Four Metaphors for Four Species

There is a well-known Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah, parshas Emor)  that connects the Four Species to a) the four manifestations of G‑d, b) the four classes of Jews and c) the four parts of the human anatomy.

There is another Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah, parshas Toldos) that connects the Four Species to d) the four entities that are referred to as “first.” This based on the Biblical verse that introduces the Mitzvah to take the Four Species: “And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of a citron tree [literally: beautiful tree, i.e, Esrog],  the branches of date palms [Lulav], twigs of a plated tree [Hadassim-myrtles], and willows of the brook [Arovos].

The Midrash comments:

“In the merit of ‘and you shall take for yourselves on the first day’ I will appear to you, as it is written, “I am first and I am last,” and will exact punishment from the first, being Esau as it says, ‘the first emerged red’ and I will build for you the first, which is the Beis Hamikdash, regarding which it is written, ‘Like the Throne of Glory, exalted from the first’” and bring you the first, this is King Moshiach, regarding whom it is written, ‘The first to come to Zion, behold They are Here!’”

Although the Midrash links these four “entities” to the first day of Sukkos when we fulfill the Mitzvah of taking the Four Species, the Midrash does not explicitly show the correlation between each of the Four Kinds with each of the four “firsts.”

It may be suggested that, indeed, each of the “Four Species” correspond to one of the four rewards: a) revelation of G‑d, b) punishment of Esau, c) Building of Beis Hamikdash and d) Moshiach.


Esrog: the Perfect Fruit-Metaphor for G‑d

The Esrog which is a “perfect” fruit represents G‑d who is perfect. The Esrog’s perfection manifests itself in several ways:

First, it must not have any blemishes and is the source of that rule that is also extended to the other three species.

Second, the Esrog tree is unique in that its bark has the same taste as the fruit. This indicates external and internal synchronicity. This kind of consistency is a manifestation of truth, and G‑d is the ultimate truth. Emes-truith is defined by the Jerusalem Talmud as something that is consistent from the beginning through the middle to the end, inasmuch as the word emes consists of the first, middle and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet.

Indeed, this is the simple meaning of the cited verse, “I am first and I am last…”
G‑d is consistent from the beginning to the end.

Third, the Esrog thrives through all of the four seasons. This again points to G‑d’s consistency as well as to His unity.

Fourth, the word Esrog, when transposed through the code known as at-bash [where we exchange the first letter of the alphabet with the last, second letter with second last letter, etc.] it still remains the same word Esrog. This too points to the way G‑d’s presence can never truly be compromised or changed. While we may see G‑d in varying manifestations, G‑d Himself is “first and last” and “I G‑d have never changed,” regardless of how much the world He created seems to change.

The Esrog is also described as a beautiful fruit, which relates to the verse “this is my G‑d and I will beautify Him.” When we take the Esrog it is a reminder of G‑d’s perfection and glory.


The Lulav: Symbol of Victory

The Lulav, our Sages state, is the symbol of victory. During the Days of Judgment, from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur, the adversarial angel, known as the Satan or the angel of Esau, tries to prosecute us by bringing up all of our sins to cause G‑d to judge us unfavorably. The Satan seeks the ultimate penalty for our sinful behavior.

When we hold the Lulav, a scepter type branch, it is our way of saying that we were victorious; we triumphed over Esau, and we will enjoy a year of chaim-life in all of its manifestations.

Thus the Lulav corresponds to the defeat of Esau.

It is no surprise that the numerical value of the word Lulav is 68, the same as the word Chaim-life, a word that is repeated numerously during the Ten days of Repentance. By vanquishing Esau, we are guaranteed life.



Hadasim: Metaphor for Bais Hamikdash

The Hadasim which, the Midrash states, resemble eyes parallel the Bais Hamikdash. This is based on a story in the Talmud of Herod who refurbished the Bais Hamikdash. What motivated him to do that?

The Talmud (Bava Basra 4a). relates that he murdered most of the Sages and left one, Bava ben Buta alive but blinded him. When he realized the folly of his actions, he asked the Sage what he can do to atone for his evil deeds.

Bava ben Buta responded, since he blinded the eyes of the world and extinguished its light, both physically and spiritually, he should restore the light and eyes of the world, namely rebuild the Bais Hamikdash which is referred to in the Book of Ezekiel as the “desire of your eyes.”

This can be hinted in the numerical value of the word hadas, multiplied by three (since we are required to take at least three myrtles), which is 207, the same as the word ohr-light.


Arovos: Metaphor for Moshiach

The Aravos, our Sages state have no taste or fragrance, which represent the idea of poverty and humility. This is an apt metaphor for Moshiach who is known for his poverty and humility and one, whom the Talmud states, dwells amongst the lepers.


Four Stages

It may be suggested that these four symbolisms represent four periods in the unfolding Messianic drama.

The ultimate goal of the coming of Moshiach and the Final Redemption is that
G‑d’s glory shall shine for the entire world to behold. The prophet refers to this Divine revelation as a time when G‑d will no longer we cloaked. G‑d will take the proverbial sun out of its sheath and we will bask in that G‑dly light. This can be titled the “Esrog era,” when G‑d’s truth will be fully manifested and is the final stage in the Messianic dynamic .

But for that to happen, we must first win the war against the Esau’s of the world; both external and internal forms of evil. This period, which the Rambam refers to as Moshiach “waging the wars of G‑d and will be victorious” is the Lulav stage of the Final Redemption.

Once that happens, the stage is set for the building of the Bais Hamikdash under the direction of Moshiach. This will restore the Divine presence to the Jewish people and restore the special relationship G‑d has with them. This will facilitate all the observances that were discontinued because of the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash some 1900 years ago.

This period can be classified as the “Hadassim Era.”

Although the wars against the Esau’s of the world and the building of the Bais Hamikdash will be through and under the direction of Moshiach, Moshiach’s major effort will be to bring the entire world to recognizing the one G‑d, by reaching out to all the nations of the world, making them aware of and accepting, G‑d’s sovereignty. This can be referred to as the Arovos stage of the Messianic Age.