The Four Species

On the holiday of Sukkot, holding the four species together teaches us about the Jewish People’s desire for unity, alongside the differences between its individuals.

Resource Ages: 9-11, 12-14


On the 15th day of this 7th month is the Feast of Booths, seven days to God. […]

And on the first day, you should take the fruit of the citrus tree [etrog], branches from the date palm [lulav] boughs of leaf trees [hadas] and willows of the brook [aravah]. And you should rejoice before God for seven days.

(Leviticus chapter 23, verses 34, 50)

In a midrash discussing the four species, Our Sages say the following:

The fruit of the citrus tree are the people of Israel. 

Just as the fruit of the citrus tree has a taste and a fragrance. 

So is Israel – there are people with Torah knowledge and good deeds. 

Date palms are the people of Israel. 

Just as the date palm has a taste but no fragrance. 

So is Israel, there are people with Torah knowledge but no good deeds. 

Myrtle branches are the people of Israel. 

Just as the myrtle has a fragrance but no taste. 

So is Israel, there are people with good deeds but no Torah knowledge. 

Willow branches are the people of Israel. 

Just as the willow has no fragrance and no taste. 

So is Israel, there are people without Torah knowledge or good deeds. 


God said: Hold them together as one bunch

(Midrash Vayikra Rabbah, parsha 30, siman 12)

Foundations for Planning

Essential Questions

  • How do Jewish practices reflect Jewish values?
  • How am I an important part of my community?
  • How does the idea that Jews everywhere celebrate the same holidays and pray the same prayers connect me to the Jewish community?

Content Questions Related to the Essential Questions

  • What is the significance of multiple ideologies and different types of people in a nation? 
  • What is the value of unity in a nation?
  • How can we simultaneously contain both multiple opinions and unity? 
  • How is the concept of connecting different parts of a nation expressed on the holiday of Sukkot?

Background for Teacher

The Torah tells us that on Sukkot, as part of the holiday prayers, we take four species of plants, hold them together, make a blessing and then wave them in each direction. This commandment is called “netilat lulav” and the different species of plants that...

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The Torah tells us that on Sukkot, as part of the holiday prayers, we take four species of plants, hold them together, make a blessing and then wave them in each direction. This commandment is called “netilat lulav” and the different species of plants that we hold together are called “the four species”. The species mentioned in the Torah as “the four species” are not clearly described or explicitly defined. For example, the verse does not explain which is “the fruit of the citrus tree”. 

Our Sages (Chazal) determined that the species are as follows: “fruit of the citrus tree” is the etrog – the citron fruit, similar to a lemon; “date palm branches” is the lulav – a young branch of the date palm tree; “boughs of the leaf  tree” is the hadas, or myrtle – a fragrant green bush with thick branches and dense leaves; “willows of the brook” is the willow – branches from the white willow bush that grows beside rivers and springs. 

Chazal explained the use of these four species through various explanations and images. In different midrashim, the four species are allegorized as parts of the human body; as our forefathers; and as the different types of people in the people of Israel, as described in the midrash above, in which the differences between types of people are analogous to the different species’ tastes and fragrances. 

In this allegory, taste relates to Torah (knowledge), and fragrance relates to good deeds. Despite the differences, and perhaps because of them, we hold the different species together and metaphorically – the different types of people in the nation – and each contributes their part to the whole. This midrash teaches about the value of unity and community, alongside maintaining the place of the individual and individuality. 

According to custom, a person who wishes to fulfill the commandment of the four species should take one etrog, one lulav, three hadasim (myrtle branches) and two aravot (willow branches). The lulav, hadas and aravah are traditionally held together by a holder made from dried lulav leaves. The species are meticulously chosen according to a number of halachic stipulations, which determine whether the plant is kosher for the purpose of fulfilling the commandment. For example, if one of the species is at all damaged, in either appearance or form, it will likely not be kosher. 

We recite the following blessing on the commandment: “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the world, who has sanctified us with God’s commandments and commanded us to take the lulav”. Afterwards, we wave the species in various directions; there are varying customs regarding how many times to wave and in which directions. 

The tradition of waving the lulav is not found in the Torah, but rather in the mishnah. It is explained by Chazal in the Talmud through an idea learned from the “Showbread” (lechem hapnim) that was arranged and displayed weekly on the table in the Temple: “Rabbi Yochanan said: Takes and brings [to the sides] of the One for whom the four spirits are His; raises and lowers to the One for whom heaven and earth is His” (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sukkah, daf 37, page 2).

Optional Hooks
In-Depth Discussion
Suggested Activities
Further Study
How to Do It?
  • Randomly divide the students into groups of four. They should attempt to find as many things that are common to all four of them, and then as many differences. Afterwards, they should choose one significant thing that they have in common, and on that basis give their group a name and create for themselves a symbol / flag / secret handshake, etc. Discuss – what is easier? Finding differences or common ground?
    What can help people connect despite their differences?
  • Explain about the four species and teach the midrash discussing the uniqueness of different groups in the nation of Israel, and the common ground they share as members of the same nation.
  • Show this slide show which presents the four species.

Click here to view our consolidated list of suggested interactive pedagogies for classroom discussion.

  1. What traits are unique to each of the four species? (Use the table provided in Suggested Activities.)
  2. What is expressed in the idea of “grouping together”? 
  3. According to the midrash, what kind of person is represented by each of the four species? With which type of person do you identify? 
  4. In the parable, the four species are allegorized as different types of people in the nation. What does joining them together come to teach us? 
  5. In your opinion, why do Chazal think it important to connect between individuals in a nation? What is the significance of this “joining together” – is the intention that everyone should think and act similarly? Do you agree with Chazal that unity is an important value? 
  6. Using the allegory brought in the midrash, what do you think would happen to the individuality of each person when everyone is connected together: Would each person’s individuality be swallowed up or stand out? Do you think it’s important to make room for different types of people, and not hope that they’ll all be the same? Explain.
  7. How is the value of unity expressed in your lives (think of different groups: your class, family, sports group, youth movement, the Jewish nation)?
  8. Do you think there are situations where it’s best to remain differentiated and not part of a community? Explain.
  • Bring a set of the four species to class. Allow the students to examine them up close using their different senses (sight, touch, smell). Afterwards, have the students describe the species in their own words. This can be done without telling the students the names of the species; instead, ask them to try and identify each of the species according to what’s written in the Torah. You can also let them experience holding the species together. 
  • To further understand the analogy brought in the midrash, you can make use of the following chart. The students should mark X or V beside each question: Is there a fragrance/taste? In the final column, write the analogy. For the lulav, have the students consider the date fruit rather than the palm branch. 
Species Does it have a fragrance?  Does it have a taste?  Analogy: People in the nation of Israel  
Citrus fruit 
Date palms (and the fruit of the date tree)

  • With what other types of people could each of the species be compared? Write it as a midrash: 

The fruit of the citrus tree are the people of Israel. 

Just as the fruit of the citrus tree has a taste and a fragrance. 

So is Israel – there are people with _______  and ________. And so forth. 

  • Teach the song: “Hinei Ma Tov U’Ma Naim“. You can illustrate the concept of different people sitting together by having each student dress up as a different character (an eldery person, a young person, professionals of various kinds, individuals from different ethnicities, with varying religious affiliation, etc.) 

For older students: 

  • Have the students think about additional types of people that the species might represent. Afterwards, have them choose four kinds of people from the list. The students should then divide a piece of paper into four sections and in each section draw one of the four species according to the character traits of one of the types of people they chose. They should consider: What other things could “taste” and “fragrance” represent? (talents, social abilities, etc). At the bottom of the drawing they can offer suggestions what relationship they should ideally have between them, how should they be connected?
  • Teach the section in the midrash that discusses similarities between the four species and parts of the body:
    The spine of the palm branch is similar to the spine of man. And the myrtle is similar to the eye. And the willow is similar to the mouth. And the citron fruit is similar to the heart. David said, ‘In all of the limbs, there are no greater ones than these, as they are compared to the entire body.’ This is [what is meant] by ‘All of my bones shall say (your praises).'”
    (Midrash VaYikra Rabbah, parsha 30, siman 14)
    How is this idea similar to the idea that all parts of the nation are needed together? What can the imagery of body parts add to our understanding of the parts of the nation?
  • Consider this picture of a “shuk arba minim” – a four species market. The buyers meticulously examine the four species because they want to buy the most glorified and beautiful of the species, according to stipulations detailed by halacha. People do not buy the four species in the same way that they do a regular shopping at the market; they stop to carefully examine the products and there are even those who bring a magnifying glass with them.
    This approach is connected to the idea of  “hidur mitzva” – “glorifying the commandment”   –  a desire to fulfill the commandment in the best and most complete way possible. Ask the students to consider what activities in their lives they really invest in and attempt to go about in the best way possible?