.
This is the entire point of the aravot, which spoiler alert means “sweet or pleasant”. The arava that lacks both Torah and mitzvot are the willow branches, which end up taking up the majority of the lulav and etrog. Sadly, that is the reality for the Jewish people today. Sukkot is a holiday specifically designed for the willow branches in this world. By shaking the Lulav and Etrog and completing your chain in this ancient tradition, we are raising them up and elevating with them.
In addition to this representation, the arava also encompasses aspects of the High Priest, Aaron. Throughout his life, he was keen in establishing peace between fighters. People understood the holiness of Aaron, the pure spirit that he obtained. With this power, he was able to convince Jews to do teshuva without even saying it out loud. If Aaron saw two people fighting, he would choose the most opportune time to approach one of the fighters and befriend him. This would get into the fighter’s mind, forcing him to question why this friendship was made and how he/she needs to be worthy of having Aaron as a friend.
In regards to the Sukkahs, they are symbolic of the Clouds of Glory which protected the Jewish people while being in Exile. In a way, the entire holiday revolves around bringing the Jewish people together, once again under the same roof (or cloud). This is why in the first days of the holiday, the arava are bound together, forcing all the species together. Using the same strategy as Aaron, the other species now have the opportunity to influence those on a “lower level”. This is not to say that the holier branches won’t feel an effect, they will be reminded of their weaknesses and struggles, and it will force them to bring unto themselves another level of humility and righteousness.
In order to change on this holiday, a level of humility is required. Someone will have to disregard their ego, understand that what they are doing can be better, and continue that path until they are elevated to the point where they are serving alone.
At this moment, when we are in our spiritual state on Hoshana Rabba (the last of Sukkot, the final day of Judgment), and we are truly feeling the closeness of G-d, there is no request that is too much.