By Eric Carlson on August 1, 2022
As I shared in our September Newsletter greeting September is the month we begin the celebration of the High Holy Days the Fall Feasts! September is the month that we order our Etrog and Lulav sets for our Sukkot celebrations! The command to celebrate Sukkot with the Etrog and Lulav is recorded in:
Leviticus 23:40-43. (CJB) On the first day you are to take choice fruit (Fruit of the Hadar Tree), palm fronds, thick branches and river-willows, and celebrate in the presence of ADONAI your God for seven days. 41 You are to observe it as a feast to ADONAI seven days in the year; it is a permanent regulation, generation after generation; keep it in the seventh month. 42 You are to live in sukkot for seven days; every citizen of Isra’el is to live in a sukkah, 43 so that generation after generation of you will know that I made the people of Isra’el live in sukkot when I brought them out of the land of Egypt; I am ADONAI your God.'”
Leviticus 23:40 mentions the “fruit of the beautiful Hadar tree” as the choice fruit required for use combined with the various branches collectively known as the Etrog and Lulav used during the Feast of Tabernacles. According to tradition, the “fruit of the tree Hadar” refers to the citron. The citron is the ancient, original citrus fruit from which many modern day citrus fruit came from. Citron is the root word for the modern day word citrus.
The Egyptologist and archaeologist Victor Loret identified citrons depicted on the walls of the botanical garden at the Karnak Temple, which dates back to the time of Thutmosis III, approximately 3,500 years ago. Citron was also cultivated in Sumer as early as the 3rd millennium BC. The Greek Philosopher Theophrastus wrote of the Citron around 300 B.C.: “The fruit is not eaten, but is very fragrant, as is also the leaf of the tree; and the fruit is put among clothes, it keeps them from being moth-eaten. It is also useful when one has drunk deadly poison, for when it is administered in wine; it upsets the stomach and brings up the poison. It is also useful to improve the breath, for if one boils the inner part of the fruit in a dish or squeezes it into the mouth in some other medium, it makes the breath more pleasant.”
Citron was also described by Pliny the Elder, who called it nata Assyria malus. The following is from his book Natural History:
“There is another tree also with the same name of “citrus,” and bears a fruit that is held by some persons in particular dislike for its smell and remarkable bitterness; while, on the other hand, there are some who esteem it very highly. This tree is used as an ornament to houses; it requires, however, no further description.
The citron tree, called the Assyrian, and by some the Median apple, is an antidote against poisons. The leaf is similar to that of the arbute, except that it has small prickles running across it. As to the fruit, it is never eaten, but it is remarkable for its extremely powerful smell, which is the case, also, with the leaves; indeed, the odour is so strong, that it will penetrate clothes, when they are once impregnated with it, and hence it is very useful in repelling the attacks of noxious insects.
The tree bears fruit at all seasons of the year; while some is falling off, other fruit is ripening, and other, again, just bursting into birth. Various nations have attempted to naturalize this tree among them, for the sake of its medical properties, by planting it in pots of clay, with holes drilled in them, for the purpose of introducing the air to the roots; and I would here remark, once for all, that it is as well to remember that the best plan is to pack all slips of trees that have to be carried to any distance, as close together as they can possibly be placed.
It has been found, however, that this tree will grow nowhere except in Media or Persia. It is this fruit, the pips of which, as we have already mentioned, the Parthian grandees employ in seasoning their ragouts, as being peculiarly conducive to the sweetening of the breath. We find no other tree very highly commended that is produced in Media.
Citrons, either the pulp of them or the pips, are taken in wine as an antidote to poisons. A decoction of citrons, or the juice extracted from them, is used as a gargle to impart sweetness to the breath. The pips of this fruit are recommended for pregnant women to chew when affected with qualmishness. Citrons are good, also, for a weak stomach, but it is not easy to eat them except with vinegar.”
The four species together are called in Hebrew: ארבעת המינים arba’at ha-minim, the four plants collectively (Citron, Palm Frond, Willow, and Myrtle) mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:40) as being relevant to worshipping Adonai during Sukkot. The three branches are bound together called the Lulav! The bundle is bound together with strips from another palm frond or bound in a special holder which is also woven from palm fronds.
The “Etrog,” the Citron, and Lulav have some profound spiritual symbolism. The Citron resemble in its shape, the heart, the driving force behind all our actions. The “Lulav,” the Palm Branch, resembles the spine, which holds the body together and, without which, we would be unable to move. The Myrtle Branches, resemble, in their almond-shape, the eyes, with which we behold God’s Word and the Willow Branches, resemble the lips, with which we give expression to our thoughts and feelings while speaking the Word in power. These four implements held together reveal that a person should devote all of his-or- her strength, abilities, and heart in devotion to Adonai and His Service.
Symbolically, the four species represent the four kinds of people that make up a Messianic congregation or community.
1) The Etrog or Citron, a tasty fruit which also has a pleasant aroma, represents the righteous believer 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 believer who has Torah knowledge but is lacking in good deeds (a hearer of the word, but not a doer). He is deficient in good works.
3) Then the Hassidim, or sweet-smelling Myrtle, are the believers who have good deeds, don’t have much knowledge of the word — these people do good works, but are deficient in, or deny Torah. The majority of the people of Israel may fall into this category.
4) Finally, there is the Willow, or Aaravot. This species grows near the water, and needs water, but is odorless and tasteless — representing those believers who are lacking in both Torah and good deeds. Yet they have potential, they are planted at the right place!
All four types of people can be found in a typical Messianic congregation. Thus, the Lulav symbolizes the totality of the “One New Humanity” of Ephesians Chapter 2. Brotherly love and fellowship with everyone loving and helping one another in unity, striving toward the same goals: Fulfillment of Torah to the best of their abilities, bearing witness of Yeshua, and proclaiming the “Good News” to all humankind!
All that we do is done to Glorify Adonai as Sha’ul wrote:
I Corinthians 10:31. (CJB) Well, whatever you do, whether it’s eating or drinking or anything else, do it all so as to bring glory to God.
Additionally Sha’ul wrote:
Colossians 3:17. That is, everything you do or say, do in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through him to God the Father.
This understanding is a full-time commission, a full-time job whether we are celebrating the Feast Days or living our everyday lives!
On Sukkot, we bind all the branches together – Willows, Palm Fronds, and Myrtles. We hold this bundle in our right hand, and then lift them together with the choice fruit represented by the Esrog in our left hand. We then shake them all together, three times in each of the cardinal directions starting towards the East then upwards towards heaven then downward towards the earth.
Holding these four in a tight bond represents the unity that is God’s goal for His People. This bond represents the convergence of separate individuals into a unified people, a One New Humanity, with common vision, common goal, and common purpose for service and ministry unto our King. The four species also represent the Name of God. Aravah (Willow), Hadas (Myrtle), Lulav (Palm) and Etrog represent Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh, the four-letter tetragrammaton Name of Adonai.
Again, the key here regarding the Etrog, Lulav, and Sukkot is unity. As we say everyday in the Shema prayer: “God is One.” Being aware of this keeps our focus upon Him and helps us to deal with the trials and issues of everyday life. When we relate to Adonai’s unity, we come closer to achieving joy and victory in this world. As we daily wave the Etrog and Lulav in the six directions we recite this blessing:
“Baruch ata Adonoy, Elo-heinu Melech ha’olam, asher kid’shanu bi’mitzvo-sav, vi’tzivanu al ni-tilas lulav.”
Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the Universe, who sanctified us with His mitzvot, and instructed us to raise up the Lulav.
The command to waive the “Lulav,” is a time-honored biblical expression of worship for all of God’s children, Jew and Gentile alike! There are propound spiritual lessons we learn through our obedience in performing this mitzvah today as Ya’acov stated in:
James 1:22. Don’t deceive yourselves by only hearing what the Word says, but do it!
The main, foundational understanding of Sukkot and the Etrog & Lulav waving is simply the lesson of unity, that the children of God be echad. As we joyously perform this mitzvah together, as the body of the Messiah, we do so in spiritual unity, one in Messiah! A reminder that we are in this spiritual struggle and fight together — we need each other — and we must help one another. As King David wrote:
Psalm 133:1-3. (CJB) A song of ascents. By David: Oh, how good, how pleasant it is for brothers to live together in harmony. 2 It is like fragrant oil on the head that runs down over the beard, over the beard of Aharon, and flows down on the collar of his robes. 3 It is like the dew of Hermon that settles on the mountains of Tziyon. For it was there that ADONAI ordained the blessing of everlasting life.
As you prepare for the Fall Feasts to enter His presence, may you minister to Adonai with clean hands and a pure heart! I pray you have a radical God encounter with Him these high holy days. May you see His face and hear His voice as we rehearse the soon return of Yeshua, our groom for us His bride! Chag Sameach, Happy Holidays!